Marketing and business development are vital parts of every business and one of the most fun and creative activities at any company if they’re done right. I’ve had the chance to see how marketing, advertising and the digital landscape have affected marketing tactics over the last couple of decades and not to put too fine a point on it: Most of it has become a relentless barrage of unwelcome garbage. I think a lot of marketers nowadays perceive their craft to be something like the natural process of erosion. If I hit my contacts with enough material, eventually they’ll relent. We do see your spam, we’re just ignoring both you and your cadence of dozens of unsolicited and irrelevant messages.
Being on the consumer or client-side of this affectation is exhausting and more importantly, desensitizing. I will not read your unsolicited email – even though you sent 17 of them and the last one was titled ‘I guess I have failed you…’ as though negative option marketing and relentless spamming weren’t enough, now we’re resorting to basic emotional appeals to pity and guilt.
I do occasionally get well-informed messages, which may even get a reply; almost always in B2B scenarios where an account developer somewhere has done accurate research and included something personal about me, my business and what specifically they may be able to do for us. Those seem to be few and far between, and most organizations opt for overwhelming volumes of unsolicited vanilla spam instead of pointed, personalized and highly specific solicitations; because those take time and cost money. Instead, they opt to erode my defenses by keeping me on a list I never signed up for until I become frustrated and opt-out - if that’s even an option – or block them.
This phenomenon permeates email, text messages, phone calls, digital advertising and all forms of media available to the ravenous marketers plying their blunt craft of ‘talking at people’. This isn’t every organization, but I would defy any reader to proclaim they have not been barraged in such a manner at some point in the past months.
What’s particularly fascinating is that companies not only do this in an attempt to secure new logos and fresh clients from the market; they do it to existing customers too. There is nothing like receiving 20 emails you didn’t request or sign up for from a vendor you use to help turn you off of their services, and this is true in both B2C and B2B interactions. It smacks of ‘I don’t value your time or needs, only your money, please buy something.’ and I deeply believe it ruins the customer experience.
People are missing an obvious and particular opportunity through which they have permission to communicate meaningfully on a regular basis with their customer base. This can be used to improve customer satisfaction and retention, upsell or cross-sell services that may be of interest to the customer in question or to otherwise engage in a forum of direct communication where you have permission to communicate: Billing time and your invoice.
Once every billing cycle, customers have entered into an agreement with you to communicate in a business context. You have permission to send the invoice and any recommendations, services, surveys, asks or offers you would like to make and the customer will not be offended by its arrival – in fact, they’ll be expecting it. This permissible communication can happen in a paper or digital invoice, via a text message or in a customer portal – the options for the mode of interaction are unlimited, but the event itself is pristine and unsullied by the negative connotations of spam and erosive, relentless and undesired communications largely at play in the market today.
Who imagines that 20 unsolicited emails, phone calls and a narrative articulating the solicitor’s failure would be more effective in garnering the attention of a working professional than a message indicating they can reduce your spend on their services by 15% or provide a great deal on an additional service that their usage records indicate they are using a-la-carte at great expense today? The invoice is a tacit contract for open communication, often on a monthly or quarterly basis, which will not be rejected or ignored and will not be seen as invasive and off-putting by your client base. The reader will already be in the mental context of a business transaction when they see it and the information it contains will not be dismissed as spam or meaningless.
The invoice and billing cycle is the last bastion of permissible communication in a business context that is massively underrepresented or discussed in marketing circles. This doesn’t need to be complex, automated recommendation engine-driven optimization model – though of course it can be -, it can be simple communications, offers to participate in surveys, cross and up-sell offers or introduction of new products or services the customer may not have been previously aware of – and it will be read!
Next time you are contemplating an opportunity to improve customer experience, communication, retention and how effectively your message is getting through, think about the transparency, optionality, empowerment and literal permission to communicate that your billing cycle, customer portal and invoice contents represent to your organization and client base.