The Tools You Already Have Before Cross-Selling, Get Paid Firs
What if you had excellent cross-selling tools that customers were almost certain to open? Chances are you already do. Your transaction documents, monthly statements, bills, notices and policies are ready vehicles for targeted messages that promote additional products and services. Customers read them, which can't always be said of more costly direct mail approaches. On the other hand, if you start cluttering transactional documents with too much information, you will limit the value of the cross-selling opportunity, and worse, alienate customers and reduce the effectiveness of your primary document content.
In theory, your investment in transaction document production can be leveraged to full capacity by piggybacking additional selling messages right on the document. This approach conserves costs by using existing data and technology resources, while building on established relationships. In practice, it is important to consider how much information can be added without overextending the document.
The first priority of a transaction document is to communicate the transaction information; if it's a bill, you want it paid. For an insurance notice, you want the reader to understand the conditions. Only after this purpose is achieved can you enter into cross-selling.
Creating the Value Sell
Once you establish your priorities, you have to think about what will achieve them. Helpful information that underscores relevant services or products is the best approach. To be relevant, you have to know your customers. This is just basic marketing. Build a data warehouse of historical information about buying patterns and use it to create meaningful messages.
Low-value cross-selling techniques use transaction documents for "interruption marketing" that intrudes or has no connection with the relationship—for example, frequent flyer miles and telephone service. Such efforts often fail because the cross-selling material will be ignored or resented as "commercials" with no relevance to the rest of the document.
Cross-selling techniques that work center on providing value, so don't just cross-sell, value-sell. This means using customer data such as purchase history to offer information on products and services you have reason to believe a customer would want. For example, a husband and wife take out a loan against a retirement account. In the retirement account statement, their plan provider could include a personalized message describing the impact of such borrowing on their retirement plan goals and suggest better ways to meet their borrowing needs, such as auto, educational or housing loans.
The familiar context of a transaction document is an opportunity to share useful ideas and tell the customer how to take action. Once the customer responds, lead the reader to further value through more detailed information about other funding options. The call to action might be to phone or e-mail for more information on loan alternatives. Offer convenient ways to explore options, such as running different loan scenarios either on-line or over the phone. This is a great opportunity to integrate your transaction documents, voice response systems and Web sites to value-sell the customer.
Unlike in an insert or a brochure, here you only have minimal text to coax the reader to the next step. Highlight color can be used to enhance cross-selling and draw the eye to a call to action.
Many companies have poor tracking methods and little or no customer history. Therefore, they don't know if their cross-selling efforts are paying off, or if they are just experiencing fluctuations coinciding with normal seasonal changes.
Your transaction documents can support tracking by placing bar code or glyph markings on the documents, including any return coupons or other pieces mailed back by the customer. Then you can establish processes to scan data from outbound and inbound documents. Source and key codes such as those used with catalogs can also be used to facilitate testing, tracking and quality control.
Technology Is Not a Roadblock
Technology is not the limiting factor in creating transaction documents that cross-sell. Most companies can add to their existing documents very simply, but if you are serious about one-to-one marketing and cross-selling, you must invest in data collection and analysis.
Transaction documents come from database-driven intelligent print streams. They are already highly personalized for each individual account and customer, so additional targeted selling messages can be integrated into the data stream. This requires programming, which can happen at several points in the document life cycle. You can add messages to billing systems to be passed as data to your formatting software. You can take advantage of messaging systems from composition tool vendors or use post-composition tools to combine information from databases with your print stream. You will probably need help from specialists inside or outside of your company to determine the most effective method.
Often when the cost of programming these efforts is tallied, testing is the first thing to go, but testing is critical. If budget is a constraint in the short run, consider outsourcing a portion of your mail to a service bureau. If you prioritize your goals and strategies well, you'll find many services bureaus are real pros on the implementation side.
Across Department Lines
More complicated than the technology itself are the production processes going from data to mail, which tend to be very involved and highly orchestrated. Changes at the front end affect the back end. For example, adding variable content sections in high-volume documents might cause you to hit page count limitations with your inserters. Conversely, breaking your documents into target groups to receive special messages may mean the groups won't yield enough volume for full postal savings.
Another nontechnical challenge is the ongoing effort required to keep the messages and the message selection criteria up to date. Otherwise, you risk using outdated messages, overexposing existing messages and missing new opportunities, thus reducing or even eliminating any returns from your initial cross-selling investment.
When cross-selling through transaction documents, many functional groups become involved. The IS staff is needed to make data available and massage it into shape. Marketing and product managers are responsible for the offers and messages. Production and mail staff are needed to turn data into output.
The bottom line is that with a few guidelines, a well-conceived strategy and some customer research, almost any transaction document can be used to cross-sell products and services—with the added advantage of leveraging an existing customer relationship.
Elizabeth Gooding is founder and president and TOM LEMAIRE is a senior technical consultant with Art Plus Technology. You can reach them at (617) 646-4000 or mail@APTBoston.com.