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 and missed opportunity.

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.  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 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 guide decisions;
  • 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 seen the transformation 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 organizations’ tech 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.


Prevent a Marketing Automation Shipwreck

August 27, 2013

Fifteen years and 40 client projects later, we have seen some Marketing Automation (MA) and sales CRM implementations deliver significant revenue improvement for some clients, while others have struggled to achieve break-even.  Some clients have become top performers, while others are challenged to adapt.  What made the difference?

The answers can be sorted out three ways:  expectation, preparation, and perspiration.  Here we focus on the first issue:  Expectation.

shipwreck

The Challenge of Change

Marketers usually enter a Marketing Automation (MA) implementation expecting to improve multi-channel communications, streamline email marketing, analyze response, centralize data, prioritize leads and meaningfully engage buyers throughout the buy cycle.

All this is possible, and more – assuming you expect deeper changes to business processes where the greatest improvement opportunity exists.  Hint: If you don’t have processes in place, but expect your new Marketing Automation solution to solve that, it’s not a good fit.  Technology probably won’t help, simply because you cannot automate a vacuum.  In that case, you might instead consider a “readiness” project involving an audit of current information flows, along with recommendations for adapting to keep pace with customer needs, competitive top performers and best practice. Yes, we can help there.  Try taking this self-assessment, for starters.

Perils of Not Changing

If you have rather well instituted processes but you don’t plan to examine process change opportunities during your MA implementation, preferring instead to have your new system mirror existing practice exactly “as is”, perhaps expecting that this path-of-least-resistance approach will ease implementation or make it more palatable to users, you may expect to take longer to see a return on your investment – and you may even have difficulty measuring it.  For example: using MA to do “batch and blast” email doesn’t leverage the technology, and you will likely miss out on the benefits of data analytics and audience segmentation available with most MA solutions and which could improve your audience response rates, shorten sales cycle time, and accelerate ROI.  Our top performing clients generally see this new “software layer” as a source of innovation and continuous, positive change.

deckhands

Downstream Effects

Marketers need to have reasonable expectations regarding the nature of workflow and how it could likely change.  Marketing Automation doesn’t always reduce the burden, and could actually increase it.  For example, the new software can be difficult to learn.  It often demands new content, or at least changes to existing content. It makes good/bad results more visible.  It often requires new skills, new ways of thinking and, consequently, changes to workflow. It requires flexibility and adaptability to make refinements as new discoveries occur.  It is, in other words, disruptive in many positive ways – but only if you the resilience to maintain a positive focus and the mindset to adapt.  This points to a need to communicate early and often to your organization and audiences about your marketing automation implementation, to avoid surprises and disruptions downstream.

Three big wins

Some of the greatest improvement opportunities in MA and, not too coincidentally, the three areas where the learning curve is most intense, are the areas of lead scoring, response triggers and workflow.   All three involve close collaboration among many internal stakeholders – starting with marketing and sales, but often expanding to the service and product teams, and to your executive team who consume the reports based on the complex information flows within your MA technology.  Expect, therefore, that your internal processes will be laid bare and examined closely by multiple stakeholders.  You all stand to gain from this new openness.  This is another great reason to widely communicate about your MA implementation plans, with an eye to extending its benefits to all your stakeholders.

You should expect to assume the role of chief communicator on behalf of all parties, which means more work for you, but the results can be well worth it.

Customers Weigh In

Customers and buyers, meanwhile, have new, more sophisticated expectations.  Just a scant decade ago, Sales and Marketing were the main information gateway for buyers.  Today, by contrast, a buyer can be substantially finished researching a purchase before you even become aware of their interest.  What are you doing to help nurture those potential buyers and help them buy?  How effective are you at competitively positioning your products and pricing?  Marketing automation solutions cannot fix a problem with a product, price, competitive position, or flat-out bad marketing.  Be honest with yourself about other shortcomings, and consider fixing them first.

Seek Counsel

Finally, it would be prudent to discuss your plans with someone experienced in marketing and sales technologies including SFA, CRM, marketing automation, email marketing, and mapping  their related business process flows.  You could gain perspective on the challenges and opportunities a marketing automation solution can offer.

How does your experience compare?  Is your marketing automation delivering its expected results?   I welcome your comments, ideas, tips stories.

If you have questions, feel free to contact us.


The Sales and Marketing Alignment Conversation

October 27, 2011

The path to sustained sales and marketing alignment can be a simple one – simple to do, simple to repeat, simple to remember.  All you need is a map.  In that spirit, I attempt here to boil down some alignment opportunities for Sales and Marketing leaders.

The chart below shows the three main focus areas each for Sales and Marketing which, if approached collaboratively, can improve business results and transform the relationship.  Below the chart is a set of definitions, followed by a few examples of how to apply it to your own situation.

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics chart

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics

3 Sales goals – Value, Volume, Velocity

Value.  Since it is almost as costly to close a small sale as it is to close a large sale, Sales professionals would be wise to focus on increasing the potential Value of each sale.  In larger organizations, differently skilled teams manage different sized deals.

Volume.  The more deal flow you can create, the better your chances of growing the customer base and improving the company’s financial ability to innovate and fulfill their evolving needs.

Velocity.  Increasing the speed of deal flow through the pipeline also increases your capacity to sell, grow the customer community, and learn from them to help you innovate and improve.

3 Marketing goals – Content, Community, Conversion

Content.  The more compelling and relevant your content, the more you will attract the audience most likely to benefit from your offerings.

