Creative Direct Mail for 2018

Direct mail has been around for a very long time. If you continue to do the same old pieces you have been mailing in 2017 you will see a drop in your response rates. You must create new, fresh and engaging direct mail pieces to get the results you need. Why should you continue to mail with all of the other channel options?

Bring Direct Mail to Life with Interactive ElementsDirect mail has been around for a very long time. If you continue to do the same old pieces you have been mailing in 2017, you will see a drop in your response rates. You must create new, fresh and engaging direct mail pieces to get the results you need. Why should you continue to mail with all of the other channel options? Here are two stats from the DMA 2017 Fact Book: Direct mail customer response rates increased year-over-year by 43 percent and prospect response rates increased year-over-year by 190 percent.

How can you best leverage these response rates for your 2018 mail campaigns? Know what your audience wants so you send that to them and use the tips below:

Engaging

There are so many creative ideas to get people to engage with your mail pieces. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. So we have a few ideas that have worked really well for others. They do not have to be expensive:

  1. Paper — Look at the paper you are using, consider adding texture with either different stock or adding a coating to it. Using the sense of touch is a great way to draw people in and it can’t be done with digital marketing.
  2. Folds — Have you considered using creative folds? Folding requires interaction; your audience must open the folds. You can have short panels, multiple folds within a mailer and even endless folds, where you just keep unfolding panels with different messaging on each one.
  3. Technology — There are so many different technologies available now to enhance your direct mail pieces. Mobile devices are with us all of the time now, incorporate ways for people to use them with your mail pieces, such as augmented reality or near field communication. You can also add video screens to your mail pieces so they would not need a mobile device to launch your video message.

Eye-catching

Through the use of images, color and creativity, you can grab attention.

  1. Images — Don’t use boring stock images. Find fun images that stick with your brand and messaging, but are out of the ordinary. You want to make people curious and draw them into the copy.
  2. Color — There are so many color options you can really find ones that stand out in the mail box. This is not a time to be boring; grab attention right away.
  3. Creativity — Unique designs work best. Think of mail pieces you have done in the past and spice them up with new creative changes. You can use die cuts, metallic ink and so much more.

Response

For 2018, you need to offer many ways to respond. When you make it easy for people to respond, in the way they prefer, you get more responses.

  1. Phone — Provide a phone number for people to call. If you are able, use a special number to track your responses, if not, give them a response code that they will need to provide when they call in.
  2. Web — Create a special landing page just for this campaign. You can track who has looked at it, as well as who actually filled out the form.
  3. Email — Provide an email address that they can respond to.
  4. Text — Allow people to text to respond by providing a text short code.
  5. Come In — If you have a location, give people the option to come in and see you; provide an address for them to do just that.

Your 2018 direct mail should really pop if you use these tips. Of course this does not address your list and any information you may have on your customers and prospects. You of course need to send the right offers to the right people to get the response rates you want. Taking the time to set goals, get creative and track responses will help you create the best direct mail for 2018. Are you ready to get started? Have you had good success with a fun mail piece? Tell us about it.

You Know Your Mobile Customers Better Than You Think

Consumers are generally very attached to their smartphones and only connect with those they trust. This very reason is why mobile marketing is perceived as a “friendlier” way to engage with consumers. Research shows 95 percent of mobile users read their text messages within three minutes. Now, imagine the impact your mobile marketing will have if you deliver relevant offers, mobile coupons and discounts to your customers-they are almost guaranteed to be read and are more than likely to be acted upon if the message is targeted based on the what you already know about the customer.

Consumers are generally very attached to their smartphones and only connect with those they trust. This very reason is why mobile marketing is perceived as a “friendlier” way to engage with consumers. Research shows 95 percent of mobile users read their text messages within three minutes. Now, imagine the impact your mobile marketing will have if you deliver relevant offers, mobile coupons and discounts to your customers—they are almost guaranteed to be read and are more than likely to be acted upon if the message is targeted based on the what you already know about the customer.

Over the last couple years, mobile marketing has proven itself as an effective way to acquire and maintain customer data. This is true because people generally keep their phone numbers forever compared to their email addresses. Therefore having strong persistent personal IDs, such as a phone number, enables brands to track, evaluate, and optimize their mobile marketing campaigns to determine overall effectiveness.

