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Customer relationships — Page 3

From the category archives:

Customer relationships

5 Ideas to Slice and Dice Your Market

by Lilia Shirman on April 3, 2009

in Customer relationships

Given that segmentation is the cornerstone of marketing, I am often surprised at how little of it B-to-B companies actually do.  Company size and geography are often the only criteria for segmentation, with industry being a distant third. There are other ways to slice and dice.  A few ideas:

1. Look at customer characteristics such as tolerance for risk, speed of technology adoption, core business driver (are they technology-driven, customer-driven, supply-chain driven, etc.)  – some may be much more likely to buy from you than others.

2. Separate customers with different levels of familiarity and experience with your company and products – your objectives and sales approach will be very different.

3. Split companies up by specific situations, business processes, or use-cases that are common to an industry or a business models.   The solutions and services you offer them will vary drastically.

4. Define audiences based on their roles and responsibilities within an organization or within the decision-making process.   Also consider segmenting by organization structure and culture – highly hierarchical, process-focused companies need a different sale then flat and agile organizations.

5. This seems painfully obvious, but then again, its rarely done:  Segment based on actual customer objectives.   This one is difficult and takes account-specific research to determine who fits where.  So we tend to just assume that all companies in an industry, experiencing the same pressures (you know, the slide that says “Increased competition, Decreasing customer loyalty / ease of switching, regulation and/or deregulation, growing complexity of IT environment..”) must have the same objectives.  But in fact, some are looking to get bought, some want to grow internationally, some want to raise revenue from existing customers, while other are focused on boosting profitability.

Most companies also under-utilize the insights that segmentation provies.  Next time we’ll explore the uses of segment characteristics in various parts of your organization.

Comment and share some innovative segmentation criteria you’ve seen used by BtoB companies.

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I came across a great summary of an all-too-common problem on the MarketCulture blog.  The article   recommends that companies focus “on a demand that needs to be met (rather) than a tech that needs to be sold.”  Well said!

Apple is a great example of what happens when a company switches from product to market focus.  Apple started as a product-focused company.  And almost disappeared, despite its loyal following among creative types.   Its computers were easier to use and better designed, but the mass market who needed easy-to-use computers wasn’t there until later, by which time MS had introduced Windows, washing away Apple’s design superiority.    While Apple was still focused on cool product design, MS wooed a broad community of application developers to meet the growing demand for specialized applications.  The need was for a broad range of software functionality, and Apple missed that completely.

But Apple learned.  When music sharing came along, launching wars between record labels and music enthusiasts, Apple  saw the need, and designed around it.  This time, Apple focused on the demand side, with savvy marketing and even more savvy ecosystem creation. Significantly, Apple didn’t give up its leading-edge product design competency in order to become market focused.

To all the entrepreneurs with great ideas, and the larger vendors touting product features: Spend time with customers to find out where they really will spend money.  Then DO make “products so good they don’t need sales and marketing.”   Then market and sell like crazy.

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More than once over the last few months, I’ve had the unsettling experience of meeting with a potential client, planning to discuss how I can help their company, only to to discover they are no longer with their company.  As sign of the times, to be sure.   Moving contacts create challenges at existing accounts, but opportunities elsewhere.  So what does one do when your key contact at an account suddenly isn’t at the account?

A few thoughts:

Be proactive – diversify: Cultivate multiple relationships within each account.  Follow up with people you meet in meetings or who collaborate with you during and after the sale.  Ask your sponsor or champion to make a few introductions, particularly in different departments or organizations than their own.

Follow: Social networking tools make it easy to keep in touch as people move about.  Take note of status changes that may indicate a new position, employment status, or company.

Help: This is a time when active networking and introductions are more valuable than ever – offer them. Whether its a potential employer, employee, or partner, introductions are a great way to create value and build relationships.

Follow Up: Make sure customers who have bought from you before know how you can help them deliver results as they take on new roles in new organizations.

Systematize: Your top reps already do all of the above.  Consider spiffs or other programs to make sure the new contacts make it from personal spreadsheets into your CRM systems.  Help all reps get proactive by measuring the breadth of contacts at accounts on an on-going basis. Provide simple tools like email templates to make re-connecting easier.

Comment and share your own ideas on maintaining sales contacts in these tumultuous times.

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After 2 days at the Sales 2.0 conference, I fear we may be on the same path CRM took in its early days.  Though some of the new tools are great, and MUCH easier to adopt, there is too much talk of technology, not enough  about behavior and cultural changes.   All things 2.0 are really about interaction and collaboration with customers. And that requires a change in mindset.

Basic example of 2.0 principles in action, that actually requires less technology.  (A version of this focused on customer references was used very successfully by Beverly Chase and the  BEA marketing team)

Instead of arming your reps with the new and improved power point presentation, design a white board talk.  Script it with questions and discussion points instead of spiel.   The result is a conversation where customers contribute ideas, and the content evolves based on the here-and-now in the room, and not what marketing thought up a month ago back at corporate.

