Are You the Toast of Your Customer, or just Toast?

October 28, 2013
on Sales & Marketing tech as core competencies

Spoiling customers rotten is the new black, the new mantra, the new grail quest.  Worst case: it seems out of reach, and you are toast.

champagne or toastWe see it everywhere.  We have come to expect each next interaction with our product and service providers to feel like progress, not another blind date.  Is that too much to ask?  It certainly has become a new watershed basis for satisfaction.  Ask any Amazon customer.  Examine your banking relationships.

As William Gibson famously said: “The future has arrived – it’s just not very evenly distributed”.  It seems that every day we are yanked between extremes. At one moment we are marveling at modern convenience, and the next moment we are musing about its glitches and unmet expectations, as if somehow entitled.  Maybe we are.  Maybe your customers think so.

Measuring up

Some organizations are equipped, focused and successful at doting on their audiences and customers.  Are you?  If so, great.  If not, why not; what’s keeping you from getting started?  The answer: a lot less than you think.  Of course you could cite the usual hindrances like people, time and resources, and yet today competing at selling, serving and pleasing customers is not an option or a choice, or even a competitive advantage. It’s a baseline expectation.  Table stakes.

Right now, as you read this, your business is either delivering value before, during and after each transaction, or you risk being replaced by a phone app (yep, there’s an app for that).  You can prevent ending up in that scrap heap by making up your mind to compete – affordably, and at scale. The tools are becoming easier to use and more sophisticated.  You just have to be motivated to change.

Our inflated expectations

Before even getting into a discussion on Sales CRM or Marketing Automation software, let’s look at one simple example of how tech tools have changed our behavior: the lowly appointment calendar.

Today, you can easily set your calendar software to remind you ahead of each appointment and keep you punctual, reliable and prepared. In business, we use it to update meeting schedules, locations and agendas, synchronize participants, and keep progress on track. Without it, we risk gridlock, confusion, wasted time, missed opportunity, frustrated people, and lost money.

Getting and staying in calendar-sync, in some organizations, is a baseline expectation – not a choice. Indeed, for some, being on time is a core part of the business model. From Fedex to Comcast to Delta, we can now know precisely when the next step will occur, often within a time window measured in mere minutes.

Likewise, you can program your Sales CRM software and your Marketing ARM software to notify you when a potential buyer or customer is visiting your website, asking a question, mentioning your brand name in an online forum, or complaining.  If you’re not listening and participating, that’s the same as ignoring a ringing phone.  Is that the reputation you want?  Wouldn’t you rather be as aware as everyone else when your customers praise or complain?  Are you making it difficult for people to buy? Are you even listening? Isn’t ignoring a customer complaint posted on a social media channel the same as ignoring their emails and phone calls?

Expand your capacity

This seemingly new competitive edge – marketing and sales automation – has actually been going on for years in leading organizations. If you are not using CRM or ARM solutions, admit it:  you are limited by human scale and fallibility. You have limited visibility, difficulty forecasting, an over-reliance on intuition, habit and guesswork, and are probably making costly but avoidable mistakes.  What’s worse, you don’t even know the extent of your self-inflicted damage because you aren’t equipped to pay attention.

Conversations today are rife with examples of fumbled relationships and millions of dollars in lost deals that could have been prevented, if only the right hand had known what the left hand was doing. Has this ever happened to you? If you answered no, how can you be sure? Do I smell burning toast?

Quick quiz: assess your readiness for CRM

Imagine what’s possible

With a tuned, integrated “software layer” embedded in your business, you can:

  • create self-guided online experiences, complete with landing pages, call/response email exchanges, up-sell and cross-sell processes, social media engagement incentives, and other valuable interactions;
  • detect the faint signals of purchase intent or dissatisfaction, and intervene to influence outcomes;
  • enable your customers, prospects and suspects to research solutions, evaluate yours, and even whimsically waltz among various decision stages and feedback loops toward eventually deciding whether to inquire, pay, receive and use your offerings, all with minimal human intervention; of course you can program it to notify you at key junctures, so you can intervene and assist.