Leverage What You Already Know
There are major benefits from using mobile messaging as part of a brands overall marketing campaign. Now brands and organizations are tracking and segmenting the users who are in their marketing databases. Information that has been collected through loyalty programs, incentive based marketing and opt-in’s which enables brands to better understand their customers interests and what they will respond to.

Turn Loyalty Programs Into Customize Incentives
Connecting a consumer’s phone number to their loyalty program ID can turn generic SMS offers into customized incentives. If you know what your customers are buying, and more importantly, what incentives bring them into your stores, you can use this information to make offers more dynamic and personal. Which in turn will drive a higher return rate and increase on-going customer loyalty.

CRM and Triggered Messaging
Most CRM systems track events throughout the customer lifecycle. Many of these events represent an opportunity to sell more product and service. These events can be used to trigger personalized messages to your customers that facilitate the sales process. Include a click to call, or drive them to your e-commerce enabled website to move them to purchase faster. Make sure your website is mobile ready!

Extend Your Knowledge of Your Customers
Using Mobile Messaging in your retention marketing doesn’t have to be a one-way conversation. In addition to tying in what you already know about your customers within your CRM or loyalty databases, you can gain insight from the SMS interactions as well. An integration between your back-office systems and your SMS provider can push new data points into your database that round out your customer profiles and lead to additional re-marketing opportunities.

There is a lot that can be done with the information that is collected about customers within a CRM system. While this data can be a great resource for things like consumer segmentation and establishing marketing strategy, it can also be leveraged real-time on a very personal level. Leveraging this data via SMS or other mobile engagements can lead to greater results through right-time, right device, and the right-message that walk the customer down the path to purchase.

As brands continue to evolve their mobile marketing strategies through more personalized interactions, they will be able to build stronger relationships, increase engagement and drive loyalty.

When Viral Marketing Goes Too Far

A couple of years ago, our local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, ran a disturbing story about how a mortgage loan company in Phoenix had sent spam advertising messages which appeared on the screens of thousands of wireless phone customers. Not only were the messages not requested, but these customers had to pay to retrieve them.

A couple of years ago, our local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, ran a disturbing story about how a mortgage loan company in Phoenix had sent spam advertising messages which appeared on the screens of thousands of wireless phone customers. Not only were the messages not requested, but these customers had to pay to retrieve them.

In the United States, phone numbers are allocated to wireless companies in blocks of 9,999, all beginning with the same three-digit prefix following the area code. The text messaging address for each mobile phone is derived from the phone number assigned to each customer’s handset and the wireless company’s name. This means that an advertiser can simply choose any three digit prefix in an area code and send a message to 10,000 people by changing the last four digits after the prefix

One industry analyst noted that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This type of spam is cheap and easy for advertisers to use. Wireless text messaging is widely used in the U.S.; and, while some carriers are taking precautions to protect their customers from text message advertising, so far neither the direct marketing industry nor the federal government has been able to control this form of spam. As the president of the mortgage company noted, the advertising had brought in new clients and “There still isn’t any rule against emailing.” Online, the concept of “permission marketing” is similarly tossed aside each day with the receipt of unsolicited promotional emails.

We call this indiscriminate solicitation of prospective customers one variation of the “Casanova Complex” customer acquisition model, reflective of the 18th century Italian adventurer, perhaps best known for his many female “conquests.” In the haste to bring in customers, companies can often forget to court the right customers, those who represent the best long-term revenue potential, or who won’t overtax the company’s customer service and support structure.

If offline instances of the Casanova Complex are a disease, then it is an epidemic among Internet companies. Many online retail sites have engaged in sweepstakes and other customer generation programs. Their objectives, they say, are to create “viral” promotions which create excitement for their sites and build their databases of available names both inexpensively and quickly. In one instance, a portal site which runs more than 1,000 websites featuring links to other sites signed up 50,000 registrants in a “Win Up to $4,000” game. Another sweepstakes program secured 126,000 registrants. An online travel products retailer, offering 1 million air miles to the winner, generated more than 60,000 names in 90 days, almost all of whom were new to the site.

