Here’sa Mantra for our hyper-competitive age: Keep your customers. Repeat it to yourself. Repeatit to your marketing team. Repeat it to senior management. More important companies todayneed to build strategies around retaining customers. They are worth a lot more than youthink.

The good news is that technology today-databases, datawarehouses, web sites, e-mail is allowing companies to get closer and closer to theircustomers and win much greater shares of their business. With today’s technology, youcan get more customer feedback, watch customer purchasing patterns carefully, andthere’s a lot more interactivity. The bad news is with all the opportunities toincrease customer loyalty; too many companies are employing stales strategies. Far frominspiring customers, they’re frustrating them. Many software companies today are notdoing a very good job at gaining customers loyalty. Software companies today need to workcloser with their customer, and sometimes they barely hear from the vendor. Apparel andfootwear companies today are just looking for software vendors to give them fullconsideration in regard to what they really need to run their business. Smart marketersunderstand this. They’re meeting customer’s requirements in innovative and oftenrevolutionary ways, and they are building loyalty as a result.

The best loyalty marketing today is driven by technology. Acritical tool in building loyalty is a company’s Web site, which if used creatively,can boost sales and foster continuous contact between companies and their customers. TheWeb is exploding as a sales and marketing tool as well as dealing with customer serviceinquiries. The Web will grow from $10 billion last year to $220 billion by 2001, 80percent of those transactions will be business-to-business. Companies today are lettingtheir customer base place orders over the Internet for a host of products and services.

Whatever your relationship with customers, most companiesdon’t like to hear complaints, they’re seen as a prelude to losing business.Smart companies see this however, as a chance to strengthen relationships. When it comesto technology tools that companies can use to improve their relationships with theircustomers it is endless: from campaign management software and electronic data interchangeto extranets and multimedia presentations to e-commerce. And as products becomecommodities, it is the relationship between vendor and customer that will make thedifference between loyalty and loss.

TheInternet makes both the buying and selling process more efficient, as well as reaching outto your customers. There is really two levels, and advertising vehicle, and a way toactually sell products. The Internet is a way to let your customers find you, as opposedto being in the position of always trying to find them. Especially if you’re in a newbusiness, or have a new product, and you’re not sure who or where your customers are.Customers can get product information from the Web site whenever they need it. A web siteisn’t the answer for everyone, however. For one thing customers must actually wantthe option of getting their product information on-line.

They should always have the option of getting theirinformation through more traditional means, including talking to a salesperson, right nowthe Internet needs to be an addendum to your other marketing efforts. If you decide to putup a Web, design it well, make it easy for customers to find current information. A Website should be interactive and a company’s communications and marketing groups shouldparticipate in its development. Some companies view it as an MIS function, but it’sreally another form of communicating with the customer, and you want your communicationexperts to lead this process.

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The Internet is an interactive, convenient way to reach amass audience. But when it comes to targeting a specific customers, the information in adatabase can give an apparel or footwear company an intimate knowledge of their customersthat allows them to talk to each one in a way they’ll appreciate most. While manyorganizations already have a corporatewide bank of customer information in place, newtechnologies are allowing nontechnical users to access the data they need. With arelational database, companies can now tap into data that was once well beyond the reach,if it existed at all. There are different types of data banks. A database is the genericterm for a collection of customer information-from a simple file created with MicrosoftAccess desktop database program. A data warehouse is essentially a very large,corporatewide database, put together from a number of legacy systems already in place inan organization. There are three critical areas in building a database, customerknowledge, efficiency of buying and selling process, and your channels to your customers.The later two are where companies spend most of their time and money, because they’reoperational, the cost savings are clear and the process is well understood. The first areais much more analytical, it’s very large, and it’s hard to quantify its value.


How to Reach Customers

  • Use the Internet to help customers find you. Incorporate banners, links, and listings on search engines to maintain a presence that will draw customers and prospects to your site.

  • Create a Web site that’s more than an online catalog. Offer such benefits as customer service, order placement and tracking, industry and company news.

  • Have the marketing and communications departments create the site, not MIS.

  • Use a database for one-to-one marketing, reach specific customers in a way that will appeal to them the most.

  • Track the relationship among customers types in order to uncover key customers, to help qualify prospects, and to track and stop defectors.

  • Share information among divisions in order to support cross-selling efforts.