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!


Please Stop Collaborating with Me!

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

Collaboration is all the rage in the business world these days — you can’t go more than a few minutes in any business conversation, journal, site, blog or anywhere else without the word coming up. And there’s no doubt that improved collaboration (often enabled by technology) has led to leaps and bounds in productivity.

But are you — like me — starting to feel like we’re overdoing it? I know there are times when I just want to say, “Leave me alone and let me get some work done!”

I’m just old enough to remember the days when everyone in the company had an office. I mean a room with a door that could fully close. While very few office doors were closed much of the time (there was a lot of debate about open-door policies and the like), you could close the door when you needed to concentrate. Or have an important phone call. Or — in the case of certain nameless colleagues — take a nap. In fact, in my very first job after college, I had just such an office.

Then the age of the cubicle arrived. In the 1980s, companies such as Intel were admired for their devotion to the cubicle culture — meaning the collaboration that came with the broad adoption of cubicles. At Intel everyone, even the CEO, had a cubicle.

There was conversation. We talked with each another far more than when I had an office. It became useful, productive, even fun. Prairie-dogging became a game.

Then we discovered the dark side. We couldn’t have the challenging conversations with customers, partners or even our bosses without everyone knowing about it. There were no more moments of concentration; there was collaboration, but there was also constant interruption. Recent studies have shown that constant interruption and multi-tasking are far less productive than concentration and single-tasking.

But are we ready to go back to closed-door offices? For most companies, no. Many companies are going even further and eliminating cubicles in favor of open-plan offices — just a collection of desks in a room (think the secretarial pool from any random 1950s movie).

Tele-Smart consultant Josiane Feigon recently published an article about an un-named client who gave inside salespeople closed-door offices. From her article, it’s easy to tell she did not agree with this move. She seems to feel that having salespeople in closed-door offices defeated the collaboration that she thinks is at the core of their job, and, as is common in other companies, they should have kept the salespeople in cubicles or an open-plan office.

I, however, agree with this client wholeheartedly. In fact, I think they might not have gone far enough. Here’s why:

Inside sales — at least the core piece of the job, which is making calls to prospects — is not collaborative at all. The employee’s (inside sales rep’s) focus is entirely outside the company, and that employee needs the ability to focus their attention outside (at the prospect) rather than dealing with the inside distractions of noise interruptions and over-hearing other outbound calls.

My friend and inside-sales expert Anneke Seley, CEO of RealityWorks Group, points out that there is a critical component of the inside sales rep’s job that is collaborative: training and preparation. These parts of the job benefit from working with managers and colleagues, collaborating on strategy and working to improve skills.

So these parts of the job should be done in an environment that promotes collaboration and interactions (intentional and accidental), and this can be done in a group setting such as a conference room or open area.

But the outbound calling should not be done in “public.” The highest productivity from that part of the job is achieved when the environment isolates the inside sales rep.

In our zeal to achieve ever-increasing collaboration, maybe we’ve forgotten why we want collaboration in the first place: to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Looking at collaboration through the lens of where the focus of the work is pointed (internal, external, solo, team, etc.) can suggest a new way to evaluate whether a collaborative work environment is going to help or harm our productivity. And then maybe we can find ways to collaborate when it helps and leave each other alone when it doesn’t.

And yes, I said “collaboration” (or “collaborative”) 16 times in this post. We might just be overdoing it.


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


Has Marketing Failed Sales?

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A few weeks ago, at the Sales 2.0 conference, I noticed a trend: Salespeople are generating their own leads. In fact, I heard pundit after pundit offer justifications for salespeople to be more proactive and take lead generation into their own hands, including statistics showing that as few as 30% of the leads sent to sales by marketing are worthy of pursuit.

Isn’t it marketing’s job to deliver qualified (or at least pursuit-worthy) leads to sales? So has marketing failed?

Well, no, not exactly. There are two significant (you might call them disruptive) trends happening at the same time in lead generation: the indivdualization of technology and social selling.

Marketing is less-well-equipped than sales to take advantage of these. Sales, especially the individual salesperson, is far better equipped to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies than any marketing department can be, if only because of the scale. And marketing has significant responsibilities beyond lead generation, including leading and developing the company’s relationship with its prospects, customers and all other stakeholders, and stewarding the company’s brand.

But in order to be successful, marketing will have to watch these trends — and how salespeople take advantage of them — and figure out how to make them part of everyday marketing in order to stay relevant.

Trend One: The Individualization of Technology

Technology has migrated from huge systems only practical for large institutions to apps any individual can use anywhere, anytime. In the same way, systems which large corporations use to manage their resources are now available for individuals, including cloud-based (SaaS) services, such as CRM and marketing automation.

Companies such as Nimble and Contactually provide cloud-based services that are designed for (and priced for) individual salespeople to do the essential parts of what a more cumbersome CRM system once did. They manage everything from contacts to social relationships to follow-ups to engagement opportunities.

