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Andrea Hill

Fishing for Whales? It Takes a New Method of Clienteling

Use Account Based Marketing to stay connected with your best customers.

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FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, I was working with a designer to open a new store. He calculated the costs of real estate and build-out, looked at his bank account, and then made a phone call to an out-of-state client who would pick up the phone any time he rang. He took a few of his favorite, most expensive pieces out of the safe, hopped on a plane, and came back with the cash for his new store.

Every luxury business needs its whales. I’m not being disrespectful! A whale is any customer with the potential to bring in extraordinary sales revenue. Like whales, these clients are large (in the pocketbook), elusive, and uncommon.

Clienteling is the traditional method of luxury sales whale hunting. Network extensively, build a book of contacts, nurture relationships, and become their go-to. Those are all still important practices, but they have become more challenging.

At one time, local networking was the bedrock of retail relationship-building, but today’s whales are harder to find and meet. The social fabric built around service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis), social and country clubs, chambers of commerce, and church memberships is fraying as such memberships have dramatically declined. In days gone by, networking was the top of the sales funnel for whale leads, the middle of the sales funnel for nurturing those leads, and the relationship grease that continued those relationships over time.

Today, if you tell a new salesperson to “get out there and network!”, you’ll just get a blank stare.

So, what’s a whale-hunter to do? Get skilled in Account Based Marketing (ABM). ABM has been around since 2003 and is a highly successful B2B marketing and sales strategy. But with a tiny bit of adaptation, it also works extraordinarily well for cultivating high-end luxury retail clients.

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Let’s start with a caveat. ABM is not the right marketing approach for marketing to the occasional $2,000 client. Your regular inbound marketing and advertising strategies are the best way to drive a steady stream of foot traffic. But for finding the regular $25K, $50K and higher clients, ABM is a method that pays.

ABM starts with defining your Ideal Client Profile. When we’re implementing in a B2B environment, we call this the ICP, but for luxury retail, we call it the WCP (that’s right … Whale Client Profile). Because this client is different from the rest. You may have hundreds of regular clients, but only a dozen WCPs. The way to create this profile is to do some research and look closely at the whales you have. What are their demographics? What are their interests? What are they involved in? How did they find you (or you them)? How often do they buy from you and for what reasons?

Once we have a solid WCP, we create a Customer Journey map, which documents what is happening at each point in the sales journey from Awareness & Discovery, to Intent, to making a Purchase Decision and beyond to Loyalty and Referrals. The customer journey process evaluates what is happening in each stage: the activities the WCP is engaged in, the touchpoints for each activity, the problems the WCP is trying to solve or the challenges they face, and importantly, what we might be able to do to solve the pain points and meet the needs in each stage in order to move the WCP on to the next stage.

The work of ABM is to take that WCP and customer journey map and create highly personalized campaigns to engage each lead based on their specific needs and using the right marketing messages and channels for them. It is an incredibly personal form of marketing that, when it’s done right, builds trust and relationships.

In ABM, you monitor your WCP leads’ behaviors as they interact with you on your social channels, visit your website, open and click on email communications, and communicate via email, text and phone with you or your staff. An ABM play requires using a system that can centralize all these communications, and involves creating a separate set of carefully curated marketing materials that help you support the sales effort at each stage.

Some folks are saying that clienteling is dead. It is most definitely not dead. But the way to do it has changed. If you’re worried that your current whales are aging out and struggling to new ones to take their place, consider giving ABM a try. Today’s digitally savvy whales are incredibly receptive to being cultivated, but your old black book technique is no longer capable of engaging them.

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Moving Up — Not Out — with Wilkerson

Trish Parks has always wanted to be in the jewelry business and that passion has fueled her success. The original Corinth Jewelers opened in the Mississippi town of the same name in 2007. This year, Parks moved her business from its original strip mall location to a 10,000-square foot standalone store. To make room for fresh, new merchandise, she asked Wilkerson to organize a moving sale. “What I remember most about the sale is the outpouring excitement and appreciation from our customers,” says Parks. Would she recommend Wilkerson to other jewelers? “I would recommend Wilkerson because they came in, did what they were supposed to and made us all comfortable. And we met our goals.”

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