“Relationships?! How do you do that when your business is all about selling boxes of widgets? Folks come to my site, order them and I ship them out…”
This is a common question. You have always viewed your company as one that makes something that others buy (hopefully more than once…), and then you make sure they get it. Pretty much the definition of “transactional”, and, especially if you operate an e-commerce site, you only know them by a name, address and order number. It doesn’t look like the opportunities to establish and grow a relationship, as you’re thinking of it, are that ripe.
…or are they?…
I’ve written before about a descriptive construct I call the VACC. It stands for Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community. There are different ways of looking at the people who interact with your business: The Customer Journey, the Sales Funnel, and so on. Viewing these people through the VACC lens focuses on the stage of the relationship they have with you business, and how you communicate and interact with them. Each stage is valuable and there is no hard line dividing them. Nonetheless, knowing, in greater depth, what each set of these people are looking for, how they act and react to you and your business, what their expectations are, and how you can communicate with them is vital to your business growth. Not knowing is the same as tossing your product out on to a virtual (or real…) sidewalk and hoping the right folks come by.
The Visitors group is by far the biggest. These people literally visit your site, Facebook business page, Twitter feed, Yelp page or other digital property you have. If they haven’t gotten there by accident, they may Like, Favorite or otherwise express more than a momentary passing interest in your business and what you represent and sell. Based upon that first impression, they may return. You obviously want them to, so you effort now is to get them past that fuzzy line between Visitor and Audience. There are a large number of strategies and approaches to accomplishing this, based on your industry, your size of business, and its complexity. If you have:
- Done the kind of market and audience research that results in a strategy that addresses the business and marketing goals (REAL GOALS, not just “I want to sell more stuff…..”)
- Taken the time to build out the plans that will guide and drive that strategy, and
- Executed on those plans…
You have begun the process of moving your Visitors towards becoming your Audience.
Why Audience and not straight to Customers? To paraphrase Dr. Ivan Misner, this is about farming, not hunting. A significant portion of the research you have done (or have worked with an expert of do…) has been to discover the areas of interest your Audience has. Part of the strategy you build out is one that regularly publishes content that not only is of great interest to you Audience, but fulfills the qualifications of relevance, value, entertainment and, what Jay Baer calls Youtility (marketing so valuable that your Audience would be willing to pay for it, if they had to). There a number types of content you can publish, once again based on your Audience’s interest, as well as their favored kind of communication (you found this out from your research, right?). Over time you are not only raising your company’s visibility but working to establish your credibility as an expert in this area, as well as establishing your unique voice. Without a unique voice, you are in danger of only adding to the noise that is the Internet.
Other factors that make this move to Audience important include timing, memory and digital channel.
- Timing is an admission of the fact that a member of your Audience may not be “ready to buy” immediately after discovering you. A low percentage may be, but more than likely they are satisfying some curiosity about your product and are not quite ready to buy. You can establish your expertise and the attractiveness of your company and products ahead of time! This can also drive referrals to others from your Audience, even if they’re not ready to buy.
- Memory is about keeping your company and product closer to the top of their thoughts until they are ready to buy. While “top of mind” is a good place to be, a better place to be is “friend of mine” marketing! Just how valuable your information published and interactions with your VACC, along with consistency and an authentic voice online, go along way to establishing a strong place in memory.
- Digital Channel is about where your VACC is online. An awesome web site is the foundation of your digital presence. Beyond that, where is your VACC? It depends on the kind of business you have. Facebook is a natural place to start research since is it so huge and pervasive. If you have a “brick and mortar” establishment, being on Yelp may make sense. Key demographic is younger?…look into Snapchat or Instagram. Are professional services the focus of your business? Digging into LinkedIn may make sense. However, in all cases, “your mileage may vary.” Consider your VACC, identify your “Alpha Customer”, and, most importantly, so not spread yourself thin. Pick one or two channels, and execute your strategy deliberately, measuring success and remaining agile as the channels make changes (they do regularly). Once you experience the effectiveness of this effort, it may be time to do some more research and see where else new members of your VACC are online.
Once members of your Audience make the decision to purchase product from you or engage with your service, they are Customers. Needless to say, the relationship with Customers is different. Both of you have “skin in the game” now. The concepts of Customer Experience and Customer Support take on an enormous importance. The focus is still on the VACC, but now they expect very specific things from you. Among these are:
- A seamless purchasing experience
- Receiving the product or service they purchased:
- in a timely fashion
- in “brand new and works as expected” condition, if it’s a product
- in a professional manner, performing at or above expectations, if it’s a service
- A reasonable (that is, EXCELLENT) level of customer support if needed or asked for.
This Customer NEVER changes….even if they move onto a different but similar product or service from yours. There is a reason they do that, but they will always have been your Customer, and may likely pass on the reason(s) for choosing something or someone else to others. It is really up to you whether the Customer is one of a “string of pearls” (a great, happy and enthusiastic customer) or a “necklace of nasty” (actively campaigning for anyone other than you, due to dissatisfaction).
A distinct minority of Customers may become so enamored of your products and services they actually become unpaid evangelists for you. These people are the core of your Community. Love them. Nurture them. Give them tee-shirts. LISTEN TO THEM! Being ever more open and authentic with them will help you uncover better ways of doing business, new ideas for products and services, and even help them others in the customer experience and support areas. You see this with products like smart phones. The Android community, for example, has a number of online communities to which users may go to get their questions answered, concerns alleviated, and knowledgeable technical support from those who wish to help out (so they demonstrate both their expertise and philanthropy). Most companies ignore these people, since they require a lot of attention and resources. However, that is because they don’t understand the real value of having a Community.
Knowing, understanding and building the right relationships with your VACC will make your business.
Want to learn more and get started? Call me!