Have You Reached Out to a Customer Today? Publishers Stress the Need.

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I was speaking Friday with a new member, Dan Grech, founder and lead instructor of BizHack Academy—we'll publish a Q&A with him soon; he's an interesting guy. I liked a lot of what he told me, but two things stood out.

One, that he was on his way over to see one of his former students/customers to "see how she's doing, see what I can help with." And two, while he was talking about the importance of storytelling, he said that he "surveyed [his] business owners to ask what skills they believed are most important for their knowledge and success, and storytelling ranked dead last. But after the course, it was the session that rated the highest.

What I like about those two nuggets is that he is seeing and surveying his customers to find the best product for them. "It's all about the readers," said Joe McEntee, associate director for IOP Publishing. "We think we know them inside out but we don't really know them in as much detail as we think we do. You [most likely have a] diverse reading base. There's a dichotomy between readers who want to explore to the full extent and readers who want to just dive in and sample. The lesson is to keep talking to those readers."

Michelle Godwin, head of enterprise sales for London-based Infopro Digital, manages a large sales team and told me last year that their increase in sales could be traced not to follow-ups per se but to more face-to-face meetings. She challenges her sales people to schedule five in-person meetings a week.

"The idea is not just to sell but to make sure customers are engaging with our products," Godwin said. "[That engagement] used to be less than 10% and now it's 60%. Our sales team is going out and seeing customers, making multiple visits. It also gives motivation to current subscribers to renew. We'll spend a whole day on-site demonstrating the product or service, showing features, running an engagement day. Or we could just take up a couple of hours of their time where they book a room for us within the clients' office and current users and potential users drop by for one-to-one sessions."

She added that by having these meetings, "we've learned a lot [such as] you need multilayered contacts throughout organizations. Because if you have just one and he or she leaves, you're a bit flummoxed." Godwin called this type of initiative an engagement day.

Brittany Carter, president of Columbia Books & Information Services, is all in on getting to know your customer. After several acquisitions, the small company she managed and added focus to became a bigger company without that focus drilled in.

"[The new people] were trained to put their head in the sand and just get the job done," she said, "[thinking] it will be fine. So we acquired a lot of people who were afraid to speak up and get to know their customers. People who said, 'this isn't my job.' We had gone from being very customer-centric to a lot of people who had never interacted with the customers for fear of staying in line."

Carter knew they had a serious problem; they were customer blind. It all pretty much hit home when they acquired a company that published a same-sex marriage/HR compliance rules guide. Does this even apply anymore, Carter asked? The author assured her yes and they published it.

"We didn't sell a single copy," Carter said, and she soon found out that the last one didn't either. But because of the lack of transparency, "nobody knew," not even the author. "I said right there, 'We will rearrange this.' You don't think any of this can happen, but if no one is thinking about the end user and what the customer is telling you, then it can happen."

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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…