Customer Trust

Drop the Persona. Market to a Person.

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Nearly all the marketers I meet seem, in some way, obsessed with personas. Personas are convenient little tools that describe some set of attribute of a hypothetical — and supposedly typical — customer that are intended to allow everyone in the company to understand this customer and what they want.

If you’ve spent time talking with me about personas, you know exactly how I feel about them: I hate them.

No, I don’t hate the idea that there should be an understanding of the customer, and everyone should be able to see what it is. That’s necessary for getting teams aligned and driving market growth (see my discussion on this in my previous post).

I hate the idea because most of the marketers I meet use them as crutches — and not very useful crutches at that. I hate that most marketers try so hard to be specific and complete in their description of “Finance Francine” that their list of things “Francine” cares about are either redundant or useless in creating messaging that will convince the hypothetical “Francine” to spend non-hypothetical money.

Have you ever seen a list like this:

“CEO Chuck” cares about:

  • Increasing revenue
  • Increasing profit margin
  • Meeting set revenue and profit goals
  • Not losing revenue
  • Not losing profit margins
  • Increasing net income

OK, I’m going a little overboard, but you’ve seen that list. The problem you see with it is that it’s redundant. I see that and something far more dangerous to your marketing:

The list is meaningless.

If the person working on personas in your organization makes lists like this one, you probably don’t ever look at them for anything you do. If you do look at them, I’d ask you whether they help you target content, create advertising or email campaigns or even inform sales scripts.

A good test for whether you have a useful persona is whether your average sales rep can use the language in the persona document to describe how you help your customer and the prospects on the other side of that table (or other end of that call) respond with “Yes!! That’s exactly what I need!” How often does that happen to you?

So what do we do about this? How do we get a useful understanding of the people to whom we are selling? (And yes, if you’re selling to businesses, you’re still selling to people)

Focus on the person.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but then again, it isn’t. They say understanding other people and building relationships is hard. When you are selling any kind of offering, you are building a relationship with another person (or people), and it’s exactly as easy and hard as with anyone.

What’s the key to getting this right?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of knowing how you and your offering make a difference in the lives of your customers. There are three steps to making this an integral part of your marketing:

  1. Understanding your customer’ needs and aspirations — most importantly, the ones they don’t articulate
  2. Understanding what needs and aspirations you can enable
  3. Understanding how you help your customer meet those needs and achieve those aspirations

Revisiting “CEO Chuck,” here’s how this might work:

Chuck runs a small software company. Chuck is trying to solve the disconnects within his organization. He knows that if product, sales and marketing could stop arguing and get on the same page, it would be easier and smoother to generate leads and grow the sales pipeline. His demand generation leader says the biggest obstacle to getting prospects into the pipeline is knowing how to effectively find the right kind of person to whom to deliver messages. His investors are breathing down his neck about meeting sales targets and showing some eye-popping PR stories. His engineers are bugging him about prioritizing new features and bug fixes, and claim they can’t understand what they should be doing first — it all seems important.

Now let’s say you are selling some kind of marketing product to Chuck. You could tell Chuck your offering increases revenue, and you’d think that would be important enough for him to buy it. But let’s say your offering could help get the pipeline process unified between sales and marketing, and make sure they both have at least common numbers, account information and the like. You could then offer Chuck a solution to at least part of the sales and marketing friction problem, making his pipeline move more smoothly to help grow revenue.

Some marketers will see that as a more specific and, therefore, smaller offer. It’s not. It helps solve the problem your prototypical customer thinks they have. It makes sure you can deliver something they think is valuable to them and that makes a difference in their lives. And if you do it successfully, I am pretty sure they will tell their friends and colleagues you made a whole set of challenges go away.

This illustration is an over-simplification for the purposes of keeping this post readable. But the point of doing this exercise — and doing it well — is you get to understand your customer as a person, not as a hypothetical profile.

And when you stop making claims to personas and start making promises to people, you can start delivering real value and changing their lives.


The Path to Growth: Five Stages of Position-Product-People Alignment

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For nearly any business, growth happens when you know your market, and have your product and your people aligned to the needs of that market. For young companies, such as the technology startups with which I work, this alignment can make the difference between a future IPO and shutting down the business.

Exceptional growth requires expert navigation

As companies start and grow, they begin to discover not only their own expertise, but more importantly, their market, its niches and segments, as well as its quirks, needs and wants. I think of this as navigating the discovery of a new land, full of opportunity and fraught with danger. Finding the path to growth is challenging, but the closer you get to your particular path, the more rewarding it becomes.

