Customer Success

How Do You Define Customer Success?

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Customer success is a very hot topic (rightfully so).  With the rise of the subscription economy, companies are more obligated than ever to make sure their customers are happy with their products and services.  Companies from to Dollar Shave Club are adding “customer success’ departments (or the like), appointing chief customer officers and finally paying attention to what happens after the initial sale.

But what constitutes “customer success?”  Regardless of your business, it’s a hard question to answer.  For a company such as, one customer might be successful if they use the software to track and report on sales reps, but another might be successful if they can establish and enforce a sales process.  For a company such as Dollar Shave Club, a customer might be successful if they get a close shave from the razor blades, while a different customer might be very happy as long as the blades are delivered on time.

Not My Definition of Customer Success

Here’s a personal story of how a large subscription economy company failed to understand customer success:

A few weeks ago, I was watching television one evening.  The picture became pixilated and then disappeared, leaving me staring at a blank screen (Have you guessed that I’m going to pick on my favorite target:  my cable television provider?). After ruling out all the other equipment in my home, I determined the CableCARD device that my cable company provides was malfunctioning (A CableCARD allows a third-party device to decode the encrypted signal sent by the cable company, meaning you don’t need extra boxes in your house…sometimes.).

When I called the cable company’s “customer success” line, they walked through it with me again and agreed with my conclusion:  the problem was with the CableCARD.  They said they would send a technician to install a new one in three days.

Three days (!) seemed a long time to wait just to be able to watch television again.  When I challenged this, I was told:

This is not a priority issue.  We are successfully delivering a signal to your home, and a malfunctioning CableCARD is not important enough for us to send someone tonight or tomorrow.

I reiterated that I felt they were leaving me without their service for three days, and that this is a failure to deliver the service promised.  They reiterated:

We are successfully delivering signal to your home, so we are successfully providing service.”

Our definitions of “success” did not match.  Theirs was “signal on the cable wire,” while mine was “seeing a picture on my television” (I’ll spare you the rest of the argument; it didn’t go well from my perspective.).  Maybe there are other customers who use their signal differently and who consider “signal on the wire” to be success, regardless of whether their TV is watchable.  Not I.

As I reflected on this discussion, I thought about all the other companies that fail to make sure I am using their service successfully, and only focus on the limited set of issues they choose to define as success.

recent study showed that 53% of Americans would choose to switch cable providers if they had the choice (cable television service is a monopoly in many parts of the country).  If the monopoly is broken, it does not bode well for these providers.  Not only does it mean customers will be looking to leave and take their recurring revenue elsewhere, but it opens the market for disruptive competitors who may be more than happy to meet the needs that the current providers are not meeting.

The important question for your business is this:

Do you know how your customers define “success”?

If you don’t know that, you can’t help your customers be successful. And their definition is the only one that matters (cable companies, be damned).

An Approach to Customer Success

One company that is making a good effort at answering this question is Contactually (a social CRM product I use in my own work).  Susan Watkins, their newly appointed head of customer success, tells me that when a customer shows up, Contactually contacts the customer and offers to help them get started, including personal tutorials on how to do the things the customer hopes to do with the product.

In that process, they discover how the customer intends to use Contactually—and how the customer defines success.  When renewal time comes, they can then contact the customer and, instead of just asking for a renewal, ask how they are doing against that definition of success and how Contactually can help them be more successful.

Their data is not in yet, but I’ve seen this approach reduce churn by 5% to 10% in other companies.

In the subscription economy, if you don’t help make your customers successful—by their definition—you won’t be in business for long.

Post a comment and tell us how you figure out how your customers define success.



Choosing the Right Way to be Transparent

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We hear about transparency every day. We are told that, in a world where everything is exposed in media (mostly social media), it’s far better to be transparent than to try to hide blemishes, problems and defects in the hope that they’ll go away or, at least, not be discovered until we fix them. Marketing blogs and publications are filled with disaster stories about companies that have chosen not to be transparent, and success stories of companies that have chosen transparency.

But just like in our personal lives, we have to choose the right level of transparency, and we have to choose the topics on which we will be transparent.

Here’s a great example:

In November, I wrote about Buffer, a tech start-up that put transparency on top of their values list. Not only do they talk about nearly everything internally (including personal goals, such as education and weight-loss), but they publish many of their results, such as their customer success metrics, externally for the world to see.

