Your customers want to hear from you. How, and how often, is it best to connect with customers? The answers, which turned up in Real Results Marketing’s ongoing survey of a diverse group of more than 10,000 distributors’ customers, may surprise you.

Print is not as universal as it once was (though it’s still very relevant for some customers), and even in-person sales rep visits, long considered the gold standard of customer-relationship building in distribution, are declining in popularity in today’s efficiency-driven market. In fact, 20 percent of customers we surveyed said they want a sales rep to visit no more than once a year, and a surprising 15 percent don’t want any visit, ever.

For customers today, it’s all about efficiency, and that includes communication. For many, that translates to a preference for email as a vehicle for both communication and transactions. In fact, 57 percent of distributors’ customers said they have no objection to receiving emails from their distributors at least monthly. And many wouldn’t mind receiving them even more frequently. This reaffirms customers’ preference for electronic over in-person interactions.

How often end-users want to hear from distributors, by channel

How often end-users what to hear from distributors, by channel

The good news is that distributors are responding to this demand by shifting their focus to electronic channels and away from print and in-person. In a Real Results Marketing survey of distributors, we found that 60 percent of high performers, 40 percent of moderate performers and 42 percent of low performers are sending email. High performers are putting a high priority on email, with 64 percent saying it is “very important.”

You may be thinking: “We are all inundated with too much email, and it’s too easy to hit the delete key. Why should we spend time on this channel?” That is true, but you can set yourself apart from the email masses by avoiding what I call “spray and pray” – picking a topic, writing a mass email, blasting it out to all your customers and hoping somebody will be interested.

Instead, increase the odds that your emails will be effective by really understanding who your customers are, and what they are most likely to be interested in. Create programs around specific customer segments. Build content that helps those customers do their jobs better. Employ marketing automation technology to target the right customers with the right messages. Strategically schedule emails, track whether they are opened and what was clicked. Implement drip-marketing campaigns based on what your customers are most interested in.

Obviously, this takes more effort, but that investment of time and resources will pay off with better results. Just think about your own response to emails: You are much more likely to read and respond to emails that are relevant to your business and speak to your pain points. Your customers are no different.