We know, it sounds like a contradiction. How can you improve post-sale engagement and customer experience while you’re losing touch with your customers and working under these extreme circumstances? We get a lot of questions on how Customer Marketers are changing their programs to align with the current reality. Due to the COVID-19 global crisis, B2B companies are changing their way of doing business, with a dramatic impact on their 2020 go to market / go to customer. Events have been canceled or made virtual, business flights won’t be happening for several months, and customer meetings or interviews will occur remotely. Recently Ari Hoffman, Director of Customer Advocacy at Coveo told me “We are in the process of re-imagining our entire digital experience”, which eloquently sums up the mindset and actions that B2B companies should adopt.
Let me add to that by saying that I’m seeing two rising trends in B2B:
- Do More With Less: Marketing departments are required to cut down and improve ROI on paid marketing/demand generation, with creative solutions.
- Retention Over New Customers: Many companies are shifting their focus to customer retention and cost-saving.
So how do you navigate this storm? How can companies and marketers maintain engagement, foster relationships, reduce marketing spend and influence retention?
I’ve outlined 10 principles and actions based on what we’ve seen to be effective methods for customer-base ongoing engagement and measurable growth.
Customer marketing teams that implement these principles will help their companies double down on digital relationship building, engagement marketing, loyalty, and growth, all at a low budget.
I hope these can help you turn the current lemonish state into an unexpected lemonade.
1. Redesign customer engagement to be digital-first: By definition, your customer base has an ongoing relationship and engagement cadence with your company – with or without face to face interactions. Their digital interaction is a goldmine of insight and opportunity. Let’s talk about how to redesign customer lifecycle engagement to match the digital experience with engagement goals and outcomes in three steps.
- Track your customer post-sale journey and engagement cross-platform. B2B tech companies, especially SaaS, normally have over 10 touchpoints to evangelize.
- Create an engagement map and view all actions and goals pertaining to the customer lifecycle stage, role, engagement metrics, touchpoint, and other criteria.
- Define outcomes – these days our outcomes could focus on adoption, churn indications, referrals or advocacy & loyalty.
2. Shift to a long-term mindset: whether you believe things get “back to normal” in a month or two or not, you’ll do yourself a favor by building for a new normal. Even if a vaccine was found tomorrow, the chances are that a return to business as usual would be slow. Companies will continue to WFH, travel will be restricted, and the workforce in some of your customers will have taken a hit. A long-term mindset will allow implementing structured tactics and customer engagement redesign, versus “waiting this through”. If your organization thinks this is a temporary reality, then no significant action will be taken and you risk coming out of this crisis with poor business relationships/customer loyalty.
3. Engage the masses: Let’s face it, you’re not interacting with your entire customer base! Account Managers maintain a relationship with decision-makers, so do CSM’s while they might add 1 or 2 power-users to the mix. Your company is really engaging with 2-3 contacts per customer account. That’s not the entire customer base, heck it’s not even the buying committee. In the old world that might have been enough to secure a renewal, but these days it just isn’t enough. Relationship marketing to the masses can promote adoption, feedback, interaction, satisfaction and advocacy. Simply put, the scale of digital engagement enables more promoters to influence decisions.
4. Enable journey-based interactions: Customers begin a new journey post-sale, whether that’s within your product console or dashboards, on your community forum, through your knowledge base, or on additional touchpoints. Their customer experience doesn’t stop when they become customers – it restarts.
They can be engaged and responsive within their journey, as long as you keep the digital discussion both in context and interactive. Make it part of their experience.
5. Adopt new funnels: Customer marketing and post-sale engagement should create a pipeline of potential deals split into two funnels:
- Retention and upsell: When running lifecycle marketing campaigns, companies can support CS efforts with ‘air cover” campaigns to reduce churn up to 16%. But why stop there? With account and user insight, you can run targeted upsell and expansion campaigns to generate a pipeline of growth opportunities.
- Customer-led demand generation: With paid marketing cut, and buyer uncertainty rising, lead generation needs new channels and a bit of extra trust. According to Forbes, customer referrals are proven to be the most valuable form of marketing, with lower costs associated and both faster and greater success rates. Both referral and affiliate marketing can help populate the demand generation funnel.
