|Do You Even Know What Your Company Looks Like to Your Customers?|
I spent some time working with a company that sells what is essentially a commoditized product, utilizing an indirect distribution channel of independent sales reps.
For a variety of reasons, the company wound up having a problem with the manufacturer of their product, one that impacted its availability, causing many of their end-user business customers to have to scramble to look elsewhere for a replacement product. And by not arranging in advance to have a replacement product readily available, the company negatively impacted both the end-user AND the independent distribution channel, which consists of sales reps who depend solely on commissions for their livelihood. The bigger problem, though, was that the company made a deliberate decision to NOT provide a heads-up to their distribution partners, even though there was ample time to do so. So the sales reps — AND their end-user customers — were blindsided. And by deliberately choosing to NOT get in front of the problem, the company alienated both their distribution partners AND the end-user customers (as well as more than a few front-line employees, who bore the brunt of the distribution channel's overall dissatisfaction).
Unhappy Customers Tend to Become Former CustomersThe short-term result was as you'd expect: The company lost whatever anticipated revenue had been attributable to the product that was now no longer unavailable. But it was the mid- and longer-term result that really got the company's attention: Many of the affected distribution partners/sales reps decided to shift their business AWAY from the company, creating yet another hit on the company's bottom line.
Surprising? Hardly. In spite of countless recommendations to the company's leadership to reach-out to the affected sales reps and properly manage their expectations, senior management chose not to. The company's rationalization was was a combination of straight-up denial ("The ones who are complaining are just 'outliers,' who are always complaining about something"), and a naive presumption that the independent sales reps would continue to do business to the company, because… well, that's what they'd always done in the past.Business as usual. Of course, that's NOT what happened. And so the company experienced a significant —- and sustained — revenue shortfall.
Institutional Myopia Creates Blind SpotsSenior managers and owners are frequently guilty of institutional myopia. There's a tendency to deny that customer service problems exist, because to do otherwise is to acknowledge their own shortcomings as managers. And for those service-related complaints that do bubble-up through customer service channels, it seems easier to dismiss them than to see them as symptomatic of a larger, institutional problem.
Get the FactsWhether it's accurate or not, when a customer says they're unhappy with you, they are right. Their perception of your organization really is all that matters. And the quickest way to get to the bottom of the issue is simply to ask them. And whether you use a simple phone call or online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Constant Contact, the goal is the same: Finding out what your customers think about your organization, your product, and your service. And, more importantly, opening-up a communications channel that allows them to become a true partner with you in making necessary improvements.
Short and SweetPhone or online, keep your initial survey short and to the point. The fewer the questions, the more likely your customer or prospect is to participate. To be effective, you need a formalized process, with non-leading questions, and you need to tabulate and track responses. Questions can include:
Make it a HabitYou should conduct formal surveys such as these on an annual basis... or even more frequently, if you feel the need. Survey not only your customer base, but also your prospect base. Obviously, for a prospect, you'd utilize a different set of questions that would be relevant, but the responses you receive can make all the difference in whether or not that prospect will ever become a customer. More importantly, the survey responses — as well as your analysis of them — must make their way to the appropriate levels of management, in order to initiate any appropriate corrective action. Otherwise, you've just wasted your time and that of your respondents.
It Works. But Only if You Actually Do It.If the organization in our opening paragraph had bothered to formally survey their customer base, they would have learned about their customer's pain points, and most likely would have been able to decrease the severity of their revenue loss. Equally important, they would have properly repositioned themselves for a "comeback" in the near future.
Remember, it's always less costly to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. And what better reference for a new customer, than one coming from an existing one who's happy to do business with you?
Monday, April 7, 2014
The problem comes when that "sharing" of knowledge becomes a mandate: "I only want you to to it this way, because this way is the way that I know how to do it." Not necessarily the worst case scenario, especially if the mandate is actually based in real-world experience.
But what do you do when someone who doesn't really know what they're talking about issues a similar mandate? You know, "I only want you to to it this way, because this way is the way that I heard it should be done."
Ever run in to one of those folks? Of course you have!
Working with a micro-manager can be a real challenge. Usually, a calm and deliberate campaign of "teaching" exercises can be very helpful... using trusted, verifiable sources to advance your case. Sometimes, however, you just can't make your case, no matter how much data you bring to the party. In situations like that, what do you do? Do you hold your ground? Do you back down? I've done both, depending on the specific situation.
There doesn't appear to be a universally "correct" answer, but I'll say this: For me, at least, life's way too short to work with a micro-manager!
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Thursday, July 7, 2011
.Top B2B players use social networks to help expand the reach of their marketing and demand creation initiativ
Does the hype that surrounds social media's influence on how and what consumers buy translate to the business environment? One can point to countless examples of how consumers have learned to block-out marketing messages, yet still put a lot of weight on the opinions of their social media "network," ultimately influencing the purchases they make. Since B2B buyers are, in fact, also "consumers," one might expect that the same behavior would carry over to their business purchases. But that's not always the case.
