Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yes, Go After Your Competitors' Customers

Is it proper etiquette to try and grab customers from your competitors during a recession? Absolutely! Any time is the right time to go after market share.

Times are tough, right? How can you get your competition's customers to switch to you? Here are some dos and don'ts for keeping it classy while gaining more customers.

DO continue your marketing efforts.

Downturns are when the biggest shifts happen in market share. If your competitors stop spending or cut budgets for sales and marketing, it's your opportunity to attract attention and get noticed by their customers.

DO focus on your core type of customers.

Stick with the customers that you know best. Who buys from you through thick and thin? If you're an airline that primarily caters to business travelers, then target business travelers. If you're having success selling life insurance to 30 to 40-year-olds with teen and tween kids, then stick with them. Now may not be the time to go after an entirely new audience.

DON'T target your competitors by name.

It's just my opinion, but I think it's better to take the high road. If you directly name your competitor, it can come off as a little underhanded and unsportsmanlike. I have recently noticed more insurance company ads on TV using competitors' names when talking about who has the lowest rates. You may gain customers in the short term, but they might be fickle! Also, make sure you deliver on your promises. If not, your competition will most likely point it out.

DO promote what makes you better.

You can indirectly say that you offer something that's better than the competition. In late 2008, McDonald's ran billboard ads that simply said, "four bucks is dumb. now serving espresso." It was a rather obvious jab at Starbucks' higher pricing. Reportedly, the advertising and publicity from the billboards increased McDonald's coffee sales by 30% in 2008.

DO consider adjusting your product strategy.

Think of new ways to give customers what they want. If you're in financial services, customers may want more hand-holding. You could offer free consultations or conduct seminars to help reassure your customers and give them face time with you. Consider creating a blog containing topics and information that's relevant to your customers. Start a Twitter account that provides customer service and support - check out Wells Fargo - or offers discounts and coupons. It could also be a good time to launch new products that suit your core customers' changing needs.

DON'T panic and lower your prices.

Many companies are focusing on price in their marketing and advertising. And yes, price is an important factor for most consumers right now. While a price cut to make your product or service more appealing than the competition may feel like a good idea, in the long run it can undermine the foundation of your products or services. Besides, at some point, you're going to want to raise prices again.

So, go out there and get more market share. What are you doing to take your competitors' customers? If you have any experiences with targeting competitors by name, lowering prices, or adjusting your product strategies, post a comment. I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Say "Hello" to Your Customers

I recently read an article about the amazing benefits of one simple act: saying "hello." (You can read the entire article on the Reader's Digest website.) The author did an experiment spending one month saying hello to everyone he met. He made some interesting discoveries.

First, he found it harder to greet everyone he met than he initially expected. As we get older, it's more difficult to put ourselves out there and say hi. We fear rejection and that people might just think we're weird.

It also caught people off guard. He found that it was a nice way to grab someone's attention, and it usually helped him get what he wanted. If you have a genuine, personal interaction with someone, they are more likely to help you out.

He learned that even the brief interaction of saying hello to someone can improve productivity. A school did a study where teachers greeted each student as they came to class in the morning. They found this simple act ultimately raised the kids' productivity by 27%.

And, he discovered that sometimes the people he might not normally acknowledge were the chattiest after he took the initial step of saying hello. It's almost impossible to say hello without smiling. Smiling has been linked to providing health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, boosting immunity, and releasing endorphins. Plus, smiling can do the same for the recipient - who will most likely say hi and smile back.

After reading this article, it made me wonder what effect it would have if we took every opportunity we could to say "hello" to our customers. Especially in a down economy, loyal customers are a great asset.

Keep talking to your customers.
You may think that now is the time to cut back on your direct marketing programs to customers - because they are already your customers - and focus on acquisition. But, focusing on customers is even more critical during recessionary times. You've probably heard the old marketing adage: It costs less to keep a current customer than acquire a new customer. It still holds true, and it makes more sense to keep your customers happy so they'll stick with you.

