There is still much to be said for consumer retention

I recently gave a presentation at a conference about the relationship between sales and marketing and was set up in a debate with a salesman who had little time for the art of our profession. In the end we did find things to agree on, which ties with my experience – that there’s a symbiotic relationship between sales and marketing in most businesses.

Secret Marketer

That got me thinking about brand inertia and how difficult it is for marketers to get people to change established purchasing behaviour. Take the utilities sector: a salesman has to figuratively ‘knock down the door’ before anyone will change energy supplier. The challenge is that, while people do have a choice, it is a huge wrench to change supplier, and particularly at a time when most providers are largely homogeneous, prices are similar, and it isn’t something people would think of off their own bat.

At least for a growing brand it is usually the marketer’s job to find a way to break down inertia – to make the case why this is an important decision, can be done with minimal disruption and reap untold benefits for the recipient. Marketing agencies are at an advantage in that their customers are usually forced to review their agency every few years. That said, I was intrigued to talk to one of the agency intermediaries the other day, who said that most of their business did not come from running pitches but from working with existing agencies and clients to overcome issues and so extend relationships.

Which reminds me of a point I made a few weeks ago. New customers might be the sexy target but there’s just as much to be said for customer retention. Having invested in that acquisition and established a relationship, why not maintain it?

I know that some of the satellite TV companies have customer retention teams that try to stop subscribers from leaving; should this be the future focus of marketing? Should marketers be responsible for giving customers reasons to repel all the sales patter and incredible opening offers? But then, if no one changed their mind about which brand to go with, surely we’d eventually kill off our reason for being?

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