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Information Sells! How to Boost Sales by Educating Your Customers
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By Gregory Demetriou

There's an old saying in business that goes: "The more you tell, the more you sell." Or, according to Sy Syms, the legendary discount clothing retailer, "An Educated Consumer is the best customer."

I agree with Sy. Assuming your product is competitive in quality and price, you can differentiate your company from the competition by providing clients with unsolicited, helpful information/advice that can help them save money, find more time, inspire them and generally improve their daily business lives. This approach to customer relations says your organization is customer-driven, that you care about each client's needs and are willing to go beyond merely selling a product or service to meet those needs. It's a clear commitment to getting and keeping valuable customers as individuals rather than faceless accounts, and it's fundamental to developing a loyal following and stimulating repeat sales.

Here's a perfect example of how one company increased customer allegiance and revenue with a "value-added" service. Enlisting the aid of a mailing expert, a large commercial printer offered select customers a free mini-seminar that focused on the basic concepts, procedures and pitfalls of direct mail. Promoted as "Mailing 101," the one-hour session provided the audience with important information that could be used proactively in direct mail efforts. It was an informal gathering where individuals' questions and problems were addressed, underscoring the printer's interest in his customers' well-being. The meeting not only distinguished this printer from his competitors, it also solidified business relationships and increased the lettershop sales, which the printer offered his clients as part of his comprehensive customer service package. Chances are your competition doesn't go this route. Therefore, providing your clients with valuable information is probably your opportunity to carve out a valuable niche for your company. If the information you offer is truly beneficial and not simply just another camouflaged sales pitch, your audience will spread the word about the "value-added" service they receive when dealing with your company. There are not many better ways to build and sustain relationships with customers than to give them more information than they expect and turn them into "experts." The process also points to your expertise in the field, enhances your company's image and positions you as an industry resource, which further fosters confidence in your company.

Helpful, unsolicited information comes in many forms. For example,

  • The printer mentioned above distributed time-saving free pamphlets that walk customers through the often-confusing pre-press preparation process.
  • Accountants often mail newsletters to clients with user-friendly tax tips.
  • Doctors can send postcards to current and prospective patients with recipes for healthy eating.
  • Hi-tech companies can disseminate information to existing and potential customers via self-mailers containing useful glossaries of terms that keep them up to date on the latest advancements and terminology.
  • Direct marketers can produce "how-to" brochures to help businesses navigate the system and get the most out of their marketing programs.
Nevertheless, never forget that direct marketing is selling, not advertising. You must marry the dissemination of "free" information to a "selling" proposition. Each contact with your clients and prospects should offer them an opportunity to interact with your company either through promotional offers related to the "free" information you just provided or through a vertical marketing position that encourages them to use or buy more of your services or products. The lettershop industry was provided with the opportunity to educate and "sell" when, in 1997, the United States Postal Service enacted Classification Reform. At that time, many businesses were mailing pieces without barcoding or carrier routing. By proactively presenting clients and prospects with information about the new regulations that enabled them to save significant amounts in postage, many mailhouses enjoyed increased sales and cemented client relationships.

If your information is about an advancement in your field, you might consider offering a discount for first-time users. If it is about a new or better product you are introducing, a similar offer could be extended on a "first come, first served" basis. Conveying the message effectively will take a certain amount of skill and subtlety because you want to maintain the educator's position and not appear to be just another salesperson.

Remember, you have two goals: Differentiating yourself and your company from the competition and increasing sales. The former makes you stand out in the crowd and the latter is usually a direct result of the former.

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Gregory P. Demetriou, President of American Mail Communications in Farmingdale, NY, has been in the direct mail marketing business for more than 20 years, managing direct mail programs for clients and serving as a resource for organizations planning mailing campaigns. He has presented workshops and seminars on the topic, written for business publications and recently developed a "how to" book on direct mail techniques for small- to mid-sized businesses. He can be reached via email or at http://www.americanmail.com.

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