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Service contacts should outnumber sales calls

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Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 4:01 p.m.
By Andrew Ballard
Growth Strategies
Consumers are fed up with unwanted promotion from suppliers, providers and outlets. Robo contacts are viewed by many as unwelcome sales ploys; so much so that many legitimate selling attempts are perceived as predatory. You can get past this stigma by putting an emphasis on service over sales.
Lawmakers have already addressed the issue of intrusive marketing, with the do-not-call registry and spam legislation. Unfortunately, these efforts have had little impact because they are not always enforced, especially at the small-business level. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting my readers are pushing Viagra or debt relief a la spam; however, your sales activity may “perceptually” lump you into that category.
I believe it was Freud who said, “People do not react to reality; they react to their perception of reality.” How do your customers and prospects perceive your contacts? If you want to stay top-of-mind, you must stay in touch. How you do so determines whether you are perceived as a sinner or a saint.
Some time ago my family received a call back from a local contractor who had given us a bid on a home improvement project. We were forced to put the project on hold because of a family health situation. The purpose of his call was simply to see how we were doing. He never once brought up the project — no selling, just concern. As long as we live, we’ll never forget him. In fact, we’ve sent him several referrals.
The point of my story is that, with his “service orientation,” he made several sales. Incorporating service contacts as the cornerstone of your communication strategy will pay off and keep you from being perceived as too pushy or promotion oriented. The key elements to remaining top-of-mind (without always selling) are message, channel, frequency and opt-out.
Message: This is where you have the greatest opportunity to gain favorable recall. Your service-oriented messages should significantly prevail over your number of selling attempts. Value-added content (free, compelling and relevant information) is a great way to keep your message on the desktop instead of in the recycle bin. The content should be high value, not promotional.
Channel: It is important to mix up the ways you deliver your messages. If you employ a variety of channels — phone, e-mail, blogs and snail mail (point-of-purchase and in-person if you’re in retail or a service industry) — you’ll appear less obtrusive and still remain top-of-mind. This is especially true when following up with prospects.
Frequency: The number of times you make contact, and the period of time in-between those contacts, will determine whether you are perceived as pushy or respectful. Your frequency and intervals of contact should be based on your industry and customer buying patterns (or level of interest). Higher interest levels and shorter sales cycles warrant more frequent contact. In contrast, you would lower your frequency of contacts when interest levels are lower or in the case of longer sales cycles.
Opt-out: Always give your customers and prospects an easy way out. You’ll do yourself more harm than good by communicating to somebody who doesn’t want to be contacted. For an extended period I received a weekly fax from a travel agency. I’ll remember them, all right. I’ll remember to never patronize them because they didn’t offer an opt-out.
Service contacts should outnumber sales calls. Execute your “service oriented” contacts like an ongoing campaign. If your company does not already have a contact database platform, there are many affordable customer relationship management applications and cloud-based solutions available. Google “CRM” and you’ll come up with a gazillion search results (I’m not sure how many zeros in a gazillion, but it’s a lot).
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Think about how you felt the last time somebody from a vendor, provider or outlet showed interest in you, and it had nothing to do with selling you. Make your customers feel that same way and you won’t need to worry about sales — they will happen!
Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a local agency specializing in growth strategies. For more information, call 425-337-1100 or go to www.mktg-solutions.com.
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