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Farming the Customer Base

15 Aug, 2002 By: Wes Phillips imageSource

Farming the Customer Base

three most significant assets of an office technology dealership are company
awareness, identity in the marketplace, and their customer base. Since efforts
to improve ad-marketing are typically devoted, almost exclusively, to the
process of generating additional business from new customers, previous articles
explained the importance of advertising in building market awareness/identity.

it seems appropriate to examine the role advertising can play in more fully
nurturing the harvest of the customer base. The significance and value of the
customer base has grown enormously and in 2002 it represents a multi-faceted
challenge and opportunity. In this context, however, rather than using the word
advertising, a more accurate word to use is “communication.”

those office technology dealers, who had a strong service orientation and/or
rental fleet, experienced attractive profit margins from that ongoing stream of
service and supply business. Those dealers, in the course of servicing and
administering their customers, developed systems for regular customer
communication, including monthly billing, CSR visits, as well as the usual
service and salesperson repeat visits. 

the importance of the customer base evolved around a desire to build and
maintain a high profit service/supply base, the effect of that process was
regular customer communication, which in turn, achieved other benefits. Those
benefits include more supply business, happier customers resulting in easier and
more efficient renewals and upgrades, more referral business in the form of
leads and a higher degree of immunity to competitive sales calls. Today, the
value of the service business is just as important, but the value of those
ancillary benefits of regular customer communication is even more important.
This is because of the continuing stream of new technology and new products that
are being introduced by the manufacturers at an accelerating pace.

technology dealers with a strong marketplace identity and a customer base that
has received regular and coherent communication, are in a position to experience
efficient and profitable sales growth by marketing those new products. If the
customer base has been properly nurtured, it represents a huge source of low
cost leads, thereby allowing a dealer to bring on new product lines quickly and
efficiently. Plus, if you do not sell your customers new technology and new
products, somebody else will, thereby positioning that competitor to get more of
your customers’ business.

would be very interesting to do a random sample survey of your existing customer
base to determine exactly how much your customers know about your company. Is
each of your customers aware of all of the product lines you represent? Are they
aware of your key marketing programs such as special acquisition plans and
service programs?

balance of this month’s column will be a review of some classic forms of
customer communication, as well as a look at a couple of newer ideas.


Service technicians probably have more contact with your customers than anyone
else. Granted, service techs typically do not have a marketing mentality, but
there are marketing techniques they can use.

with their dress and appearance. As the products (especially the digital ones)
and marketing of your company become more sophisticated, the way your company
appears to your customers and prospects must also become more sophisticated.
Some of our clients (by the way, I am surprised at how few) supply their service
staff with long sleeve denim shirts, well-crafted polo shirts, or white dress
shirts with the corporate logo. Not only do these service technicians look
better than most of the competition, but also the service technicians have
greater pride in their work and in their company. The payoff to this investment
is that existing customers have an even greater respect for the dealership and
are more inclined to inquire about other possible product offerings.

tactic is to consider producing a series of “leave-behinds” for service
techs to distribute in sequence, on a regular basis. If you find yourself
restricted on available budget, manufacturer direct mail pieces could suffice in
many instances. As new products or new marketing programs are introduced, the
service tech should take a handful of the communication pieces with them to each
call and distribute them to the appropriate personnel.

another method of communication would be to have the service technicians leave
pre-addressed postage paid comment cards, after each service call. Those cards
could include not only the key questions about service performance, but also
questions about other products and services your company has available.


In addition, you should consider a formal lead program, whereby your service
technicians and personnel from other departments can pick up a referral fee for
leads. In the past, some of our clients developed successful lead programs.
These programs permitted non-sales personnel to collect up to 30 percent of the
commission on leads submitted in this fashion. Careful monitoring to ensure
integrity is vital. Lead programs must have credibility and must be aggressively
marketed to non-sales personnel during your regular staff meetings.


Many office technology dealers regularly use direct mail pieces to generate new
leads. Now, consider the value of regular direct mailings to existing customers.
Each of the specific points, mentioned in the service technician section, can be
duplicated in complementary fashion with regular direct mailings. As an
alternative, you can also include this same information in an envelope stuffer,
if you send out regular monthly statements.


The establishment of telemarketing departments has become commonplace within the
office technology market. Some of these departments are geared to only generate
leads for the sales department, while others market paper, supplies to existing,
as well as new customers, and others try to achieve both objectives.

experience in observing our client telemarketing efforts are that those that are
successful are the same that have proper daily management and effective
compensation programs. By giving the telemarketing department selected new
products to sell and/or new marketing programs to introduce, they can be an
effective representative to existing customers and new products.


It seems appropriate that whatever media advertising you implement, a portion
should be devoted to educate prospects and existing customers as to the full
depth and breadth of your firm’s product capabilities. Because of co-op
requirements, those messages about other areas of your business will need to be
generic in nature.

Base Advocate

Almost every office technology dealer will verbally acknowledge the significance
of the customer base, but from dealer to dealer there is tremendous disparity in
the level of harvesting. It appears too often, that the concept of customer base
farming (this does not include periodic equipment upgrades) never becomes an
operating system because of other priorities. But if you agree that the total
value of the customer base to your dealership today is even greater than it was
in the past, then consider appointing a responsible individual, within your
organization as the Customer Base Advocate. The Customer Base Advocate would be
responsible for developing and implementing all marketing and lead-generating
programs to existing customers. This individual could organize many of the ideas
discussed in this article, such as service tech programs, direct mail programs,
and telemarketing.

key point about customer base farming is that it allows an office technology
dealer to protect the most valued asset of the business, while also creating the
opportunity for a constant stream of new revenues at respectable profit margins.
Unfortunately, the key element, missing in customer base farming, is that most
dealers simply do not have a person or persons responsible, and therefore
attempt to implement programs, which simply wither on the vine.

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