A Million-Dollar Marketing Plan Can’t Beat a Million-Dollar Smile

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by Sarah Warlick, content director

A professional services provider I know does a pretty good job of marketing. He’s got a good location in downtown Decatur and a presence on social media. Being a small office, it’s not a huge presence, but you can find him on Foursquare, Facebook and Google+, plus reviews on Yelp and Kudzu and listings on local search engines like Yahoo.

Is it too much to expect this reaction from you?

Is it too much to expect this reaction when I walk in the door?

It’s not just online marketing for this provider, either. He does a nice job of reaching out throughout the year with cards on holidays and my birthday, as well as mailed newsletters that show up just regularly enough to remind me he’s there – chock full of useful articles. He even sends occasional, appropriate letters urging me to review my needs in regard to his services based on life changes or the passage of time, as our lives evolve and so should our management of various issues.

I never get unwanted phone calls from this provider, and I do sometimes get invitations to provide feedback on the office’s performance. When I call the office someone almost always answers right away and politely helps me with whatever I need. It’s the perfect relationship, right?

You’d think so, but it’s not. In fact, I really don’t like him and would have found a new provider already if I weren’t so lazy. (There used to be another team member whom I did like and respect, and I stayed for many years based on the strength of that relationship. When he retired, I decided to move on but haven’t gotten around to it yet.) So what’s wrong here?

It’s very basic. He’s not connecting on a personal level. When I go into the office there’s not much eye contact, no sense of enthusiasm to see me and I always get a vague feeling that he’d rather have made another career choice. I’m not talking about a failure to throw me a party and beg me to marry him – just to express some semblance of pleasure that he’s alive and a long-term client is present. I want him to feign a modicum of joy or something, like the way most of us say “Good morning!” when we’d really prefer to have remained lounging in bed.

This complaint may seem petty. It is a very minimal objection in the grand scheme of things. And yet, it irks me every single time I go into the office. It even comes through over the phone. I walk away from contact with this provider with a slightly dissatisfied feeling and a sense that he’s not happy with his life, or fully engaged with me. And so having been with this office for over 20 years, I’m moving on.

There are two possible lessons here: One is that I’m too picky and impossible to please. That doesn’t hold up though, because I was perfectly delighted with the now-retired partner and plenty of other long term service providers. I don’t need an excessive amount of attention or ego stroking from my professional services providers.

The other is that no matter how closely you adhere to an official list of marketing suggestions, the ultimate marketing tool is the strength of your personal interactions with your clients.

It doesn’t matter how many birthday cards you send saying you appreciate your clients – your demeanor in person trumps everything else. If you want your clients to love working with you and remain loyal, it is imperative that you communicate positive feelings when you see them face-to-face. And I’m not sure you can fake it.

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