The path to exceptional growth is the precise alignment of your product (and capabilities), your position (the needs and wants of the market) and your people (their execution of your processes.

Most businesses go through five stages of alignment:

Typical Revenue RangePosition-Product-People Alignment
>$50 millionAcceleration
$10 million–$50 millionNavigation
$5 million–$10 millionMap-Making
$1 million–$5 millionDiscovery
<$1 millionSuspicion

I’ve outlined this for a typical technology startup, but this can apply to any business or product line.


When a company is just starting out, the founding idea comes from some knowledge that a handful of potential customers may need something like the product being contemplated and a founder’s belief she can address that need differently from how it is being solved now.

The market is unknown territory. Whether there are more than a few potential customers is unknown. Any knowledge of a path to growth is nothing more than a suspicion. The product is brand new, so it is still trying to find the needs with which to align.


As the company starts to sell products and find customers, it has also found a wider range of ways its product meets the needs of a wider range of customers. There may be little consistency from one customer to the next, but they all find the company has something that meets some set of needs.

This stage of discovery is an important step for every company. The company learns some of what is possible and can start to consider which of the many types of customers will suit it best.

At this stage, there is still very little alignment among position, product and people, as the company is trying to do everything it can to meet the needs of any customer who shows up. The most common cause of failure at this stage is a product that is not growing to meet these diverse needs, meaning the company can’t deliver on its promises.


The company has now become more adept at finding customers, and finding ways to discover and meet their needs. While there may be little consistency as to these needs from customer to customer, some commonalities are beginning to appear.

These areas of commonality are the segments and niches in the company’s market. Knowledge of these shows the company what will work best for its own strategy and objectives, and will eventually help it better understand how to compete with direct and indirect competitors.

This is where alignment becomes critical. As the company learns where it can be most successful, understanding the needs of that segment and how the company can meet them differently from what has come before becomes critical to continued growth and advancing to the next stage.

The most common causes of failure at this stage are either not seeing the emerging segments making it hard to focus, or not continuing to build product that meets the needs of the coalescing segments, again causing the company to miss keeping its promises.


The company has seen success in one or more segments and must now choose to focus on one at a time. Exceptional growth requires thinking smaller. Let me repeat, as this is not always intuitive:

Exceptional growth requires thinking smaller.

Focusing on one position in the market — one set of needs, met in a differentiated way, in one segment — allows the company to build a product, train its people and develop processes to focus on demonstrated success — and start to repeat that success. This repeatability is the key to scale.

The most common cause of failure at this stage is not aligning product and people with the chosen position — the needs of the customers in the company’s market segment. This is lack of focus, one of the critical elements of exceptional growth.


With product and people aligned to position (market needs), the company is seeing an increasing number of customers, as well as a decrease in the effort it takes to find a customer. The repeatability inherent in focusing on a chosen position allows the company to scale its operations and delivery in a very precise way.

This same repeatability allows the company to define segment after segment and pursue them in the same way that it pursued the initial segment, creating another layer of scale and accelerating growth.

The most common cause of not being able to achieve this scale is not getting the people and processes in the company aligned to delivering the needs of the chosen segment(s), causing the company to stumble in execution.

Understanding your market and how you can meet the needs of the customers in that market in a different and differentiated way is the foundation of creating exceptional growth for your budding business. Once you get your position right, precisely align your product and your people to that position, and you can find your unique path to exceptional growth.


Messaging Balance: Two Traps to Avoid

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Developing messaging for your company at any stage can be fraught with difficulty. Even when it seems straightforward, marketers tend to fall into one of two traps. These are well-illustrated by how companies in my industry, technology, have approached talking about themselves and their offerings.

Trap One: You Say You Want a Revolution …

This is the most common messaging mistake technology companies make, and I’ve seen this across many other industries. You want your offerings to be not only different, but also new and exciting. So you start making claims about how you will transform your customers’ lives or businesses, or about how your offering is the newest, most exciting thing anyone has ever seen. In tech, this sometimes takes the shape of claiming “you don’t even know you need this yet.” While there are some companies that can pull this off (Apple, historically), most can’t.

My friend and colleague, Martina Lauchengco, writes, “The Revolutionary Messaging Fallacy happens when those creating messaging make leaps into benefits or transformational language as if what their product did and why someone should care is already accomplished and understood” in her article cautioning against claiming to be too revolutionary.