The big issue for any of these sites is—do these promotions and schemes draw attractive customers who can then be cultivated over time through the various marketing tools available today? And, once these customers are on board, are companies doing enough of the right things to keep them? Or is this just another extrapolation of the Casanova Complex? As one site marketing executive said: “This is a great, low-cost way for us to acquire new names. The jury’s still out on how many of those new people will come back.” Companies involved in developing or using promotional tools like sweepstakes, unsolicited email, or wireless spam seem inclined, though, at least for the moment, to believe that these possibilities generally don’t apply to them.

For traditional offline companies, the Internet may be “commoditizing” their industry or undermining customer relationships. Many brick and mortar CEOs say a key corporate goal is to transition more of their offline customers to online, self-transactional usage. Why? Because an online transaction costs dramatically less than a brick-and-mortar transaction, there is less risk for service error, and the company can more effectively capture and leverage information from an online transaction, to cite a few advantages. Certainly, the transactional advantages of e-commerce are very appealing. But what about the effects on loyalty—especially for new customers?

One of the important ways both online and offline companies can discipline themselves to avoid the Casanova Complex is to apply personalization in all contact with customers, both new and established. This, at least, gives companies a better chance of establishing the basis of a value-based, viral relationship with these customers.

While it’s been estimated that more than 80 percent of e-commerce sites have customer and visitor email personalization capabilities (Opens as a PDF), less than 10 percent of the sites used personalization in follow-on marketing campaigns. For websites favoring incentive devices like sweepstakes and frontal assault “push” email programs to attract potential customers, personalized communication is the perhaps the best opportunity to demonstrate ongoing interest in customers—especially new ones.

Personalization is at the heart of the “relationship” in successful online CRM programs. Ultimately, it’s what makes any CRM effort viral.

5 Steps to Customer Data Hygiene: It’s Not Sexy, But It’s Essential

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached. Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it? And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached.

Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it?

And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data, like industry, revenue or employee size—so profiling and segmentation is pretty tough. In fact, the Netprospex report concluded that 84 percent of B-to-B marketing databases are “barely functional.” Yipes. So, what can you do about it?

This is not a new problem. Dun & Bradstreet reports regularly on how quickly B-to-B data degrades. Get this: Every year, in the U.S., business postal addresses change at a rate of 20.7 percent. If your customer is a new business, the rate is 27.3 percent. Phone numbers change at the rate of 18 percent, and 22.7 percent among new businesses. Even company names fluctuate: 12.4 percent overall, and a staggering 36.4 percent percent among new businesses.

No wonder your sales force is always complaining that your data is no good (although they probably use more colorful words).

Here are five steps you can take to maintain data accuracy, a process known as “data hygiene.”

1. Key enter the data correctly in the first place.
Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. This means following address guidelines from the Postal Service (for example, USPS Publication 28), and standardizing such complex things as job functions and company names. But it also means training for your key-entry personnel. These folks are often at the bottom of the status heap, but they are handling one of your most important corporate assets. So give them the respect they deserve.

2. Harness customer-facing personnel to update the data.
Leverage the access of customer-facing personnel to refresh contact information. Train and motivate call center personnel, customer service, salespeople and distributors—anyone with direct customer contact—to request updated information at each meeting. When it comes to sales people, this is an entirely debatable matter. You want sales people selling, not entering data. But it’s worth at least a conversation to see if you can come up with a painless way to extract fresh contact updates as sales people interact with their accounts.

3. Use data-cleansing software, internally or from a service provider, and delete obsolete records.
Use the software tools that are available, which will de-duplicate, standardize and sometimes append missing fields. These won’t correct much—it’s mostly email and postal address standardization—but they will save you time, and they are much cheaper than other methods.

4. Allow customers access to their records online, so they can make changes.
Consider setting up a customer preference center, where customers can manage the data you have on them, and indicate how they want to hear from you. Offer a premium or incentive, or even a discount, to obtain higher levels of compliance.

5. Outbound phone or email to verify, especially to top customers.
Segment your file, and conduct outbound confirmation campaigns for the highest value accounts. This can be by mail, email or telephone, and done annually. When you have some results, decide whether to put your less valuable accounts through the same process.

