Tag Archives: Customer Marketing

When in Rome…

31 Dec

I was recently in a meeting in Europe and found myself talking to an experienced enterprise sales leader from another company about Customer Success. She asked me “How do you approach Customer Success in different countries and cultures where there’s a need for face to face interaction?  In the US you do so much by phone: Inside sales, Automated support, Customer Success Management, and here relationship building is still important. We need the face time.”

Which got me to thinking…

While I certainly don’t advocate running a high-touch, high-cost business model for customer success if the revenue model doesn’t support it, creating that personal relationship is incredibly powerful. As many US companies begin to expand their Customer Success efforts into other markets, it’s essential to recognize that each geography can provide some valuable lessons and examples for others. Organizations can learn quite a bit by exporting and importing best practices across regions. I’ve certainly learned by observing interaction models in different markets and applying best practices from one region to others. Taking this approach benefits both your company and your customers.

As you look at taking the “best of” from each of your regions, you’ll find that you can increase touch in some regions while increasing efficiency and scalability in others. As you dissect how and what to apply across geographies, it’s important to understand what makes each approach successful.

The Case for a Higher Touch Model:

Many of the effective Customer Success models outside the US are higher touch (more face to face) for a few reasons:

  1. The culture dictates it;
  2. In many countries it’s easier due to the higher concentration of businesses in fewer regional city centers
  3. It works. As much as we do over the phone and online in the US, in some cases it’s still important to build personal relationships through face to face interaction.

So when the opportunity arises, it’s important to engage with customers in as personal a way as you can. In many cases, an in-person meeting with a large customer is a great investment of time and money. It also proactively sends the message that the customer is worth your time and effort.

Other Ways to Connect:

As our conversation progressed, we also agreed that it isn’t possible to meet every customer face to face, and it certainly isn’t possible to meet any customer face to face 100% of the time. In every case, though, it’s important to connect with your customers in a way that is A) relevant and appropriate to them; and B) true to your company’s brand and mission. For example, companies who do content marketing extremely well don’t need to have face to face interaction with the vast majority of their customer base in order to connect with them.  Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot, and ZenDesk build incredible connections with their customers via mainly digital communications. Their messaging is so good and so authentic that as a customer you feel like you’re a connected insider.

Authenticity and Relevance Trump All:

Whether its face to face or through broader communication, you need to connect with your audience in a relevant way.  You have quite a bit of information about each of your customers. Make your communication with them relevant, whether you’re targeting digital content based on their behavior or you’re tailoring a detailed Quarterly Business Review based on their specific metrics.

Even in the case of broader-based digital marketing or one-to-many communication, it’s critical to both create targeted content for your specific audience and to deliver that content in an engaging, authentic, personal way. I’ve attended webinars with solid content, but disconnected, impersonal presenters. In almost all cases, the disconnectedness of the presenter unfortunately trumped the relevance of the content.

Engaging with someone face-to-face, especially one-on-one (or few-to-few) inherently creates a strong connection. In the cases where you’re engaging digitally with customers en masse, you need to do so with a compelling, consistent tone and voice. Many of us will communicate with the largest segments of our customer base primarily through a digital channel. We have to make that channel engaging, personal, and authentic. Send the message to the group, but communicate with the individual.

Do something different

As you think about face to face meetings, it’s worth noting that not all face to face interactions need to be at your customer’s site.  If your office is in a major metropolitan area, chances are your customers might find themselves in your neighborhood occasionally.  If so, host them for a corporate visit.  Do your quarterly business review with them in your offices. Introduce them to some of your executives who they wouldn’t otherwise meet if everyone needed to travel to the customer site. Share your vision with them. It’s easy for us to fall into routines with our customers, so by holding meetings in a different context or venue, you have the opportunity to create memorable experiences.

As you engage with your customers, how are your learnings and practices from one geography creating more personal, authentic, relevant, and memorable experiences worldwide?

Customer Success Automation

5 Jun

Based on personal experience and extensive conversations with leaders and investors in SaaS companies, subscription customers tend to fall on a distribution curve with respect to their relative happiness/success and their revenue potential.  A large group of customers are in an area where they may not represent an immediate incremental revenue opportunity; however, at either end of the distribution curve lie customers that need particular attention and focus because they have the opportunity to impact revenue either positively or negatively.

Figure 1: Customer Distribution

Figure 1: Customer Distribution

At Risk Customers:

At one end (Area “A” on the curve above) are customers who represent a churn risk and will negatively impact your revenue if their issues are not addressed.  In a SaaS world, it is important that you understand who these customers are, why they’re at risk of churn, and what you can do about it as quickly as possible.  The earlier these customers are identified, the sooner your organization can take action to 1) address their specific needs; and 2) understand and address the root cause of the issue and proactively address it for the rest of your customer base.

Advocates or Upsell Opportunities:

At the other end of the curve (Area “B”) are customers who either 1) represent a direct upsell opportunity; or 2) can become influencers or advocates to help you land and convert new customers.  Engaging appropriately with these customers and potentially introducing them to other parts of your organization (sales, services, marketing) should happen in as timely a manner as possible in order to ride the momentum of their current experience.