The problem with trying to be revolutionary is that it’s limiting — often very limiting. Yes, some markets are ripe for disruption (and not necessarily technology-based), the vast majority of customers in most markets are looking for something to solve a particular problem (see Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck about how products are hired to do a job), and to solve it in a way they know and understand.

Side note: If you want to understand how much of your market is looking for proved vs. revolutionary solutions, consider a research project based on those suggested in Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.

Unless your intent is to address the small part of your market that can accept something revolutionary, stop trying to say you’re revolutionary. You’ll just scare off everyone else in your market.

Trap Two: Walk the Line

I’ve been around the technology industry long enough to see not just the disruption that can be created, but also the bandwagons on which everyone else tries to jump to get a piece of that disruption — whether in market share or in reputation by associating with the lead disruptor.

One of the trends most interesting to me as a marketer is the way companies try to become part of a particular trend or movement. The first one I was a part of was the “dot-com” trend of the late 1990s. For most companies, it wasn’t just a web address, it was how they told their own story. Even the largest companies wanted to jump on this bandwagon (do you remember when Sun Microsystems was “the dot in dot-com”?).

Then there was a bust, the dot-com market died, and in its place was the cringe-worthy “Web 2.0,” reflective logos and all. Even I am guilty of jumping in this bandwagon with “Learning 2.0” and “Sales 2.0.” Then Zuora showed up and wowed everyone by being the platform for the “Subscription Economy.” Every company wanted its own economy, and some jumped on the bandwagons of the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”’ and even, in environmental circles, the “circular economy” referring to the market for reused and recycled products. Now, “economy” is running its course, and I’m starting to see companies calling themselves “the <blank> transformation,” as popularized by the book The Fourth Transformation (by Israel and Scoble).

If you haven’t guessed where I’m going here, the trap marketers can easily fall into is sounding like everyone else in the market. If a prospective customer who knows nothing about you can’t tell the difference between you and your competitors, and you can’t explain it in a sentence or two, you’re not going to win them over.

Balancing Act

If you can’t be revolutionary and you can’t be like everyone else, where should you be? To me, the answer is simple: What difference do you make in the lives of your customers?

I don’t mean that you save them $x or y minutes in some task. That’s not life-changing.

Here’s an example of what I mean by “life-changing”: When I sold a solution for sales leaders to better predict results, I would address a fear every single sales leader has: walking into their CEO’s office and telling her they were going to miss this quarter’s number (maybe, again). When we took away that fear and that conversation, we made a difference in their lives.

Ask yourself what difference you make in your customers’ lives. Explain how you do that better or differently than everyone else. Distill it into a story everyone can understand. Make that the crux of your message.

And let everyone else fall by the wayside as they fall into one of the traps.

Customer Trust

Pricing: Three steps to succeeding with what most marketers fear

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Marketers hate figuring out pricing. It often seems challenging or obscure, and the risk of getting it wrong seems so high. After all, what you charge for your offerings ends up determining your revenue. Price too low, and you harm your revenue stream; price too high, and you drive potential customers away.

There are two major schools of thought about pricing: one that says you should price your offerings to match the willingness to pay of your potential customers and one that says you should price your offerings based on what it costs to produce and deliver them, so that you achieve a chosen margin.

Many companies, notably those that manufacture products, use a cost-plus method. The motivation to earn a given margin is certainly a strong one, but this approach ignores market realities. The economics of any market show that potential customers are willing to pay based on a range of factors, from supply and demand, to delivered value, to competitive pricing.

That leaves value-based pricing as the more viable approach. But unless you have a team of econometricians at your disposal, it can be hard to determine the right price to extract enough, but not too much, value from the market and your customers.

Here are three things to do to get your pricing right:

  1. Know the competitive landscape. You need to know who your competitors are and what they charge. But that’s not enough. Don’t forget that “competitor” means anyone — even if it’s the contractor paving the parking lot — competing for the same budget dollars you hope to get. Know what they charge. If you can’t find out from public information, ask your sales reps; their prospects are telling them. On top of that, figure out your competitive position. Are you a leader? A follower? A price-setter? A price-follower? A premium offering? A value alternative? Once you know that, you can set price compared to your competition.
  2. Know the history. What have customers paid in the past for your offering? Other similar offerings? You don’t have to prove exactly the same as always, but unless you’re selling to the few truly innovative potential customers or are a completely new offering, you can only change price-levels so much — but you can change them.
  3. Get your packaging right. What do your customers value most about your offering? Can you break out parts of your offering and price them separately? Can you add new pieces that will deliver additional value? Do you offer any services your customers especially value? Make sure your minimal offering delivers value, but also make sure you add value where you can.

