Ever heard the expression “Necessity is the mother of invention?”
Well, necessity has also birthed a lot of businesses, too. And a lot of business strategies. The latest and greatest of which is a focus on customer experience.
Maybe you’ve heard this trend called different things. Like “the age of the customer.” A “customer-centric marketing team.” Or a “customer first” strategy.
Call them what you will – they all arise from the same thing: ferocious competition.
Customer experience as the final differentiator.
As so many of you know, it’s getting harder and harder to find a way to differentiate your company.
Cheap prices aren’t enough. Anybody can compete with you on price. And some of your competitors may even have deep enough pockets to underprice their services until you go bankrupt.
Great products aren’t enough. Every attribute of your product can be copied.
And so we’ve shifted to a new differentiator: the customer experience.
Companies that deliver great customer experiences dominate their markets.
Companies that don’t … well, they get stuck with competing on price (if they can compete at all).
Competing on price is basically a downward spiral. Even now, 86% of B2B buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as criteria for purchase.
Customer experience is more than customer service.
The customer experience reaches out far beyond the traditional definitions of a customer service department.
Your marketing is part of the customer experience. So is sales. Even your accounts receivable department contributes to the customer experience.
In short, every “touch” your company has with a customer or client is part of the customer experience.
Customer experience as business preservation.
As marketing only continues to get more and more competitive, and as customers (including B2B customers) continue to be more demanding, putting their needs first is basically just buying time on your way down and out of business.
Smart marketers know this. It’s why customer experience, and ultimately customer-centric marketing, is so many CMOs’ top priority.
And it’s why you need to start redirecting your company to this goal.
Marketing is only part of the customer experience puzzle, of course. But it has a major role to play. So here are some concrete ways to start to truly build a customer-centric company through marketing. And to preserve your company’s future for the next few decades.
If there’s any one marketing tactic or strategy that is customer-centric, it would have to be personalization. Personalization is inherently customer-centric because it’s basically the embodiment of marketing focused on the customer’s view.
So is it any wonder that personalization is such a priority to so many marketers? It was far and away the top priority in Ascend2’s latest Data-Driven Marketing Study.
Personalization means far more than just slipping peoples’ first names in, too. True personalization would track customers’ behavior and only serve up messages that are suited to the customer’s interests.
Here are a few other examples of practices that those striving to truly personalize their marketing would adhere to:
- Assemble the content of email updates according to a customer’s interests and past behavior.
- Don’t offer or promote things the customer has already replied to or participated in. For instance, don’t send a webinar invite to people who have already signed up.
- Never promote products or services that the customer can’t use.
Personalization could tip over into the customer service realm, too. One example of a way to do that: Immediately recognize customers from the phone numbers they dial from.
So no more need to find an account number. No more need to explain what you just bought, or what you had called about a week before. It’s all on the customer service rep’s screen. Instantly.
2. True content marketing.
Don’t do sales collateral marketing and then just call it content marketing, okay? Too many companies say they’re doing content marketing when they’re really just investing in more sales collateral.
This may be costing us more than we realize. Recent research from Forrester says:
“1 million US B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by the year 2020.
While B2B buyers overwhelmingly prefer to research, and increasingly buy, products and services via a self-service website, B2B sellers still force buyers to interact with their salespeople as part of the purchase process.”
That’s chilling from a sales perspective, but what gets my attention as a marketer, particularly as a content marketer, is the forcing-buyers-through-a-sales-process part. Customer-centric marketing would never force that process, either with sales reps or with inflexible lead nurturing campaigns.
We’ve seen this before, but I’ll say it again: B2B buyers want to control their own sales process. Even though content has a lighter touch than a sales rep, companies that release these buyers from a sales pitch will do better. And that means doing content marketing – not sales collateral marketing.
True content marketing means creating content that puts the priorities and needs of your audience first. It means that the primary goal of your content is to build and engage that audience.
Sure, your audience should fit the profile of your customers, but you aren’t using the channel to sell. You’re just staying top of mind, building trust and familiarity. So when the day comes that they do need your products or service, you’re the first company they think of.
Here’s one example of true content marketing that genuinely puts its audience first (and will freak out most B2B marketers): mentioning your competitors in your content.