Make customers feel safe with you.
Take the time to reach out to your best customers and reinforce your value proposition. Send customers a special direct mail package or email offering a valuable service. Create a positive message that thanks customers for their business and offers a discount or a free perk. It doesn't have to be a big, expensive item. Now is the time to say "hello" to customers and reinforce their confidence in both the products or services you're selling, as well as the company that's behind the products. Let customers know you're doing okay, and you appreciate that they are loyal to you.

Tailor your messages and offers.
Think about creating more focused messages for different customer segments. You may be able to mail less, but mail more effectively. You can create variable content for your current direct mail programs that speaks more directly to customers needs. For instance, you can vary the offer based on recent purchases or activity. If you know that customers who buy X typically also like Y, send a special offer for Y and thank them for buying X.

Find new ways to reach out.
Now is the time to get creative and find new ways to say "hi" to your customers. Maybe you can send a personal letter or email letting customers know they are important to you. Or, if you normally send direct mail packages, experiment with self-mailers or postcards. Perhaps it is time to make your presence known in the social media space or begin blogging. Now is also a good time get back-to-basics with simple messages and no-nonsense formats.

Build trust with direct marketing.
I believe customers still trust direct mail. Digital media is important - and I think it's even more powerful when integrated with direct mail - but customers also value what is written on paper. And direct mail works! It adds credibility to your message, and there's a perception that you're willing to spend money to mail information to them. Hello! Make your customers smile and send them compelling, innovative, smart direct mail.

Excel at customer service.
I recently called a mail order catalog company to straighten out an order and shipping issues. I have been a customer for over 15 years and have always been so proud of their exceptional customer service. On this call, the customer service rep argued with me and got a bit snippy. Besides being mad, I was very disappointed. They let me down. More than ever, it's time to step up customer service. See my blog about the importance of great customer service. It will be a while before I order from them again.

Take time to reach out to your customers and say "hello." It can be a simple mailing, an email, or even a phone call. In addition to making more sales now, you'll also receive long-term benefits. By sticking with customers, showing them you truly value their business, and giving them extra attention and perks, you will build even greater loyalty and retain those customers through thick and thin.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How to Generate Good Leads

Do you market a complex product or service? For instance, long term care insurance and annuities are complex products. It can be a lengthy process to present the need for these products, as well as explain the details of the products themselves. Or, do you sell an expensive product or service? For instance, buying an aircraft, passive solar system, or a piece of medical technology is a big investment.

A complex or expensive product usually means a longer sales cycle. Marketing in the business-to-business space means careful targeting is needed. Direct mail is a valuable tool to help find and nurture good leads.

When leads are well qualified, it improves the sales process. Your salespeople can spend their time doing what they do best – selling – instead of cold calling and tracking down their own leads.

To obtain qualified leads, a lead generation program should follow a few simple rules.

1. Consider your list.
While marketers will argue percentages, we can all agree that the list is a critical component of any direct mail campaign. Make sure your mailing list is reaching the kind of businesses or individuals who will buy your product or service. To beef up your database, you can buy a list of company names in a targeted industry. To build your own good leads, you can attend trade shows, seminars, and industry events to gather new prospects.

2. Develop your offer.
Many lead generation mailings forget to make the offer clear. Typically, the offer in lead generation is not your product or service. It's something to entice the reader to respond so that you can capture their information. For instance, prospects respond for a free booklet, special report, brochure, sell sheet, or free Demo. Sometimes you may want to push for a meeting with the prospect. Be sure you offer something in return. For example, "We will analyze your current power needs and make recommendations that can save you money."

3. Hone your creative package.
Be strong on benefits. Make sure prospects understand the need that your product or service can fulfill. Unless you have an extremely attractive price, you should typically avoid price in the lead generation and let your sales staff introduce it later.

