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Reach customers throughout sales cycle and beyond

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A January report by Experian Marketing Services found that marketers that sent e-mail to website visitors who had abandoned shopping carts had 20 times the transaction rates and revenue per e-mail compared with standard bulk mailings. “The Remarketing Report” also found that those same marketers saw double the open rates and quadruple the click-through rates of most other e-mail campaigns. The lesson? Target people when they are ready to buy and they're much more likely to actually do so. This is, of course, the strategy behind most life cycle marketing programs. By targeting your e-mail messages based on where the recipient is in the sales cycle, you should see bigger lifts, more satisfied customers and more retention and repurchase over the long haul. Marketers know this, and it is one stage that most seem to have a good take on, said Aaron Smith, principal with digital marketing services company Smith-Harmon, a unit of online marketing firm Responsys. “I think all b-to-b marketers have a solid hold on acquisition,” he said. However, as the length of the sales cycle grows and more people become involved in the buying decision—something common in b-to-b sales but an element that is becoming even more so in this challenging economy—marketers need to fine-tune their efforts, Smith said, or risk exciting the end-user but losing the sale as the request moves up the approval ladder. This means marketers need to segment lists carefully and, at least in the beginning, feel out prospects to see what “bucket” they fall into, said Mike Hotz, a senior strategic consultant with Responsys. “My suggestion is to use a progressive profiling program. Ask questions one at a time with each e-mail touch. Handle the nurture program as you would a sales call,” he said. “Don't assume too much, and let the customer set the tone and the pace.” This might mean inserting a poll into the message or providing multiple links—for example, “Click here if you're a small-businessperson” or “Click here if you're a midsize company.” Either way, customers and prospects in the consideration phase need more nurturing, and marketers must monitor metrics so their messaging can be quickly changed should those recipients' actions change, said Morgan Stewart, director of research and strategy for ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions. “During the consideration stage, companies do well by focusing on two complementary goals,” he said. “First, they deliver content that helps establish themselves as the expert on the topic of interest. Second, they educate the consumer on the products or services the consumer inquired about.” The type of content can vary greatly. It's no longer enough to provide a simple, educational e-mail newsletter. Prospects in the information-gathering stage need more than just straight text, said Jim Wehmann, senior VP-global marketing for online marketing firm Digital River, who suggested surveys, links to white papers, case studies and customer testimonials. News articles, blog posts, social media fodder and third-party materials from analysts, news organizations or industry watchers are also options. Q&As with salespeople can be especially useful for dispelling misconceptions and explaining how products differ from others on the market, said Chad White, research director with Smith-Harmon, as can free trials and offers of live demonstrations, when applicable. Once the customer pays for a transaction, the first thing they should receive is a thank you, said Lisa Arthur, CMO of enterprise marketing management company Aprimo. After that, marketers should help that customer get the most out of the purchase so he or she feels that they got a great deal. “A week later, you want to send something saying: "We know you purchased. Here are the benefits and how-tos so you can take full advantage of what you've got,' “ she said. Case studies are a good option, she said, because they can show how other purchasers are finding success. “You need to give them some confidence that the company they have bought from cares about them,” she said. Retention e-mails can help keep customers on board, but they can also help up- and cross-sell other products or services, squeezing new revenue out of old customers. It should go without saying that customers should receive e-mails well before licenses are set to expire or a new product update is slated for introduction; however, many companies forget that current customers can also become their best salespeople, said George DiGuido, VP-e-mail marketing at interactive marketing agency Zeta Interactive. “Once someone "transacts' with you, you still need to keep consistency in the messaging and keep that dialogue going. Marketers spend so much money on acquisition, but then they miss out on other opportunities,” he said. Retention e-mails should also contain information to help recipients quantify your product's value, said Janine Popick, CEO and a co-founder of VerticalResponse. “You want to help them increase the ROI—[by offering] ideas, information, tips and "How can I help yous?' “ she said. “You're not doing a hard sell; it's more, "Did you know?' “ Lapsed customers can also benefit from life cycle marketing, although these messages should be handled with care, said Digital River's Wehmann. “You have to be much less aggressive because, as frequency and sell goes up, complaints do, too,” he said. “Messages should be, "Haven't heard from you in a while' or "Confirm that we've got the right information.' You have to make sure the customer is still working at the company and if your product is still something that works for them.” This is a good place for surveys as well as short messages explaining new product features or updates, he said. Win-back offers of discounts or special deals can also work, but a better option is never letting a customer become lapsed to begin with, said Smith-Harmon's White. “If you're doing life cycle marketing right, you never get to that point,” he said. Originally published Jan. 18, 2010
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