You might think this online commerce model only makes sense in big businesses, large catalogs, complex workflows or servicing a previous purchase, but not in yours.  On the contrary; just about any organization can benefit from marketing and sales automation to help you scale up, optimize your business, and use the reports to discover ways to simplify, improve service, and get better results.

Put simply: there are 7 billion humans, and not enough time or resources to do each task by hand.  It’s time to automate.  Put differently:  we are now all technology companies.  From Amazon and Nordstrom to state and federal government services, we expect technology to facilitate everything from transactions to relationships.  Right?

So, how big is it?

Virtually all the major business analyst firms, from Gleanster and Aberdeen Group to Gartner Group and Altimeter Group, report that top performing organizations are performing better partly as a result of adopting marketing and sales process automation solutions.  Personally, having spent over 15 years programming these customer decision journeys for companies large and small, using a broad palette of tools (see right sidebar),  I have engineered the transformation and witnessed the improvements firsthand: clients scaling up to cost effectively satisfy more people, to more cost-effectively and efficiently manage buyer, customer and user interactions, discover customer and buyer behaviors that indicate satisfaction or need, and more.

CRM and ARM software can make you more productive and competitive, freeing you to focus on the creative, intuitive and intellectual aspects of improving your business, and support you in making better-informed decisions.  Marketing, sales and service organizations are doubling down on tech; indeed, analysts and industry forecasters expect Marketing and Sales technology budget growth to outpace Information Technology departments in coming years.  This isn’t necessarily a replacement of the IT organization; rather, IT can be your closest ally when evaluating tech options.  Knowing one another’s agendas can help you transition more effectively to a premises / cloud blend of agile business resources.

The choices

So, if you’re feeling bogged down in drudgery, overwhelmed by the escalating demands and expectations of your customers, outpaced by better performing competitors, working harder yet not gaining ground, or possibly even mystified about flattening or declining business, please know that it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can enhance your chances of growth and success by having the right systems in place.  Consider investing in Marketing ARM and sales CRM tools.  Or not.  The choice is yours.  There’s that burned toast smell again.

Take this quick quiz to size up your growth opportunity.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.


Forget B2B and B2C; Hello, E2E

December 21, 2012
(Tune your Software Layer)

Forget B2B. Forget B2C. Embrace E2E: Everyone to Everyone.  Business and consumers alike are voting with their wallets and making mobile, tablet and personal 2-in-1 devices the “first screen” – relegating laptops, desktop PCs and wall-mounted flat screen TVs to “second screen” status.  They are messaging one another.  And they are talking about you. Are you listening?  Hello?

A few organizations have adopted the playbook to address this shift.   It seems, however, that most are not even thinking about the user-centric, user-generated, user-driven, mobile-first, E2E experience.  That makes it a huge opportunity, if you set your mind to it.

Aaron Shapiro, blogging for the Harvard Business Review, cited the “Software Layer” as an area of focus for optimizing this E2E User experience, no matter what business you are in.  I have incorporated some of his thoughts into the following 20-page storybook.  It’s a quick read (lots of pictures), and it outlines a framework for how Users interact with your Business through a Software Layer. Enjoy!

Who Uses You cover shot

Enjoy the brief SlideShare preso

I hope you find it useful in framing your thoughts on how to compete and excel.

Suffice to say, the race is on, and competing is not optional.

Make this the year you embrace the Software Layer of your business to drive User engagement, new opportunity, and new levels of success.

How is your organization adapting to the “Everyone to Everyone” world?   Love to hear your stories.

Cheers, Ed

@fanfoundry


How Lead Nurturing Improves Sales

September 3, 2012

In your quest for sales, do you leverage the value of lead nurturing?

Sales leaders know that in the process of converting a raw Lead to a Prospect, and then to a real Opportunity, and ultimately to a Customer, there are often many nuances and inflection points in the conversation, with the result that the sales process is almost never linear.  Those nuances can include shifts in the Prospect’s priorities, needs, and role in the buying process.  These things must be verified repeatedly to detect changes in Prospect status and respond accordingly.  If you don’t frequently check them, your sales forecast becomes a fairy tale, and you won’t know where your next meal is coming from.   You could be ignoring imminent buyers or focusing too much on long-shot prospects, and not even know it.  Either way, you lose.  Lead Nurturing helps you keep on top of the changes.