Data and Analytics:

Identifying  customers at either tail of the curve and working closely with them to optimize revenue is hard to do well by “feel”, especially at scale.  With a small number of high value customers and multiple relationship touch points, you can keep a fairly tight pulse on their health; however it is extremely difficult to get any kind of early warning signals or early success indicators without some degree of automation or Customer Intelligence solution that uses data and analytics to identify these characteristics.

A number of technologies are emerging in the Customer Success Automation / Customer Intelligence / Recurring Revenue Optimization space.  In fact there are almost as many names for this emerging space as there are companies in it, and those companies’ websites all contain great information on their philosophy and differentiators. Gainsight, Totango, and Scout Analytics all focus on identifying customers at the tails of the curve using your internal data (from your SaaS solution and/or your CRM data) while companies like InsideView help you understand external factors at your customers’ organizations (M&A, announcements, key personnel changes, and other activity) that can impact their need/want for and perceived value in your product.  Companies continue to emerge in this space and some analytics-based companies, such as KissMetrics, are providing Customer Success stories of how SaaS companies are using web/behavior data to optimize subscription revenue and reduce churn.

Two Courses of Action:

Now, what you do with this information is up to you, and while the short-term reactive course of action is to take appropriate steps with the customers identified as the ones in the tails of the curve; the long-term, proactive course of action is to use this actionable data to drive the experience, management and behavior of your entire customer base so that you shift the entire bell curve to the right.  This leads to a significantly smaller distribution of “At Risk” customers in Area A and the larger distribution of successful customers in Area B.

Figure 2: Moving the Entire Distribution of Customers to the Right

Figure 2: Moving the Entire Distribution of Customers to the Right

One key way to move the entire curve is to take appropriate actions based on customer behavior data.  A timely, recent HBR blog post entitled: CMOs: Build Digital Relationships or Die urges CMOs to take advantage of the customer data that is available to them and build an ongoing, digital relationship with those customers.  I also cover the need to build that marketing relationship in a recent blog post.

Please share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences regarding this model and the birth/evolution of this space.

The Case for Customer Marketing

3 Jun

I’ve been jotting down notes on this blog post over the weekend, wondering how “front of mind” this topic is, then I saw David Edelman’s blog post on LinkedIn this morning about his presentation at SAP’s Sapphire Conference and thought:  Good.  Someone else is thinking about this… in a similar way… and it’s important.

Conventional Wisdom:

Most, if not all, companies with a Marketing function focus their efforts (and metrics) on activities that drive net new customers.  These metrics generally include new leads, qualified leads, analytics on web traffic/behavior, conversions, etc.  Over time, a number of organizations have gotten better at focusing less on “vanity metrics” and paying more attention to the ones that really drive sales; nonetheless, the primary focus of the marketing department’s effectiveness, and value to the organization, has been related almost exclusively to its impact on the company’s ability to acquire new customers.

One Level Deeper:

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of top line growth and customer acquisition; however top line growth doesn’t just happen by bringing on new customer logos. Most companies have a huge revenue growth opportunity in their existing customer base, and fundamentally, in a SaaS world, where value needs to be proven continuously, the initial acquisition of a customer is not the end of the Customer Journey, it is merely one of many Moments of Truth to come in a much longer customer journey and relationship. Once a customer is “on board”, organizations must now focus on ensuring that customer is getting value from the solution.  Paying attention to the data a SaaS solution can provide helps you understand what’s happening – on a customer-specific basis.  Effectively automating your communication, and nurturing your customers, not just your leads, through something that looks a lot like Marketing Automation, creates many 1-1 dialogs …that scale …that are relevant …that create loyal customer relationships …that build brand advocates …that generate more revenue.

Freemium to Paid: The Transition Begins

The freemium model has made the need for customer marketing clear for a number of “consumerprise” companies.  In many ways, converting a free customer to a paid customer is very similar to “up selling” a paid customer to a higher level of service.  A customer will go from one level of financial and emotional commitment to a higher one.  In order to get there, customers need to see value.  Conceptually this isn’t very different from the old enterprise sales model where a company would “pilot” a solution for little or no cost, then once they were able to prove value, the license sale would occur.  In the world of SaaS, however, this needs to be a highly repeatable, highly automated, highly scalable process, and has the opportunity to occur many times during the life of a customer.  Freemium SaaS companies get this, and the good ones are doing an excellent job understanding usage and behavior data from their free customers, and applying automation to nurture/market to them effectively (relevant in a 1-1 kind of way) and drive conversions.  The great ones are also using that data to constantly improve their product and make the customers’ product experience consistently better.

Connecting with Customers:

The fundamental objective behind customer marketing should be to create a connected experience.  Customer Experience is made up of two key components: 1) the experience a customer has with your product/service; and 2) the experience a customer has with your company via other interactions – online, in-person, on the phone.  The data and technology exist to create a connected experience with your customers and communicate value in a personal, targeted, yet scalable way.  I’ll cover those topics in a future post.

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