Do you have any favorite hygiene techniques to add to my list?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

The World Needs More Glennas

I’ve worn glasses since the seventh grade. And I celebrated a new level of euphoria when I purchased my first pair of contact lenses as a senior in college. But the fact remains, when I take out my contacts at night, I still need to wear glasses. So imagine how I suddenly got a pit in my stomach when I went to put on my glasses while spending the night in a NY hotel room, only to discover they were not in my suitcase

I’ve worn glasses since the seventh grade. And I celebrated a new level of euphoria when I purchased my first pair of contact lenses as a senior in college.

But the fact remains, when I take out my contacts at night, I still need to wear glasses—to see the TV, to make sure it’s the dog I’m letting in before I retire, and to ensure my kids are actually brushing their teeth from my not-so-secret vantage point down the hallway.

So imagine how I suddenly got a pit in my stomach when I went to put on my glasses while spending the night in a NY hotel room, only to discover they were not in my suitcase – or in my purse. I emptied the entire contents of both, and after squinting carefully at every single item, I reached the frightening conclusion that I had left them somewhere in my travels.

Between this moment and the last time I saw them, I had driven in a rental car, sat in an airport, flown on a plane, taken a train, taken a bus and walked 12 blocks in Manhattan. My glasses could have fallen out of my bag anywhere!

I started the task of retracing my steps, already convinced I would need to fork over a few hundred bucks for a new pair.

Since I had spent the weekend at my alma mater in Canada, I called the hotel in Ottawa and left a message for the head of housekeeping. After several phone calls back and forth and a thorough dissection of my previous room, the woman reported that my glasses were not found.

My next call was to the car rental company at the Ottawa airport, and luckily, the phone was answered by Glenna. She was pleasant enough, and promised to look in the “lost and found” and asked if I would please hold. About 15 minutes later she came back on the line and reported she had my glasses in her hand! While they were not in the lost and found, she had gone back into my rental vehicle and found them under the passenger seat.

“Will you be able to swing by and pick them up this week?” Glenna inquired.

“Um … no … I have no plans to return to Ottawa anytime soon.” I responded, “Any chance you could Fed Ex them to me in San Francisco?”

Glenna pondered that question for a few seconds, and hesitated, only fleetingly, before asking how that might work.

I explained that if she could give me her email address, I’d be happy to email her all the delivery details including my Fed Ex number, and that all she’d need to do would be package them up, fill out the form, and drop the box in a Fed Ex box. She agreed and gave me her email address.

It turns out that sending an international shipment of a pair of glasses is NOT that easy!

Glenna contacted Fed Ex, and they sent her a form to fill out, including something called the “Drop Ball” test. It seems Fed Ex needs to have proof of impact resistance, “within the meaning of 21 cfr 801.410″—whatever that means. However, it didn’t seem to deter Glenna!

She dutifully completed the forms, completed the Drop Ball test, and emailed me the tracking information.

Today, a Fed Ex box arrived from Glenna. Inside was a Fed Ex envelope (smart girl—she used it as “bubble wrap” to protect my glasses). But she went one step further. Inside the envelope was another box (turns out it was a Kleenex box), wrapped with a ton of paper and taped up tightly. And inside the Kleenex box was my (very expensive) pair of glasses.

Glenna had done everything she could think of to protect them and make sure they arrived without a scratch.

How does this all relate to marketing?

Brands spend millions of dollars trying to acquire and retain customers. But if you have a bad brand experience, you tend to bad-mouth the brand and never do business with them again. And in a world of crappy customer service, with workers who often just don’t seem to care, Glenna stands out as someone who will always go that extra mile.

So thank you Glenna—and thank you Budget Rent-A-Car for hiring Glenna. It goes without saying that I’m now a loyal Budget user for life!

When a Customer Is Not Worthy

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts. It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts.

It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but in some cases that empowerment can go to one of their heads and lead the person to behave in a manner not conducive to a healthy relationship.

There have been a number of instances over the years where I’ve needed to ask prospective or current customers to take their business elsewhere. While this is never a pleasant conversation, it can be critical in ensuring your company remains profitable, your employees remain appreciated and happy, and you remain sane. The best way to approach this conversation is with civility and a calm tone.

