Buyer Centricity

Two Unique Styles

We’ve talked about the value of retaining customers rather than acquiring new ones. We’ve also talked the need to support customers past the Purchasing stage of the buying cycle and how their needs change over time. However, I have a great deal of experience in the land of cross-sell, up-sell, retain, and renew and have seen far too many marketers try to use new buyer techniques on the installed base of customers and wonder why they were not successful.

Addressing the needs of existing customers requires a different mentality and different actions than marketing to new buyers. It’s similar to how building different styles of architecture – modern versus classical, for instance – require different styles of carpentry, wiring, and so on. Ensure that you take that into account in your marketing transformation and help your marketers properly prepare for the unique challenge.

Understand Customer Sentiment

Personas are great for helping target your efforts towards new buyers. They can also help you understand how to support customers across the other stages of the buying cycle. Another useful way of thinking of thinking about marketing to customers is to think about how they view their relationship with you.

There are many different ways of classifying how customers think about you after they’ve purchased your products/services.  Marketers often say that you can’t rush a buyer to purchase in the first few interactions, that it’s proposing to someone on the first date and expecting him or her to say yes. Using that dating/marriage analogy, here is how I divide up buyers the different types of buyers:

  • “We’re Over – Right After My Cousin’s Wedding” – These customers really want to switch vendors badly but they are trapped by the length of the contract or some other specific event (hence, the analogy of needing a date to a wedding and not really caring who it is because you’re going to get rid of him/her right after).
  • “We’re Only Together Because of the Kids” – These customers don’t think you are the right vendor for them but they are have too much invested to pull out of the relationship, even to the point of buying additional products/services from you. I’ve been this customer before and it was terrible. We went so far as to calculate how much it would cost us in training and consulting, paying for two systems as we switched vendors, and so on before we decided we literally could not afford to stop using the existing system. It’s like an unhappy marriage where each party tolerates the other because of the damage (in this case, monetary damage) ending the relationship will cause.
  • “He’s Fine for Now” – These can be new customers or they can be customers who’ve been in a relationship with you for a while but are always on the lookout for something better and newer. I think of them as serial monogamists, with you when they’re with you but on to the next one when they think its not working anymore. They’ll share both the good and the bad news about you but without too much passion either way, which can be great for getting honest feedback but also a problem if they feel they have to warn others of less than ideal issues with your organization’s product or service.
  • “He’s a Great Catch” – These are customers who are reliable and will not only renew their contract but be likely increase their spending over time. They tell anyone who asks how great you are, sometimes because they themselves have benefitted from the relationship (i.e., promotions or resume enhancement)

Addressing Unhappy Customers

For customers in the first two categories, you’ll want to do a diagnostic to determine the root of their unhappiness.  If your sales team does not a strong relationship with the customer enough to broach the subject directly, consider annual customer satisfaction surveys, feedback on support tickets, and other interactions the buyer has with your organization can help you narrow down the problem. You can be proactive with this crowd with annual account reviews or performance healthchecks, which will give you both a warning that things may not be working as well as expected for that customer and giving you a framework for discussing the problem in a neutral way.

Then, you’ll need to see if the value of these customers and their likelihood to renew/buy more (or even just having their name on your customer list) is worth the effort you have to do to move them from “at risk” to “happy.” This is a unique decision for each organization, reflecting your business situation and goals. For the buyer relationships you seek to improve, remember that you may not succeed. Plan ahead for how far you are willing to go in that effort and know when to say no more.

Finding the Balance With Happy Customers

Another key to marketing to existing customers is understanding the motivations of satisfied customers. Many marketers assume that customers who are satisfied with their purchases will also be perfectly happy to become references, public speakers, or participate in marketing in other ways.

The assumption is that the value of your product or service is so fantastic that customers who like it will be happy to say what you want and do what you need them to do. However, it’s more likely that they feel the price they initially paid was a fair exchange for the return on investment they’re getting now. From their perspective, it’s reasonable to assume they will get something additional of equal value for essentially helping you do your job.

Often called “equal value exchange,” this concept refers to whether the buyer is ready to give you data about himself at the point in the buying cycle you asking for it and in exchange for whatever you are offering. The most obvious example is when, at the Awareness stage of the buying cycle, an organization offers a white paper and asks for not only an email address but a physical address. However, the same concept exists post-purchase.

Ensure you provide sufficient value post purchase with free education or other elements listed as having high value post-purchase according to your persona research. There are many customer marketing tactics you can try that address different organizational and customer needs as well as different budgets. Try to match those to your situation but also ask your customers directly what they would find value. That way you’ll reap the benefits of being seen to “really listening” to your buyers.

Comments are welcome, especially examples of your customer marketing programs.

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