Spotlight: a conversation with Michael Ross, director of marketing, Sweetwater Sound Inc.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Sweet­water Sound?

A: Sweetwater is a multichannel merchant of professional audio equip­ment. Our catalogs include ProGear, which typically has 500 pages and is mailed three times a year to between 500,000 and 700,000 people, as well as Sweetwater Select, a high-end book for record producers. We also have an educational division that puts out a couple of catalogs. Finally, there’s a bi-monthly newsletter, and our Web site has 250,000 pages of information.

Q: With paper and postage cost increases having a significant impact on catalogers these days, what determines how much effort to put into customer retention, as opposed to customer acquisition?

A: We spend more time marketing to our current customer base than to new customers. We go through a lot of effort to have someone find us, and spend time to understand what he or she needs. As a result, we are able to develop a trust relationship with our customers because they realize we are trying to partner with them to build their recording. This enables us, for example, to send our customers e-mails with relevant information, which is one way we are able to keep costs down.

Q: What are some other ways that you are trying to keep costs down?

A: We work with a company that helps us source paper on our own, so that we’re purchasing paper for each catalog based on the best rate I can find. From a postage perspective, we try to get bulk mailing rates as often as possible, even if this means trucking catalogs to bulk mailing locations throughout the coun­try so that they aren’t moving through secondary channels of the post office.

Q: What are some of your customer engagement strategies?

A: We work really closely with manu­facturers to find out what kind of pro­motions they have available and look for relevant offers for our customers. This way, we can develop a package of products and a message around it that clearly describes the benefits of the products. We use this strategy in both our e-mails and catalogs.

Q: Some multichannel merchants are finding that their call centers are play­ing a less central role as sales con­tinue to migrate to the Internet. What about at Sweetwater?

A: We put 110% into providing acustomer service experience unlikeanything anyone has experienced before and our call center is a big part of that. For example, when someone places an order online, he or she receive a phone call from one of our sales engineers to make sure that was what they intended to buy — so they don’t receive something in the mail and say, “Hey, that’s not what I wanted.” Our call center associates all have professional recording experience. We also provide a large amount of training before someone is allowed to become a sales engineer and then continue upto six hours per week of ongoing training after that. The only way we can ensure that everyone understands the product and has a high level of respect for our customers is to have all of our employ­ees, including the sales engineers, under one roof at our headquarters in Fort Wayne, IN.

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