Are We Putting Our Best Customers to Work for Us?

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Usain Bolt proved himself to be the best last night by winning his third straight Olympic 100-meter dash. No debate there. It’s the same with most other Olympic champions—it’s clear who the best is. But when it comes to your customers, it’s not always that clear.

I’m thinking back to a conversation I had with marketer, best-selling author and one of our three keynote speakers for the upcoming Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) Matt Bailey last month. “One question I always ask people is, ‘Who’s your best customer?’” he said. “I ask them to get that image in their head of their best customer, face, logo. Then I follow up, ‘Are they your most profitable customer?’ The vast majority of time they’re not the most profitable customer. They’re the customer you have the best relationship with. Then it becomes a question of, ‘Do you want more?’

“Do you truly want customers that you have a great relationship with or are you looking just specifically for profit? Because you just told me that your best customers are the ones you have the best relationships with… It’s funny. We talk about profit, but as soon as I ask that question, it’s someone that’s been with me the longest. 'They refer business, I enjoy talking with them.' They’re the ones that make your business and job rewarding. It’s a very interesting exercise to go through and think through that. And then, okay, how do we develop more of those customers?”

Bailey has long promoted the importance of activating your loyalists by giving them a succinct message to spread. ("Loyalists breed more loyalists," he has said.) If they are to become your social media promoters, then "a simpler message will make word of mouth easier." He once pointed to an example where the benefits messaging needed to change because it was too scientific; it needed more human interest. "Try to see your marketing through your customers' eyes."

I’ve mentioned before that we should all go through our marketing and websites every once in a while to check on the journeys we ask our customers to take. Are they simple enough to follow? Am I taking them on the right steps? In a post about the customer journey, think with Google analyzed millions of consumer interactions through Google Analytics to show how different marketing channels affect online purchase decisions.

Check out the interactive chart they have there. It’s called Channel Position on the Path to Purchase and allows you to enter your industry, size of company, country and channel and get a pie chart of percentages. For instance, when I put in law and government, small business, the U.S. and referral, I get 41% in the beginning, 43% in the middle and 16% in the end. And it says this:

“Your referral campaign may have a different impact on your customers depending on when they interact with it. At the beginning of the purchase path, referral helps customers gain awareness of your product or service. In the middle, it creates desire and boosts interest. And at the end, it helps to seal the deal.”

Bailey encourages publishers to develop your referral marketing as part of an overall customer investment program that rewards and develops your best customers and subscribers. “I’m kind of teaching them how to sell me better. I’m training them,” he said.

“How can I develop my best [subscribers] into being my best sales people? Developing programs, communication, developing those relationships to be deeper, more reliable, more valuable to that subscriber as well as to the business. You can’t argue with the numbers about referral marketing—you have a higher close rate. You can’t ignore the power of it.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…