Once you know the answers to these three questions, you can choose your price level. When I do this, I always sit down and write a price list. That tells me what I have and what I’m missing. Once you feel you’ve documented everything you need, you can validate your thinking with a little market research (I usually just call 5–10 potential customers and ask if it makes sense).

The last step is one where most marketers should feel comfortable: Test, test and test again. Pay attention to how potential customers react. Are they balking? Or are they eagerly accepting your new pricing? Did you get your base product right, but your add-ons too high? Make adjustments. Then keep making adjustments until you don’t see many more needed.

Marketers may hate of fear the idea of doing any pricing analysis, but these three steps can help take the challenge and put it into a context that is much more familiar and easier to approach. And, I hope, make it less scary.


Three Ways Data Has Changed the CMO: Two Things to Look Out for and One Glimpse of What’s Next

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One thing most CMOs seem to agree on is that the availability of data and the ability to process it into information have dramatically shifted the role and effectiveness of marketing in an organization.  This data-centric approach to marketing has had several very positive effects on the function, including:

  • Increased accountability of marketing within an organization.
  • Increased effectiveness of programs with better targeting and knowledge of outcomes.
  • Better understanding of the contribution of marketing, resulting in more powerful CMOs.

The Impact of More and Better Data

Data cuts both ways.  It can help make decisions.  It can show you exactly what is happening in any given operation without introducing bias or opinion.  But it can also show you where you are achieving results and where you are not.  It can open a very clear window into the CMO’s performance, which allows for evaluation in ways that are far more objective than were previously possible.

Robert Carroll (@robcarroll), senior vice president of marketing for Gild, notes that just seven or eight years ago, “Marketing accountability didn’t exist.”  It’s not that there were not metrics, but it was much more difficult to establish hard-data success criteria.  With the rise of both CRM systems and marketing automation systems, the data has become available, and it can be turned into analyses that provide these criteria.

One notable way this has changed the marketing organization is in how results are measured.  With these systems and their underlying data in place, it is far easier to determine the exact outcomes of any given program, often from initial engagement all the way to closed sale.

While some organizations are still learning how to make this work for them, many marketing teams use a range of outcome measures such as engagement or conversion to determine everything from cost of sales to whether programs have targeted the right market.

This has also given rise to an opportunity to shift the way marketers operate.  The availability of hard data showing the effectiveness of specific activities and the speed with which that data becomes available allow marketers to try many different hypotheses about which specific items—such as target audiences, content pieces or messages—will be most effective in achieving any given objective.  It lets marketers do the kind of testing and retesting that makes success possible in experimental sciences (such as lab experiments) or in manufacturing design (such as rapid prototyping).

The data and systems are also helping marketers understand media in ways that our profession had only dreamed of.  We can tell exactly which media are most effective to carry our messages and reach our desired target.  Carroll notes, “Email is still the most effective media for outreach.”  But he also has seen a rise, especially with the increasing number of Millennials in both marketing organizations and as members of our target audiences, in the effectiveness of what we might call old-fashioned outreach methods.

“Most Millennials are not used to receiving a telephone call or a postal mailer,” Carroll says. “The sheer novelty of the outreach method is starting to show some unexpectedly positive results.”

While accountability and measurement, in and of themselves, are generally considered good things.  The result of this new level of accountability and the success that has accompanied means that CMOs are gaining more power in the organization.  Now that it is easier to quantify contribution, it’s also easier to show the exact effect the marketing organization has had on the overall business.

As a result, Carroll points out, “More and more, CMOs are becoming CEOs.”

In my own opinion, this also has the potential to result in organizations that are more focused on serving their markets and building better customer relationships.  It certainly will create a different kind of organization than those that followed the historical trend and were led by CFOs or operational executives.

Data Caution!

So far, it’s starting to sound like the rise of the data-based marketer has brought incredibly positive changes and garnered promotions for CMOs.  But the rise of data is also fraught with possibilities to go awry for CMOs:

  • Measurement measures failure just as effectively as it measure success.
  • Data can mislead as easily as it can reveal.

CMOs have jumped on the data bandwagon, and it is, without a doubt, changing their careers.  But where marketers were once able to explain away failure of programs with everything from rebranding to fancy footwork, the ability to look at the data can expose exactly where and why programs failed.  John Philpin, a serial CEO and author of Beyond Bridges, says “Marketers are being found out.”

