Keeping Relationships Alive

Customer relationships have a lot in common with dating.

Unreasonable expectations and a lack of specific knowledge can keep you home on Saturday night. According to Paul Ryan, Vice President at Mediaplex, an e-CRM company, the same factors can kill your business.

Ryan called to pitch Mediaplex’s new MOJO Mail product, which combines data from an e-CRM database with email marketing.

“Relevance drives results,” he said, but relevance has many aspects. “There’s relevance in terms of content, and the relevance of offers to make sure an item is in stock.” Just as important is whether your prospect is interested in the message you’re sending.

“Each customer has trusted sources for information and product. You have to ask whether you’re going to be one of those trusted sources, and if you are, how good it is to be pushy. With that as the front end of your analysis, understand that this is a tough time, understand that sales are slowing, and adapt to that.”

In other words, let the customer’s needs, not your needs, drive your email schedule.

Many companies that are anxious to build an e-CRM database get very pushy in demanding phone numbers, ZIP codes, and email addresses. I often lie at checkout counters when I’m asked for this data. The price of buying shoes shouldn’t be the loss of my privacy.

The trick, Ryan said, is for companies to pay upfront. If you will take a single email from us, we’ll discount today’s purchase by $5. If the data is valuable to you, say so with savings.

You can’t just get an address, either. You need a real dialogue, Ryan said, with each email inviting feedback that is used to adjust the timing of messages and their content. Many sites fail to ask the questions. Even more fail to use the feedback they’re given. And as any man knows, once she knows you’re not listening to her heart, she’s not giving it to you anymore.

It’s amazing how many great companies don’t understand this. I asked Charles Schwab & Co. to send me my stock trade confirmations via email, so now they deluge me with offers. I bought some books from Amazon, now they spam me whenever they feel a need to make a sale. I have the same problem with Webvan and Williams-Sonoma.

The Valentine’s Day episode of “Frasier” had the hero losing a woman he loved because he smothered her with affection. This happens in business, too, Ryan said.

“The marketers we talk to say 80 percent of the revenue comes from 20 percent of the customers,” Ryan said. Instead of pushing emails on the 80 percent, “wouldn’t it be better to tune the emails for the 20 percent, in order to improve results from the people who are your bread and butter?”

In addition to inviting feedback and listening, e-CRM email must also be sensitive to the realities of today’s economy. Times are tough, and while you want to maximize income from your best customers, there is a maximum, and forgetting that will cost you customers.

“Once you lose the customer, getting them back is both difficult and expensive,” Ryan concluded. “It’s time for some real honesty between companies and consumers.”

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