A Focus on Finding Customers Online Doesn’t Work.

But social networking does – there’s a big difference.

If you’re focusing on getting new customers online, research shows you’re not going to get many. By they way, it’s no different offline. This study could rock the online marketing world, or at least the SEO’rs, who focus on activity vs. results.

In the dark ages (Nov. 2008), when the biggest Twitter account had “only” 73,395 followers, I did a post on Why Social Networking Can Be a Bad Idea . A year later (Sept. 2009) I challenged the common usage of the term Social Networking .

This month Gallup released results of an intensive survey – Social Media: The Three Big Myths – saying much the same thing – you won’t get new clients from social media. So why do it?

Stop Focusing on Selling
The big myth is that using social media to focus on getting new clients works. Gallup confirmed that it doesn’t. They surveyed 17,000 people to find out this big duh. Gallup went on to say that we should instead focus on engaging our CURRENT and ENGAGED customers instead. Another big duh.

We just don’t believe being human works.

Social Networking is Best Done in Person, THEN Online
We keep trying to digitize our relationships, and big surprise, people actually want to talk with people instead. A study by the Wharton School backed this up in Dec. of 2010 – over 90% of word-of-mouth product discussions happen offline and a significant chunk of the 10% of online discussions, start offline. Social networking has always been, and will always be more of an offline way for people to engage with each other.

Here’s a clue:

People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like.

This manic need to avoid relationships and just sell our shiny object isn’t new. You’ve all met “that guy” at a networking event who is the offline version of the pop-up ad, always in your face with a product you weren’t looking for. He has no interest in you as a person, just as a target. Online marketing suffers from the same self-focus.

We just assume that because our product is so great, all we have to do is get it in front of new potential clients and they will buy. Gallup confirms that not only will this focus on new customers not work online, you can’t even expect to retain your existing ones via online communications.

The key word here – focus.

Gallup confirms what I’ve believed about online media all along – you are unlikely to engage new prospects by focusing on them directly through online media. Instead, Gallup shows that the best use of online media is to engage with your most ACTIVE and COMMITTED customers online, and as you engage them, gently encourage them to advocate for you.

We think social engagement online will make someone want to buy, but now we have hard core evidence that’s not true. Just the opposite – being engaged as a customer will drive social engagement and make them want to talk to you online. And those existing customers will advocate and bring new clients – you won’t.

The Game Changing Conclusion
Want to win new clients online? Stop focusing on them, and go back to building raving fans with your existing clients – they will bring others to you.

Again is there anything new here? My wife went to this place called Panera Bread many years ago. They focused on her as a customer, not me as a potential customer. She came home and told me about the place, and I’ve spent thousands there since.

The big successes will come when you can engage your existing clients and raving fans both online and offline simultaneously. That’s a powerful use of the online world – as another place to meet your friends.

The SEO’rs won’t like this, but it’s not about click-throughs, which by this study, are largely added noise. It’s about existing committed/loyal clients bringing others to your site.

Why are you online? To get new customers? Think again. The best way to make that happen is to focus instead on the people who already love you, and let them do the Panera Bread thing for you.

How 211 Degree Relationships Can Be Your Latent Key to Success

Where do most of your sales come from? When I’ve asked this question in a weekly lunch I do with 60 business leaders, 59 of them say relationships and one didn’t understand the question.

So how do we shift more of our spend from advertising, direct marketing, and public relations to relationship marketing? The good news is that it just doesn’t cost that much money – it costs time. The bad news is that we think we can buy customers and would much rather spend money than time. Good luck with that.

It actually works if you have enough money to make a very big and sustained splash. But most business owners don’t have the kind of marketing budget that allows them the luxury of spending wads of cash and sitting back to wait for the phones to ring. Like it or not, we have more time than money, but again, the good news is that an investment of your time in building relationships will be much more effective than a quick, short-term spend of money.

The key is moving people from being “advocates” to “raving fans”. There are a lot of past and present customers along with friends and business associates who really like us a lot. But they have lives and we are not at the center of their lives. I describe an advocate as someone who likes me enough to give me a referral when I ask, but I have to ask. A Raving Fan however, is at a whole new level – this is someone who sends me customers without me asking.

The difference is one degree.

At 211 degrees we get hot water to make tea. At 212 degrees we get steam to power a civilization. We have a lot of 211 degree relationships who are really warmed up to us (Advocates), but what do we do move them that one extra degree to turn them into Raving Fans?

Here are some simple things that can turn Advocates into Raving Fans. By the way, the profound things are always the most simple.

  1. Serve people – meet them where they are at, not where you want them to be. You want to sell them something, but they need a babysitter or a new supplier. Find them that and forget selling them your wares.
  2. Set aside a few minutes a week to ask yourself what else you can do to move them forward? Do you want a client from them? Can you send them one instead? Or just call and say hi and ask them what you can do to push them forward.
  3. Relate/recreate with them – when was the last time you actually took time to build a relationship with an Advocate? Go to dinner, have a cup of coffee, invite them to golf, go to a workshop together. People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like. Become likeable.

Discover what your Advocates want and deliver that. If you do, they could become Raving Fans who will become gate openers for your business. What have you done for them besides deliver something they’ve paid for? Answer that question positively and you are on the way to turning your 211-degree relationships into 212 Raving Fans.

Make a list of five to ten people who love you and aren’t helping you grow your business. Then create a three month action plan help them grow theirs and watch what happens.

One degree – does it really matter? It just might take one of your 211-degree relationships and turn it into steam that can power your business for years going forward.