Since then, they have become even more transparent, releasing more and more information publicly. Two of the ways they have done this have produced very different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look.

A Transparency Tempest in a Teapot

In December, Buffer decided to make public all the salaries of all their employees, including the formulas they use to determine these salaries.

This produced a small tempest in social media: Some praised their transparency, and others chided them for releasing personal information about their employees, or for creating potential envy and dissatisfaction in their ranks.

The question I asked was this: How does this disclosure benefit the customer (or any other constituent)? The answer is simple: It doesn’t. Granted, it does no harm, but it adds no benefit either.

This is a case of transparency for transparency’s sake. Some have made the argument that disclosing this information is consistent with Buffer’s culture, so it enhances their reputation and brand. I disagree. Disclosure is a choice, and we can always find something they are not telling us (they can’t possibly think of everything!), and this choice does not add value to the most important audience of all: their customers.

A Slippery Slope

Buffer’s chief happiness officer, Carolyn Kopprasch, also publishes a monthly report on their customer success efforts. One element of this report shows how quickly Buffer responds to customer inquiries, tech-support requests and the like (they state that 85% of requests are answered in less than six hours, though they’re not quite there yet).

This does add some value to their customers (including me) in that it shows what I can expect in terms of response to my requests, as well as how well they are doing with all the issues brought to them.

To be clear, I think this disclosure is useful and valuable. But it also creates a potentially slippery slope.

Not long ago, I sent in a tech-support request and waited four days for a response. This is not typical of Buffer support nor of my experience. It left me asking about the distribution of response times. Specifically, Buffer publishes the percentage of responses in one and six hours, but how often does it take a day? Two day? Four days? Was my response in the bottom 10%? 1%? 0.001%?

Which then led to the logical next question: Since we know not all requests are of equal importance or urgency, and Buffer’s resources are limited, how do they make the triage decisions as to which requests get one-hour response times and which get four-day response times?

You can keep going, asking more and more logical questions until their entire operational plan is public.

Let’s say that Buffer chose to disclose the entire response-time distribution and the triage criteria. Where would that lead?

In our interview, Carolyn noted that most customer service and support organizations train customers to get angry. Customers learn that getting angry leads either to faster resolution or to a supervisor who has the power to resolve an issue. This is a version of gaming the system.

Buffer’s disclosure of the triage criteria most likely would cause its customers to game the system. If I knew the criteria, I would certainly try to adjust my request to get a higher position in the queue and get a faster response.

Clearly this doesn’t help Buffer or its customers; it only adds to animosity and frustration.

Let’s say they only disclosed the distribution of response times. That would create frustration on the part of customers who were in the bottom 10%, or worse, the bottom 1%. My assuming my request fell at the bottom is not nearly as bad for my relationship with Buffer as having them tell me exactly how unimportant they deemed me. We are all better off if I don’t know.

This is, then, a choice Buffer has made about how much information to disclose and where to stop disclosure. I think they have made a good choice, in that what they disclose helps customers understand their efforts better without taking away from the relationship and adding to frustration.

Is this two-faced? Yes. But not in a detrimental way.

Buffer values transparency on one hand and says it will keep increasing transparency. But it also makes choices about just how much disclosure meets their transparency value. Being transparent is an aspiration. We have yet to find out how far Buffer will go.

We expect transparency from companies. But we also expect there are boundaries, just like there are in our personal lives.

How do You Decide?

You make decisions every day on what to disclose to whom. Do we tell our customers this fact? Do we tell the world that policy?

How should you decide?

I propose there is one simple standard, embodied in these two questions: Does the disclosure add value? And if so, to whom? If it adds value for your customer, disclose.

Tell us how you’ve made your difficult disclosure decisions in the comments.


Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

The “Social Graph” is all the rage in the social world. Ever since Facebook launched Graph Search in 2013 and the launch of OpenSocial in 2010, we’ve been talking about interesting and useful ways to use this new form of search and the data it can provide. We’re not there yet, but with the growing popularity of graph databases, the ideas behind the Social Graph are about to become very useful to sales and marketing teams.

