Recognize Your Existing Customers

Nothing seems to invite direct response advertising quite like starting one’s own business. I should know, I’ve done it twice and in both cases, I’ve had to deal with the resulting deluge of direct mail and email. Many of the marketers who thrive on relationships with small businesses have come to identify the behaviors associated with starting up a business and have leveraged this in their marketing plans. Incorporating, registering an Internet domain, buying office equipment, ordering business cards – these are all things that are likely to invite direct mail and email.

Many of the offers I get are pretty useful. I’ll get discount offers from the various office supply stores, offers to open corporate accounts with various B2B suppliers, invitations to trade events and much more. I’ve even responded to some of these communications and have purchased things like conferencing services, credit card accounts and telecom services.

One of the deficiencies I see in direct marketing, especially online, is the failure on the part of some marketers to differentiate prospective customers and their existing customers. Many times, when I sign up for a business service, the company I sign up with still treats me like a prospect. I still get acquisition messages, both online and offline. This is a big problem. From my perspective, the fact that the company’s marketing department doesn’t know that I’m already a customer says to me that they don’t appreciate my business. Also, I get to see all of the new offers that the company is using to attract new customers, and if the deal is sweeter than what I’m currently getting, it makes me feel like I’m getting ripped off.



None of this should be happening on a regular basis. After all, how difficult is it to de-dupe a direct mail or email list? In my dealings with email vendors, I’ve been encouraged several times to run their lists up against my existing email lists to weed out existing customers and make sure they don’t get new acquisition messages. The end result is that I pay less, as duplicate email addresses are removed from the drop and I don’t have to pay for them. As I’ve mentioned before in several columns, I rarely rent email names (only upon client insistence), so I have far less experience with this than many of my readers. Yet, the fact that I know this de-duping service is available and that list brokers and email companies encourage using it makes me wonder why it’s not used more often.

We have similar ways of ensuring that we separate existing customers when we advertise online. We can use cookies to identify customers who come to our websites and buy things. Yet, very few marketers do this effectively. As a consumer, I would expect that if I open a credit account online with a supplier, I shouldn’t see another acquisition ad for the same supplier until I terminate our relationship. I should be seeing retention ads instead. The technology that enables this kind of segmentation (i.e. – DoubleClick’s Boomerang and other things like it) has been available for years, yet I don’t see it in widespread use. With all the direct marketers who have problems with churn in their customer base, one would think that this kind of segmentation would be more widespread.

It’s not even such a difficult challenge to execute across multiple DR platforms. When customers sign up for a business service online, they provide a mailing address in almost all cases. That mailing address should go to the folks in charge of offline DM for removal from any lists they might buy. Similarly, offline direct marketers should be asking for email addresses from new customers who respond to mailers, so that they can be removed from future email acquisition efforts.

It doesn’t do a B2B company any good to alienate its existing customers by treating them like prospects. It’s disrespectful, especially if they’re spending quite a bit of money on a recurring basis. Let’s make an effort to use the technology available to us to make sure this doesn’t continue.

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