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More ideas about how to transform traditional marketing tools into Marketing 2.0 vehicles.

3.    Websites – Don’t hide customer feedback and support in a corner of your site. Place feature request and comment links right on product pages, so that customers can respond immediately to the content they see. Asking a question gets the customer more engaged than downloading a white paper. Involve product management and engineering in responding to the queries. It’s a great way to for them to touch the customers they otherwise rarely or never see. Post the most interesting questions and answers or turn them into additional content.

4.    Press releases – What if your PR people became your customers’ and partners PR people? Lots of stories would best be told by someone other than a vendor. (And would be more likely to get picked up for coverage.)  Build relationships with your customers’ and partners PR departments to understand how and where they want to be seen, and how talking about your relationship can help with that.  Have your PR staff assist partners and customer with replying to PR opportunities.

5.   Webinars – Yes, by now, this is a “traditional” marketing tool. But many companies tend to make webinars too one-directional.  Use all the interactive tools (and the many webinar hosting services that offer them). Polls, chat, and Q&A are the common set. Use surveys both before and after your webinar. And don’t limit the surveys to questions about the webinar like the all too familiar “Did you find this useful?” Instead, ask questions that help you understand customers or that customers will be interested in too. The latter gives you an excuse for a follow-up contact that actually delivers value.

Have you tried these or other ways to engage customers in conversations? Share them in your comment!

Read More
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 1
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 3

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Social networking channels are not the only way to make your marketing efforts more interactive.   While you experiment with social media, you can make traditional marketing methods conversational too.

Getting customers to contribute to the substance in your marketing content, events, products will raise the value and trust customers place in them.   Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, demonstrates that  “labor enhances affection for its results.”

This week I’ll be posting a series of ideas on adding interaction and soliciting active customer engagement and contribution through traditional marketing tools.   Here are a few to start off.

  1. Value proposition and messaging – Starting with the obvious here: when crafting your claims of benefits, value, and ROI, ask your customers what benefits they’ve actually received.    Use these results to create your messages about benefits and value.  Then go back and ask customers if they “buy” the story you tell about how your product leads to business results. You’ll have messages that really resonate, and your will have created references that back up your story because they ARE the story.
  2. Collateral and White papers – Create a Wiki instead of static product data sheets, brochures, and white papers.  Provide a framework and some base content,  then give customers the ability to contribute.  You can moderate to ensure accuracy, of course.  With customers contributing,  you’ll have more complete, relevant, and trustworthy information.

Have you tried these or other ways to engage customers in conversations? Share them in your comment!

Read More
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 2
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 3

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Start Conversations, Not Messages

by Lilia Shirman on February 13, 2009

in Customer relationships

Everywhere you look, its web 2.0, and even 3.0 with the central theme being interactive communication, user engagement, and the democratization of content.  But are we really interacting, or just blasting messages into the ether? Christopher Carfi’s recent post highlights a gem of a quote –  Leave it to the Amish to distill the essence of the shortcomings of much modern communication.

With so many channels for communication, it seems customers should be more engaged than ever.  Are yours?   If not, or if not enough, take a look at how much time you (and your marketing organization as a whole) spend on outbound marketing and messages, and how much on creating and participating in conversations with customers.

Your customers are participating in social networking and contributing to social media.  MyBlogLog, a site that attempts to consolidate data across multiple communities, lists 55 social media services. LinkedIn, Twitter, Technorati, Digg, Plaxo, a sea of blogging platforms…  And new ones pop up almost daily.

The good news is that there really isn’t hope or reason to maintain ubiquitous presence.  Instead, find out which ones your customers frequent, and design a process for participating in those.

Even better news: You don’t need to jump on every social media and networking tool in order to have conversations. You can make traditional marketing methods more interactive too.  Next time: Some ideas of how to do that.

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As a follow-up to the previous post, here are some practical differences to keep in mind when planning for solutions marketing.

Solution marketing differs from traditional product marketing.  This is a partial list, of course, but 7 is supposed to be a lucky number, right?

  1. Solutions marketers understand what motives customers to allocate budget within the broader context for a purchase
  2. Solutions marketing content is focused on the buyer and their objectives, not the product or its features
  3. Solutions-oriented value propositions focus in on specific use-cases or situations in which the customer is involved.
  4. The solutions marketing process and programs provide information or resources that are valuable to the customer
  5. Thought leadership and value creation are critical components of solutions marketing
  6. Solutions marketing activity often involves collaboration with other companies (see broader context in #1)
  7. To ensure that all of the above are truly relevant, current, and valuable to your audience, Solutions Marketing must engage the customer in conversation and dialogue at every available opportunity.

Speaking of dialogues, please add to the list with your comments!

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