Philpin also expresses an opinion common to many of us:  “Marketing is as much art as science.”  It’s hard to say that just because a program failed, and we can pinpoint the source of that failure, that the error did not lie in our approach, strategy, judgment, or other human-created idea that was an assumption of the program.

Data can also mislead.  There’s an old saying that the numbers (if you’re an accountant, or the analysis if you’re a statistician) can say whatever you want them to say.  We see this every day in social media where those with specific points of view create charts that appear to be authoritative but are clearly designed to lead the viewer to specific conclusions that benefit the creator.  This happens not just with political pundits, but with marketers as well. We would love to convince the entire world that it has the exact problem we can solve.  And then, of course, sell them the solution.

The data on which we rely for measuring our own success and for proving our success to our organization suffers from the same limitation.  It can be used to show the kind of outcomes we want to believe we have achieved and can be manipulated to hide the outcomes we know will not lead to proving our own effectiveness.

These two concerns—the exposure of failure and the inclusion of human judgment—along with the ability of data to mislead the reader show the limits of reliance on data as the sole measure of success and accountability for a CMO.  It is incumbent upon the CMO to know when data will be useful, how it is most useful, and when to rely on it as a measure of success.

What’s Next for CMOs and Data?

CMOs are seeing the opportunities brought by an increased ability to analyze data and are seeking ways to both expand data access and analysis and find more effective ways to understand and use data.

We’ve all heard about the rise of so-called big data, which Carroll calls “too buzzy” and Philpin calls “a misnomer.  Philpin goes on to add, “Big data is about the relationship among the data—not the data itself.”

Data gets “big” when there’s lots of it, notably more than traditional databases can handle. But it is just this ability to store and analyze unstructured and often unrelated data that can provide insights into our markets and our customers in ways we are only beginning to see.

Carroll sees how the mass of unrelated data Gild is pulling together has started to show them how best to reach their audience, such as where telephone and postal mail can be effective.  He also sees a bigger picture.  “Prepare to be disrupted,” he says, “and all of that data can point to a potential disruptor of your business.”  Since all businesses are potential targets of disruption, it seems like a valuable use of data.

I also agree with Philpin’s answer to my question, “Have you seen big data work in a marketing effort?”  He responded, “Squirrel!”  Staring at data for too long can distract you and lead you to conclusions that are mere mirages.  You start to see things that are just not really there.

More and better data and data analysis are critical to the future of marketing.  Even more critical, however, is the human ability to know how, when, and where to use that data.

Knowing how to turn data into useful information will become more and more important to the success of marketing organizations—and the CMO.

Chasms of Failure

Five Critical Steps to Knowing Your Customers

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It’s a trap into which marketers of all kinds fall:  assuming your customers are just like you in their preferences, desires, and buying characteristics.  It can happen because we lack information to figure out what customers are really like or because our own inherent biases cause us to ignore information that would contradict our assumptions.

In a series of studies (published in the AMA Journals), Hattula, Herzog, Dahl and Reinecke found that marketers putting themselves in their “customers’ shoes” were more likely to assume their customer is just like them rather than the generally expected outcome that they would understand their customer’s needs and desires even better.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Hattula noted, “That tendency [toward egocentrism] is so strong that we’re willing to ignore objective data when we make predictions about others.”

You Are Not Your Customers

Yes, he is saying that in our data-driven world, the more empathetic (and maybe more expert) we become, the more likely we are to just ignore the data and use our own intuition to make assumptions about our customers.  If you’ve been in a marketing organization for any length of time, this should not surprise you (though it may be hard to admit).

Simply put:  The more you assume your customer is just like you, the farther you get from building a relationship with and serving that customer.

In our daily lives, we develop relationships fully realizing that the people with whom we become friends or partners or any other form of relationship are not exactly like us.  Success in each relationship requires that we develop an understanding of what drives the other person and how we fit into their lives—and how they fit into ours.

Consider this:  You walk into a room, and a man approaches you.  He tells you why he is in that room (at that event or party) and then proceeds to tell you he knows you must be there for the same reason.  Maybe he harangues you to engage in ways that suit him well or to help him meet the people he wants to meet.  You can tell pretty quickly this person had no interest in you or your needs.

When you make the assumption that your customer is just like you, you start off your relationship with that customer on the footing I described in the previous paragraph:  you alienate your customer and make them feel like you have no real interest in meeting their needs.

