Today’s business marketers are under extreme pressure to identify top customers and make smarter business decisions in record time. However, pinpointing a business’s most valuable customers is harder than it sounds.
For starters, there’s more than one way to determine a customer’s worth. According to Mac McIntosh, a B2B marketing consultant and speaker from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, there are three main measures of a top-notch customer:
- The amount of revenue a customer generates for a company.
- The profit derived from a particular customer.
- The customer’s overall satisfaction.
But the work doesn’t end there. McIntosh warns that while businesses can gain invaluable insights from their best customers, they need to determine the most effective way to reach them or risk offending them.
“You have to be sensitive to when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t appropriate to respond to a customer,” warns McIntosh. “For example, rather than inserting yourself into an online conversation with a customer on Facebook or Twitter, it’s better to write, ‘I’d love to talk more about this offline. Here’s my phone number—please call me.’”
Fortunately, many companies are discovering new ways to identify and cater to the needs of top customers without breaking the bank or landing a restraining order.
Take, for example, Mike Schwarz. Founder of Ribbed Tee, an online provider of men’s quality undershirts, Schwarz points to one of the company’s celebrity clients, a high-profile NFL player. “He buys lots of stuff from us, he’s great, and we love it. But I don’t think he really advocates our company or talks about us,” says Schwarz. “We appreciate the business, of course, but ultimately I look at our top customers as advocates who actively endorse or recommend our product.”
In order to effectively target these customers, Schwarz says he conducts weekly Google searches and participates in online men’s fashion forums to find customers that mention or recommend Ribbed Tee’s products. Next, Schwarz says he tries “to establish a personal relationship with them, ask them for their feedback, and offer them a few sample products of new launches.” After all, he says, “When you create a personal relationship with a customer, it further enhances their support and they’ll continue to recommend your products to other people. Quite frankly, it just grows the business.”
Nevertheless, Schwarz says there’s a fine line between communicating with your target audience and stalking them online. “Participating in a forum is an art—not a science,” he cautions. “You have to be very thoughtful about how you participate. The one thing you definitely never want to do is promote your product. Answer any questions, but never be too marketing-driven when talking about your products.”
Connect via social media
For PetFlow.com, an online pet food store, Facebook is the perfect platform for identifying and targeting top customers. Recently, the popular online pet food company ran a promotion on Facebook that encouraged fans to pick any three items on PetFlow.com for free delivery. “This kind of contest sends a potential customer to our site to browse and find the products they like,” says Alex Zhardanovksy, co-founder of PetFlow.
By doing so, Zhardanovsky says it’s an opportunity to “walk a potential customer through the entire buying experience of an actual customer,” rendering that prospect far more likely to visit PetFlow the next time they require pet food.
But while online promotions can target everyone from upper-echelon clients to mere prospects, Zhardanovsky says, “The best kind of customer you can have is an evangelical customer—someone who’s an influencer in their community. It’s really important for us to keep that customer happy because one happy customer can bring you ten others.”
Technology as a tie that binds
For this reason, Zhardanovsky says PetFlow invests a lot of time and energy in optimizing its auto-replenishment system, which lets customers predetermine how often they wish to receive orders, from once a week to once every four months. Customers can also use the system to make one-time purchases for future deliveries or as gifts purchases for friends and loved ones who have pets.
“A PetFlow customer is someone who has spent money with us,” says Zhardanovsky. “But a top customer is someone who is really happy with his or her experience and would recommend us.”
And in today’s competitive online marketplace, small businesses can ill afford to mislabel or overlook their top customers.
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