I worked with a client last year to develop a series of marketing campaigns based on events their customers experienced. They had learned that companies bought their type of marketing automation systems soon after certain events occurred. In their case, companies tended to buy soon after receiving B-round funding. The campaigns we developed were triggered by news that some company had received B-round funding.

This was far more effective for them than the traditional demographic- or persona-based marketing, and it tells us a lot about how to look at prospects beyond fitting them into a particular description.

It also leaves out a very important part of any sales or marketing effort: relationship building. While the company was able to offer the right solution at the right time, the hard work of building a trusted relationship never happened.

So how did we get to the point where relationship-building got left out? Let’s look at the evolution for the answer:


Rewind half a century(!) to Don Draper’s office, circa 1965. He’s just landed a luxury car account and is recommending a targeted direct mail (state of the art!) campaign. He needs to know where to send his brilliant mail pieces, and the best tool at his disposal is demographics. So he goes to the U.S. Census Bureau and pulls personal income data by ZIP code. He sends that mail piece to everyone in every ZIP code with an average personal income above a defined threshold.

Let’s say I am lucky enough to live in that ZIP code. Am I in the market for a new luxury car? Would I consider buying one if it met certain preferences? The answer is more likely “no” than “yes.” While the effectiveness of direct mail relied on a very low percentage of success, it also wasted the vast majority of the invested resources. No marketer or salesperson really knew if I was ready to buy a new car until I showed up at a dealer.


Fast forward 30 years to the same agency with yet another new luxury car account. Now they have lots of data at their disposal. They can create a picture of the type of person who might buy the car. It might look like this: A well-educated home-owner who travels for pleasure two or more times per year and shops at other luxury stores. Combine that with income and credit data, and you have a much-improved chance of reaching the type of person who would buy this car.

Again, let’s say I’m that person, and I receive the advertising message by mail and maybe by email or online. But I just bought a competitor’s model last year, and it’s going to be a few years until I’m ready to buy another new car.

The point of this is we can know quite a lot about out prospective buyer but still miss the two most important things:

  1. Is the prospect ready to buy?
  2. Have we established a trusting relationship that will result in the prospect buying from us?

Solution: The Relationship Graph

The timing-based marketing programs I mentioned above are a good first step toward answering the first question. As you get to know your prospects, you can get to know their buying triggers. This allows you to focus your sales and marketing efforts on those prospects who are truly ready to buy (not necessarily the same ones who said they were on your registration form).

But what about building a relationship? Just pursuing everyone who matches your target persona will not work.

We are very good at some parts of relationship-building. We know how to find common connections on social networks such as LinkedIn and how to scour social media streams to find more information about a company or individual.

Let’s go back to the Social Graph. In my personal life, I can look at Facebook and ask  interesting and useful questions. Let’s say I were looking for someone to join me at the movies this weekend. I can go to Facebook and ask, “Which of my friends lives near me and likes newly released movies?” Questions like that can help me connect with people with whom I have established relationships (or even with those I don’t) who might be willing to engage in the way I seek engagement.

What if we did this for our customers? What if I, in my consulting practice, could ask questions such as, “At what companies do I have connections who enjoy reading white papers about customer relationship management?” Then, when I write a white paper, I’d reach out to those people. And maybe I’d ask for their feedback. And maybe, if they like it, I’d ask them to tell their friends.

What if I could go further and ask, “Which connections enjoy reading CRM white papers and have recently expressed concern about their churn rates?” That’s someone I can help, and I’d want to reach out to them.

Unfortunately, much of this capability is not yet built. But the technology exists. The data exists. And, probably most importantly, your relationships exist.

And you can put the information in your organization together in a way that mirrors the Social Graph and starts to answer this kind of question. I mean the kind of question that will help you better understand your prospect and help you to add value to their business.

This is, I believe, the next step in sales and marketing evolution.

Tell me what you think it would take to put those together and start asking questions that lead to you adding value for your prospects.

Customer Success

Customer Service Culture Keeps Customers Coming Back

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Here are  examples  of two very different customer service cultures.  Which would you prefer?

Let’s say you have to bring your car in for repair.  The mechanic diagnoses the problem. Would you choose:

A)  The shop where the mechanic tells you:  “This is a simple issue.  We fix these all the time.  It’s not going to be any problem at all.  Your car will be good as new in a few hours.  Just go about your business, and I’ll call you when it’s ready.”


