Even Farmers Eat At McDonalds

My phone rang last week with a call from a potential client; the marketing vice president of a midsize bank.

VP: “We’re looking for a company to help us launch and manage an electronic newsletter program for our customers and partners.”

Me: “I can help you.”

VP: “We need somebody who’s done this before and who can teach our people how to do this themselves along the way.”

Me: “I can help you.”

VP: “We’re way behind on our sales goals and we need a newsletter that will have an immediate impact on our numbers.”

Me: “I can’t help you.”

An electronic newsletter is an effective — possibly the most effective — means for enhancing and leveraging your existing customer relationships. It’s inexpensive, relevant and personal — all the things that traditional advertising isn’t — and it requires nothing more than email and a few good thoughts to get started. However, because it’s “all about relationship,” it doesn’t work overnight.

Here’s an example. Like most of you city slickers, I know next to nothing about farming. I do know however, that no matter how efficient your tools are, how fertile the land is or how smart the farmer happens to be, you can’t do much to speed up the harvest. You can improve the quality of the harvest yes, but the turnaround time between planting and eating is pretty much fixed.

An electronic newsletter — like any relationship building tool — is like farming. Each one you send out is a seed that might grow, or might not. Your job as the farmer is to make sure that each seed you throw (stay with me, we’re almost through this metaphor) has the best possible chance for growing into a healthy customer. But it’s a long range approach and it takes time.

Back to our marketing VP friend. Am I suggesting that she tell her boss to wait a year to bring on the new customers that the bank needs? No, of course not. She’s got a sales target to hit and a responsibility to bring in the numbers as promised. And as expensive, short term and potentially damaging to long term relationships as quick turnaround approaches like direct mail, telemarketing and special offers can be, sometimes you need to take quick action.

But here’s the key: It doesn’t have to be “either or.” You can work from a long term, relationship oriented perspective in general , while still using traditional short term tactics when necessary.

Look, farmers sometimes eat at McDonalds (sorry, I’m back with the farming metaphor. But this is the last time, I promise). Just because you generally feed your family through a cycle of planting and harvesting, it doesn’t mean you can’t duck into McDonalds occasionally for a quick lunch. It’s true that it’s less healthy and more expensive, but hey, if you’re hungry you need to eat.

Bottom Line: Think relationships; think organic; think long term. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most cost effective, self sustaining way to build a strong, healthy business. At the same time, be practical when you need to be, and don’t turn “the vision of relationship marketing” into a religious belief that has to be followed in all cases and at all costs.

Now get out there and spread some fertilizer (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

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