More often than not, an unhappy customer will vent their frustration on an underling with the assumption the person is unprepared to manage the onslaught. Annoyed customers will attack in a way they believes will result in a resolution favoring them—sometimes greatly and to the detriment of the employee’s wellbeing and the company’s profitability. We’re all able to take a loss every now and then to satisfy an unhappy customer, but when you have a repeat offender (customer), it’s time to step in.

Every employee and contractor in my organization knows they are never expected to submit to a venting, complaining or abusive customer—period. The employee’s response is mandatory and simple, “Please hold and I will have our manager help you.” From there, I am quick to set the ground rules as I take over the call. I will listen to the customer politely and allow that person to give voice to their entire complaint, but they may not scream, call names or be uncivil in any manner. If they are, I will hang up. I will continue to hang up each time the person calls back until they accept and adhere to the rules of this engagement (to date, it hasn’t gone beyond three hang ups).

Beyond this, I make it clear I am fully responsible for my team’s actions and responses, and we will not engage in a bashing of a personal nature. I will not side with the complainant against my team, but I will be empathetic to the customer’s plight and go to great lengths to find a resolution suitable to the situation—for as long as we can continue to have a professional, if not amicable, discussion.

For plaintiffs who cannot accept and follow the ground rules, it’s even simpler: “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations, here is the phone number to another company providing this product/service. We’re confident you will be happier elsewhere.”

This type of response shifts the power from the complaining customer to the employee and fosters a better relationship between you and the person with whom you work every day instead of a customer whose value is far less. Yes, some customers have great monetary worth, and for those you will exert additional effort to resolve the situation before sending them on their way, but for most small businesses, individual customers have a smaller overall value than a dedicated employee.

With that said, there are ways for a customer to complain without aggressive discourse—those are the customers we want to please, keep, and reward—and for those, it’s best to keep the employee in the discussion. These are the customers whom I prefer to foster and benefit, even at a monetary loss to the company. They often turn out to be long-term, repeat customers because we have created an atmosphere of loyalty by tending to their concerns as a team. (Why would we allow an abusive customer to receive a more beneficial resolution than a kind, calm customer who truly wishes to resolve the condition?)

Sometimes customers are unworthy in other manners. We recently spent quite some time reviewing a lead’s current drip-marketing campaign, only to come to the conclusion we really couldn’t add enough value to their current process to make hiring our company beneficial to them. In this situation, we fired the customer before we were hired, and we were quite frank about why. I don’t know how this response was truly received by the customer; they did seem to be happy with our honesty. If I were on the receiving end of this conversation, I would rather have a company tell me genuinely they cannot help me than to have them take my money for months/years and be no wiser for the engagement—but not everyone thinks like I do. (Thankfully.)

In many ways, email marketing has cultivated an atmosphere allowing customers to be more unhappy and more quickly. The anonymity of email makes marketers seem less like a company of people here to serve their needs and more like a faceless organization poised to aggravate them. Gone are phone calls that allowed us to connect with at least a modicum human interaction, in their place we have electronic communications sent to thousands of people all at once. This is why personalization can be so important to you and to the recipient. Adding a bit or a lot of personalization warms the tone and the relationship. It reminds the receiver, you are a company of people who care about their success. It will also help lay a foundation of civility if a divorce is imminent.

If you must fire an email customer, don’t fire by email. Pick up the phone, set the ground rules, and be polite and professional. It’s the least you can do. You may not be able to salvage the relationship, but you’re less likely to leave them with a terrible last impression.

4 Hi-Tech Direct Mail Tricks

Marketers continue to use direct mail in 2014, because it still leads in  ROI. However, traditional direct mail marketing is changing. We can  “tech up” direct mail to meet the needs of recipients and to increase  that ROI even more! By adding technology, you can spice up the direct  mail, create a wow factor and make it even easier to respond

Marketers continue to use direct mail in 2014, because it still leads in ROI. However, traditional direct mail marketing is changing. We can “tech up” direct mail to meet the needs of recipients and to increase that ROI even more! By adding technology, you can spice up the direct mail, create a wow factor and make it even easier to respond.

