By: Joanne Russell, Project manager—The Spectrum Services Group
What would happen if you stopped watering your vegetable garden for three months? I’d be willing to bet you wouldn’t have much of a garden in the end. Plants would dry up with no hope of bearing fruit. Perhaps you could salvage one or two, but it’s likely that you’d have to start from scratch with most. Plants need consistent care and attention to survive, let alone thrive. The same could be said for your marketing efforts.
I’ve heard from many people that they often pause their marketing campaigns in the summer months, due to the common assumption that because of vacations, and perhaps vacation mentalities, targeted prospects won’t be as responsive. To that I’d say – it depends on what you’re selling. For mass marketers trying to sell the merits of the latest cleaning product or unnecessary item, I’d have to agree that people may not notice or care, while they’re taking in the sunshine. However, if the goal is to maintain a long-term relationship with a company, it’s not likely to be won with a single, mass-blast marketing effort. These kinds of relationships are built over time and are typically the product of a longer sales cycle. With this type of marketing philosophy, consistency is critical and a three month communication gap isn’t a good relationship-building tactic.
The term Nurture Marketing has been used to describe the process of gently nudging your target along in the sales process. Here at Spectrum we liken it to watering a garden. Too much water and the garden drowns, not enough and it withers up. But just the right amount and it flourishes in due season! It’s not a matter of calling your target every day and asking “are you ready yet?” But instead is a philosophy that believes in consistent, intentional, and varied communication, by which you are able to stay connected with your prospect, ensuring that they think of you first when they are ready to buy. In understanding the companies you’re reaching out to, it’s important to recognize that they will eventually make a decision on your product or service, one way or another. With once-and-done marketing efforts, the decision is more immediate, but with longer sales cycles decisions can come at any time and countless factors can make the timing difficult to predict.
As much as management would prefer the exact timing of when a deal will close, the reality is that it’s very hard to tell, especially in the software and IT industry. It might be that the need for change becomes more acute at a certain point during the sales cycle, that contracts are up and the prospect needs to replace an incumbent solution or partner quickly, or that they have an unexpected IT emergency. Furthermore, it’s also possible that projects planned for the spring got put off until the summer when things slow down a bit, or that the prospect was waiting to get some extra time over the summer in order to research new software solutions. Regardless of the reason, if you’re not engaged and available to meet the target’s needs when they’re ready, whenever that happens, the likelihood of them coming to you for help decreases significantly.
Some would suggest that this summer in particular is the best summer of all to engage in marketing activities. For many companies their last software platform transition was in 1999 to address the challenges posed by Y2K. While the average lifespan for software solutions is about seven years, many companies procrastinate when it comes to spending money replacing software infrastructure – especially in a challenging economy like this one.
Given that many economists predict the recession will end during the fourth quarter of 2009 it would seem as though companies are poised to make buying decisions sometime in the next 6-12 months. All indicators point to a strong year for software companies in 2010 and now is the time to start influencing what will they buy and who they will buy it from. What does it take to nurture a customer relationship? Consistency. Newsletters, direct mail pieces, and telephone calls are helpful, but are not nearly as effective as when they are part of a clearly planned, consistent outreach effort that keeps you linked to the customer while they are making decisions. The more engaged you are the more you can help them define their problem, shape their expectations for a solution, and close the deal. You can’t stay engaged if you take a summer vacation from your marketing.
Lastly, I challenge you to consider what might be the best reason of all – that many other companies feel the same way you do. If your competitors slow their marketing efforts during the summer, it gives you an even greater advantage in regards to getting in touch with more prospects and building a relationship with them – all before the other companies re-start their marketing programs in the fall. Getting an exclusive audience with your prospects is invaluable. Who knows…the deals you close from the extra effort might just pay for a real vacation!