Aug 10, 2021
You know that your customer is fundamental to your strategic success. At the heart of everything you do and everything your organization does, there should be an all-encompassing consideration of your customer.
Customer-core.Customer-centred. Customer-centric. Customer-obsessed.
Digital tools and channels have dramatically transformed the way buyers choose to purchase. They’re more empowered, and more inclined to research online before reaching out to a sales rep. Because of digital, the fate of marketing campaigns and sales pipelines lies very much in the hands of the buyer. And despite this shift in power, a large number of organizations still haven’t adopted a customer-centric approach to marketing and selling.
They’re preoccupied with their products, their marketing, their sales, their success. They’re preoccupied with themselves. But now it’s time to look at everything through the eyes of the customer. Your success starts with knowing thy buyer.
What business problems do your customers face? What are their opportunities? What are they trying to accomplish? What is the environment in which they operate? These key questions should underpin the way in which you market and sell to them. Your primary motivation should be to identify and address the needs of the buyer. Or, in the words of renowned entrepreneur and marketer Seth Godin, “don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers”.
So, are you ready to harness your own customer-centric attitude? I’ve developed a simple modern marketing map that you can use to chart your course to marketing strategy success. And it’s no surprise where you’ll find the customer…
Establishing relationships with industry influencers is the first essential step in this modern marketing map. These are the people your potential customers trust, the people they listen to, the people they learn from. Associating yourself with these individuals not only increases your visibility; it increases your credibility too. According to McKinsey, peer recommendations generate more than twice the sales of paid advertising.
Influencer marketing has the power to humanize your brand and foster customer engagement in a much more organic way; the key is to accurately identify the influencers, or “smarty pants people” in your buyer’s world that can enhance your offering. For example, if you’re selling data solutions, who are the experts on big data? If you’re selling within the Internet of Things (IoT) space, who are the bloggers covering the topic? Whether you’re using LinkedIn or social listening tools, you should be seeking out thought leaders, practitioners and early adopters. If an individual has authority in their industry, they have influence, and that influence can help you to amplify your message and become visible and credible to a much wider audience.
Reaching out to and engaging with influencers doesn’t just benefit marketers. Increasingly, salespeople aren’t just selling; in their efforts to add genuine value and educate the buyer, they’re becoming deep Subject Matter Experts, and should be learning from “smarty pants people” too!
When I was a sales rep at Eloqua, I considered SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester Research) to be the premiere research analysts, the smarty pants people, in the sales and marketing industry. As a kind of qualifying question, I would ask if my potential buyers were familiar with them; if not, I would share their content on modern marketing, because I knew it was the best in the field. I needed my buyer to become more knowledgeable, because the more informed they were, the more prepared they would be to purchase my product. I promoted SiriusDecisions heavily, joking that I was their best salesperson! But I wasn’t paid to promote them; I simply knew that their content and industry expertise would genuinely help my customers, as well as me.
I was attending industry events to learn where my buyers were learning. I needed to understand the world in which my buyers lived, so I needed to learn what they were learning, from whom they were learning it.
Self-empowered modern buyers are actively going out and seeking knowledge, trying to find their own solutions. Consequently, the problem that sellers and marketers are facing is that these buyers are no longer responding to cold outreach and traditional broadcast marketing techniques.
Call, email, call, email = ignore, delete, ignore, delete.
Traditional tactics aren’t working, as buyers turn to search engines and social networks to self-educate through the consumption of digital content. The important question is; what kind of content? After all, nobody Tweets your data sheet!
It’s important to align content not only to different stages of the buying process, but to specific buyer personas as well, as the kind of content that will engage and incentivize them will vary based on their characteristics and preferences. If your buyer is deeply technical, they’ll look for deeply technical content. If they’re highly strategic that same technically-oriented content won’t resonate with them in the same way.
Above all, you should look to create content that tells a story and is human, in a variety of formats. It could be a how-to video, an instructional webinar or podcast, a whitepaper (if your target audience is B2B), an ebook, an infographic. The format you select will ultimately depend on that buyer persona, and where they are in their customer journey. It’s important to not only create content, but curate it too. Content curation essentially involves sharing relevant third-party content that will appeal to your target audience. More often than not then, you should be curating the content of the influencers that you’re trying to build relationships with.
Once created, you need to share your content in the space where your target audience exists, engages and learns, be it on LinkedIn, or via Twitter. You want your audience to be compelled to curate your content. This is why content is a key pillar of social selling, as well as modern marketing; buyers are much more likely to consume content from people and peers than brands and logos. That’s why a piece of content’s “shareability” should be a key consideration for you during creation, curation and distribution.
I am a big believer in ecosystem and partnership. At Eloqua, for example, we founded a community called Topliners. It was an online space where our customers could interact, where our employees were engaged and our partners educated. We shared inspirational success stories, facilitated supportive forums and published informative content. We even hosted offline events to bring our community together.
Beyond facilitating valuable communication, we were able to segment our community based on industry, geography, and whether they were B2B or B2C. This allowed us to build detailed customer personas and helped us to better understand what they cared about, the challenges they were faced with. Not only did we facilitate the customer conversation, we listened to it, and joined in. When nurtured properly, a community has the ability to produce authentic sharing, learning, teaching, and engagement.
A company that has excelled at promoting a customer-centric community is Gainsight, who is helping to define and grow the customer success movement. A core piece of their mission is to build the “biggest community of Customer Success folks around”. They do this in four ways;
By creating opportunities to connect customers and cultivate a sense of community, you can enhance the ongoing effectiveness of your marketing strategy, build your brand’s reputation, earn the trust of your customers and drive revenue!
Your best salespeople are not on your payroll. They’re your customers, who are willing to say good things about you. Buyers today not only have more choice, they have a louder voice, which you can leverage to your brand’s advantage.
The traditional perception of customer advocacy is something like a reference program, which is based on gathering references to help sales reps enhance your company’s credibility and acquire more customers. But what does a customer reference program offer the customer in return for their reference? It’s a one-way approach that offers no benefit or incentive to the customer.
I think the best advocacy programs are those that find ways for you and your company to provide value to your customers. Examples of this would be if your customers are quoted or referenced in the media, if they’re speaking at events or winning awards; you could amplify their achievements through your own social media channels.
The key to developing advocacy is clear communication. It’s not overselling, or letting your customer buy before they’re ready. You have to create an amazing customer experience end-to-end; great products, honest and accurate marketing, responsible salespeople. Even as a sales rep, my job has never been to sell. It has been to understand where the customer is in their buying journey, help them be ready to buy, and then coach them to success
If you want to turn a potential buyer into an actual advocate, you have to design your entire process to create advocacy. Advocacy is not random, and it’s not by chance. It’s about people, about the relationships you create. You need to craft experiences that evoke emotion. Advocacy is reciprocal, and earned. Be an advocate for your customers so your customer will want to advocate for you
The most effective marketing strategies are driven by a customer-centric culture. A customer-centric organization is where every process starts and ends with customer success in mind. It’s a culture, not an event or a department. Every aspect of your company should be aligned with the sole purpose of creating an optimal customer experience. When you do this for your customers, they will in turn champion your success.
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First published June 2016, updated July 2021