Putting All Your Customers in One Basket

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One Saturday morning a few months ago, an associate of mine walked into the local membership warehouse and was offered a free box of eggs. All he had to do was provide an e-mail address and a willingness to receive future marketing messages. I realized they were collecting customer e-mail addresses for a fraction of what it would cost them online.


Another example: A catalog retailer collects addresses and permission when customers call its telephone order center. Most callers have e-mail addresses and are willing to share them - especially when there is some incentive.


Here is a secret to bringing your offline customers online: Ask them. Invite them. Talk to them. Every chance you get. Driving visitors to your online presence through banner ads or opt-in e-mail and persuading them to register is expensive and inefficient. Even if they are already customers, passively giving them a URL will not necessarily get them flocking to your site.


Instead, look at the many ways your company interacts with customers daily. Do they have a membership or a punch card? How about that automated phone or answering service? Do you use it to entice a captive customer with site information? What about those order forms your customers fill out or a waiting room with table space for an online kiosk? Attack those opportunities of contact frequently and in imaginative ways.


Every employee who interacts with a customer is a potential recruiter, should be alert to online opportunities and should be supplied with the means to sign up online customers. Your company should be ready with an online experience designed to meet customers' expectations and should have a business strategy tailored to cultivate the new relationship.


We all know there are nearly a million different mantras and perfect solutions to relate with the coveted customer. But if converting the offline customer into an online one is a primary goal, all the technology in the world won't really take the place of intelligent, solid customer relationship development. Consider these five basic principles in the customer conversion process:


• Be realistic. Be willing to accept the need to change to a new form of communication with the customer. Develop a business vision that sees customers as the focus. Think from the perspective of what customers would do if they were in charge of your business.


• Be relational. Like a successful personal relationship, view customer opportunities as a marriage of new and different ideas. This will create successful marketing vehicles, new customer experiences and, ultimately, sales.


• Be resplendent. Proudly display and promote your online offering. Intelligently blend traditional marketing creativity and intelligence with online responsiveness and personal engagement opportunity.


• Be resourceful. Adopt and deploy brilliant technologies and relentlessly use them to serve the relationship with your customers. Think through and correct any business process issues before thinking about technology or applying automated solutions.


• Be responsive. Develop an inhouse measurement team to analyze and adjust your online presence. Enhance customers' online experience with your business. Meet your customers' expectations.


Don't forget about e-mail. Existing customers are very willing to share their e-mail address and let you contact them when there is a benefit to them. E-mail is the most popular feature of the Internet. People like to get e-mail about things that interest them. Using it in conjunction with a well-thought-out Web site will give a customer real value. And e-mail will solidify customer relationships while saving you money.


Savvy companies are using customer-centric data collection methods to improve acquisition, retention and conversion of their client base. They are not just buying clicks and impressions anymore. They are leveraging their total online offering by collecting and using data available through these customer interactions. These companies then build marketing programs that extend and enhance their customers' life cycle by focusing on long-term, relationship-building events.


And don't forget to use it. My associate collected his box of eggs and gave the warehouse store his e-mail address. He told me he never received a single message. When a customer is recruited, you should immediately send a response - sort of a "thanks for signing up" message with an e-coupon or some other reward. Begin the dialogue. Offer an incentive to give more information. Then merge that with what you already know about him. Customize - then let the customer know you want to meet his unique needs.


Remember, with the increased competition and advertising noise in our world today, you need better tactics to cut through the clutter. You know you want to improve your online return on investment through better targeting, customization and personalized marketing, right? Anyone can buy tools and collect data. Only a wise few will use that data to develop a personalized online experience that rings your till.


Above all, don't forget to be innovative in capitalizing on your offline customers. Smart thinking can lead real-world customers to your online experience - as well as poach customers from your competition.
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