While business buyers are now starting to make heavy use of social media for business purposes, they still tend to rely heavily on "traditional" sources of information when making business purchase decisions — sources such as peers and colleagues, vendor rankings, magazines, reviews, consultants, analyst firms, and even vendors themselves. The appearance of "objectivity" means that the message is received with fewer "filters," and given greater credibility, than a similar message contained in traditional, sales-oriented marketing literature. A report by Forrester Research concluded that 84% of all B2B buyers are influenced by word of mouth... and social media presents an ideal platform for communicating this type of credible message.
|"If you're a B2B marketer and you're not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you're late." |
The good news for marketers is that the business buyer is, without a doubt, increasingly "going social," starting from when when they first recognize that they have a problem which needs to be solved. As Forrester's Josh Bernoff says: "If you're a B2B marketer and you're not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you're late." Utilizing social media in much the same way they do in their personal lives, B2B purchasers are now looking to their social networks - and to social media, in general - to capitalize on the knowledge and experience of other users and experts in specific topic areas. Again, the search is for an objective, "credible" message.
One key to success for the B2B marketer is to interact with their target audiences much earlier in the decision-making cycle... this requires a big shift for many marketers, many of whom seem to be content to simply use social media to pump out the same old marketing messages. Success requires that marketers build trust and credibility early, long before prospective customers enter into an active buying cycle... Marketers need to demonstrate that they have expertise in the problem areas addressed by their products or services, and not just be pimps for their products.
Another — even more critical — component is creating (and nurturing) customer advocates for your product or service. Because the opinion of an actual user of your product or service carries far more credibility than that of you as a marketer. And this falls squarely in the realm of social media. But remember, the likelihood of a customer recommending you to a friend or colleague doesn't depend solely on the quality of your products and services or your efficiency... these are just qualifiers for your company to even be in the game. At the end of the day, it really depends on the genuine concern that you show them as stakeholders.
So, when formulating your social media marketing plan, you will want to concentrate on a couple of things:
- Identify the Likely Online Venues (Facebook pages, blogs, etc.) where your target prospects might lurk. Look for any third-party research about social media usage specific to your industry. Conduct an informal study of your current customers to see where and how they get news and information, but more importantly, how they are influenced. At the same time, use a free search tool like Technorati, Google Blog Search, Board Reader, and Twitter Search to do some research of your own to determine influencers in your industry that are active online.
- Determine Your Key Business Objectives. It doesn’t matter how viable social web channels are for your business, if you don’t align your efforts with clearly-defined business objectives, you're just wasting time and money. Schedule a meeting with all of your key stakeholders to review current marketing and business objectives, and determine how these online communications can be used to help support those objectives.
- Develop a Plan for Tactical Execution. Social media marketing takes a lot of time. However, without a plan, you'll spend far more time than you need to. Make a list of all of the engagement work you need to be doing and all of the content that needs to be developing and then assign it on a daily or weekly calendar over the course of a month. This will be your guide and will help to ensure that your strategy is executed and your time — and money — is not wasted.
- Identify and Nurture Customer Advocates, whom you can incorporate into your social media efforts, utilizing satisfied customer "quotes" and, if they are willing, even having them post their own comments, on your behalf.
- Execute Your Plan. Make certain that you have the manpower to execute your social media marketing plan. Have you estimated how many hours per week it will take? Additionally, have you thought about other necessary resources, such as computers, video cameras, smart phones, and other items that will help facilitate online communications? If all the ducks are in a row, start posting your message to the venues you've identified.
- Measure Your Results. With a clearly-defined objective, it's easy to measure your results. When it comes to social media, there are two very important reasons for measuring all of your efforts. The first is determine your ROI, to ensure that your initial strategy is delivering the needed results. The second is for determining how to tweak your focus, in order to improve the impact of your efforts. To properly measure your results, you'll need to capture as much data as possible. You'll need to ensure that your corporate web site is set up with analytic software such as Google Analytics, and that each and every web page and web-based collateral includes a "share this" function, to facilitate easy sharing of your product or service message; I use AddThis. Use a URL shortening service such as Bit.ly to help track clicks on each link shared on social platforms. And use all of the data that you collect to help evaluate — and refine — your efforts.
Social media is just one tool in the B2B marketer's tool box... but it's becoming more and more important with each day, so you really can't afford to discount its value. Proper planning and consistent execution will help to ensure that your efforts are productive and rewarding.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Also, expect cloud computing to become so pervasive that the term itself becomes meaningless. The focus will shift from simple infrastructure solutions to the development of cloud strategies that deliver increased functionality and flexibility, utilizing a mix of public and private cloud-based application and platform services, to deliver user experiences that will satisfy the needs of a population that is growing ever more comfortable around technology in their business and personal lives.