Rick Willis is a Master Analyst and a Wizard of Ads Partner. This short video was his gift to the other partners at last week’s partner meeting in Austin.
Rick Willis here, and I’d like to pose a question and throw out a few thoughts.
What do you do when you find your client has issues unrelated to advertising that are hurting their sales? I’ve run into this several times. And here’s a few examples. I had been working with a car dealer for two years. Sales were growing nicely, but the service department wasn’t seeing the same lift. In fact, their numbers were trending down. The owner asked for some advertising magic, specifically for the service department, but I wasn’t convinced advertising was going to fix their problem. The data showed very little repeat business. And to me, that was a huge red flag.
So I called several dozen recent customers and I told them I was with an outside marketing company and I wanted to get their thoughts. Well, two issues came up repeatedly that were frustrating enough to the customers that they swore they wouldn’t return. Steering wheels were left grimy and customers were having to wait 30 minutes or more to pay their bill and leave after seeing their car pulled out of the service bay. In both cases, negative last mental image was sufficient to keep customers from coming back. Once the service department addressed the friction points, their numbers started to climb.
Another example, a manufacturer of agricultural products had been selling about two and a half million dollars a year through distributors, but their sales were starting to plateau. So naturally they thought it was time to take a fresh look at their marketing. I was hired to come up with options because the client had only sold through distributors. They had very little customer feedback. So to get a better understanding of the market, product usage, and pain points, I attended a couple of trade shows and talked with several dozen end users. The insights were eye-opening. About a third of the people I talked with were thrilled with the product. The rest thought it was a complete sham.
It became clear that sales had plateaued because the brand was so badly tarnished, the universe of people left to sell to was shrinking fast. The difference between the thrilled customers and the unhappy came down to product implementation. The usage protocols were so poorly developed and their instructions were vague. Before embarking on any new marketing, I told them they needed to fix their instructions and ensure every customer got praise worthy results. I also suggested they should bypass wholesale distribution and sell direct to the end users. This would give them the ongoing feedback they needed for development and they’d receive the full retail price. Well, within a few years, top line sales had grown 40% and their net profits were up 130%.
In both cases, clients were looking for advertising to fix what really wasn’t an advertising issue. If I had done what they had asked, it would’ve created more frustration when the campaigns didn’t produce. And worse, it would’ve damaged my credibility. We need to strive to keep brand alignment issues and friction from working against us. Unfortunately, helping clients recognize their blind spots and making needed changes can be challenging. Especially if they only see us as their ad writers.
Early on in client relationships, I try to make it clear that my sole aim is to improve their long term sales and profitability. That while effective advertising can bring in new customers, sustained sales growth is a lot easier without friction causing buyer reluctance or driving customers away. I love Roy’s discussion about delight factors and inspiring customers to become brand evangelists. The best advertising is a legion of delighted customers sharing their newfound discovery with everyone they know.
One of my favorite tools for ferreting out blind spots and opportunities is the secret shopper. One of my clients had a crotchety receptionist who didn’t project the same warmth and caring portrayed in our ads. Well, to make my client aware of this, I made a montage of several calls to companies with receptionists that did a particularly good job of making callers feel appreciated. I added my client’s receptionist to the very end. The contrast was stark and the receptionist was replaced within a week. In another case, I used a secret shopper with Uncovery. I was working with a client that sold sewing machines. I knew very little about the market at the time, but a friend of mine from church was an avid sewer. So I paid her $50 to go to all five sewing stores in the city and shop for a new sewing machine, something she really wanted to do anyway, and I didn’t tell her who my client was. A week later, she gave me a report on each store. What were their strengths, their weaknesses, and if anything stood out as praiseworthy. To my surprise, she said, my client store was by far the most appealing. The atmosphere was more like a sewing social club. And she said, it felt like the place where she belonged.
I’ve used phone surveys a lot, and I’ve found the most effective when you can take the time to get the customer to open up. I’ve never used a call center for this, but I suspect getting good engagement may be more challenging. Email surveys can provide some helpful insights, but I’ve found the comments tend to be fairly superficial. And sometimes phone calls are still needed. For the right clients, trade shows can be extremely helpful. You can have enlightening conversation with past and potential customers and you could also gain insights on the competition.
Online reviews can be helpful. I start by ranking reviews from worst to best, looking for patterns, such as poor communication, unmet expectations, or poor attitudes. Anytime a customer takes the time to write a legitimate negative comment on an email survey or online review, I recommend someone in authority get back to them for clarification. And if at all possible, make them happy. I found that the people who take the time to care enough and complain, well they’re often some of the best sources for referrals. If you ignore them, they may write off your client as uncaring and cause more death and destruction, then you will ever know. But when they know their concerns have been heard and when they’ve been shown proper respect, well, they can become some of your best cheerleaders.
Google alerts are helpful. I always set alerts for companies and clients I’m working with, along with our competitors. Roy pointed out recently, the problem a client was having with website conversions, poor design was causing too many leads to bail. Analytics can be very helpful, but having Vi or one of the other digital marketing masters dig deep into a client site can uncover issues. Even just having fresh eyes test drive the site and try and convert can expose problems with links or flow.
The reality for most clients: they don’t realize they have friction points, or what they may be costing them. If we ignore them, we’re hurting them and us. To put it another way, what would it mean to their income if every lead resulted in a delighted customer? And what should we do when we find issues that kill delight? Roy’s recent caution about us not being the CEO of our client’s business was spot on. There have been times over the years, I’ve been a bit over zealous about changes to systems or processes I felt the client needed to make. In the end, it’s the client’s business to run. Our job is to provide them with the best counsel we can. I appreciate your time. Thank you.