Mind The Gap: Preference Management Connects Acquisition To Retention

Have you ever entered a room in your house only to realize you don’t remember why you went there? For many of us, it’s because we became distracted along the way. We thought of something else, our immediate priorities changed, and suddenly the journey to the kitchen or den lacked a purpose.

On a personal level, it’s no big deal. But on a macromarketing level, it’s a huge problem. Many companies are good at customer acquisition–inviting consumers into the room–but then they watch thousands of them walk out again. Victims of the yawning chasm between initial sale and full engagement, these companies know how to sell, and they know how to service a recurring customer, but they have no idea how to help someone whose priorities or preferences may have changed after first contact.

Here’s an example: A financial services company invests heavily in search marketing, Web site optimization, and downloadable content for various offerings. These activities lead a prospect to purchase a small-business bookkeeping platform from the company offered through a recurring monthly fee.

Conversion! Celebration!

Weeks later, said customer has canceled the platform, opted out of marketing communications, and the trail has gone cold. This person began as a prospect, became a client, and then vanished without a trace when his priorities changed. Because the financial services company failed to note or react to the change, its customer engagement messaging fell flat and the prospect moved to a competitor.

The failure here is not one of effort or execution. Rather, the missing piece was interaction. In my role as a strategist and problem-solver at PossibleNOW, I’ve seen numerous CMOs wring their hands over lost customers and huge differentials between acquisition and engagement numbers.

Without an interaction element, companies of all sizes fall victim to the proverbial Bermuda Triangle of modern marketing. The solution lies in continued interaction with prospects by understanding their true preferences through preference management, actively collecting, maintaining, and distributing unique consumer characteristics, such as product interest, channel preference, and frequency of communication across a company’s systems.

Through an active and evolving knowledge of a prospective customer’s needs and pain points, companies avoid the risk of losing them in droves by truly engaging them. Losses are particularly troubling in an age of increased privacy protection and limitations on recontact once a consumer has opted out.

Here are three simple preference management initiatives (offered in order of complexity) that can be proposed, piloted, budgeted, and achieved in a relatively short time frame:

1. Offer opt-down functionality in your email marketing: Instead of presenting customers with an all-or-nothing engagement, give them the power to tailor communications to suit their interests. Offering an opt-down option drastically reduces opt-outs and helps marketers focus messaging on topics of interest.

2. Install a Web site preference center: Create an easy-to-use portal where customers can create individual profiles, select topics of interest, preferred delivery channels, and pace of communications. Preference centers provide the ability for customers to maintain their preferences as their interests change over time.

3. Expand your preference collection with a pilot program: Preference management should be present at every interaction point between brand and customer, such as mobile, social media, in-store, and contact center. However, these initiatives require approval from many stakeholders and can quickly become bogged down or even abandoned. Identify a specific brand or line of business to use as a pilot program to prove preference management ROI and gain momentum before seeking company-wide application.

In many ways, losing a prospect is the worst possible outcome, often leading to legal prevention from contacting them again–the dreaded “atomic opt-out” that precludes future communications and literally shrinks the available marketplace. 

According to a recent survey from Forrester Research, 77 percent of consumers say companies should let them decide how they can contact them. Meanwhile, an Infosys global consumer study found that 72 percent think that the online promotions or email they receive don’t speak to their personal needs or interests. In other words, consumers want to share ownership of the conversation, and they want it to be relevant.

Implementation of a robust preference center, or central location for preference selection, is an important first step. Expanding preference collection to multiple touch points, such as mobile, social media, in-store, and contact center, is critical. Finally, deployment of iterative preference interactions at various points in the prospect journey allow for progressive corrections and greater overall accumulation of actionable data. These actions maintain meaningful contact between company and prospect and allow for course-correction prior to disengagement or opt-out.

Forgetting why you went to the kitchen isn’t a crisis–whatever you wanted will still be there later when you remember it. The same cannot be said for a consumer who loses touch with his original interest in a product or service. The company offering that product or service must interact with that consumer to listen, learn, and adjust. Otherwise, the consumer will fall into the gap between acquisition and retention, never to be heard from again.