Community.  The more your content resonates within and among audiences, the greater your capacity to build a community and engage in dialogue to improve sales, products, services, and support.

Conversion.  The more effectively you convert sales, the more you can learn from experience about how to improve the conversion process.

Conversations Worth Starting

Using the 3×3 chart above, look at the 9 intersecting boxes and ask the questions implied by the two nouns whose paths cross in each box.

Example 1:  Value + Content.  In the upper left intersecting box, where Value and Content intersect, Marketing might ask: How can we improve our Content to increase the Value of each sale?  Sales might ask:  How can the improved Value of each sale guide us in improving Content?  It’s the same question, asked from different perspectives, that aligns your response.

Example 2:  Conversion + Velocity.  In the bottom right box, where Conversion and Velocity intersect, Marketing might be asking: How can we improve the Conversion process to accelerate the Velocity of Sales?  Sales might ask: What sales accelerators can we use as input for improving the Conversion process?

See how it works?  You may come up with better questions to suit your organization’s culture and challenges.  Now, formulate your own questions using the relevant nouns for each intersecting box, turn those questions loose in your organization, and watch what happens.

Measuring results with analytics, sales CRM and marketing automation solutions can help you measure and manage your improvement.  If you need assistance here, contact us.

How’s it working for you?  What questions would you ask your colleagues to help you get better aligned?  Drop us a comment here; we’d love to hear your feedback!  Visit our Resources page for more free strategy tool downloads.


Marketing Automation: Masters of the User-verse

October 6, 2011

The customer is King, but Users are your Universe – your “User-verse”.   How do you stay at their center?

According to Forrester Research, by mid-decade over half of all purchasing will be done online.   For post-digital people (think: Millenials & their iGen progeny), who represent the incoming wave of buyers, influencers and decision makers, this has already come to pass.  Millenials are comfortable with technology; iGens are uncomfortable without it.  Today’s post-digital citizens deftly filter and apply information to move smartly through life.   Socializing and transacting online is ordinary and commonplace.  Today’s cadre of decision makers, too, use mobile and social filters to navigate decisions and find relevance in the bit-torrent of change.  Collectively, we are your expanding User-verse.  For us, B2C and B2B are becoming less different.  Now it’s U2E (Users to Everybody), and therein lies a challenge: filtering and relevance.

The challenge is especially acute for Marketing leaders, who are now being held accountable for ROI while also striving to maintain respect and relevance with audiences.   Some organizations do a great job at meeting the needs of our always-on audience. I call them Fan Foundries.  We recognize them by their digital presence in our lives: everything real-word is mirrored and ehanced online, where it can be detected and consumed by customers, suppliers, employees etc.  In turn, our digital travels are observed by these smart Fan Foundries to determine how best to help us through our decision journey and, where appropriate, engage and buy.  You know you’re dealing with a Fan Foundry when your next interaction feels like a continuation or enhancement of the prior one, rather than another blind date.

How are you doing?

How is your organization doing?  Are you at the center of your Userverse?  You probably know that answer, but try this experiment.  Visit Amazon, iTunes, or some other online account you admire.  Compare that online experience to that of your own business.  If you don’t measure up, be assured somebody is going to steal your business soon.  How soon?  How about…while you’re reading this?  If you’re still doing mainly interruptive, outbound marketing, yet your audience is filtering out your messages (via spamblock, TiVo, Unsubscribe, delete key, etc.), what are you doing to help yourself get found and stay relevant?

Fortunately, you no longer need a massive budget to master your User-verse.  What, then, do you need?   What does a balanced, humming Fan Foundry look like?  Layer by layer, it might resemble this:

A Marketing and Sales Governance Model

click to enlarge

  1. Front end – Web interfaces (desktop, mobile, kiosk, email, social media, etc.).   The online experience these days is spotty at best, but many good examples exist and they’re in plain view.  Good poets borrow, so why not learn from the best, then adapt and refine it based on what you learn from your User-verse as they navigate your content, make choices, and send you signals about what they buy and why.
  2. Content layer – main website content, product/service literature, user-generated content (reviews, comments, etc.), custom apps, partner portals, blogs, e-newsletters, online forums, social media, customer care & service channels, etc.   Rich content, re-formatted for channels and micro-audiences, is a golden opportunity to anticipate and delight users, keep you appropriately centered, and signal you on when and how to engage.  Just like your web navigation, your content navigation can be tested and refined based on user behavior.
  3. Information management layer – CRM, marketing automation, analytics, modeling, planning, supply chain, financial datastores, etc. Here, with an array of connected technologies, you can dashboard, orchestrate and analyze the flow of people, information and material to discover competitive advantage and facilitate progress.  Don’t let the geek factor frighten you from implementing some basic, essential tools.  Dig in and ask for help. Or not.  And be toast.  (Suggestion: call us)
  4. Records/data layer – In an age where more and more data is publicly available and public-generated, your ability to harness data to learn and adapt more quickly could spell success or failure.  Master this layer, and you can spend more time selling, transacting business and nurturing future customers while cutting out time-wasters.  By cultivating your own data sources and applying your own relevance filters you can speed learning and adaptation, and improve your ability to reliably forecast a profitable future.

What stands in the way of progress?  The usual responses are resources, people, skills, time, money, and appetite for change.   Okay, but wouldn’t you like to delight customers and win new ones?   Wouldn’t you like to substantially and sustainably grow revenue? Wouldn’t you like to still be in business and growing – or, if losing, at least know why you’re losing so you can adapt and improve?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and you just need resources and expertise to make it happen, contact us.

 ~

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