Losing touch with a valuable business contact might mean starting from ground zero in building a relationship with a prospect or vendor. Cliff offers some strategies for keeping your network strong in volatile times.
The frantic pace of many businesses makes it hard to find the time to keep in touch with personal and business contacts. So I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I received an email from a friend I hadn't talked to in a long time.
At the same time I had a few other surprises that were not so pleasant. Email and voicemail messages I had sent to a number of contacts went unanswered longer than normal. I later learned that those people are no longer working at the companies I contacted.
Keeping the Network Strong
In these volatile times, people we've worked with as customers and vendors can suddenly disappear as companies reorganize. These experiences reminded me just how important it is to take time to stay in contact with a personal network of friends and business associates.
After my coauthors and I finished our latest book on one-to-one marketing, I decided it was time to apply some one-to-one conversation techniques to stay in touch with people. I started compiling a list of people I wanted to contact -- and the list keeps growing.
Companies have the same need to keep in touch with several groups of people. These people may work for customers, vendors, or other "stakeholders" with an interest in a company.
For instance, if you have customers who buy from you only periodically or only during certain seasons, you normally hear from these customers every few months. If they drop away, it might be a few more months before they are missed.
In many cases, you probably deal with one key person who knows how to use your service or is familiar with when to order from you. If that one person leaves the company, you are likely to be left out in the cold when that person's replacement is brought in. This happens because the new person is not familiar with how and when his or her predecessor used your product or service.
Prospects can present the same challenge, especially in the business-to-business world in which the sales cycle can be rather long. Long sales times occur when prospects need to research competitors, choose a solution, and obtain management approval for the purchase. This process can take several months. If your key contact leaves or is transferred, it is likely that you'll need to start building the relationship over.
A good way to overcome these problems is to proactively stay in contact with people before they make a change. In some cases you might even be able to meet their successors early on. In other cases you can help the new person become acquainted with the procedures that have been used to purchase from you.
Salespeople frequently use contact management software such as GoldMine. to update contact and profile data after each contact. This helps the salesperson build a relationship because past data is instantly available during a subsequent call.
Salespeople also use contact management software to send broadcast emails and faxes to their contacts. This works well to update a few people about what their salesperson wants them to know. However, this technique may not present a consistent marketing message to customers and prospects.
Using an Email Newsletter
Other tools and techniques are more effective in communicating a company's message to groups with different interests and needs.
An email newsletter service that provides personalization, such as the one from ListHost.net, can deliver tailored messages throughout a sales cycle. Services such as this make it easy to ask the audience questions about their preferences, interests, and needs.
This type of interactivity not only provides profile data for tailoring content, it can also track which people are actually reading the newsletter.
In addition, using a centralized contact database with decentralized updating via the Web allows field salespeople to help manage profile data. This makes it easier for busy salespeople to maintain contact with prospects and customers while the marketing department develops appropriate and consistent content.
Whatever technique you use to maintain profile data, it's important to remember that people change -- and move -- so frequent updates are essential. This means making frequent contact to maintain long-lasting relationships.
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Cliff Allen is President of Coravue, a company that provides content management software and application service provider (ASP) hosting for Web and email. Allen is coauthor of three books about Internet marketing, including the "One-to-One Web Marketing, Second Edition" (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).
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