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Do you know your customers anymore?

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Terminal City Club Vancouver

Terminal City Club Vancouver

I was part of a really enjoyable lunch and learn today in beautiful Vancouver, Canada hosted by SMEI at the Terminal City Club. I was asked to kick off the discussion by saying a few words on the theme of “Your customers have moved. Do you know where they live?”

I decided to start things off by broadening the discussion into the larger question of whether we even know our customers at all anymore, given the sea change in consumer behaviours that has occurred since the widespread adoption of social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

For example, do you know which online networks they like to hang out on? Do you know how they like to be communicated with? Do you understand what new levels of interaction they expect to have with your organization? Do you know when you are bugging them and driving them away?

 Part of the challenge is learning to listen again. Listening is possibly the most important sales skill out there, but how do we “listen” effectively with all the new media that is out there?

It all starts with some key, foundational principles. So here follows a bit of a manifesto for success in the new virtual neighbourhoods where our customers live.

  • You need to genuinely enjoy meeting and helping people. If that’s just not you, find someone else to look after your digital communications post. It takes all kinds to make a business succeed, and if you are not happy networking offline, online tools won’t change that reality.   Hire an intern or new grad from a local college or university. These social media natives are very well-equipped to be your eyes, ears and voice on social media. Many will appreciate the chance to make some bucks on the side while still a student. 
  • You need to be in it to help others. Blasting out endless Tweets about how great you are is not working, and is actually driving people away. In a recent study I conducted, one-quarter of the respondents indicated they are getting tired of social media and are considering scaling down their participation. The mood out there is in flux, and if you are not helping, you are annoying. You need to think in terms of “giving” not “getting.”
  • You need to build communities. This is an old idea that still has legs. Start a LinkedIn Group for your customers. Let them help each other, and let them give you input on your products and services. My research is showing that people want to be able to rely on their online communities for assistance in solving problems and coming up with innovative ideas.
  • You need to learn about the new cultures. This means listening before talking. Ask a lot of questions. Use tools like LinkedIn Q+A, LinkedIn Groups, and online customer surveys. Identify and befriend the “alphas” out there and learn the rules and protocols of engagement. Have a casual focus group over pizza and beer (be sure to invite me…) Watch how your competitors are handling the same environments and situations.
  • It’s not just about the tools! Sure there are lots of great tools out there, many of them home-grown success stories. But at their best, tools are simply extenders and enablers of existing behaviours. If you are doing the wrong things to begin with, cool tools just magnify your mistakes, and the consequences of them. Make sure your fundamental behaviours are sound before throwing caution to the wind and potentially alienating your customer base.
  • Become a trusted advisor. Freely offer your expertise and advice. Be a regular contributor to LinkedIn Q+A, and invest a half hour every morning helping people without expectations of a favour in return. Blog your own ideas, don’t just coat somebody else’s thoughts in your own wrapper and blast it out – editorialize at least! Make sure you would be on your customer’s “Top ten most helpful people” list.” Thought leadership is brand leadership.

How’s that for a set of starting principles? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this, and your additions to the list. Please feel free to weigh in here with your opinions!

PS. Some cool “Canadian” tools to check out:

StepRep (www.steprep.com) from Vendasta Technologies – helps you monitor and manage your online reputations

MashedIn (www.mashedin.com) also from Vendasta Technologies – builds trust by showing people how they are connected to you

HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) -  manages, monitors and analyzes multiple social media presences

Flowtown (www.flowtown.com) – builds social media profiles from a simple email address

To explore having me speak to your group or team on this or other related topics, please feel free to be in touch with me at greatcapes@gmail.com or via the Contact tab on this page.

One Response to “Do you know your customers anymore?”

  1. Gail Pearce Says:

    Rob, great job today! I enjoyed your manifesto for success and particularly the concept to find out where my clients are hanging out and how they like to communicate. Thanks for a great talk.

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