6. Double down on user-generated content: According to business2community, “digital marketing may well be a brand’s best defense against coronavirus.” Content marketing is more important than ever. It helps gauge intent and current relevance, it adds value to existing customers, and allows companies to build an audience for outreach when things get better.
Having said that, content production budgets have most likely shrunk. User-Generated Content (UGC) solves both the need for new and relevant content, as well as budget savings.
On top of that, the true value of UGC is two-fold:
- It’s written from a customer perspective and jargon – which resonates well with both new prospects and existing customers.
- The writers themselves will most likely become more committed/loyal customers in the process. Loyalty and advocacy are intertwined.
7. Go virtual: Events have a unique value in that they gather professionals within an industry, facilitating networking and knowledge sharing among practitioners. Although virtual interactions are a different experience, they can still hold much of the value of physical events, and most customers opt-in gladly. In stormy days like these, events become a forum for customers to connect, share and learn how others are coping and what works. With virtual events, the only limitations are in your own imagination. You can run virtual customer events, user groups, happy hours, executive talks, and topic-specific webinars. The diversity of options allows your business to cater to different audiences by persona, such as by seniority, geographic location, industry, and more.
As in other advocacy tactics – event participants and speakers become more loyal, help you to reach new audiences and may show interest in upsell and expansion based on what the other customers share.
Crowdvocate recently had a webinar about going virtual with Kalina Bryant, Director of Customer Marketing at Signifyd, and Hannah Swanson, Community and Customer Marketing Manager at Splash. We’ve also shared this Q&A document.
8. Launch a community: Why not use this time to gather customers and industry practitioners into a peer support network? Technically this can wear many forms, from a structured and branded community platform, to a basic discussion forum, a social group or Slack channel. Keep it simple and accessible, and if security and compliance requirements allow, not gated.
Top tip: Foster the discussion, but don’t curate it. All of your members are going through the same challenges right now. To keep the discussion going, nominate a few vocal contributors that can be more active and then acknowledge or reward their contribution. An open community is a great platform to build your brand, engage future customers and listen in to market concerns and hardships, which you might well be able to solve.
9. Practice adoption marketing: Customer engagement marketing can be honed towards adoption for new users or those early in the customer lifecycle. It can also be used to encourage users to adopt new features. Education marketing is a means to promote journey-specific product and success-oriented learning materials. Customer Marketers that are experienced with advocacy programs can launch a mentorship program for experienced customers to help newbies, for example.
Lastly, you can promote contextual content from the support forums and even utilize a topic of the week. Repurposing training and support content is a quick-win value-based customer engagement tool, and generates satisfaction and retention, both by the contributors and the content consumers, too.
10. Evangelize advocacy: It might feel like the wrong time to be asking customers for more engagement and interaction, but actually this is a time where some customers will be increasingly receptive to asks of advocacy. They’re at home, with limited social interaction, and they know that they are powerless in changing the external reality. But they do have the power to be essential to your brand, to contribute, to make a difference – and many customers would welcome that opportunity. Dave Gerhardt, CMO at Privy alluded to elements of advocacy in his recent post. Most customers would take on an advocacy role without expecting a reward, however you could think about offering a symbolic amount gift card, t-shirts, or other swag. Thank you notes go a long way and help keep within budget. Think carefully about who you approach for what advocacy asks. Some of these ‘asks’ can run to a wider customer pool, while others, such as sourcing a video story, should be more specific.
Here are some ideas to get you started. Ask customers to:
- Join the reference pool to make references more specific and help you close deals faster
- Write a review on 3rd party review sites
- Share your company content on their own social media
- Send over a quote or a testimonial that you can use for a campaign
- Send a short, selfie-style video testimonial where they discuss your product or service
Like any act of advocacy, it doesn’t only contribute to social proof and brand building, but also works the other way around, enhancing the personal loyalty of the individual taking an active role.
Turn the COVID-19 Pandemic into an Opportunity
While businesses adapt to this new forced reality, I believe an opportunity is lying dormant for companies to focus on customer engagement and sustainable growth. It’s time for marketers to become more customer-base focused vs. prospect focused, and invest in relationship marketing to impact revenue and see business growth.
Most companies can adopt at least some of these principles, at a low budget and with minimal resource investment. Management, sales, customer success, and marketing need to work together and re-think go-to-market and go-to-customer from the ground up. Customer Marketers. It’s your time to shine. Lead the way, and be the forward thinkers for your company.