What is important about this is these services can be used by an individual salesperson to find opportunities and generate leads entirely on his or her own, even while working within a larger corporate CRM system.

In fact, my friend Matt Heinz offered a wealth of tips and tricks (he calls them “sales hacks”) for individual salespeople to use a range of tools to create a robust lead flow — all independent of any marketing department (yes, this works very well for sole proprietors, too!)

Trend Two: Social Selling

Social selling means salespeople can use their social networks and the activity they generate to find prospects and identify buying signals. For example, if I were selling marketing automation software, and a 2nd-degree LinkedIn connection just took a new job as CMO (a possible buying signal) for a company in my market, I would want to contact that person. I might find that out through the activity generated in my own social network, then find out more about that person through their own social and other activity. I would then have a connection that can introduce me and would also know how to approach my newly discovered prospect.

Notice I am not looking in my CRM system for a lead that has not been touched in a while, nor am I looking for an introduction from my management. Salespeople (presumably) have their own networks they can use to find the connections they want and need.

Services such as TwitHawk and Newsle offer this kind of social signal search service, and Nimble and Contactually integrate it into the activity stream.

When you put all this together, you have a powerful new source of very well-qualified leads for the salesperson to pursue.

So Where is Marketing?

Marketing departments have done a very good job of adapting to the world of on-line and social media, and they have found ways to successfully get the word out. Marketing departments have also become very good at doing this on a large scale, just as they became very good at large-scale communication in traditional media.

But even the most targeted integrated email and social media campaigns reach thousands — sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands — of people in the hope that a small percentage will be sufficiently interested to become leads and prospects.

Salespeople are looking at this from the other direction. They are ignoring the scale of reaching mass markets and large target audiences, and instead, using the power of atomized technology and social media combined to find the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack — who they are pretty sure is an interested prospect.

Can Marketing Adapt?

Should marketing change its approach and focus on finding individuals? No. Well, maybe.

Marketing must look after its whole scope of responsibilities and ensure there are strong relationships with customers, prospects and other stakeholders. Marketing must also continue to use its ability to scale communications to ensure large audiences are reached.

In fact, without doing this first, the salesperson may never have the chance to find that one interested prospect

But marketers must also become proficient in a world that has become individualized. This individualization has happened not only in how sales leads are found, but also in how relationships and brand preferences are developed. Marketers must be able to take all the activities where they focus on the mass market and find ways to translate or evolve them into individual relationships.

It’s easy for individual salespeople to experiment with new methods and technologies, and they are finding some of them very useful. Marketers must find ways to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies to find the ones that work in this changing world.

The challenge marketers face is learning how to scale this individualization to reach the mass audience so the company can scale its individual relationships.

And marketing can deliver more relevant leads.

Join the conversation: post a comment telling us how you are addressing this issue.


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.

Decision Making

Elephants and Data: The Missing Link to Making Sales & Marketing 2.0 Work

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This week I had the privilege of attending the Sales and Marketing 2.0 Conference in San Francisco (thank you to the conference team for the invitation!).

While this edition focused on social selling and marketing (as expected), it also focused heavily on what leaders need to manage a social selling or marketing team.

But this is not a summary of the conference. If you would like to see the very useful and interesting learnings from these two days, my friend Matt Heinz has an excellent post you should read.

This is my view of the most important lesson learned this week, and what I think is the missing link to making all of these new ideas in sales and marketing work. First the data.


For the past five years or more, I have been hearing conference presenters, pundits and all sorts of others talk about the new way to market and sell in a social world. While some of it is just hype (isn’t it always?), when you sort through all of the information out there, you reach a few simple conclusions:

  • Technology has and will continue to disrupt how products and services are marketed and sold
  • Social technology has shifted the balance of power to the buyer, so that sellers now have to work not to sell, but to help buyers buy
  • Most corporate organizations and the systems by which they measure their people have not adapted to this new reality at all, meaning we are all essentially doing what we used to do, just with new technology (yep, I wrote that five years ago!)

The focus of the conference for the past two days offers some hope for addressing this last point. Much of the focus was on managing in what they call a “sales and marketing 2.0” or “social” world.

Speakers showed us how they are helping their people do certain things differently – or do entirely different things. They showed how they are figuring out what those things should be. And – since we know what gets measured gets managed – they showed how they are measuring success in the social selling and social marketing process, and how they are rewarding people for that success.

These management practices are all based in what we have come to call big data. For example, you have to merge and interpret data from your company’s traditional systems (e.g. CRM), your other internal data (e.g. email communications, chat and other interactions), customer data, social network data and other public data to gain a deeper understanding of how a Facebook campaign or a sales rep’s blog helped generate revenue and specific deals. And yes, this can be measured. But no, it’s not easy.

We saw examples of how every aspect of management from governance to measurement to evaluation, to hiring to leadership and coaching (yes, coaching) can be improved when driven by the effective use of data.


