By Chad Carr
President, Rainmaker Consulting
Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a four-part series. In Part 1, Carr explains paradigm shifts brought on by the Internet. In Part 2, he addresses the need for retail operations to recapture prospects lost to the Internet. In Part 3, Carr addresses the issue of making sure people can find you online. In the final installment, he explores using the Internet to build relationships over time.
One of the biggest mistakes salespeople and sales organizations make when working with Internet leads is they start by trying to sell something instead of trying to build a relationship.
Research by J.D. Power & Associates shows that the typical buyer is going to be researching their purchase for at least six months before they are ready to start talking openly with a salesperson. Today, the bulk of that research is happening on the Internet.
That means when a potential customer makes contact with you through the Internet, they are more likely to be shopping for someone with whom they can build a relationship than they are for a specific RV. That doesn’t mean they won’t eventually be shopping for an RV, but first you must build a relationship with them so you can be the person to help them find the home when they are ready.
On the surface, this idea of first building a relationship seems obvious. Every sales process I have ever studied begins with the idea that you must build rapport and trust before you can sell. However, in execution, most salespeople miss this step most of the time.
Even in retail sales, when the customer walks onto a sales center they usually get funneled into a sales presentation long before a relationship has been established. It is even worse with Internet shoppers because they are usually months away from being ready to visit a sales center and the salesperson doesn’t know how to build a relationship online.
As stated earlier in this series, having a process in place for dealing with Internet leads is critical. You must be able to respond quickly and effectively to all Internet inquiries, and you must build a process that will help you build a relationship with that customer – over time.
Luckily, the Internet provides dealers with many tools they can use to help build that relationship over time. Tools such as e-mail marketing, webinars and social media make it possible for dealerships to not only keep their names in front of prospective buyers, but also to build a relationship so that potential buyer no longer sees the dealer just as someone who has something to sell, but as someone who can be a valuable resource to them as they get ready to buy.
Once a potential customer contacts you through the Internet, you must continue to keep your name in front of them. E-mail, and more specifically, e-mail marketing provides a relatively easy and inexpensive way to do this.
In its simplest form, e-mail marketing means sending out e-mail to your prospects. You sit down and write something you think would be of interest to them or relevant to their search for an RV and send them an individual message.
Individual messages are great because the prospect will be able to tell you were thinking about them individually. However, once you have a big database of leads, it is no longer practical to sit down and write each one a custom e-mail.
Mass e-mail allows you to send the same message to lots of people very quickly. Commercial programs such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp will help you get a good-looking message in front of a large number of people fairly quickly and inexpensively. These types of companies have very high delivery rates, but you must follow a very strict set of rules in order to utilize these services
When putting together your e-mail marketing strategy, be sure to do the following:
- Build your list carefully – Don’t just throw every e-mail address you can find onto your list. E-mail only to people that you are fairly confident want to hear from you.
- Provide compelling information – When someone reads your e-mail, you want them to appreciate that you sent it to them. Make sure you put enough time and thought into what you are sending so that they will have that reaction.
- Don’t abuse your list – Sending something every couple of weeks is plenty. If you are blasting out e-mail everyday people will begin to get annoyed or worse.
- Make it easy for prospects to remove themselves – You don’t have to get fancy, but make sure you tell them how to get off the list. You will be surprised how few people ask to get off your list if you pay attention to the three items listed above.
- Remove those people who want to be removed – Just about the only way you can get in trouble with the SPAM laws is to keep e-mailing people after they ask you to stop. So don’t be lazy, clean your list and take people off your list if they want you to.
One of the great frustrations salespeople have with Internet leads is they don’t feel they can build rapport, trust or value with people they aren’t talking to face-to-face. I often hear the lament, “If I could only get them to come in and see me, I know I could help them.”
The Internet has made it possible for prospects to interact with us on their own terms and their own turf. However, the Internet also provides the means to build relationships, trust and value on-line through the use of webinars or similar programs.
