MeritDirect Co-op: Marketing to customer life cycle, buying potential

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Each summer, database marketing company MeritDirect conducts it's Mailers' Co-op, bringing together an array of marketing gurus, its top customers and in-house experts to discuss database marketing best practices. This year's event, held last month in White Plains, N.Y., touched on such topics as how best to market to the customer life cycle, manage in-house files and increase conversion rates.

The scope was wide, but the message was clear: Best practices abound, but it takes focus and work to break old habits.

“We measure and reward the quick hit; any kind of ‘relationship' with a customer becomes a cost to be driven down,” said Scott Hornstein, president of sales and marketing consultancy Hornstein Associates, in a conference session titled “Marketing to the Customer Life Cycle.” “But customers exist in a continuum. They judge our commitment to how we respond to their changing needs, whether or not they're buying right now.”

Hornstein cited several critical success factors to accomplish this kind of responsiveness. First, he said, “rethink the turnstile relationship,” where immediate sales are all-important; then, market to the customer life cycle, listening to voice-of-the-customer feedback. Use all marketing channels both to reach out and to listen, he advised, and focus on your best customers.

“Those are the ones with the highest ROI, and who bring you the most money at the cheapest cost over time,” Hornstein said. “It's an investment in your future.”

The value of precisely those kinds of customers was the focus of “Three House File Insights That Will Change Your World,” a session presented by MeritDirect Marketing Consultant Andrew Joyce and company VP Dan Harding.

The duo focused on what Joyce called “simple things” that are often overlooked. Chief among them, he said, is parsing the in-house database to identify those companies that have “two-plus buyers,” not just one.

“It's not earth-shattering, but it's a trend we've seen over and over again,” said Joyce. “The more buyers you have at one site, the more popular you are, the more they probably need your stuff and the easier it is to generate sales.

“The key here is doing something about it,” he said.

Joyce presented MeritDirect findings on those companies with single-individual buyers, compared with those with two, three or four buyers apiece. While the companies with a single internal buyer may make up the bulk of a marketer's in-house list, their contribution to revenue is small or even negative, given typical employee churn and customer attrition.

While sites with two or more internal buyers are much fewer, their amount of sales easily equals the single buyer sites, and their contributions are multiples higher. One reason, Joyce said, is the development of a communal spirit of confidence and loyalty.

“Multibuyer sites stay active longer,” Joyce said. One-buyer sites have an average retention of just 28%, while companies with two or more buyers produce a retention as high as 83%, he said, citing MeritDirect research.

The lesson: Don't look at across-the-board statistics.

“Beware the deception of averages,” Joyce said. “The key to getting ‘wallet share' up is getting more buyers per site.”

Harding stressed the importance of retargeting after prospects become customers. In particular, he detailed the capabilities of MeritDirect's Mercury product, which analyzes types of customer responses to accumulate prospects' projected future revenues.

“Don't make prospecting decisions based solely on upfront response results,” Harding said. “Make sure [they are] directed by future value as well.”

Also important is availing yourself of every advantage possible. That was the theme of “Tips & Tricks for the Online B-to-B Marketer,” presented by Paul Thau, president of media buying company Winterbridge Media. His first tip was to use multivariate testing on landing pages in order to boost conversions.

“And if you can eke out a couple of percentage points of lift in conversion, the increase in profits can be much more that a couple of percentage points because your costs of media haven't risen,” Thau said.

“If you can get a 5% conversion lift, your profitability can increase by 15%,” he asserted.
Other tips suggested by Thau included using an online video spokesperson, a video of an actual human “walking” onto a landing page to help further explain the text. That is another conversion-lifter, he said.

“And it's something you can do for under $1,000 and two hours of work,” Thau added. “It adds a completely different dimension to your site, stressing things most visitors wouldn't know because they don't read every word on the page.”

Other simple tips: Adding an instant chat option, which can be turned on and off depending on staffing schedules; adding phone numbers to paid search ads; offering one-step checkout for those b-to-b companies with an e-commerce capability; and segmenting e-mail lists, to customize offers and not alienate recipients with a inbox deluge.

One intriguing tip was to continue to communicate via e-mail at the precise time each particular user originally signed up.

“If we know when a person opted in via a first purchase or conversion, there is a slightly better chance that that is the day and time that person is more likely to be responsive,” Thau said.

Each tip and trick may not mean much individually, but in toto, the impact can be significant, Thau said.

“If you can lift conversion rates through the e-mail channel by 10%, you'll been blown away by what that means for the business,” he said.

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