In many companies, marketing is experiencing a resurgence and new relevance, a rejuvenation if you will towards aligning closer to customers than ever before. What’s most encouraging about this is the fact that strategies based on dated cause-and-effect relationships with clients are — through the use of blogs, more focused communication with customers through research, and Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs — finding entirely new meaning in marketing departments throughout many companies, especially those in manufacturing.
What’s happening is tantamount to an entirely new and more focused set of cause-and-effect relationships being found with prospects and customers. As a result, marketing is getting its groove back.
Step 1: Switching Off Marketing Auto-Pilot
For years marketing departments in manufacturing, and even a few in enterprise software, have been like a 747 cruising between continents on auto-pilot. Set the budget, set the strategies, set the events — all anchored in assumptions about customers from maybe five years ago or more — and the year’s plan is set. Everyone loves this because it means life is predictable. The hardest work is wining and dining existing clients to keep them in the fold and buying upgrades. Marketers the world over clamor to get into sales forces where this is the case.
Yet, today, existing customers don’t want to be wined and dined anymore, they want to know how manufacturers will get them to their goals, save their jobs and others’ in their company as well as community. In enterprise software this is definitely the case, as “new” doesn’t sell nearly as well as “needed,” as in “I need this to get to my objectives for the year and earn my bonus” or “I need this to get that pesky CFO off my back.”
Step 2: Find the Voice of Your Customers in Blogs
Let’s face it, blogs have overtaken many other more traditional forms of media as the primary trusted source of news and opinions on products. At a minimum, everyone in a marketing department needs to be using a news aggregator to track what’s being said about topics of interest in blogs, and this includes everyone, all the way to the VP level of any department. While some members of the marketing elite come out and blast blogs as being nothing more than a stream of consciousness on a collective scale, the voices there are, after all, prospects and customers. A few bloggers are now even more important than industry analysts, so listening to what they have to say is important.
SAP for example brought in a group of bloggers to its Sapphire Conference in Orlando, Fla., last month. The good, bad and ugly of the event was delivered; and some of the accounts of the event that I read gave more immediate summaries than the traditional media outlets tend to do with their typical roundups. Both are interesting, yet the bloggers have a voice that gives a real sense of being there. Vinnie Mirchandani’s account of Sapphire, for example, is available here for your reference.
SAP’s Jeff Nolan worked to make this possible. It was a bold move to bring in bloggers, and one that Oracle or Microsoft needs to imitate. Even if you’re not a multi-billion dollar infrastructure player, consider bringing in bloggers and letting them loose with your executives. Consumers crave credibility and transparency. Blogs are so popular because they deliver that, and more. A final note on blogs: there is this interesting dynamic emerging of competing companies starting blogs with the express purpose of waging a blogosphere battle with their competitors. This is a waste of time and doesn’t get to the goal of serving the reader, the prospect and your customer.
Step 3: Become a Survey Junkie Now
I am partial to surveys because I love primary research. I think it is pure and if done right, generates new knowledge and insights. Best of all, it shoves the old assumptions about your prospects and customers out the door. That is reason enough to become a survey junkie. The Voice of the Customer (VoC) strategies are the lifelines the best companies are using to stay in touch with customers and also blow up old assumptions that aren’t relevant anymore. What has to be at the center of customer research is how to keep staying relevant and not lose focus through being too complacent about serving customers. One of the best assumption-breakers coming out of VoC research at Marriott for example is that just because a business guest stays with you once, there is no guarantee they are coming back.
Step 4: Would You Trust Your Company as a Customer?
Get outside your company, figuratively, and look at how you interact with customers at all levels, from prospects, to new customers, to long-standing customers. Ask yourself, “Would I trust my company to do business with?” Because trust is so critical today and such a major component of building out on the commitment of listening to customers, it is the currency that marketing departments who “get it” are trading with today. The slamming of thousands of product features is a waste of time, but selectively building value propositions that align with customers’ most urgent needs is critical. Much has been said about trusted advisors in service industries, yet in all industries, marketing departments need to ask themselves if they are either contributing to or detracting from how much customers will trust them.
There are many other areas to cover in this discussion, but just to crystallize it, marketing is getting its groove back by throwing out old and no longer valid assumptions about customers, and moving away from the “let’s bribe them to be our customers” strategy towards “let’s get them to their goals faster than our competitors” plan. There is a huge difference, and in those strategies to generate trust is where marketing is getting its groove back.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a member of the Cincom Manufacturing Business Solutions Team and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. Mr. Columbus also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.