A good example of this is Moz Whiteboard Fridays, where the founder of marketing analytics software company Moz Analytics, Rand Fishkin, regularly mentions competitors by name in his blog posts.
This sends a powerful, if quiet, message. Rand is giving you the full scoop. Not Moz’s blinkered view of the world, subtly designed to make you think there is no other option besides his product.
Audiences love this. It means they can trust you. And despite all the challenges we have about getting our audiences to trust us, we still have one massive advantage. They want to trust us. And they will trust us, at least until we give them a reason not to.
One other attribute of customer-first content: It’s in multiple formats. So the readers get text, and the listeners get podcasts and audio versions of your blog posts. The visual folks get infographics and SlideShares … You get the idea.
3. Retention marketing that blends into customer success projects.
Customer success isn’t just another term for customer service. It’s much more about retention. It’s also yet another facet in the customer experience prism.
Here’s how Luke Smith, Act-On’s Regional Director of Mid Market Sales, defines the difference between customer service and customer success:
What “customer service” means is that we’re going to wait until a customer has a problem and then we’re going to accept a call from that customer and we’re going to help fix the problem.
That’s fine, but risky in terms of potentially losing the customer.
What about the success measurement of that customer? Success should not be measured in how well we help the customer as soon as there’s a problem. Success should be measured based on the level of success a customer is experiencing right now versus their potential success.
So what we’re talking about is basically “Continuing Ed” for your customers.
If you do this well, of course, you will retain more customers. And have happier and more successful customers. That’s likely to get you some nice referral business.
But don’t focus on the benefits to you. Those business benefits are a byproduct. Aim to give your customers what they need – in the formats they want it in, and in places where they can find and access it without a hassle.
4. More ungated content.
We’ve talked about the pros and cons of gated versus ungated content before. “Gated” means that a user has to give over some piece of information (usually their email address and their name and title, etc.) in order to get access to a particular piece of content.
This is good for lead generation and lead nurturing, but a lot of people hate it. Especially if you ask for their phone numbers.
There’s also some alluring research that suggests that not gating content, but offering a lead gen form next to the ungated content, actually gets more leads.
Whether you agree with this or not (we recommend testing it), it’s undisputable – not gating content is a tactic that puts your audiences’ needs and wants ahead of your own. If they had total control over how you promoted your company to them, they’d probably want to skip the long tedious forms. Even the short forms, actually.
5. More focus on reviews.
This might seem like advice more suited to B2C companies, but you B2Bers are not off the hook, as 90% of B2B buying decisions are influenced by peer recommendations, and 84% of B2B buyers start their purchasing process with a referral.
This is “the age of the customer,” and part of that means they get to control a lot of the marketing that’s done for your company. They may not be buying ad space for you (yet), but they get to review your products, your locations, your employees, and even your company as an employer.
Witness Product Hunt, the review and upvote powerhouse for SAAS companies. Or GlassDoor, where employees can review their employer.
This is all marketing. It’s also intensely customer-centric marketing. The customers are creating the marketing.
So what should you be doing here? Replying. Replying to every single thing people say about your company. Good or bad. In every channel.
This is the core takeaway from the best-selling book, “Hug Your Haters” by Jay Baer. The author argues that your company should be responding to every single customer complaint or piece of praise in every channel. Because not reacting sends a subtle but clear message: You don’t care.
If there are mortal sins for companies these days, not caring is undoubtedly one.
Here’s a thought experiment for you: Pretend you need a new something.
It could be a product or a service. For your business or for your personal life.
Let’s assume it’s for your business. Maybe it’s some sort of software product, or perhaps a manufacturing machine.
If you were in total control – a customer CMO – how would you want to be marketed to?
Come on: Envision it.
What would the messaging be? Which channels would the messaging come through? What would the design be like? When you got to the site (if you had to go to a site at all), what would that be like?
Forget for a moment about all the standard architecture and bells and whistles of a modern marketing plan.
If you could be sold to any way, what would that look like?
When you’re done pondering, consider how you might get your best customers to answer this question. Maybe a survey? Friendly chat over the phone? Drinks at the next conference you attend? However you do it, just find out.
And then act on it.
Back to you
How well is your company doing with customer-centric marketing? Leave a comment and let us know.