B)  The shop where the mechanic tells you, “Your car’s coolant system has three leaks in different hoses.  The hoses are easy to access, and I have replacements in stock.  It will take me two or three hours to replace the hoses and test them to be sure they are working.  I’ll call you as soon as I’m done.”

If you’re like me, not only do you prefer option (B), but if you run into the mechanic in option (A), you’re likely not to come back (and maybe not even leave your car in the first place).

The reason is we don’t like to be dismissed, and we don’t like condescension.  The mechanic in option (A) was condescending and a bit insulting. She assumed we not only have no idea how our car works but that we don’t care to know and will trust her implicitly. The mechanic in option (B) showed respect for our knowledge, ownership of the car, and likely, our time.

Is your company’s customer service  insulting your customers without even knowing it?

I’ll give you another example of good and bad customer service.  Recently, I contacted technical support for two different software products.  Both are websites that run SaaS products.  Both issues were simple ones that required little explanation and should have been easy to identify as issues (I can’t say how hard they would be to fix).

Company 1 responded like this:

We really appreciate you bringing us this kind of issue affecting our software’s performance.  Rest assured our developers are fully aware of the changes and the glitches that occurred after the software update.  They have made these adjustments their top priority to ensure our software is as stable as possible.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.

Company 2 responded like this:

Thanks so much for writing in!  This is a great question, not too odd at all!   I’m afraid there isn’t a great solution for this at the moment.  Sorry about that.   We haven’t figured out a great way for it to know to re-look for the image and description if nothing shows up at first.  Great idea though, and we definitely see the value of it.

Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you on that one.  Is there anything else I can do to help or any questions I can answer?

I’m guessing you know which one I thought was well-done and which I thought was disingenuous

Company 1’s response is more troubling than just a dismissive response.  It points to a customer service culture that assumes customers want reassurance and kind words above all else.  It suggests that the company’s customer service protocol has guidelines or even templates that advance the idea that customers are to be dealt with and dismissed as quickly as possible.

This was reinforced after my follow-up question asking if they knew about the specific issue and might be working on it.  I was told there are many issues on which the developers are working and that I could be certain they would be informed of this one.  Further reinforcing the dismissive approach, five days later the company announced an update that resolved the specific issue.  I have to assume someone there knew that this update was coming yet failed to communicate that to me.

Company 2’s response points to a customer service culture of openness and honesty.  Telling me that there is “no great solution” admits the software has shortcomings and just can’t do everything all the time.  This is true of all products of all kinds.  Being direct about the limitations and aspirations of your product shows both honesty and confidence in your ability to deliver value to your customer.

My cultural assumptions were reinforced on follow-up exchanges, where I offered an idea for a solution, and an interesting discussion on how to best get the specific value I needed from the product ensued.

Evaluating customer service

Far too many companies evaluate the performance of technical support or customer service success on how quickly issues can be resolved and how friendly the language of the company’s representative is.  Both of these measures lead the customer service teams to shorten their responses, use more reassuring and friendly (not honest and direct) language, and to be dismissive of customer issues in the hope they will accept answers such as those above from Company 1 and go away.

But customers are evolving the other way.  Customers demand more details and honestly from companies, as well as more and more transparency.

In order to meet the needs of this evolving customer, companies must also change their customer service culture and the metrics that support it.  For example, rather than measuring duration of interactions, you might measure how many interactions it takes for the customer to consider the issue resolved.  You might also want to measure how much progress each interaction made toward resolving the issue (if it makes no progress, you are wasting time and angering your customer).  Your metrics should always focus on what the customer perceives as progress and what your customer perceives as a resolution.

Is your company’s customer service  culture dismissing and alienating your customers?

Try acting like a customer with a problem for a day, and go find out.  Then tell us your story in the comments.


Build Paths, Not Walls: Three Steps to Make it Easier for Your Prospects to Buy

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

I sat in a conference session about building IT systems to ensure HIPAA compliance (which is all about medical insurance, in case you’re not familiar with HIPAA) and kept hearing pundits offer advice about how to prevent users of these systems from doing things that are unauthorized and outside the rules. It gave me flashbacks to conversations with my own insurance company and all the nightmarish moments having representatives tell me, “Our systems won’t allow me to do that.” (I’m betting you’ve been there.)

