SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

The Role of Marketing is to Turn Strangers Into Friends, Or At Least Acquaintances

Posted by Bob Warfield on June 26, 2009

I’ve asked a variety of SaaS CEO’s such as Concur’s Steve Singh what they see the role of web marketing as, and the answer that usually comes back is the role is to educate the prospect until they’re ready to be sold to.

Educating the prospect is a very acceptible answer, but upon reading Seth Godin’s post about the difference between Strangers and Friends, I think that more can be accomplished.  Godin, as usual, cuts directly to the chase:

Strangers are justifiably suspicious.

Friends give you the benefit of the doubt.

It makes me want to ask, “How is your marketing turning strangers into friends?”  It’s pretty hard to do, isn’t it?  You can’t be too overt about the marketing because friends don’t spam friends.  It’s a courtship.  Friends give and try to avoid the perception of taking.  Social Media are an ideal tool for this courtship because they invoke an important component in cultivating friends, and that would be friends of friends.  We see it a little bit outside the Internet.  At Callidus, we always tried to invite as many prospects as possible to our user conference, and then we left them alone with our happy customers.  It worked wonders.  By becoming friends of our customers, they were that much closer to being ou friends too.

Think about the many opportunities to use the web to turn strangers into friends.   Start by asking how your prospects can have a good time learning to be you friends.  It’s also critical to take good care of your new friends (as well as the old ones you call customers).  Nurture and protect them.  Watch out for their interests and don’t take undue advantage.  View that as an obligation.

I once spent time chatting with a concierge at a Ritz Carlton.  It was late at night, we were having a drink in the bar at the hotel, and I was curious about the job.  It turned out she was the widow of a US Senator and clearly didn’t need the money or the job.  I asked why she did it, and the answer was that she had a real passion for being a hostess.  I was curious about how the Ritz went about selecting the right sort of person for the job.  Her answer was fascinating.  There is a fairly normal interview process, but then there is an extraordinary component.  For a period of a month, the applicant is on call 24×7.  They must answer the phone any time it rings.  At the other end will be a simulated hotel customer who needs something.  Sometimes its a happy thing.  Sometimes they are very disgruntled.  Sometimes they will be incredibly unreasonable.  She confessed that at first she was very uncomfortable with the excercise.  She complained she’d had no training and had no ideas what her scope of authority was.  What could she promise and what should she not promise?  The hotel simply said she should treat the callers as though they were guests in her home.  She found that worked extremely well, got the job, and has enjoyed it ever since.  That’s just one more example of treating customers like friends.

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2 Responses to “The Role of Marketing is to Turn Strangers Into Friends, Or At Least Acquaintances”

  1. mishon8 said

    Nice – this is a simple strategy for marketing on social media. It’s not about blasting Twitter with spam; its not about tricking people into clicking through; its about establishing a relationship. And when the time is right – this may tip the balance. Wine, flowers, books – I have bought them all from people I know on Twitter. Whether I repeat my purchase depends on how well the product meets my needs – but I am more likely to give it a go with my social media “friends”.

  2. SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING: BUILDING TRUST TAKES TIME, EFFORT

    I love this post for two lessons:
    (1) Social media marketing takes time and effort
    (2) Ritz Carlton recruiting & the late senator’s wife

    The more I learn about social media, the more I believe in it. We all know that we trust our friends more than we trust strangers. It takes time to build friendships. We also know that it is worth having friends. That is why I believe in social media – it enables me to build relationships. An important lesson for spammers: do NOT try to sell me stuff on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Give me a chance to get to know you and be very, very patient.

    I love the story about the senator’s wife working at the Ritz. It’s great to see someone doing what they like. I also like the Ritz’s recruting practice. There’s a great Harvard Business School case study on the Ritz that you can buy for less than $7. The Ritz has great customer service.

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