A guest post by Gene Marks
A few months ago I spoke to a group of business owners at the Composite Can and Tube Institute. This is a real organization made up of real people. Smart people. If you visit their website you’ll find that CCTI is “international trade association representing the interests of manufacturers of composite paperboard cans, containers, canisters, tubes, cores, cones, fibre drums, spools, ribbon blocks, bobbins and related or similar composite products; and suppliers to those manufacturers of such items as paper, machinery, adhesives, labels and other materials and services.”
After speaking about upcoming trends affecting the industry and businesses in general a member raised his hand asked me why I didn’t mention social media. “I’m curious about social media,” the gentleman said. “We’re not using it very well at my company.”
OK, let’s step back and recap: I was speaking at the Composite Can and Tube Institute. The 150 or so members of the audience run companies that manufacture things like cans, containers, drums, spools and ribbon blocks. In my opinion, no one in that room had any business being on Facebook or Twitter unless they were planning a family reunion, reaching out to a high school classmate or following Kanye and Kim’s latest escapades. Social media for this industry is a waste of time.
By now you’ve probably figured out that if your customers are not on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Tumblr then there’s probably not a whole lot of reason why your company should be there too. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t create and build a great community. You can. Just not with social media. Instead, try these 3 steps.
Step 1: Get a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This is a database. There are great cloud based providers offering products for every sized business, priced from zero (try Zoho CRM to hundreds of dollars a month a user (the most well known being Salesforce.com). You’ll likely pay somewhere in between. Setting it up is easy. Import your customer and contacts from Outlook and your accounting system. Make sure you keep adding people, prospects, vendors, suppliers, anyone to your database that touches your business. Have someone in your company responsible for maintaining this valuable system. And most importantly: categorize these people. Why? See Step 2.
Step 2: Match categories with your communications. The days of unpersonalized e-mail “blasting” or “mail-merging” a database are over. Today, it’s all about segmentation. Everyone in your database should be hearing from you. The questions you need to answer are how often, what kind of info should you provide, and how should you provide it? Look at each category (suppliers, prospects, customers, partners) and think about how you want to touch them throughout the year. Some categories may need further sub-categories. For example, you might want to have additional customer and prospect categories based on industry or product interest. So how often does each group hear from you? Once a month? Once a year? And what kind of information is important to that specific group? Training advice? Product updates? And how best to provide that information? You’ll have to ask. Because some people like getting emails. Others like printed materials. Some still want to get a phone call.
Step 3: Execute...again and again and again, year after year after. This is not a one time shot. This is a consistent plan of communicating helpful information to your community. Information that is specifically paired down to the people that find it relevant. Information that is delivered on a schedule based on your determination of how often this group wants to hear from you, without being too intrusive. And information that is delivered in a format (email, print, etc) that is desired by the recipient. This is not a little job. This is a big, long, consistent, time-consuming job. You will need someone to do this.
Why? Because after time (and this will take time) you’ll find yourself building a community better than any social media site. You’ll be consistently communicating with groups of people that want to hear from you. And they will be responding back. They will be thinking about your company the next time they have a need for something you provide. They will enjoy the information you’re providing and look forward to hearing from you.
Building a community isn’t running a Facebook page. It’s about creating and then investing in a relationship over a long period of time. The commitment is significant. But the payback is substantial. Even for guys that manufacture cans.