A webinar is basically a seminar, but delivered through the Internet. Participants “listen” as a speaker discusses the topic and “watch” as the presenter changes the slides on a preset slide show. The big difference between a webinar and a seminar is that the participants are not all gathered in one room to watch and listen to the speaker, but rather are sitting at their computers where they are most comfortable.
I use webinars in my business because they are inexpensive and provide a great way for me to share information with business owners around the country. You can get the same benefits by inviting potential home buyers to join you “on-line” for a presentation on any number of topics such as: “How to Purchase an RV”; “The Ten Benefits of vacationing by RV”; “How to Finance an RV in Today’s Market”; or “Traveling by RV in your Retirement.”
With a little creativity, you can come up with dozens of topics you could share with your potential buyers. Just think of the lists of questions that people generally ask about your product and then start thinking about how you would answer them.
Services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx make it very easy to host a meeting and are pretty inexpensive for what they provide. If you have ever done a slide show presentation, the proper structure of a webinar will come quickly to you. If you need help getting started, we can help you with anything from a basic outline to the full production of a program.
If you feel you have no idea what I am talking about, I would invite you to join me for one of my upcoming Webinars (just give me a call or send me an e-mail for a schedule) so you can get an idea how this could work for your company.
Social Media and Social Networking
Social media is a catchphrase for a broad range of sites and tools to help people make connections with, and stay connected to, friends, family, business associates, etc. The best known of these sites is Facebook with more that 400 million users, but there are others that play to other niches such as Linked-In for business networking.
To many in business (including myself) find it hard to imagine why someone would want to be “friends with” or “following” a business on-line. When I was first told I should build a Facebook page for my business I thought that was just silly. However, here are three important things to keep in mind about social media and social networking.
- For many people (especially younger people) social sites such as Facebook make up the bulk of their Internet experience. They use this as their homepage, their search engine, their e-mail, etc. So if you are not on there, they will not find you when they search their version of the Internet.
- Being on these sites makes it easier for you to be “recommended” by your current prospects and customer to other prospects and customers. Just as people will drop names in casual conversation, they can and will drop names during their social networking. By becoming an active participant in social media, you make it easier for people to drop your name.
- References to your business through social media will help increase your visibility to the Internet search engines that I discussed in a previous article. The more often your business is referenced online, the more likely it is that Internet shoppers will find you when they go looking for your product.
There are several different ways you can get involved with social media or social networking:
- Facebook – You build a page for your business and provide short updates about your business on that page. People become “friends” meaning they can see your updates and their friends can see your updates as well. You need to make your updates interesting (you can include photos) and you will need to give people a compelling reason to become your “friend.”
- Blogs – Short for “web-log” a blog is like an online diary where one or more people can share their thoughts or ideas. Blogs can be on-sided affairs where you simply write a small article or essay periodically, or they can be opened up into an online forum. To blog, you must be prepared to write well and often, because if you don’t you will quickly be ignored.
- Twitter – A Twitter account allows you to send out short blasts of information (140 characters or less) to those people who “follow” your Twitter account. These “tweets” as they are called can contain links back to your web-site or other social media, but it is unusual for anyone besides celebrities to build large followings.
- You Tube – This site allows you to post videos that can then be recommended to others. The more people who watch a video, the higher it rises in the rankings and the more likely it will go “viral” meaning that thousands or people around the world will watch it without really knowing why. It is not likely you will have a video go viral, but You Tube does make it very simple for you to basically build your own commercial, post it to the Internet and then link to it from your website and your e-mails.
What works best for your business will be based on your personal preferences, some trial and error and your commitment to spreading your name through the network. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by results. Remember, you are trying to stay in front of your prospects over a long period of time. This is just another way of doing that, much like sending letters or making phone calls.
However, failure to utilize these new tools will lead to continued frustration with your marketing results. Your customers have moved online. You must move online as well.
Chad Carr is the president of Rainmaker Consulting, a second-generation family business that provides retail management software and consulting services for the RV, trailer and housing markets. Rainmaker works with dealers ranging in size from five to six people up to some of the biggest and most well recognized names in the industry.
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