Using Forums to Market New Products and Services to Existing Customers
It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Patrick Clinger – Enjoy!
Businesses of all stripes are always looking for new customers to buy their products or services. However, sometimes businesses ignore the best place to look for new sales: through customers who have already purchased products and services in the past. Tapping into your existing customers to boost your sales is smart because you’ve already done the hardest part of the sales cycle with them: you made that first sale.
The easiest path to new sales is often found through those who have already made a decision to buy from you. The key is getting a sense of how the products are perceived by customers, how the services are used, and what add-on or upsell products and services are a good fit to market new offerings to an existing customer base.
One of the best tools for learning more about customers who already use your products and services is social media, with Internet forums being one of the more dependable tools for gathering information.
According to a 2012 study by Awareness, a marketing firm based in Burlington, Mass., one-third of marketers are looking to social media and Internet forums as the platform of choice to reach customers. Nativo, a content marketing firm in Long Beach, Calif., says 20 percent of Americans use forums to discuss and recommend products. Nearly two-thirds of women in online forums make product recommendations on these boards.
Marketing to customers via an Internet forum delivers this proven path and helps ensure success by enabling a series of regular and intimate communications between the company and the customer. Spending time on Internet forums where your customers can be found often reveals relevant marketing information about products in demand, services used, strengths of competitive offerings, and weaknesses in products or services offered by a competitor. This sort of intelligence is ideal for putting together a sales pitch on new or related products and services, or to make a compelling offer to customers of your chief competition in order to acquire new customers who were unhappy with their offering.
Internet forums also help to build customer loyalty. The seeds you plant today, through the intimate two-way communication forums provide, help make products better and allow the company to fix potential problems, while ensuring product launches are more successful — just by leveraging the loyalty built through the regular interactive engagement with your customers.
Spend some time finding out which forums your customers read regularly and do some “lurking” where you read each post and response without actively participating. Take careful notes. Identify current customers on the forum. From their posts and comments, what other products or services would improve their experience with your company based on the first purchase they made? Do they offer advice to others buying similar products or do they warn prospects about the purchase they made from you?
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If you detect something is wrong, you can proactively contact them and fix the problem. If it’s a competitive offering, how does your product or service address the shortcomings of the competitive solution? Can you put together a program to encourage these customers to try your company?
Internet forums provide a great way to stay in touch with your customer base. But there are some “rules of the road” for participating in a forum and using it for marketing purposes. Follow them or you could risk being banned by the forum staff:
- Develop a good profile so forum participants know who you are. Make yourself approachable. Make sure there is contact information so it makes you accessible to your customers and prospects.
- Introduce yourself to the forum members in the appropriate section.
- Be smart about commenting; never insult a poster.
- If you are alerted to a problem, play a role in getting it resolved; encourage other posters to ask you questions.
- Make valuable contributions to the forum; provide good information. Don’t spread rumors or make bold claims. Be helpful and humble. Be objective.
- Don’t hard sell new products and services when you make a new post, and always expose any biases you have. It’s great to help people who have questions, it’s bad to spam.
Patrick Clinger is founder and CEO of ProBoards, the world’s largest host of free forums on the Internet (www.proboards.com). The company has been hosting forums for more than 14 years with over 3.7 million forums created on its platforms. The company’s forums record billions of page views every year with tens of millions of registered users. ProBoards’ Forums.net white label forum service allows small business to quickly and easily create their own branded Internet forum that is fully managed by ProBoards.
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