Conversation killer

Even before it became mainstream, conversation marketing may be on the wane. For the past couple years, “the conversation” has become one of the hottest concepts in marketing — a way of helping companies embrace social media as a platform for promoting their brand, product or service. But apparently it’s almost old hat already. Some leading thinkers are even talking about “beyond the conversation.”

Stop talking

But before we kill of the conversation and move on to something better, I’d like to make a plea for “zero conversation.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m the first to tell my clients that they need to engage with customers. But engagement isn’t limited to conversation.

One commonly overlooked kind of engagement are transactions. I consider a transaction to be when one party put something in and the other takes something out. There are different kinds of transactions: window shopping, information gathering, answering questions, providing advice and, of course, the actual sale. They are the fundamental contact points between the customer and the company. Put end to end, and done properly, they can lead to a conversation, which is the holy grail: an ongoing, mutually nourishing transaction.

Some businesses, however, are so focused on getting to the conversation, that they forget the importance of transactions.

Conversation vs. Transaction

Compare two transactions for the same product that I completed recently.

I needed some camera gear, which I ordered on a Thursday afternoon on the web. It arrived Friday morning. No follow up email. No invitation to read their blog ( they don’t have one). But that’s ok. What they didn’t know was that I was in a hurry, and they came through for me.

Turns out I needed a second set of the exact same gear three days later. This time I was in town, so I stopped by my favorite camera store. I explained what I needed. We talked, discussed the pros and cons. He took my number, called his distributor, placed the order and called me back to tell me that it would be there Wednesday. But it wasn’t. I made a special trip to pick up the order, but not all the items were available. I missed my deadline. Despite the free advice, useful content, pleasing conversation and human warmth, they flubbed the transaction.

The next time I need gear, where do you think I’m going to go?

Lessons to remember

  1. Conversations are a two-way street, requiring an effort from both parties. Sometimes I’m game for one, sometimes I just want to get in an out. So pick the right time to have the conversation. A conversation at the wrong moment can come across as boorish, like the guy on the plane who is bent on talking to you when all you ant to do is sleep.
  2. Conversations raise expectations. If the transaction is substandard, the conversation can come across as a waste of time or worse, insincere. The customer may end up resenting having put in the effort.
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