Focus On Business – A conversation with Cool-jams CEO and founder Anita Mahaffey

cool-jams1In a recent conversation, Anita Mahaffey, the CEO and founder of San Diego-based Cool-jams, discussed her business’s marketing efforts, employee retention strategies and how to make customer complaints work for you.

Getting started
Founded in 2007, Cool-jams, like most successful businesses, began with an idea. While working for her previous organization, Mahaffey discovered a moisture-wicking fabric that had some extraordinary properties. Not only did it dry four times faster, but it was just as soft as cotton. She realized that this would be the ideal material for dealing with night sweats. To test the idea, Mahaffey had a prototype pair of pajamas made for herself.

“[T]hey were so effective that I thought it would be a great business idea,” said Mahaffey.

The company business plan came next. In particular, Mahaffey focused on the question of marketing, and how this would and should affect the nature of her new organization.

“[W]e created a business plan to give ourselves a program as to how we would design this business, what would be the best way to market the product, who our target audience was, etc,” she said. “Once we went over the different marketing options we decided that we would be a virtual business.”

Mahaffey incorporated, attained trademarks for the company’s products and, critically, developed the Cool-jams website. The business was just about up and running.

Employees needed
Cool-jams decided to go with a virtual business model. All consumer purchases would go through the website. In keeping with this, the company turned to freelancers for staffing. Not only did this allow the firm to expand its search regardless of potential workers’ physical locations, but it also provides a tremendous degree of flexibility.

“As part of our business model we decided to outsource all of our employees,” said Mahaffey. “The reason we did that was that it allowed us to expand, and if we have to contract – which we haven’t so far – it will allow us to do that easily as well.”

Mahaffey explained that her organization has partnered with both large firms, such as public relations agencies, and individual workers. In the latter case, prospects are assigned a task to test their ability to perform what would be their regular work responsibilities.

That covers recruitment. However, there is still the issue of retention. As every business leader knows, it is essential to hold on to workers, as their experience and expertise makes them far more valuable than newly onboarded personnel.

To this end, Cool-jams embraces a well-rounded approach to employee appreciation and incentivization. Mahaffey emphasized the need to train outsourced employees thoroughly, offer fair wages, provide honest feedback and strike the right balance between management and employee independence.

Additionally, Cool-jams offers discounts to employees to encourage them to try the company’s products. Mahaffey explained that the organization believes that employees who are familiar with and fans of the company’s offerings will do a better job when handling customer service and order fulfillment.

Lead generation marketing
As a virtual business, digital lead generation is absolutely critical for Cool-jams. The firm utilizes a diverse approach to maximize its returns in this area.

“We spend a lot of time on online advertising – pay-per-clicks, banner ads, affiliate advertising, we pretty much do it all,” said Mahaffey. “But the most important thing once you get them to the website is to engage so they stay longer.”

To this end, the Cool-jams website features a wide range of lead generation opportunities. There are contests that visitors can enter by signing up for the corporate newsletter. There is a free sleep meditation offering that visitors can download after they provide their email address. By gathering all of these users’ email addresses, the company is able to optimize the effectiveness of its email marketing efforts, which are essential for the business.

Content marketing also plays a major role for Cool-jams’ lead generation.

“We have an in-house writer, and we tend to talk about everything sleep: sleep as it relates to menopause, as it relates athletes, various sleep issues. We have a lot of people who come to look at our blog when they’re looking for sleep solutions,” said Mahaffey. “Blogging works really well when it’s connected to social media, so we post a lot of photos for that reason, and it all works together.”

cool-jams2.fwSocial media and retention
On the topic of social media, Mahaffey stated that Cool-jams leverages Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, all of which are about equally useful. However, the true value of these channels is not their lead generation capabilities.

“They work best for retention of customers and remarketing – when someone comes to your site it’s important whether you have their email or not so there are ways to remarket to those customers, and Facebook is really good for that. Contests are great on Pinterest because it’s so visual. Twitter helps both of those platforms,” she explained.

Ultimately, though, Cool-jams’ two greatest resources for client retention, according to Mahaffey, are email marketing and product development. By regularly improving its product offerings, the company is able to keep its customers interested in the long-run.

Building off of customer care
Customer service is always a challenge for organizations, but it is particularly difficult for many startups. Not only do these firms lack the resources of bigger, more established companies, but customer criticism can also seem more personal because the business leaders have more invested.

Mahaffey said that Cool-jams has avoided these problems by embracing a positive attitude, one that views customer complaints as chances to improve – in more ways than one.

“My view is, you always learn from it and try to do it better next time,” she said. “Also, some of our best product ideas came from customer complaints, when someone said, why don’t you have a three-piece set, and next season we had a three-piece set that was one of our best-sellers. So we listen and learn from it.”

When it comes to the more common customer service issues, such as lost or delayed packages, Cool-jams tries to make amends and provide an incentive for the client to stick with the company. These efforts can include resending a package at Cool-jams’ expense or even something as simple as providing a free gift wrap.

As Mahaffey emphasized, businesses need to make customer retention a high-level priority. Email marketing, customer service and, ultimately, every client interaction has the potential to either shore up customer loyalty or decrease the chances that they’ll return in the future.

How is your business’s customer retention rate? What strategies have you used that have proven especially effective? And what hasn’t worked?

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