Here are four ways to “tech up” your next direct mail campaign:

  1. QR Code: At this point most everyone has seen a QR Code in a magazine or other ad (little box with squares in it). You can create personalized QR Codes so that the content is unique to each person or just generic for that campaign. This landing page content can be changed and updated as needed, creating an easy way to keep people coming back for new content. Make sure your content is mobile-ready since the recipients will be using a mobile device to scan the QR Codes.
  2. PURL: A personalized URL will provide a personalized landing page and content as you need it to. This should be setup with dynamic formatting—in other words, the landing page should work for both mobile users and desktop users since the URL can easily be used on both devices. You can even use the same page as the QR Code to save on costs if you are providing both on your direct mail as a means of response. This provides the recipient with the choice of which method they prefer.
  3. Augmented Reality: This can be a very sophisticated technology. Having an image come to life and be manipulated by the recipient is a very powerful wow factor. You do not have to go all out here if your budget does not allow it. You can create a great user experience without breaking the bank. Keep the recipient in mind when designing: What will they want to see, get out of it and like? This will take time and testing to make sure that a wide array of phones display correctly, and that you are conveying the correct message.
  4. NFC: Near field communication is the next great technology. Most cell phones that are now coming out have the NFC capability (iPhone still does not). This allows the user to tap their phone to the mail piece and launch the content you provide them. No scanning or application download required, which makes it better for the recipients. This is another sophisticated technolog,y and just new enough that it can be really exciting to recipients.

These “tech ups” do not have to be big budget items. Plan out your strategy and talk with your direct marketing company. They can help guide you through the process as well as steer you toward ways to keep costs down. Creating the bridge from the offline direct mail to the online content is a great driver of response. Keep in mind you still need the basic elements of direct mail. A good list, a good design and a strong call to action are a must. If any of these are lacking, your response will show it. You will also need information on how recipients can use the technology and then provide them with strong content to view. If the content is not well designed or planned out then the whole process will be a waste of time.

The Voice of Reason

I was completely taken aback by the voice on the other end of the line. He sounded weary—like he might be having a bad month. And he spoke slowly, as if he were having trouble gathering his thoughts. I was feeling impatient. It was the middle of the business day and I had answered my phone in between meetings.

I was completely taken aback by the voice on the other end of the line.

He sounded weary—like he might be having a bad month. And he spoke slowly, as if he were having trouble gathering his thoughts.

I was feeling impatient. It was the middle of the business day and I had answered my phone in between meetings.

By the time he finally laid out his sales pitch, I had already been multi-tasking for a few minutes: dashing off an email, signing off on an expense report, and scribbling down a headline that had popped into my head for a client project.

I politely thanked him for his call, told him I wasn’t interested and hung up. His style was such a turn-off, that I couldn’t recall his name, the company he represented, or the reason he thought I might be a good prospect for his product or service. Net-net, he had wasted my time and his.

So, I have to ask: when was the last time you audited your sales team? I don’t mean their stats—number of calls, number of connects, number of leads, etc., but actually listened in on their calls? Evaluated and provided tips on how an individual might improve with regard to tone and style? It may be the downfall of your telemarketing program.

So here are a five tips to share with your team:

  • Rev the vocal chords before you start dialing for dollars. Just like an athlete warms up before starting to practice, your voice needs time to get ready. Humming, singing or talking to coworkers is a great way to get your chords warmed up.
  • Adjust your pace. A great speaking voice/style includes particular attention to rhythm, pacing, intonation and inflection. Adjusting your tone to find the warmth in your voice that can match your company brand is critical to making your listener feel the same positive energy about your product/service that you’re feeling.
  • Stand up and be heard. Many experts agree that a voice carries more range, resonance and power when the diaphragm isn’t folded over. I often find myself pacing around my office, headset on, participating in a conference call or consultative conversation. It helps me to think clearly and listen more carefully.
  • Step away from the mic. Too often, callers sound muffled or difficult to hear because of their VOIP network, cell phone coverage or background noise. Test out your line/microphone/headset on others so it doesn’t detract from your call.
  • Adapt and reflect. People love to work with people who are like them. As you listen to your prospect, try to match their volume, speed, style and tone without sounding over the top. I was taught to nod while listening (even though they can’t see you) and that “agreement” will come across in your voice.