4. Less is more.
In lead generation, sometimes it's better to give less information. Tease the prospect to want to know more. Give them a reason to respond to your mailing. For instance, could prospects save money? Can you make their job easier? Help them grow their business? Your goal is to quickly entice them to respond to your offer.

5. Encourage response.
Make sure prospects know how to respond. Say it often. Include up to two ways to respond – mail, phone, email, or on your website. Provide a business reply card or envelope to make it easy to drop a response in the mail. Or supply a toll-free number that is answered by a real person.

6. Take advantage of your website.
Your company's website can play a valuable role in lead generation. Your prospects may need more information before they are ready to respond to your mailing. A micro-site or landing page can be customized to correspond with your direct mail efforts, provide more details about your offer, and encourage prospects to respond online. You can create a response form online to collect these leads, fulfill your offer, and quickly pass the leads on to your sales staff.

So, you've sent out lead generation mailings, and you have leads for the sales staff. Direct mail's job is done, right? Actually, it's just the beginning. Now it's time to "nurture" those leads. See my blog "The Power of Good Collateral Materials" to learn more about turning your leads into sales.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What I've Learned From Old Navy

As direct marketers, we can learn a lot from retailers. In particular, retailers offer some excellent examples of how to conduct truly integrated direct marketing programs. By integrated, I mean, combining direct mail, email, Web, and other forms of media to create a seamless message, offer, and brand image for customers and prospects.

We can borrow from retail and use it in other industries, such as financial services and insurance. Let me give you an example. I do a lot of shopping with Old Navy (including Gap and Piperlime), Kohls, Bath and Body Works, as well as other major retailers. They all send me special coupons and discount offers in the mail. Then, they send me emails that emphasize those same offers and link me directly to their Websites. They encourage me to shop in their stores or online and receive the same fantastic offers.

Now, let's imagine we're creating a direct marketing campaign for an insurance company to promote an educational insurance seminar. We can integrate our marketing efforts to create a cohesive, more impactful message.

First, we send a direct mail postcard about the seminar with date, time, and location information and encourage recipients to respond and reserve their space. We give readers the option of calling an 800 number to respond or logging on to a Personalized URL or "PURL."

The PURL is a personalized web address, such as, and links the reader to a landing page that is personalized with their name and information. The PURL also looks and sounds like the postcard - unifying the message and offer.

Next, we follow up with an email a week or so later. The email contains the same information about the seminar, provides all the specifics, and encourages response. Again, we give the 800 number as well as the PURL address.

Now, you may be thinking this all sounds great, but that program involves substantial customization. Plus, every time we have a new seminar, we will need to reprint everything with the new location and seminar specifics.

Let's take this scenario a step further. If you used a direct marketing on-demand system, you could set up templates for each of the three materials you would use - direct mail, email, and PURL - and then simply switch out variable information each time. With a few clicks on the computer, you can send out a highly integrated campaign in a matter of minutes, compared to weeks with a traditional direct marketing workflow.

For more information about the benefits of direct marketing on-demand, check out a blog I wrote called "Are You Ready to Go On-Demand?"

We can borrow direct marketing techniques and practices from other industries, apply them to our business, and make them even better. With a tough economy and higher costs, it's more important than ever to stretch our marketing dollars and make the greatest impact.

By combining direct mail, email, Web, and on-demand marketing, we can make it even easier and more compelling for customers and prospects to respond.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why Sales and Marketing Need to Get Along

A few days ago, I was participating in a conference call with a prospect, and we were giving a presentation of an on-demand application we offer that allows a company's sales staff to send out variable, custom direct marketing materials. The prospect said something I found interesting, "Let's talk again once we have separated sales from marketing."

My first thought was,"Why would you want to separate them?"

Over the years, I have frequently heard sales and marketing departments within a company complain about each other. It's a bit like sibling rivalry. Sales says that marketing doesn't give them good enough leads. Marketing says that sales doesn't follow up on the leads they give them.

I'm still surprised by the number of companies who have sales and marketing in different "silos." The two departments work independently from each other, and often have different goals and objectives.

