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The Interplay Of Recency, Frequency and Strategy

Have you seen my new Mahalo Answers widget running on the homepage? Yes, when not recording The BeanCast Marketing Podcast or helping clients to marketing glory, I'm still completely addicted to being a know-it-all over at Mahalo.

But Mahalo can be a valuable experience, because every once in a while I run across a question that I think will be of interest to the readers here. This week, that (not-quite)question was:

"I am in an inside sales role and often send emails to follow-up my telephone conversations. Our company policy has been to send emails within 5-10 business days. However, I think that it would be more effective to send emails immediately (or at least within 24 hours). I am looking for objective research as to the best follow-up policy (please include links)."

What struck me most about this question was that it highlights a common misunderstanding in sales. Too often we think only about timing between contacts or the frequency of our contacts, without adequately addressing our communication strategy first. My answer (with some editing now) was as follows:

"Your question is a complicated one. But let me start by saying for further research on the subject, the marketing principle we are talking about is "recency." So searching "email" and "recency" together yields a lot of interesting data. Please note also that the term "recency" and the RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) model applies usually to customer buying behavior, but is also applicable to how and when we communicate with the customer
Now having said all this, I would first look at your strategy before deciding on increasing your recency. The reason behind your follow up is just as important as the timing. For instance, if your current follow up is just an "ask" letter, a week to 10 days later is probably a good recency. It's about reminding them, but not being intrusive. However, if your goal is to cement relationships and prove that you listened, then sometimes an immediate follow-up is warranted.
Case in point, you're selling your widget and you note during the conversation several key areas of pain that your prospect is experiencing. It would be wise to immediately send a non-promotional, personalized email that reflects back what you heard and lets them know you will be actively seeking some answers. Then a day or two later another email should go out with those answers and a reminder that you are available for further questions. Then put them in the 10-day reminder cycle unless they contact you before then. This plan ups both the frequency and the recency, because it is high-touch and personalized.
I also recommend testing. All the best research and advice (like mine above) can say one thing, but none of this research was done with your customers. Regularly break out statistically relevant test groups and see how they react. See if your test cell does better than the control group. If it does, run an ROI analysis on it to see if the new approach is cost justified. And if it still passes, roll it out as the new control methodology and come up with something new element to test against it."

My point in all this is really very simple. Recency and frequency are tools that only measure numbers. Strategy is the tool that measures relationship value with people. They can work well independently. But it's when they all work together that we find the real answers to how and when to connect with our prospects and customers.

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