By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director
The FAMEE Foundation
There are a variety of marketing studies out there – and it makes a lot of sense to pay attention to them. But there is an important piece of advice I can give you when you learn about these studies: pay more attention to the concept that you do to the exact number.
Too often, the numbers are broad averages or even speculation. So to put too much credence (and debate) about the statistics creates little value or incremental knowledge. The concepts they illustrate, however, can be incredibly valuable.
Years ago, an insurance company did a survey that studied how many follow up calls their sales reps made, when they stopped following up, and when customers actually purchased. The summary of the research was that something in the neighborhood of 80% of all sales reps quit calling the customer after the first two follow up calls. Most of the sales were made, however, after the 7th (or 8th) follow up. This research was used to document why a small percentage of salespeople earned a vast percentage of the commissions and to emphasize the critical importance of persistence in marketing.
So the moral of the story – you have to follow up. You have to continue to follow up even after you think it is fruitless to do so. You have to hang in there when others wouldn’t.
A problem, I see, though, is people tend to overly focus on the numbers. Is it five, or six, or seven, or eight follow ups? The reality: it depends and, truthfully, who cares?
Part of the “it depends” piece of that puzzle is that different industries, products, and customers will have different results. Remember, the studies that come up with these numbers are usually looking at statistics and averages.
So in this example, some people will purchase after two follow ups, some will take seven, others may take twelve – and that can even be in the same company! In some industries, it will be more, in others fewer. The price point may also have an impact, as may the inherent urgency of the purchase, and typical buying patterns / sales cycles. The real value here is concept, not the number. In other words, look to follow up and build processes to extend that, not to get overly hung up on the exact number of times you will. Program your approach to build significantly more follow up into your strategies.
You see the same things with many other marketing studies:
· What is the expected rate of return for direct mail?
· How long must you advertise at a loss before the advertising starts to produce a return?
· How many times must a person see an ad before they will actually buy?
In all of these cases, marketing studies (over the last century) have provided numbers here. And just like above, it is great to know the numbers, but the numbers mean less than the concept. And in all, you can get to an average, but if you are looking at an individual situation for an individual company, often the answer is “it depends.”
Here is another case in point.
One marketing study says that the average consumer in the United State is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages per day. Another study says it is 8,000. From a statistical standpoint, this is a huge discrepancy. One number is nearly three times as large as the other.
From the perspective of a statistician, that makes the numbers are almost meaningless. But the concept is solidified, even though the numbers don’t agree. The average consumer is exposed to a lot of advertising, and this is why advertising is typically more challenging than we think it will be, why we must take steps to stand out, and also why it requires much more repetition than would be intuitive.
Again, the point…. The exact numbers are less meaningful, than the underlying concepts are.
Another relevant issue is these statistic may change over the course of time. For instance, as direct mail became more effective, more advertisers started to use direct mail, and as a result, its effectiveness decreased. In recent years, direct mail has been seeing a bit of a resurgence, as many advertisers have moved out of direct mail and to online sources. Because fewer people are doing it now (compared to the past), the attractiveness of direct mail is, in some instances, seeing improvements.
So if you are studying direct mail statistics, where in that “life cycle” listed above, was the statistical data collected? The point is, it changes, and some of these commonly cited studies are relatively old.
Again, key on the concept, not the exact numbers.
Other will squabble with this suggestions saying that numbers don’t lie. And if you look at the collective marketing efforts of many companies in many industries, the numbers are solid (averages). But if you are trying to estimate the performance of your individual business, in your individual market, with your individual competitors, with your individual pricing strategy and reputation, the best approach is to look at the studies, but assume the range is broad. Understand the concept, but don’t get tied up in the exact numbers
I have seen this also in workshops. The question goes something like this… “Curt, I have heard you have to touch the customer eight times before they will buy, but I have also heard the number is 22. Which one is it?” It’s a noble question that comes from the right place.
The real answer is, however, that it depends. If you are using impersonal media versus personal interaction, the number is larger. If your product is “hot” right now, the number will tend to be smaller. If you have a ton of competition, the number might be larger. If you have a lower price point versus a higher price point, you will tend to see the number is higher.
The best advice I can give is to (yes, you guessed it), understand the concept the number tells you and worry less about the exact number. But here is a biggie….. once you understand the concept, you are better able to answer that question more precisely yourself for your products, your market, your customers, etc. As you start to collect this information about the actual numbers in your business, I will believe that data 100 times over a broad based study.
Marketing is about relationships – and usually not just one, but many. Trying too hard to pigeonhole around these numbers is about as productive as asking, “How many dates must you go out on before your get married?” I mean if we surveyed 1000 married couples, we could get to a statistical average; but would that significantly impact your personal decision on when to marry? (Or how many times do you have to interact with a prospective friend before you really start to like them? It varies and it is very subjective!)
Understand the concept, first. Then come to your OWN numbers.
Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.