I realized that, each time the issue was resolved on these calls, the representative and I found some way to work within the limitations of the system to create a resolution that worked for me and seemed to work for them.

What we found was a path. The interesting thing to note about this path is it was the best option that offered — this is important — the least resistance.

I use this principle every day in my work. I try to find the way to achieve my goal with the least resistance. This doesn’t mean the easiest way or any sort of cheat; it means the way that allows me to do the best I can while avoiding unnecessary obstacles. I try to find the path of least resistance.

No matter what type of business you are in, at some point in your sales process, your prospect will complain (usually subtly, sometimes loudly) that some particular requirement to complete the purchase transaction is undesirable, difficult or even impossible to meet.

You just found a wall. Your prospect just hit that wall and might stop there instead of continuing to complete the purchase. You’ve heard this called “friction in the sales process” or any number of other challenging terms. You also have heard endless advice telling you to remove these obstacles. So let me offer you three simple steps for making it not just easy, but desirable, for your prospect to buy.

First, walk the path with your prospect.

Most salespeople will tell their prospect what the next step is. They will ask the prospect to complete some action, get some approval, call a meeting and so forth.

This is similar to providing a map and telling your prospect to get to the end of the path. It can work quite well. But it’s not the best approach.

Stop thinking of yourself and your salespeople as a map, and start thinking of you and them as a guide. Walk the path with your prospect. Take the same steps. Help them over the obstacles. Warn them of dangerous turns. Reach out a supporting hand when it’s needed.

This achieves two prerequisites for removing obstacles. First, it changes your perspective to align with your prospects. Second, it lets you take step two.

Second, relentlessly remove obstacles.

As you walk the buying path with your prospect, you will suddenly see — very clearly — every single obstacle, difficulty and blocking wall along the way

Make it your job to remove those. Not just for right now and for this prospect, but to remove the institutional barriers that keep those obstacles there for every future prospect.

And be relentless. Don’t let the small ones stay. They will grow and make your life — and your prospects’ lives — more difficult in the future.

Third, identify and clarify how this walk you are taking with your prospect creates value for your prospect.

In an earlier post, I discussed how to define measurements of value and how to determine the value you create for your prospects.

It is on this walk together that these measurements are created and defined.

Make sure you are talking about value and expectations. Make sure your prospect understands why it is so valuable to them to take each step and each turn along the path.

And when you reach the end and complete the purchase, you and your prospect will have a strong mutual understanding of why you are there and how your future relationship will progress.

It’s not always easy to take these three steps. There are plenty of obstacles, internal and external, to changing how you approach your work and your prospects.

But if you do, you will not only have created a path to purchase that is freer of obstacles, but you will have created an inviting and welcoming path your prospects will want to travel with you again and again. Buying from you will be their path of least resistance.

Which makes your job — and theirs — so much easier.

Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc

Customer Success

Getting Customer Success Measurement Right

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The other day, the local news featured a story about the increasing number of San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns removing their red-light cameras. For most cities, the original goal of these cameras was to improve public safety by reducing accidents. While there are now fewer cars running red lights, it turns out accidents have actually increased, mostly due to drivers coming to sudden stops (to avoid a ticket) and getting rear-ended.

It also turns out the company that provides these cameras to most of the cities in this news report (RedFlex) takes, as part of its payment, a percentage of the revenue from the tickets issued using pictures from these cameras.

What does this have to do with customer success measurement? For RedFlex — and for you — everything.

How to get it wrong:

I can’t say what RedFlex knew about their customers’ (the cities, and presumably, their police departments) objectives when they sold the system. But I can tell how RedFlex defines the success of their customer: more tickets issued equals more success.

How do I know this? Because (according to the news report) they get paid on the revenue from tickets, and therefore have an incentive to make products that maximize ticket revenue.

But that’s not the main goal of the their customer. The police department’s goal is to improve public safety by reducing traffic accidents. RedFlex appears to have no incentive to do this.

RedFlex is using the wrong measurement: They don’t seem to understand how their customer defines success, or they don’t align to that definition. As a result, they are now losing customers.

