Distributors often fear that they will annoy their customers with too many marketing messages. But if those marketing messages are relevant, customers actually welcome them. This article examines customer preferences for marketing communications and how distributors can capitalize on what customers want.
We sometimes let our personal preferences influence our business beliefs. One area where we’ve found this to be most prevalent is with customer communications. We assume customers will think our marketing emails are “spam,” and they certainly wouldn’t want to receive another phone call during their busy day. But the reality is that customers do want to hear from you.
Over several years and dozens of surveys, we have asked distributors’ customers to rate types of communications and the frequency they wanted to hear from their distributors. In every case, the distributor was astounded to learn how open customers are to appropriate and timely marketing and sales communication. But they do have very specific communication preferences depending on the type of communication.
Table 1-1 summarizes our findings.
Customers prefer to receive communications in both digital and print formats; they still want to receive the traditional print catalog once a year. As we’ve discussed in past articles, print is still a viable and preferred form for customers to have a complete view of your products. Due to economic pressures, many distributors have either discontinued their print catalogs or have severely reduced circulation. In industries where a Web presence may be in its infancy, it is important to maintain a vehicle that offers the breadth of your product selection.
One distributor whose customers we surveyed had stopped sending catalogs unless customers specifically requested them. But we found that most of the distributor’s customers wanted to receive the catalog on an annual basis, because they actively used it to order and source product.
Respondents said they wanted to receive product-related specials and discount offers on a monthly basis. The delivery method for these could range from a 12- to 15-page print flyer introducing new products to a targeted email informing customers of a discontinued item.
One electrical distributor thought emails would be perceived as spam, and they didn’t want to upset their customers. But customers said they are open to receiving messages, as long as those messages are relevant. The key to ensuring your emails aren’t perceived as spam is to deliver information the customers are most interested in. It doesn’t make sense to send an email about a product they would never use, but it does make sense to email customers with a complementary product to one they just purchased. Targeted email campaigns are an excellent way to inform customers of your product breadth.
The area where we saw the greatest variance in preference was sales rep visits. Responses ranged from weekly to annually, based on the industry we reviewed. Field sales is the primary sales channel for most distributors, and customers are used to being visited on a normal schedule, based on need. Although field sales is important in uncovering new opportunities and providing a valuable bridge between the customer and the company, it is also the most expensive sales channel and can be easily enhanced through other marketing channels.
For example, we found that the customers of a hardware distributor preferred receiving a weekly or monthly phone call rather than a field sales visit. There are many reasons for this – better relationships with inside sales, customer time constraints, and so on. But the point is you can expand customer touches beyond the normal field sales call.
Customers are open to hearing from you in different ways. This opens the door to more opportunities to extend your company’s reach with less expensive touches such as email and proactive phone calls.
Proactive phone calls will be more expensive than an email, but are still one-tenth the cost of a field sales call. In some cases, they are more effective. Don’t assume that your customers only want a field visit. They may prefer a phone call with targeted information that only takes a few minutes rather than spending an hour with a field sales rep. Cost comparisons between field sales and outbound calls are significant, as shown in Table 1-2 below.
Personalize your touch points with your customers for a more effective marketing push. Customers should be allowed to choose how they want to receive your communications. They can be asked on an inbound phone call, a field visit or even in an email.
Tell them that you want to let them know about products and services that interest them and that you will respect how they want to receive this information.
Trust in your company’s value, and don’t assume that customers don’t want to hear from you.
Jonathan Bein, Ph.D. is a senior partner at Real Results Marketing. Debbie Paul, a partner at Real Results Marketing, was vice president of call centers at Newark, an electronics distributor, and has held positions at Sears and Allstate Insurance. Contact them at email@example.com or visit www.realresultsmarketing.com.