I Want To Know Your Name

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-vT_GqYG-E[/youtube]

Can we talk for a minute? Girl, I want to know your name...

- Tevin Campbell

In the comments of this great post by Liam Dayan, our CTO, I wrote:

And in a strictly non-self serving way, I feel compelled to point out that things like community information will play a major role in the whole “Reg-path management” issue. What better way to get someone to sign up than to offer them detailed information on the schools, the area, the towns, and neighborhoods? I know that sounded like a sales pitch, but I happen to really believe it.

The #1 problem with signup requirements, frankly, is that people need to get something of value back to give up their personal info. Too many brokerage sites offer precious little value in exchange for personal info. And saying, “To view all our listings, sign up!” is inadequate, IMHO.

More I thought about it, more I felt this could use some expansion and clarification. Let's talk about signing up.

Getting someone to give you his or her name is not a light matter, as Tevin Campbell realized long ago. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Internet, where anonymity rules -- and is, indeed, one of the best things about the web. To come out of the shadows, to declare your name, to share your identity with someone online is a pretty big deal.

Last year, we were in the market to buy a new family car. We began like almost all shoppers by researching the various makes and models, eventually settling on either a Honda Odyssey or a Toyota Sienna. My wife, being the good comparison shopper she is, looked for various models at dealers located near us, and inquired about price, availability, and so on. Thing is, those dealer websites all required registration -- giving our name and email -- to get actual quotes, and she signed us up under my email address so I could check out the deals.

A year later, I'm still reporting their emails as spam. I've unsubscribed from dozens of mailing lists, and I still get emailed about the latest deal on Toyotas. At last count, I have 385 emails in my spam inbox that I setup just to handle all these emails about car deals.

Maybe those dealers think of what they're doing as "CRM" -- Customer Relationship Management. I think the proper term is CAM -- Customer Alienation Management. Because I can guarantee that I will never, ever shop at any one of those dealers that is emailing me despite my requests to be taken off whatever spam list they have me on. The dealer we ended up buying our car from was the one dealer who sent me the quote, then never spammed me again.

Value for Value

One of the big problems with these car dealerships was that I got absolutely no value from giving them (well, my wife giving them) my name and email. Like most consumers, I don't mind providing my name and email if I get back value in return. I periodically receive updates from Amazon about books they think I might like based on my purchase history. I don't mind those so much, because I think I'm getting value out of those customized recommendations. I get a daily email newsletter from OpinionJournal, because I like to see what Op/Ed pieces I'm missing from the Wall Street Journal. That is actually a service to me, since it saves me time of having to go to their website.

The car dealers, however, never thought about value for me. All they thought about was how to get me to come spend money with them. No reviews of their cars; no newsletters on winterizing your vehicle; no periodic updates about car safety; nothing. Even if all of those pieces had been self-serving promotional materials, I might have gotten some value out of an email detailing why a Honda Odyssey is superior to a Toyota Sienna.

Today, savvy realtors realize that it is critical to offer something of value to consumers in exchange for their email address. But still too many do not seem to recognize that the Value for Value is not a one-time thing. It isn't a Hotel California situation, where you can check in anytime you like, but you can't ever leave. Value must be delivered with each and every contact.

The key, then, is to have valuable information that can be delivered to the consumer. Market reports make an excellent candidate for value. So do listings, especially if the consumer has indicated that she's looking for listings that match a particular set of preferences (so-called "Saved Search" feature). Blog posts make for a truly personalized, and personable email candidate. We know that some of our clients use our data to create really excellent information about local neighborhoods to send to their customers. We know that most of you understand the importance of content; that argument has been settled by how the market reacts.

Let's take it one step further.

Segmentation

What I would like to advocate today is to take things one step further, when you're dealing with consumers. Segment them into three buckets: Pre-Purchase, Purchase, and Post-Purchase.

Yes, even more refined segmentation would be awesome, but I'm imagining that most of you don't have the systems, the CRM software, or the trained staff to do fullblown CRM campaigns. So at least bucket your customers into those three.

What is valuable to someone who is in the Pre-Purchase phase is not necessarily valuable to someone in the Purchase or Post-Purchase phases. Someone who is in the market but hasn't chosen a house may want to know a lot more about the neighborhood, the schools, the pricing trends, etc; someone who has picked a house and is in contract may not care about school info. She's already chosen, and already made up her mind.

During the Purchase phase, the customer may instead be able to derive value in things like blog posts that help people through the whole homebuying or homeselling process. Or perhaps a regular email update that lets her know that her deal is moving through the various hurdles.

Those who have already purchased a home might still want to keep their name and email on file with you, if you continue to provide value to them. Perhaps these are newsletters about their new neighborhood, or market trends to let them know how they're investment is actually doing, or articles about replacing a faulty hot water heater.

Whatever provides value, it is more likely that you'll deliver value if you think of the person on the receiving end.  More you know, more value you can deliver.  But at a minimum, I believe that it is important to bucket your content by these three categories, and your customers accordingly.

It Ain't the Tools; It's the Person

Does sophisticated CRM make the above easier?  Of course it does; that's the whole reason to buy CRM software.

But what comes first is your understanding and willingness to use those tools.  What comes first is your recognition that customers are people, that you want to use the tools at your disposal to provide value to them in exchange for value from them.  We can provide you the content and the tools, but only you can provide the motivation.

Because at the end of the day, it isn't about us, about our tools, our data, and our technology.  It's about you, your people, and your people relating to the people known as 'customers'.

So can we talk for a minute?  Girl, I want to know your name....

Image Credit: Betsy Weber on Flickr.com