Stronger relationships make for better customers

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Frank Bocchino, VP-marketing at OpenClose Mortgage Software, believes in three words when it comes to creating lasting social media relationships with customers: consistency, frequency and variety. According to Bocchino, marketing relationships are like any other relationship. They require nurturing, and you've got to keep it interesting and honest. Being a good listener doesn't hurt either. OpenClose specializes in selling social media tracking software to financial institutions. This is a particularly difficult challenge because, unlike most retail businesses, banks and mortgage companies are bound by a very strict set of regulations that governs their behavior and communications. Nevertheless, just like any other business, banks are intensely interested in the emerging world of relationship marketing—making customer education a particularly important part of the sales cycle. At the very least, Bocchino said, he tries to show his customers the value of listening—even if they can't participate in social media conversations. “You don't want to ignore the listening aspect of the influencers,” he said. “If the only thing you do is listen and follow, your efforts will be more rewarding because you'll hear what's being said about you.” One of the issues with relationship marketing, said Andy Sernovitz, author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” (Kaplan Publishing, 2009), is an overfocus on social media tools. “In the future, I think we'll stop talking about the tools,” he said. “Right now, we're all going through a wave of talking about the technology. When we stop talking about the technology, it will be about the customer.” Bocchino agreed, saying that he thinks the term “social media” will disappear in the near future as walls between customers and companies crumble. This doesn't mean companies will stop trying to figure out how to track conversations or customers. Instead, marketers will be forced to engage in more direct—perhaps even uncomfortable—conversations with a customer base that drives the conversation instead of the other way around. This means publicly responding to criticism and maintaining a steady flow of content that supports your company's sales efforts, no matter the platform. “Companies that don't talk back to people are considered snobs,” Sernovitz said. “Consumers expect companies to answer Facebook and Twitter the same way they expect them to answer the phone.” In this future, the rules that govern relationship marketing are probably the same ones we all learned in kindergarten, said Andrew Wilson, client development lead with iProspect in Boston. “Try to be a decent human being who is honest,” he said. “If every brand can do that, it's very powerful.”
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