As for the sad-sack who called me, I’d suggest he find another line of employment. It was clear he didn’t like what he was doing and these tips probably won’t help.

Building Your B-to-B Marketing Database

The single most important tool in B-to-B is, arguably, the marketing database. Without a robust collection of contact information, firmographic and transactional data about customers and prospects, you are at sea when it comes to customer segmentation, analytics and marketing communications of all sorts, whether for acquiring new customers or to expand the value of existing customers. In fact, you might call the database the “recorded history of the customer relationship.” So what goes into a marketing database? Plent 

The single most important tool in B-to-B is, arguably, the marketing database. Without a robust collection of contact information, firmographic and transactional data about customers and prospects, you are at sea when it comes to customer segmentation, analytics and marketing communications of all sorts, whether for acquiring new customers or to expand the value of existing customers. In fact, you might call the database the “recorded history of the customer relationship.” So what goes into a marketing database? Plenty.

First, let’s look at the special characteristics of B-to-B databases, which differ from consumer in several important ways:

  1. In consumer purchasing, the decision-maker and the buyer are usually the same person—a one-man (or, more likely, woman) show. In business buying, there’s an entire cast of characters. In the mix are employees charged with product specification, users of the product and purchasing agents, not to mention the decision-makers who hold final approval over the sale.
  2. B-to-B databases carry data at three levels: the enterprise or parent company; the site, or location, of offices, plants and warehouses; and the multitude of individual contacts within the company.
  3. B-to-B data tends to degrade at the rate of 4 percent to 6 percent per month, so keeping up with changing titles, email addresses, company moves, company name changes-this requires dedicated attention, spadework and resources.
  4. Companies that sell through channel partners will have a mix of customers, from distributors, agents and other business partners, through end-buyers.

Here are the elements you are likely to want to capture and maintain in a B-to-B marketing database.

  • Account name, address
    • Phone, fax, website
  • Contact(s) information
    • Title, function, buying role, email, direct phone
  • Parent company/enterprise link
  • SIC or NAICS
  • Year the company was started
  • Public vs. private
  • Revenue/sales
  • Employee size
  • Credit score
  • Fiscal year
  • Purchase history
  • Purchase preferences
  • Budgets, purchase plans
  • Survey questions (e.g., from market research)
  • Qualification questions (from lead qualification processes)
  • Promotion history (record of outbound and inbound communications)
  • Customer service history
  • Source (where the data came from, and when)
  • Unique identifier (to match and de-duplicate records)

To assemble the data, the place to begin in inside your company. With some sleuthing, you’ll find useful information about customers all over the place. Start with contact records, whether they sit in a CRM system, in Outlook files or even in Rolodexes. But don’t stop there. You also want to pull in transactional history from your operating systems-billing, shipping, credit—and your customer service systems.

Here’s a checklist of internal data sources that you should explore. Gather up every crumb.

  • Sales and marketing contacts
  • Billing systems
  • Credit files
  • Fulfillment systems
  • Customer services systems
  • Web data, from cookies, registrations and social media
  • Inquiry files and referrals

Once these elements are pulled in, matched and de-duplicated, it’s time to consider external data sources. Database marketing companies will sell you data elements that may be missing, most important among these being industry (in the form of SIC or NAICs codes), company size (revenue or number of employees, or both) and title or job function of contacts. Such elements can be appended to your database for pennies apiece.

In some situations, it makes sense to license and import prospect lists, as well. If you are targeting relatively narrow industry verticals, or certain job titles, and especially if you experience long sales cycles, it may be wise to buy prospecting names for multiple use and import them into your database, rather than renting them serially for each prospecting campaign.

After filling in the gaps with data append, the next step is the process of “data discovery.” Essentially this means gathering essential data by hand—or, more accurately, by outbound phone or email contact. This costs a considerable sum, so only perform discovery on the most important accounts, and only collect the data elements that are essential to your marketing success, like title, direct phone number and level of purchasing authority. Some data discovery can be done via LinkedIn and scouring corporate websites, which are likely to provide contact names, titles and email addresses you can use to populate your company records.

Be thorough, be brave, and have fun. And let me know your experiences.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.