However, the comment is in response to an idea that's been buzzing around the blogosphere for quite awhile now, forwarded by the Cluetrain Manifesto, and buzzed about in various blogs and wikis: that markets are conversations and that marketers need to build relationships with customers thru conversation.
As I said in the Buzzmachine comment, when I attended BlogOn, and listend to all the marketers hand-wringing over the idea that they might actually have to begin to talk with customers, I laughed and wanted to pat them all on the back and tell them that all they really need to do is go work retail at a high-end or very small retailer, because it is in both those environments that conversation and friendship with the customer is what keeps customers coming back.
Recently, in the print version Marie Claire Magazine, in the 101 How-Tos column, they passed along a similar piece of information from the customer side, which, in reality, is piece of shopping advice that grandmothers have passed along for generations:
"Cultivate Relationships: Treat your favoirte boutique's salesperson like a friend, and visit her often. Evien if it costs a little bit more to pick up a last-minute item there, do it: The store that knows you is the store that will alert you when they have a trunk show coming up or when the new collection arrives."
Even if the customer is chatting up the sales person just to get the good deal or the inside scoop, the customer isn't necessarily being phony if she also enjoys chatting with people. That's transparency.
On the sales side, people who work with people are used to chatting up the customer and being chatted up by the customer. They learn to do this in a genuine and transparent manner, with concern for the customer's needs and without the need for stilted corporate-speak. They know that the person chatting with them wants something and they aren't offended by this. If there is a click, the reciprocity helps both retailer and customer. Chatting and building friendships are the best way to create repeat customers.
This can be done face to face and it can now be done on-line--if marketers and retailers learn how to communicate in online environments.
The best way for a company to achieve relationships is to create sales staff and employees who enjoy working for the company and like the products--let employees try new products, give feedback, have contests/bonuses that reward brand loyalty. When the sales staff believes in the product, they don't need pre-packaged chitchat to sell it. The selling will come from the heart because they really, really like the product. And if you reward top sellers, they will keep selling.
If companies want to do this online, they need to engage employees who know online space as well as like the product.
If a company doesn't have employees that understand how to communicate online, then, perhaps there isn't a reason for the company to communicate online just yet. Or the companies might need to woo sales staff that knows exactly how to communicate in online environments.
Yet I wonder how all that seems so common sense to me, who only recently left retail, appears to be revolutionary rocket science to so many other people. Maybe I'm not getting some hidden subtleties of the whole deal--I haven't studied marketing or been in a marketing job. But, perhaps, like citizen journalism, it will be people who know how to sell and create relationships that will help marketing more than those with high powered marketing pedigrees.
Just a thought.
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