This can be exacerbated by the common marketing practice of developing customer personas.  Personas are just descriptions of prototypical customer types.  If the egocentricity bias that Hattula describes enters your persona development process, the personas can start to look an awful lot like the people who are developing them (One way to check this is to ask someone who knows you but was not involved in the process to look at the persona and describe how much like you it is—as long as you can trust that person to give an honest answer.).

The Importance of Data

Marketing has become, for the most part, a data-driven endeavor.  Marketers work hard to gather and analyze data on the actions of those who engage with the company, on how those actions lead to (or don’t lead to) sales, on the costs and ROI of specific marketing activities, on how customer usage leads to repeat sales, and on so many more things in your everyday activities.  One of the things on which marketers have relied for a very long time is market research.  Assuming it uses well-designed research, the data gathered can inform many marketing decisions and challenge many assumptions.

But challenging assumptions, especially within an organization, is very hard.  When the data clearly contradicts any assumption we make about our customers—from buying habits to feature preferences—Hattula’s study shows we tend to just ignore the data—even when we know the best course of action is to adjust our own assumptions to match the data.

Where Does This Lead?

Hattula’s study suggests that employees who are disengaged from customers are in the best position to understand objectively what the data they receive is telling them.

My own experience says that getting a direct, personal understanding of your customer, including developing empathy (maybe by putting yourself in your customer’s proverbial shoes), gives you insights that data just can’t.

The irony is that in order to truly understand your customer well, you need to do a good job of both getting closer to them and distancing yourself from them.  You need to:

  1. Gain direct exposure, understanding and empathy with your typical customer’s needs, preferences and desires.
  2. Ensure you are gathering good, unbiased data on customers’ needs, preferences, and desires
  3. Pay close attention to even the smallest hint of contradiction between your empathetic understanding and what the data is telling you.
  4. Get objective viewpoints that can tell you when your assumptions about your customers are really just a projection of your own needs, preferences, and desires.
  5. Have the courage to challenge organizational assumptions about your customers.

Did I promise this would be easy?  It’s not.

But if you want to stay close to your customers and continue to succeed in delivering what they want and need, in the way they want and need it, you will have to make sure you are meeting their needs.

Not yours.


Rethinking Customer Marketing for the Subscription Economy

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This is not your grandfather’s customer marketing.  A business that depends on—or hopes to depend on—subscription (or recurring) revenue must relate to its customers in a fundamentally different way than a traditional one-time-sale business.  But the changes go deeper than just the customer relationship. To be successful in a subscription business, companies must rethink their own business operations.  Let’s take a look at what that means for marketing.

The question I ask you is simple:  are you actually marketing to your customers?  Or are you just keeping in touch and hoping they’ll stick around?

Customer marketing is one of the simplest business changes you can make to succeed in the recurring revenue business.  You don’t need any new skills or expertise, and the processes you need already exist (I hope) in your current organization.  The work you need to do is translating them to apply to your current customers.

The Journey and the Funnel

You have, undoubtedly, spent much of your marketing career thinking about—and seeing many different flavors of—the marketing funnel.  I’m going to guess your idea of a marketing funnel or customer journey looks something like this:

This gives your marketing organization a good working model and, I hope, a deep understanding of how someone in the market becomes aware of your product or service and how they get from initial awareness to making the decision to purchase.

You also have a set of processes and practices that make your marketing work, make potential customers aware of your offerings and help them make the decision to purchase. These include marketing campaigns and programs, content development and distribution, branding efforts, and much more.

I hope in reading this so far, you’re thinking:  “Yes, I do all of that really well.  Why do I need to rethink this?”

Customer Marketing:  Before

You might have a function in your marketing organization called customer marketing. Depending on how you’ve organized your team, this function does anything and everything from customer references, to success stories, to customer events and conferences, and to customer loyalty programs.  You probably also have a way to keep customers informed of new products, updates, and other information you consider important, or that you think will help customers decide to buy from you again.

Rethinking from Day One

Day One is the day your customer becomes your customer, the day after the contract is signed, the day the customer starts getting value from your product or service.

It’s also the day your sales and marketing organizations step out of the picture and hand that customer off to your customer success organization.  Every day from then until the customer leaves you, the primary contact for that customer will be in your customer success organization.  That organization is then tasked (maybe via its own sales team) with ensuring your customer renews their subscription or comes back to you year after year.