How to get it right:

ShotSpotter (disclaimer: ShotSpotter is my client) sells a gunshot detection and location system. Like RedFlex, they sell this to cities, in particular to police departments.

When ShotSpotter sells a system to a new customer or renews a contract with a current customer, they ask questions such as: “How many more gunshots have you identified using our system?” or “How often were you able to get to a crime scene faster and make an arrest because of our system?” or even “How many times were you able to prosecute a perpetrator because of evidence from our system?”

These questions and the measurements that result from them align perfectly with the definition of success their customers have for themselves: Police want to respond to crimes quickly and catch perpetrators, and the district attorney wants to prosecute those perpetrators effectively and get them off the streets.

When it comes time for ShotSpotter’s customers to renew their contract (their main product is sold similarly to SaaS or cloud services), the customer and ShotSpotter both know exactly how successful they were using the system, and the customer can make a renewal decision based on exactly the right criteria. And ShotSpotter has a strong incentive to make a product that helps their customers meet those criteria.

What you should do right now:

Your customers may not be police departments. But every single organization, including your customers, has a reasonably well-understood definition of their own success. They know what they are trying to achieve, and they are looking to you to help them get there. It’s now your job to know what success means to them and be quite certain you can align your work to their goals.

Ask yourself: How do you measure the success of your customers, specifically as it relates to the use of your product or service? Do you know how your customers use your products to make themselves more successful?

That’s the easy part.

The hard part is looking at your own organization, not just at customer success, but at everyone who plays a role in how successful your customers become as a result of your products. That includes sales, marketing and product development, just to start. I’d bet it includes everyone in your organization.

Now you have to ask: “What incentives do we give our people to advance the success of our customers?” and then ask the most important question: “Are those incentives producing the right results for you and your customers?”

If the answer to that last question does not EXACTLY align to how your customers define success for themselves, then you are not using the right measurements or incentives.

And if your measurements and incentives are not quite right, you are left with two choices:

  1. Change them, or
  2. Watch your customers disappear

Do you have a good story about how you measure customer success? Or do you know companies that can’t quite seem to get it right? Share your story in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Bludgeoner86 via Compfight cc


Selling Again: Your Biggest Missed Opportunity

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Next week, I’ll be spending lots of time at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco with people who think about revenue.

One of the topics I will be discussing with those revenue leaders is how to take advantage of the biggest revenue opportunity of all: selling to your current customers.

If your business depends on recurring revenue (for example, your customers buy subscriptions of some kind, say cloud services), then you not only have an enormous opportunity right in front of you, but if you overlook that opportunity, you are placing your business at significant risk.

Let me illustrate: Let’s say you sell a cloud (or other online) service. Your customers pay for a one-year subscription when they sign up, then pay for one year at a time every year when they renew — if they renew.

Your growth target for this year is 50%. But your churn rate (percentage of customers who do not renew) is 20%. That means you need to sell 70% more this year than you did last year to make your growth target.

I’m guessing your growth target is already a stretch. Can you really beat it by 20% or more?

Or should you take a different approach?

I help my clients focus on the relationships they’ve already built with their customers and building a sales and marketing process to make sure more of them renew and fewer leave.

Read my recommendations at the Sales 2.0 Conference Blog.

And join me in San Francisco on April 8th and 9th.


Timing Matters: A Different Way To Fill Your Pipeline

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As marketers, we are very good at understanding our products, knowing how they bring value to our customers, and helping our customers translate our products into that value.  We know how to promote our products and how to target market segments and different buyers with the right messages in the right channels to make sure everyone in our market knows about the benefits of our offerings and can bring them.

We work to generate interest and then determine if the person interested is “qualified” (meaning, generally, they can buy our product), then we create what we call a lead. Sometimes those leads buy, and sometimes (likely the majority of the time) they don’t and are sent to the cultivation pool.  There, we do things to keep in contact until they are ready to buy.

To do all of this, we run campaigns that target certain profiles of buyers.  Those might be by preferences, industry, or some other market segmentation.

But what if we segment by time?  What if we run campaigns targeting people who are ready to buy?

One of the ways I help my clients is to use the massive amounts of data they have about their prospects and customers to discover the actual triggers that cause prospects to make buying decisions and customers to make repeat buying or renewal decisions.  Once you have this information, you can go beyond a simple understanding of the reasons they buy to gain insight into what events trigger the decision.

