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Segmenting and Targeting a Firm’s Current Customers

15 January, 2016 - 09:18

Finding and attracting new customers is generally far more difficult than retaining your current customers. People are creatures of habit. Think about how much time and energy you spend when you switch your business from one firm to another—even when you’re buying something as simple as a haircut. If you aren’t happy with your hair and want to find a new hairdresser, you first have to talk to people with haircuts you like or read reviews of salons. Once you decide to go to a particular salon, you have to look it up on the Internet or your GPS device and hope you don’t get lost on the way. When you get to the salon, you must try to explain to the new hairdresser how you want your hair cut and hope he or she gets it right. You might also have to jump through some different hoops when you pay the bill. Perhaps the new salon won’t accept your American Express card or won’t let you put the tip on your card. However, once you have learned the ropes at the new salon, doing business with it gets much easier.

The same is true for firms when it comes to finding new customers. Finding customers, getting to know them, and figuring out what they really want is a difficult process—one that’s fraught with trial and error. That’s why it’s so important to get to know and form close relationships with your current customers. Broadly speaking, your goal is to do as much business with each one of them as possible.

The most recent economic downturn drove home the point of making the most of one’s current customers. During the downturn, new customers were hard to find, and firms’ advertising and marketing budgets were cut. Expensive, untargeted, shotgunlike marketing campaigns that would probably produce spotty results were out of the question. Consequently, many organizations chose to focus their selling efforts on their current customers. 1 

This is the situation in which the adventure-based travel firm Backroads found itself in 2009. The California-based company increased its revenues by creating a personalized marketing campaign for people who had done business with Backroads in the past. The firm looked at information such as customers’ past purchases, the seasons in which they took their trips, the levels of activity associated with them, and whether or not the customers tended to vacation with children. The company then created three relevant trip suggestions for each customer based on the information. The information was sent to customers via postcards and e-mails with links to customized Web pages reminding them of the trips they had previously booked with Backroads and suggesting new ones. “In terms of past customers, it was like off-the-charts better [than past campaigns],” says Massimo Prioreschi, the vice president of Backroads’ sales and marketing group. 2

In addition to studying their buying patterns, firms also try to get a better read on their customers by surveying them or hiring marketing research firms to do so. (A good source for finding marketing research companies is ( Firms also utilize loyalty programs to find out about their customers. For example, if you sign up to become a frequent flier with a certain airline, the airline will likely ask to you a number of questions about your likes and dislikes. This information will then be entered into a customer relationship management (CRM) system, and you might be e-mailed special deals based on the routes you tend to fly. British Airways goes so far as to track the magazines its most elite fliers like to read so the publications are available to them on its planes.

Many firms—even small ones—are using Facebook to develop closer relationships with their customers. Hansen Cakes, a Beverly Hills (California) bakery, has about two thousand customers who visit its Facebook page. During her downtime at the bakery, employee Suzi Finer posts “cakes updates” and photos of the goodies she’s working on to the site. Along with information about the cakes, Finer extends special offers to customers and mixes in any gossip about Hollywood celebrities she’s spotted in the area. After Hansen Cakes launched its Facebook page, the bakery’s sales shot up 15–20 percent. “And that’s during the recession,” notes Finer, who is obviously proud of the results she’s gotten. 3 Twitter is another way companies are keeping in touch with their customers and boosting their revenues. For example, when the homemaking maven Martha Stewart schedules a book signing, she tweets her followers, and voilà—many of them show up at the bookstore she’s appearing at to buy copies. Finding ways to interact with customers that they enjoy—whether it’s meeting or “tweeting” them, or putting on events and tradeshows they want to attend—is the key to forming relationships with them.

Remember what you learned in Chapter 3 "Consumer Behavior: How People Make Buying Decisions", however: not all customers are created equal, including your current customers. Some customers are highly profitable, and others aren’t. Still others will actually end up costing your firm money to serve. Consequently, you will want to interact with some of them more than others.

Believe it or not, some firms deliberately “untarget” unprofitable customers. That’s what Best Buy did. In 2004, Best Buy got a lot of attention (not all of it good) when it was discovered the company had categorized its buyers into “personas,” or types of buyers, and created customized sales approaches for each. For example, an upper-middle-class woman was referred to as a “Jill.” A young urban man was referred to as a “Buzz.” And pesky, bargain-hunting customers that Best Buy couldn’t make much of a profit from? They were referred to as “devils” and taken off the company’s mailing lists.  4

The knife cuts both ways, though. Not all firms are equal in the minds of consumers, who will choose to do business with some companies rather than others. To consumers, market segmentation means: meet my needs—give me what I want. 5 

“Steps in One-to-One Marketing” outlines the steps companies can take to target their best customers, form close, personal relationships with them, and give them what they want—a process called one-to-one marketing. In terms of our shotgun versus rifle approach, you can think of one-to-one marketing as a rifle approach, but with an added advantage: now you have a scope on your rifle.

One-to-one marketing is an idea proposed by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in their 1994 book The One to One Future. The book described what life would be like after mass marketing. We would all be able to get exactly what we want from sellers, and our relationships with them would be collaborative, rather than adversarial. Are we there yet? Not quite. But it does seem to be the direction the trend toward highly targeted marketing is leading.

Steps in One-to-One Marketing

  1. Establish short-term measures to evaluate your efforts. Determine how you will measure your effort. For example, will you use higher customer satisfaction ratings, increased revenues earned per customer, number of products sold to customers, transaction costs, or another measure?
  2. Identify your customers. Gather all the information you can about your current customers, including their buying patterns, likes, and dislikes. When conducting business with them, include an “opt in” question that allows you to legally gather and use their phone numbers and e-mail addresses so as to can remain in contact with them.
  3. Differentiate among your customers. Determine who your best customers are in terms of what they spend and will spend in the future (their customer lifetime value), and how easy or difficult they are to serve. Identify and target customers that spend only small amounts with you but large amounts with your competitors.
  4. Interact with your customers, targeting your best ones. Find ways and mediums in which to talk to customers about topics they’re interested in and enjoy. Spend the bulk of your resources interacting with your best (high-value) customers. Minimize the time and money you spend on low-value customers with low growth potential.
  5. Customize your products and marketing messages to meet their needs. Try to customize your marketing messages and products in order to give your customers exactly what they want—whether it’s the product itself, its packaging, delivery, or the services associated with it. 6