Refereeing the Demand for the Customer's Attention
It's a compelling vision, to be sure. But unfortunately, most of us are still grappling with much more mundane, real-world problems, some of them created by the very technologies that are supposed to make us better relationship managers. Here's one that invariably comes up when companies with a product management focus acquire the technologies that will allow them to implement a database-driven customer communications program. When a specific customer is an equally good prospect for Products A, B, C and D, which of the four product managers gets first dibs? And if the internal fight for ownership of the customer turns ugly, how do you referee that competition? Here's how:
Use modeling to establish the hierarchy. Instead of relying on the corporate pecking order to establish product priorities, use predictive modeling to rank each customer's likelihood to buy each product. Usually, you'll find that for a specific customer, model scores will vary from product to product.
Once you've established the hierarchy, use it to set priorities. The customer's attention should first be directed to the product he or she finds most attractive. Other product managers will get a crack at the customer, but they have to get in line. The argument that the company should attempt to sell customers what they really want is fairly easy to defend, and such a strategy can help take corporate personalities out of the equation.
Create a rule-based Contact Allocation Matrix. Ask any direct marketer, list fatigue is a fact. There is such a thing as too much customer contact, especially when the medium is telemarketing. Determine in advance how much contact you will allow by medium. For example, you might allow 12 direct mail contacts per year provided they are spaced at least three weeks apart, but only four telemarketing contacts at least 10 weeks apart. Then define what the allowable combinations might be. When telemarketing and mail are used in tandem, what should the limits be?
The Contact Allocation Matrix should also define no contact situations beyond the usual customer-initiated requests. For example, if a customer is in the middle of a fight with your service department or has stopped paying invoices, it probably doesn't make sense to solicit for new business until the problem is resolved.
It might also be appropriate to put the availability of some customers on hold temporarily. For instance, you may want to give the customer a preset period of time to respond to one offer before making another. Or, once the customer has responded, it might be appropriate to allow time for the final consummation of that sale before soliciting for additional products.
And finally, there are occasional set-aside situations where you know a customer is going to be part of an upcoming promotion, and you'll want to reserve that customer for that initiative.
Opportunity mapping. Sometimes, events that are out of your control can transcend all your planning. Birthdays, new babies, customer moves, career changes and expiring products or service contracts can all create selling opportunities or attrition dangers that need to be addressed when they happen. Ask your product managers or your field sales channel for input on what events to watch for. Organize your campaign management to sense and respond to these occurrences.
Creating a consensus. As with many business situations, you'll want to get everyone in the boat with you on this. Otherwise, one or more product managers will attempt to drill holes in the boat. Get them all in the same room and let them set up the rules to drive the matrix before you put the system in place. Don't dictate your own viewpoint unless they hit an impasse. If that happens you may need to involve senior management in the resolution of the dispute. It is critically important that you create consensus on this issue, since rules only work when they are followed.
You also need to give some thought to ways in which people can get around the rules. If you're in charge of the campaign management, but individual product managers can get their buddies in IT to give them a bootleg customer list when you're not watching, the strategy will fail.
Someday soon, some company somewhere is actually going to attempt to implement the grand strategy of turning marketing over to the machines, driving business with technology that decides which customers should be contacted, how often, when, what to say, what media or channel to employ, how to respond when a customer initiates the dialogue, even how products should be priced to individual customers.
Until then, you're in charge. Make the most of it.
Richard N. Tooker is executive vice president of Customer Development Corp., Peoria, IL.