The new customer era that we’re all a part of accepts that the direct contact between a vendor and customer or potential customer is being augmented by non-human intermediaries like websites, software robots that triage customer issues, e-commerce systems, social media, and who knows what else.
The good news in all of this indirectness is that customers leave data trails like ants leave trails of pheromones leading from the nest to a candy bar on a sidewalk. The key differentiator of success for competing vendors is how they capture and process the data trail.
The data in question, slightly supplemented by the collector with such elemental concepts as time stamps, can turn into a trove of information that can drive marketing success. This is such a well-accepted concept today that I think it has transitioned from a technological imperative to a cultural one.
It’s cultural, because people like using their social networks and other intermediary technologies to evaluate products and services by gathering input from friends and other trusted sources — and at this point, resistance, if you can use the word, is futile. The name of the game today is how do we best leverage this new paradigm to put things into the top of the funnel?
Well, quite simply, it has to start with data — but not just any data. A vendor has a huge responsibility for identifying the data that will generate the information, and ultimately knowledge, that people in the organization will use to make decisions.
The Data Enlightenment
This is a great time to focus on data, mostly because great tools for analyzing it are abundant, inexpensive thanks to SaaS, and easy to use — finally! More pragmatically, it’s here, and we need to figure it out or be consigned to the dustbin.
The data we collect and the information it drives can tell us amazing things about our customers, like their level of interest, the effectiveness of marketing programs — which ones are best and the things they are best at, also called “attribution” — even which deals are best to pursue.
Not that long ago, there was no way to really know which marketing programs were best or which generated better leads, so we concentrated on volume. More leads were better than fewer leads, and they were turned over to sales too soon, with the result that sales people didn’t trust that the leads marketing produced were any good — and many weren’t.
That’s all different today, thanks to enlightened management techniques and good software. All of it has arrived just in time to support new business processes and a new customer lifecycle that’s big on bonding and advocacy.
That’s something else that’s different about the vendor-customer relationship today. In order to get and keep customer advocates, you and they have to create a bond — something that keeps them coming back. Too often we think about bonding as something customers do with abstract brands, but the real bonds happen between people, especially those in a community of users.
The Neverending Data Story
User communities are important as the places where mature customers hang out, but also because they are the places where new customers come to learn. Absent a bond, there’s less chance that any given customer will take the time to advocate for a brand to a new or potential customer.
This all gets back to data, because it pointedly says that the job of collecting and analyzing data is never over. There are things to learn from our mature customers that will enable us to better prepare for new customers. However, it’s equally true that those mature customers will turn into advocates if given half a chance, and you really want them to say nice things.
That’s a long road to a small house, but it nicely shows that the data we collect has to be analyzed if we are going to manage our businesses effectively. To do this, start with an understanding of the information you need to run your business; it will dictate the data you collect and the way you analyze it. It’s really true that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and it’s time to get better at measurement.