With today's down economy and uncertainty in the marketplace, now is the time to unite marketing and sales to create a well-oiled machine. Competition to win your customer's business is at an all-time high. If you don't streamline your process so that you're making the sale, your competitors will.

Why is it so hard for sales and marketing to get along?

First, sales and marketing people often have different personalities. Marketers get squeamish when they think of doing sales. And the best salespeople usually don't enjoy marketing activities. By the nature of their jobs, salespeople tend to be reactive. They must constantly deal with customer questions, leads that need to be contacted, and putting out fires. The sales personality thrives on chaos and the rush that comes from closing the sale. Marketing is more proactive. They are making plans, creating programs and campaigns, and developing strategies and tactics. They are thinking in terms of weeks and months rather than what's on my plate today.

Second, because sales and marketing are often separated within a company (both physically and mentally), they may feel they are competing with each other for respect and recognition within the company. When in fact, for a company to be more profitable, both departments need each other.

Here are some ways to help your sales and marketing departments get along:

Develop a team game plan.
Many times sales has its own strategy and goals while marketing has its own plans. Both departments have the same goal: to bring in revenue. So, create an overall strategy that outlines how marketing will create programs that bring in the customers and prospects, and sales will follow up and seal the deal. It should be a continuous loop with ongoing communication.

Bring them together.
Many times, sales and marketing people are literally across the building from each other. Or even in another building or entirely different city. If possible, have them meet regularly. Have sales people sit in on marketing planning sessions. Have marketing people go on sales calls. When both sides are able to see the whole picture, it can bring a new dimension to your sales and marketing efforts.

Keep everyone in the loop.
Ask for salespeople's input early in the planning process. The direct marketing company I work for, was creating a new series of collateral brochures for an insurance client. Before we developed the creative, we surveyed the field agents to get their input on what messages, graphics, and copy points worked best when they were face-to-face with prospects. By working in the elements the agents wanted, we created stronger collateral materials and increased usage of these materials because agents felt directly responsible for the content. On the reverse side, sales needs to let marketing know if materials should be tweaked, or if the leads that are being generated need to be higher quality.

Think about customization.
Salespeople like to send out marketing materials that they feel are relevant and speak to the customer or prospect. In addition, salespeople may be targeting different audiences or sell only certain products and services. By creating more variable, on-demand marketing materials, sales can use only the materials they need. In addition, they can customize the materials with their name and contact information so that the mailings are truly one-to-one communications. To decide if on-demand is right for you, check out a blog I wrote called "Are you ready to go on-demand?"

Coordinate your programs.
Marketing must let sales know when programs are going to launch. Sales also needs to know what types of leads they will be receiving. What was offered? What was the messaging? Based on this information, sales can modify their approach for follow up calls. And sales needs to follow through on leads with more than one phone call or email. Make sure all leads are solidly pursued.

Talk to each other.
The most important thing is to communicate. Marketing needs to keep sales informed about the campaigns they are running and the frequency. Sales needs to let marketing know how things went on the back end. Were the leads good? How could the programs be improved to get better leads?

Times are tight right now. Both businesses and consumers are shopping around before they buy. Now is the time for sales and marketing to work closely together – from understanding your customers and prospects to creating a strategic plan and closing sales.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Selling in a Down Economy

How do you sell when times are tight and people are nervous? A down economy creates an opportunity for smart salespeople to grow their business and even thrive.

So, what can you do? Now is the time to take a hard look at your sales efforts and see how you can adjust your strategy to maximize opportunities.

Here are 5 strategies to help you sell in a down economy:

1. Maximize each lead.
In an economic downturn, buyers take even longer than normal to research potential purchases. A prospect may need more hand-holding and solid, reliable information to make a decision. They are looking for facts, figures, testimonials, and case studies to verify that you can do what you say you will do. Be prepared to spend a little extra time educating prospects, answering questions, and reassuring them they are making the right decision.