Here’s what I think was the elephant in the room: In order for individuals to succeed at anything at all in a corporate organization, they have to know what success looks like.

Your sales leadership can be the best at understanding and directing a social selling organization. but does your newly hired rep know what to do when she is on the phone (excuse me, web conference) with a hot prospect? Do they know how to use the social tools at their disposal to make that a more successful call?

Your marketing leadership can put in place all of the social tools and programs, and even hire people to manage the various social channels. But when your demand gen manager executes a new campaign, do they know how and when to incorporate those channels?

Do your people know it when they see it?

What leadership needs is a way to institutionalize the knowledge, learning and assumptions needed to become a social sales and marketing organization. We need not only a way to not just communicate to our people what this is all about, but also a way to make sure that when our people do their work, they know – intuitively – how to do it in this new way.

Do you give your people the knowledge and skills to be able to do their jobs in whatever new way your organization is adopting? Does it work?

Add your story to the comments below. And I’ll see you at the next Sales and Marketing 2.0 Conference.


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.


Reacting is not a process, but must be learned #s20c

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At the Sales 2.0 conference today, my friend Caitlin Roberson asked me about how looking at the sales process from the customer perspective makes buying easier


Another one of the core tenets of Sales 2.0 is that we as sellers should make the buying process as easy as possible for our customer.
But again, we work hard to remove friction from our selling process, we do what we think our customers want and we remove some of the friction. But still we are left with friction and complexity that drives away some of our prospects.
The key to decreasing friction by another order of magnitude is the same thing that marketers are just learning to do in social media marketing, and that companies are learning to do (often with our help) in deepening the value and return on customer relationships. You must:
Look at your process from the buyer’s point of view
In marketing, we call this “listening” and the obstacle that we faced is that listening isn’t (or wasn’t) an activity we could measure on our status reports and so we didn’t do much of it. We’ve learned how to do this and why it’s valuable.
In sales,  it’s called reactivity. Sales reps need to learn how to be reactive to buyer needs and readiness to move along in the buying process. But reacting is hard to put into a process and measure, but we must learn how to do this.
Leading-edge sales organizations are now starting to incorporate reacting into their process, learning to monitor social and other points at which buyers take action and making sure that sales reps deliver appropriate responses at those times. Early data is showing significant increases in likelihood of close when just a few reaction points are included in a sales process.
How are you reacting to your buyer’s expressed needs and readiness to I’ve along the buying process? Tell us in the comments!

Why “Sell how your customer wants to buy” doesn’t really work that way

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It’s a Sales 2.0 mantra:

Sell the way your customers want to buy

and it’s one of the oft-repeated phrases at this week’s Sales 2.0 Conference.

It’s also a perfect idea. If you want to be successful in selling figure out the process your customers use to buy the kind of thing you want to sell them, match everything you do to that process, and your whole process will be as frictionless as an air-hockey puck sliding across the table right into the goal.

Making that happen in the messy, friction-filled world of everyday business is far more challenging. What this perfect mantra ends up meaning in most organizations that attempt to put it into practice is that we work to find what we want to think is a typical way our target customers would buy, and we design a process around that.

Then, in so many of our individual sales processes, reps are running to managers for exception approvals, and the process is only  followed at best approximately and at worst in concept only. This happens because the typical buying process to which we design is really an average of our target buyers which is the reality for no individual company, so every buyer requires some kind of exception or adjustment.

So what do we do about this?

Sometimes lost in the ever-growing focus on repeatable and scalable process based on technology is the fact that sales is a relationship business. To be clear, I don’t mean the old stereotype of the slick sales rep who can schmooze anyone into a deal, but rather the truth that in order to achieve that kind of exceptional success we must truly understand both the customer’s processes and the people, including their political dynamics. Then we have the ability to revolve friction as it arises and move deals to close more quickly.

But again, that’s a perfectly ideal thought and not a reality of how to do business. So what do we do in the real world?

Keep the process-focused methods we have. They are necessary and valuable. And you can’t make strong relationships happen without them. But let’s also design processes around how relationships between our companies – and maybe more importantly the people in them – develop.

Do we know just how that happens? Yes we do! There are a special few people I’ve met in my business career who seem to have no clue how to develop relationships with others, but the vast majority of us do, and we generally do it quite well. We do it in so many areas of our lives everyday (I love comparing long-term customer relationships to a marriage!), and most of those relationships are in business. Use that knowledge (intuition, people skills or whatever you want to call it), get it out of your head (and your heart) and into your selling practices.

So sit down with your sales, sales ops and marketing teams and work out how your target customers want to build relationships. Then institutionalize it in your sales and marketing processes.

Then make it work in your support and service processes also so all of your new-found customers don’t leave you next year.

And call us if you need help making this happen.

Then add your thoughts in the comments: how do you build relationship building into you sales process?