In a recurring revenue business, the repeat or renewal sale is just as important as the initial sale.  Sometimes, we assume this sale is easier because we’re dealing with a customer who has already decided they get value from our offering.  That makes it no less important.

Rethinking customer marketing means treating your new actual customer on Day One just like the new potential customer who has only just become aware of your offering.  Day One begins a whole new marketing and sales cycle.  Day One means building a whole new relationship with your customer.

Customer Marketing:  After

The goal is simple:  keep as many customers as you can.

The process is simple:  apply your current marketing funnel or journey, programs, and processes to your current customers.

The transition is not so simple:  learn how your customers go from new customers on Day One to a renewal sale.  Then how they do that again next year.  And again the following year.

The transition requires you to examine both your business and your customers in new ways. You need to ask:

  • Why do my customers renew (not your long held beliefs; look at the data), why don’t they, and how do I tell the difference between customers who renew and customers who don’t?
  • What actions do I take right now that make a difference (again, based on the data) in whether customers renew?
  • How am I helping my customers realize value and renew?
  • Are my internal incentives (marketing, sales, and customer success) aligned with a goal of maximizing renewals?

Then you need to redefine your customer funnel or journey. It will look something like this:

Then you need to design marketing and sales programs, campaigns, and other efforts around that to help your customers move from purchase to renewal (not to frustration and departure).

Organizations that do this successfully create a microcosm of a marketing team within the customer success organization.  This becomes a team that is charged with the full range of marketing and marketing operations functions (except corporate branding and PR, generally), and is measured on the same goals and outcomes as the marketing organization such as leads (which become expansion or adoption programs), conversions to sales (which become integration and realization of value), and sales (which become renewals).

Transformation to Customer Marketing

Rethinking customer marketing as though it were a full marketing function changes the way you relate to your customers.  It can also have dramatic effects on the success of your renewal programs, bringing your renewal rates to new heights and your churn rates to new lows.

And, if you are having great conversations with potential customers in your market, imagine how valuable those conversations will be once your current customers—your loyal fans—are part of them.

How is your organization evolving customer marketing?  Tell us in the comments!


Requiem for the Home Page: Rethinking Website Architecture

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The Home Page is dead!  Long live the Home Page!  That might be overstating it a bit, but it’s well past time to rethink our approach to website architecture.

Evolving Website Architecture

I’ve been involved in website architecture, design, redesign, and rebuilding projects in various ways during the past decade.  In this time, nearly everything has changed about how companies communicate with customers and prospects.  We’ve become comfortable with email as a marketing tool—in fact, we’ve become pretty good at it.  Printed mail certainly has not gone away (judging by my mailbox this week), but we’ve found effective ways to replace some printed media and blend print and email.

We’ve become social.  Do you remember your social media presence in 2004?  I’m guessing not, primarily because you didn’t have one.  Twitter didn’t exist, and Facebook was the cool new thing on Harvard’s campus.  Now, most companies have some sort of social media presence, and the ones that are doing it well are integrating social media directly into their communication with prospects and customers.

In 2004, even search marketing (both SEO and SEM) were hardly in use.  We were still figuring out how that worked, which gave rise to the seemingly endless supply of people who spend their time trying to outwit Google’s search algorithm (and Bing’s and Yahoo’s and…).

But in the same decade that saw the creation and explosion of email, search marketing, and social media, website architecture has been virtually unchanged.  We still build websites in the same traditional structure as we did in the late 1990s:  We start with a home page that summarizes our company and brand message, include a hierarchy of pages (products, solutions, about us, careers…sound familiar?) that describe everything we want visitors to see when they show up.

We’ve seen tremendous advances in website design:  from the “above-the-fold” designs of the 2000s to the current trend of responsive, parallax, and endlessly scrolling websites designed for the ever increasing number of devices we use to visit these sites.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I tend to focus not on what your company wants to say but what your prospects and customers want to hear—and how they want to hear it.

Looking at it from that perspective, we’ve learned one very important lesson in the past decade about how visitors, prospects, and customers use our website:  People come to the site looking for something.  They want to go directly to whatever that particular thing is on our site and skip all the other stuff.

Some visitors take advantage of the hierarchical structure of the site to find what they need.  Many, many more come in directly to some specific page on our site as the result of a Google search. Many come to our site as a result of an email or social media campaign directing them to a landing page.  And some come to a specific page on our site through referral (a link sent to them, posted somewhere, etc.) or other various means.