2. Nurture your current customers.
We all know it takes more time and money to get a new customer than keep an existing one. Your firm may have less money to spend on acquiring new customers. So, spend more time marketing and selling to the people you already know. Contact customers just to let them know you care. Offer them something free or provide them with an extra little perk. For instance, give a business owner a calculator and tell him how you can improve his bottom line.

3. Remember the end of the buying cycle.
You may find that you need to focus more than ever on closing the sale when prospects are actually ready to buy. You can supply additional information to give prospects that extra push to make the purchase. For instance, a financial company can give details about its stability and track record. Or, you can provide white papers, buyers guides, checklists, or evaluations to show why your product or service is a sound financial decision.

4. Give prospects what they want.
If you haven't already, now may be the time to consider and on-demand system for marketing and sales. You can contact prospects and customers with communications that are more meaningful, industry-specific, and speak to the challenges of your target market. It allows you to nurture existing customers, cross-sell customers, and send specific, customized information to prospects. For instance, if you know that customers who lease from you also purchase insurance, you can send a cross-sell promotion to those customers. Or, you could send a series of mailings to prospects that contain information only about the products or services that interest them.

5. Appeal to common sense over emotion.
Buyers are looking for rational, practical reasons to buy your product or service. Spontaneous purchases of luxury items are replaced with more deliberate, cost-conscious purchases. In the past, you may have been able to appeal to desire to "keep up with the Joneses" or just because it's cool, but now consumers (both businesses and individuals) are looking to justify the purchase as essential, or a good business decision.

The bottom line: keep doing what you're doing. Now is not the time to panic and drastically change your sales efforts. Continue your sales and marketing efforts – just find ways to adjust your approach to address the needs and concerns of your customers and prospects.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Power of Good Collateral Materials

I recently read an article that said "collateral materials don't sell for you." I agree that a brochure isn't going to pick up the phone and call a prospect, or email an estimate to a customer.

Yet, I believe collateral materials can play an important role in making the sale happen. First, what do I mean by collateral? Some marketers may limit the definition to a leave-behind brochure. To me, effective collateral is much, much more. It can include brochures about your company and products or services, sell sheets, flyers, case studies or testimonials, letters, business cards, even proposals, or a presentation folder.

All of these marketing materials can help support the sale. Different businesses or consumers are at different stages of the "buying cycle." If you're selling financing to lease an airplane, you need to catch a business at the time when they are ready to lease. If you're selling insurance, you need to address consumers who are at different stages in life. Some people know they need it, and are procrastinating. Others may need to be more educated about the benefits of your product.

Just because you call a prospect and ask him if he wants to lease and airplane and he says no, doesn't mean that sales opportunity is over. Now, you should keep in contact with him until he is ready to lease. You can send him a follow-up mailing with a brochure or flyer and your business card. If interest rates or some other factor should change that might make leasing more appealing, you can send him a letter letting him know about the new rates. Then, if you follow-up with a call, he is prepared to talk to you about this new development.

Here are some more ways that collateral materials can play an ongoing roll in the sales cycle.

Build a strong image of your company in prospects' minds.
Your prospect may know very little about you at the beginning of your relationship. By sending her ongoing communications, you create an image of your company and products/services in her mind.

Reinforce your company's brand identity with customers.
You may think that your customers know you and will call when they need something. This can be a costly assumption. It's important to say top-of-mind with existing customers. For instance, you can send a case study with a recent success story. Or, send a sell sheet with new information about a product or service.

Educate buyers about your entire product or service offering.
A customer who has life insurance with you may not realize you also offer long term care insurance and annuities. Collateral materials can help you cross-sell to existing customers.

Provide support and education.
An email newsletter, white paper, or blog can help you connect with your customers and prospects and position you as an expert in the industry.

You may worry that continuing to send materials to prospects will eventually decrease your response rates. However, the opposite is often true. That's because you're establishing a relationship or rapport with your customers and prospects that leads to both new and ongoing business.