Then, you can focus your campaigns around these events.

Consumer marketers have been great at this for decades.  You know this if you’ve ever bought a house or gotten married.  Suddenly, new homeowners are flooded with catalogs and emails promoting interior design, home improvement, and other related products new homeowners typically need.  Brides- and grooms-to-be are inundated with ads for wedding services, flower arranging, music performance, and other wedding related services.

Can this translate into the B2B world?  Of course it can!  But it has not done so very well.  At least not yet.

I recently talked with a vendor of marketing automation systems about their segmentation, and it turned out that they were very good at selling their system to young, growing companies.  So they were running campaigns targeted at those companies.  I asked them to review about 50 recent sales to this type of company, looking for things their sales reps knew had happened to the customer in the months before the sale.

There were several things that seemed to be common, but one that stood out was the closing of a fund-raising round (typically what Silicon Valley folks call a “B” round). Suddenly the company had money, and the primary use of that money was to invest in customer growth—meaning marketing and sales investment.  One of the first things they did was to buy a marketing automation system.

After this, they started running a campaign targeted specifically at companies who had just closed a “B” round of funding.  And, yes:  conversion rates shot through the roof.  Contact-to-lead ratios jumped dramatically.  Cost-per-lead dropped.

The next question is:  where do you find the people or companies that have recently experienced a buying trigger event?  Depending on the event for which you are looking, there may be publications or data sources that list these.  In the example above, we used some of the popular venture capital publications to get the lists of companies and then merged that with the data already in the CRM system.

If the event you choose does not have a data source or publication associated with it, you can use both traditional and social research techniques to find both the companies and the people (If you sell marketing solutions, imagine finding the tweet posted by someone you didn’t previously know celebrating their appointment as CMO.  You’d probably want to get in touch with them). This can require some data scrubbing, but it will yield a much higher quality of lead.

The important question we miss all too often is, “When do our customers buy?”  We are quite good (I hope) at knowing why, but knowing when is just as important.

Selling to your prospects when they are ready to consider buying changes your lead generation and cultivation strategy.  You can become much more efficient in your outbound efforts and much less annoying to all those customers who just don’t want to hear from you this week.

I challenge you to consider:  do you know any events that trigger a buying decision in your customer?  Are you using that knowledge to create time-based segmentation?

Because in creating an effective and efficient lead generation machine, timing matters.


Stop Enabling Your Customers! And Get Your Product “Hired” Now

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Have you ever heard product or service claims like these:

  • [Our service] enables executives to achieve their top priorities.
  • [Our product] enables you to make better use of your network to help the people you trust.
  • [Our product] enables you to create beautiful native mobile apps styled with CSS.

These are typical examples of statements that all too often appear as the headline of product data or sell sheets, web pages, and other promotional material.  Two of these examples come from small companies you probably don’t know, and one comes from a large company you probably do know.  And while this type of phrasing is all the rage in Silicon Valley, it pervades plenty of other industries as well.

But it says nothing.

Or at least nothing useful.  In these headlining statements, the companies producing the product have failed to communicate to the potential buyer why it is so important to the buyer to have the product or service being offered.

Of course, we want to enable our customers to do something that is of value, but all too often, when I see statements like the above, the value is either misplaced or misunderstood.  This is often indicative of a serious underlying issue with the positioning of the product or service.

Allow me to explain.

In his seminal work on innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen points out that every product, in order to be successful, must have a job.  This means that in order for any person or organization to buy a product or service, they must have a job they want that product to do, and then they make a decision to “hire” the product or service to do that job.

Sometimes we know well the job we need done.  A simple, if dated, example of this is the personal computer.  When PCs were first brought to market in the 1970s, they were hobbyist toys.  Then along came Dan Bricklin with a program called VisiCalc, and suddenly companies could “hire” personal computers to do the arithmetic that had taken junior accountants much of their day to accomplish.  As the versatile computer became more of an office presence, it found more and more jobs to do but would never have been there in the first place had it not had a job in the first place.