Click here for a free, crowdsourced process guide to help improve your forecasting.

Recent Experience

A recent project we performed for Pluris Marketing, provider of OCDP (omni-channel dynamic profiling) solutions for large consumer marketing organizations, transformed from simply securing executive appointments to also nurturing leads, and illustrates how lead nurturing contributes value to the sales pipeline.

Not part of the original project scope, Lead Nurturing quickly grew in importance, for three reasons:

  • Establishing a dialogue with as many prospects as possible enabled us to train our ears to the “Voice of the Customer” so we could determine what value people derive from Puris’ solutions – in their own words – and tweak our campaign messaging to improve relevance.  In short, what you call yourself is often not as important as what your customer calls you.  Example: the phrase “Dynamic Profiling” is a term borrowed from a Prospect – not something Pluris dreamed up.
  • Nurturing leads enables us to captivate and sustain a broader, interested audience, improving our place in each prospect’s “Initial Consideration Set” of potential options when they decide they need a relevant solution.
  • The sheer number of “nurturables” far exceeded the number of immediate sales appointments generated under this project.  The number of nurturables alone caused our client to take notice of the opportunity.

Why Nurture Now

Certain human behavioral tendencies make it difficult to convert a new Lead to a current Prospect, let alone a sale:

1) Relevance – People typically perceive immediate needs as more relevant and more urgent than future problems.  No matter how relevant you think your offering is, your Lead’s opinion matters more.  You stand a far greater chance of converting a Lead to a Prospect if they view your solution as currently relevant.

2) Consequences – People tend to discount the importance and consequences of future events.  A distant goal or pain is less motivational than a current one, even if delay portends grave consequences.   Moreover, people tend to see future consequences – even grave ones – as less important with every year such action is delayed.  The farther into the future a need is projected, the less likely it will be perceived today as ever becoming important.

Surprise! Researchers Find Humans Illogical

Illustrating the Relevance and Consequences phenomena, Columbia University researchers found that the average person finds little difference between getting $250 now or $350 a year from now.   Imagine that!  You could opt to wait a year and earn 40% on a surefire outcome, or you could take the money now and forego the potential 40% greater financial benefit.  You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to know that no investment vehicle can guarantee you a 40% one-year return on principle just by delaying receipt, and yet most people queried would rather have the money now, consequences be damned.

Heavily discounting future benefits or consequences can greatly distort corporate thinking, behavior and beliefs.  As maddeningly illogical as human nature may it may seem, your appreciation of this phenomenon actually becomes your competitive advantage if you have a Lead Nurturing program that helps prospects learn, appreciate and promote the importance of your solution.

Lead Nurturing Includes Content Marketing

An effective Lead Nurturing program, including content marketing mapped to each prospect’s unique persona and information needs, enables you and your prospects to keep the discussion channel open and lively.  Rather than attempt to drive each prospect toward near-term action, you instead conduct periodic relevant communication, build productive relations, and assist prospects in evaluating your offerings, so that they can intelligently shift priorities toward considering and adopting your solution – perhaps even sooner than they expected, but in any case, willingly.  If done well, you can identify the “hand raisers” worthy of greater attention and likely to buy, and even determine their decision time frame.

Driving toward a sale too hard or too soon can be viewed by the Lead as pushy, inattentive and ignorant, and typically leads to a fall-off in response, inattention to your future communication attempts or, worse, unsubscribing from your feeds and possibly treating your ill-timed, irrelevant communication as unwanted spam.   We’d all like to believe that prospects discount our pushy, sales-y human failings and focus instead on the merits of our offering, but you are more likely to hold one another’s attention over the long term if you actually listen, check for understanding and nuanced changes, and respond accordingly with relevant information.

Patience Pays

In your eagerness to bring in more sales this calendar quarter, don’t risk alienating a next-quarter sale. The Leads you start to nurture today rarely move as quickly as you’d like, but a constructive, open dialogue helps you understand your relevance in the Prospect’s view so you can tune your messaging to match, while also giving them something to share within their own circles of influence to build consensus toward adopting your  solutions.

Patience and persistence pay, and lead nurturing is the currency.

 

 

 




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