We even spend time designing click paths through our websites both to serve specific kinds of visitors and to encourage them to take actions we design.

Improving Website Architecture

This means the way we build websites has no relationship whatsoever to how visitors use them.

What can we do differently?

A modest proposal:  Outside–in architecture.

Let’s go back to that idea of click paths.  We know how to do that (at least some do, and most of the rest of the marketing world is learning).  We also know that pretty much every single person who visits our website will have a click path that is unique to them and serves well the visitor profile (or persona) they fit.

My proposal:  Build for that.

Take the personas (or whatever method you use for profiling visitor needs) and the click paths and needs you’ve already figured out.  Build those pages.  Put the right information, content, and calls-to-action on those pages that lead where you think that person wants to go.

Then do it with every single profile/persona you have built (and maybe a few on the edge that don’t visit as often).

Then you will have a jumble of pages that meet defined click paths.

Every single one of those journeys through your site starts with some inquiry, and most (we hope) end in some action, even if it’s just reading information.

Arrange your starting points in a circle (conceptually or on your design board).  Lay out the paths moving toward the center of that circle.  They will overlap.  Some will spiral.  Some will go straight to the center.  Some will stop halfway.

But you will find significant overlap among your paths.  Many different kinds of visitors need the same information at different points in their journey through your site.

Each of those landing pages and stopping points becomes a page.  If you’ve taken into account all the types of visitors who come to your site (don’t forget job seekers, investors, researchers, etc.), then you’ll also find you’ve included all the information you need.  And anything that is not there, by definition, is not needed by your visitors and does not need to be on your website.

We know where our visitors land or start.  We have a pretty good idea of where they go and how they get there.  Why not build  our websites around that journey and make it easy for them to get there and engage with us they way they want to—and, ultimately, the way we want them to.

What do you think?  Have you done this?  Have you taken an unconventional approach to website architecture?  Tell us in the comments!

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.



Escape Social Media FOMO: Ask the One Right Question

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If your company or brand is trying to have a presence in every social media outlet possible, you might have social media FOMO (fear of missing out). But fear not, there is a cure, and unlike consumer FOMO, you don’t need to stop marketing completely.

“Don’t I have to be on every social media outlet? How will I find my prospects and customers?”

If you’re asking this question, you probably already have FOMO. You can escape FOMO with one simple question:

“Is this the media in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?”

EAT24, in what is now a well-publicized move (much to their benefit), recently broke up with Facebook. If you haven’t done so already, you should read their tongue-in-cheek-but-entirely-serious rationale, as well as FaceBook’s response.

What they really are saying is they don’t believe social media (specifically FaceBook, but this applies to any social media) is about blasting out ads to their fan base. Rather, it is about establishing relationships and raving fans. They conclude, given that FaceBook allows them very limited organic reach, they cannot succeed in engaging their fans and building relationships (even those based on sushi porn) in this particular media.

Will this cost them exposure? Yes. And while I have no inside knowledge of their media strategy, it’s easy to conclude there are other media which are more effective for their prospects.

They could buy more exposure on FaceBook, but it’s also obvious that the amount and depth of engagement is simply not worth it — there are better places to spend that marketing budget.

Applying the test above, it becomes clear their customers and prospects don’t really prefer to build relationships on FaceBook, so it’s not worth spending the time and money.

In another recent high-profile move, OKCupid strongly urged its customers not to use the Firefox web browser on their site, due to the homophobia of Brendan Eich, the now-former head of Mozilla, the organization that publishes Firefox. Given Firefox’s 10.5% market share (source: April 2, 2014), this could be a risky move.

Firefox isn’t a social medium, but it is an important means of accessing OKCupid’s services (and every other service online). OKCupid is making two statements with this action: 1) their customers and prospects care about equality and will act on that belief, and 2) it’s easy to engage with them using another browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.).

Applying the test above, OKCupid clearly believes that once the information about Eich’s homophobia is known, Firefox is not where its prospect and customers will prefer to engage, so it does not feel the need to be easily available in every browser.

Back to your brand: How much time and effort are you investing in making sure you are available everywhere — on every browser, every social media outlet and everywhere else? Are these time and budget investments well-spent? Do they have the expected or needed ROI?

You know who your customers are. You know which prospects you are trying to target. Make sure you’re spending your time and money doing what they need you to do to build those relationships.

So before making an investment in a new media outlet, ask yourself: Is this the medium in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?

It’s a surefire cure for your FOMO.