Sometimes we don’t know the job we need done until it shows up in front of us.  A personal example goes back just two years to when I bought my first iPad.  As Silicon Valley marketing professional, I was a fairly mobile worker able to find ways to be reasonably productive from pretty much anywhere, whether traveling on business or working from home.  Once I learned how to connect my iPad to all the relevant services, however, I became a walking office.  Everywhere I went, all I had to do was open the iPad and suddenly there was no difference between being in an office and being anywhere else.  The iPad did the job of making me location-independent (or as one of my campaigns put it, “as productive from anywhere as I am at my desk”).  I wasn’t very aware I needed that job done, but once it was being done, there was no question that I had made a great “hire.”

So what’s the problem with statements like those above?  They don’t connect the value of the product or service to the value the potential buyer needs.  The marketers behind them found a really cool thing that their product enables, but they either failed to connect it to something their buyer needs or communicate that connection.  This is a serious positioning error that could cost you your ability to successfully enter a market or overtake competition.

Fortunately, the solution is simple, and it is nothing more than great positioning. Here’s how:

  1. Understand your intended customer’s needs:  What do they need done for them?  What needs does this create?  Which needs are being met and which are not?  Can you identify any needs they have — or soon will — of which they are not aware?
  2. Look carefully at your own capabilities:  not just your product or service but the whole range of capabilities your company, including its people and technologies, can bring to the market to serve those needs.
  3. Match your capabilities to the identified customer needs and figure out exactly how your capabilities meet those needs.
  4. Communicate as potential results your customers can achieve rather than things they could do, which will allow them to understand the compelling reasons to “hire” your product or service.

There is one more pitfall.  Many of the start-up companies with which I work fall into the trap of defining customer needs as what they want them to be (or, in the worst cases, wish they were).  It’s nice to think your customers should have a need to do whatever your product does for them, but (as we so often have to remind ourselves) we do not get to define what customers need and why.  Our task is to discover the actual needs and meet them.

When you define customer needs, make sure you do not believe your own mythology.  Make sure your findings are grounded in reality.

So stop enabling.  Start solving problems and creating results.  And your product will be the one that gets “hired” over and over.


Does great customer service matter?

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“Of course! If I didn’t give my customers great service, then my customers would leave for a competitor” (which we know is is not a good outcome)

True, but let me phrase the question differently: What does it take to keep your customers coming back?

Before you answer, did you ask? Yes, customers typically love great service, but here’s the most important thing to remember:

Customers became your customers for a reason (or several). If you do a great job at a bunch of things, but not that (or those) thing(s), you will lose your customer.

Yes, it’s that simple.

Let me give you an example: I used to have DSL Internet service in my home (which gives you an idea of how long ago this was), and was more than a bit suspicious of cable-Internet. When I signed up, the DSL was the fastest connection available. And, my DSL provider was fantastic (shockingly) at customer service. Every time I called, I got an actual person. I wasn’t transferred around, the person who answered my call did the research and talked to colleagues for me. He/she was nice, friendly and often offered credits for past poor service.

But….I needed a fast connection (when I signed up, they were the fastest available). And in the months preceding my change, my DSL provider’s speeds had slowed dramatically and a connection that hadn’t dropped in six years (you read that correctly!) was suddenly dropping several times every day.

The best efforts of several customer service reps, technicians, and even the people they sent to my home (for free!) could not resolve the issue.

They offered me credit; they offered me free add-on services; they made so many enticing offers that I was tempted to live with the unreliable, slow service. But in the end, I switched. I needed fast service.

My new provider has horrible customer service. An actual person never answers the phone, and when I get a person they are always rude and unhelpful, it usually takes five, six or seven people just to get a simple answer. But my connection is fast and almost never drops (three times in five years).

If you don’t believe me, take a look at two very well known examples of poor customer service. Whenever people bring up bad customer service stories, the examples they rely on are typically cable television companies and airlines. In my area, that means Comcast and United (I pick on them a lot). Think about it: Do you fly one airline all the time? If so, are you getting great customer service? If not, why do you keep going back? (If I had to guess, it’s schedule convenience, fares or frequent flier points — not customer service!)

This may not be how your business works, but if your business depends on repeat customers, you have no choice but to ask: “Why did my customers buy from me in the first place, and what will keep them coming back?”

Then invest your customer retention budget right there.

So, yes, if customer service matters to your customer, make it great. But always be sure you know — and are serving — your customer’s needs.