Social Media and The Return of the Customer Relationship

Customer-Relationship-Buster-Brown-ShoesRemember when sales were built on personal relationships with customers? I do.

My grandmother sold shoes for a living. For 30 years families went to see Dorothy Popovic at Jackson’s Shoe Store in Hopewell, Pa every time they needed a pair of shoes: a church holiday, the first day of school, a wedding, a new outfit, a high school dance, or the first job interview. Whenever they needed shoes they went to see “Dot”.

Mothers were confident that Dorothy would make sure their ever-growing children got the right size – it’s what she did. Men trusted Dorothy to get them a pair of boots that were comfortable and would hold up to the mill floor – that’s who she was. Kids looked forward to a riding on the Buster Brown pedal carousel after they were done trying on multiple colors of Keds®. That’s what you got when you went to Jackson’s.

Each customer had a relationship with their salesperson, and it meant something – to both of them.

Levittown Shopping Center aerial, Levittown, PA 1950sThen something started to change. Chain stores headquartered in other cities came to town and offered lower prices than Jackson’s and some of the customers followed the money. Dorothy still did what she did; listened to her customers and helped them find the shoes they needed most.

A few years later, the area got its first big mall and it attracted curious shoppers from all over the region, including many of Dorothy’s customers. Some bought shoes from the department stores that sold just about everything, including shoes. There were styles Jackson’s didn’t have, and many of her customers tried them because they were on sale or in the newspaper. She continued with what she knew: selling shoes and helping people.

Jackson’s closed their Hopewell store and moved into the mall to compete – carousel and all. The big stores had big sales and were staffed by many, many people, most of which who did not know the families or the children and who did not know shoes, but did know how to ring the new registers, how to send them to the other departments, and how to get them to open a store credit card.

Sit Down Here by the Campfire: Listen to Kevin Popovi? tell the story.

The department store office would use the customer information from the charge account to market other things to the new customers. The store would send them letters in the mail from big databases on spinning reels of tape that sometimes read, “Dear <first_name>”, as if they knew whom they were selling to.

It was time for Dorothy to retire.

Dorothy PopovicShe was getting older – near 60 at this point. Although some of the children of her longtime customers would bring their children into the store to meet her, share a story about getting shoes when they were a child, and to ride the now, very worn carousel, it wasn’t the same. Neither was the money she made.

Sales were off, margins were down, and nobody seemed to be in retail as a profession any longer. It was a part-time job, or something that was done when they got laid-off, or while they were working on their next big idea.

There was no customer relationship – only numbered accounts, computers merging big data with form fields and bulk postage filling the sales funnel to move the inventory purchased by remote buyers.

For the committed sales professional it was tough too: matching prices, coupons, buy one get one sales, and the never-ending allure of the well-branded department stores. Their options were limited. They had a telephone, but who wanted to be bothered at dinner? They had the postal service, but who was reading mail? They had their reputations, but the distance between interactions slowly diminished the impact they had on a customer buying decision.

Well, things are changing for sales professionals – again.

Social media is providing the ability to create a new customer relationship and integrated marketing strategies, like Satellite Marketing, helping sales professionals make some sense of it all.

social-media-choicesLinkedIn allows professional sales men and women to share their experience, qualifications and recommendations as a credible sales representative. It helps sales stay in touch with the customers (connections) they have, and make new contacts from referrals and new groups interested in their products and services.

Twitter helps share large amounts of information, Instagram puts you in front of younger audiences, and YouTube is a great place to share videos of product demos, customer commercials, and client testimonials.

Facebook, oriented towards relationships, provides a platform to get in front of friends, neighbors and family to share what’s new in your world, what’s new in theirs, and some discussion of different issues between the two (like what’s new at your job, what you’re working on and what problems they’re having at theirs). This is just like at kids’ soccer game, professionals talk about their professions – so why not sales?

And all of these social media sites – and more – facilitate a relationship – so why not a customer relationship? Like any sales tool, it all depends on how you use it.

You can set the tone for any aspect of your company – even sales. If this is the type of culture you want in your company, then providing the direction and tools is the first step.

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