Among those of us who serve and cater to customers, it seems a basic universal truth that we want to maintain steady and loyal relationships in order to drive more sales. This fact also drives fairly consistent confusion as to what to do and how to do it. The question, “what?” usually results in a disparate list of marketing tactics, such as promotions, discounts, limited-time offers, and so forth. The question, “how?” is usually answered with different communication channels: email, advertising, special events, social media, mobile, etc.
The answer to all of the above, of course, is “Yes,” or rather, “Yes, but…”
Keeping an Open Line of Communication
When it comes to keeping an open line of communication between customers’ visits, there are two primary areas where independent retailers should look for answers: insight and content.
Most retailers have more customer and market insight than they realize. And because they aren’t aware of it, many have not yet put it to work in their favor. Once gathered and analyzed, this information very easily “reveals” what needs to be done and how to do it; it is essentially the blue print of all external forces that affect and influence your business (i.e., selling seasons, customers, sales channels, and competition).
Content is the communication that results from this knowledge. Its mode of delivery is informed by the nature of the messaging and the original insight. Following are the types of insight that will help independent retailers close the communication gap with their customers in between visits, followed by a number of content options that will allow them to do so.
Business and Customer Insight
A number of external and business-/customer-specific factors drive and affect your sales, and are therefore necessary to fully understanding how to create incremental sales. Insight from factors such as website analytics, CRM and CMS information, in-store and online sales performance, research, focus groups, and personal relationships with customers are the basic foundation on which a strategy should be devised.
Know Your Selling Seasons
It’s rarely as simple as tying your promotions to and planning your sales cycles around standard holidays and occasions such as “Back to School,” “Christmas” or “The New Year.” Depending on what you sell and who you sell to, these events either affect you or don’t; their mere existence does not influence buyers. Knowing that you do great back to school business, but not a whole lot after that until Christmas, for instance, will help you determine selling and marketing platforms that will create spikes during those slow months. The goal being to smooth the gaps between your selling seasons.
Know Your Customers
Knowing your customers intimately will not only allow you to better meet their needs, it will give you the opportunity to enter their circles of influence. The latter is your least-cost opportunity to win new customers. How are you creating not just satisfied customers, but loyal, vocal customers who will actively communicate positively about you to their own networks? And how are you equipping them with the “tools” they need to spread the word in a way that will produce sales activity? Before that, though, you need to ensure that you keep your current customers happy. How much attention are you paying to those who shopped but didn’t buy, and those who purchased, but may not have actually found everything they were looking for? Often, it’s what people “wanted to” or “didn’t buy” that tells you more about how to improve than what they did purchase.
Know Your Channels
How is your online store performing in comparison to your physical one(s)? How are online sales increasing the SKUs you carry and how is that affecting your bottom line? How do all of your channels communicate with one another, and how do you manage your stock?
Know Your Competition
Staying tuned in to the world around you helps you gain a keen understanding of other companies’ rhythms. Don’t just loosely pay attention to what they’re doing, instead track patterns and trends you notice among a number of them. Write these down, and consider whether similar tactics make sense for your business. Be proactive in developing stronger, more timely product launches/promotions by understanding and anticipating what competitors are doing or will do.
Content for Better Communication
The above insights will give you what you need to determine the type(s) of content you should use to reach customers, and the communication channels necessary in doing so. The following is just a sampling of the different ways you can increase your percentage of customer “mind share.”
A smart content strategy and editorial calendar are necessary to developing a blog that will drive reliable traffic, and allow you to influence and communicate with customers regularly. The primary goals of a blog are to add value that transcends the actual shopping experience (which may otherwise be limited to certain occasions), increase loyalty and maximize the opportunities to communicate new offers. Beyond your own offers, you can introduce visitors to other brands and sites you value (non-competitive but relevant, ideally), which increases your value as a waypoint where they come for tips, relevant information and in-the-know expertise.
Customers are on their iPhones and other PDAs more than they’re on the Web. Depending on the insight you gathered about your online referral traffic, target demographics, and behavior on your site, you should be able to determine whether an app will make their lives easier (and make it more convenient for them to buy from you in the process). But don’t just create an app to sell; become a lifestyle/category provider of aggregated content. When you are the center of a valued content category, you are the center of their lives. Sales will result naturally from there.
Show up where they look for information on your category. Your competitor research and analytics will inform decisions here. Where are your competitors showing up that you’re not? What keywords are sending buyers to your site? What keywords aren’t? And once you get customers to your site, what are they doing or not doing? Banner ads, PPC and SEO efforts are great, but tie them to promotions and desirable content in order to convert browsers into buyers.
You’ve determined your artificial selling seasons; the next step is to time your communication with them. It’s important to plan this communication well in advance, and to start promotions a few weeks prior. Customers have come to rely on retailers to remind them of important events; retailers shouldn’t rely on customers to remind them of popular shopping seasons.
Crown Partners CEO Richard Hearn’s career trajectory captures his commitment to redefining the way companies do business. Hearn launched and built Crown Partners on the idea that technology and marketing can work together to create transformational solutions. In the ten years since he co-founded Crown Partners, Hearn has led the company to success year after year with its commitment to creating rapid, transformative growth for clients through digital eBusiness solutions.