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Customer Experience Is the New Demand Creation

October 11, 2013 | By Megan Heuer

Focusing on customer experience - what happens after the buyer’s journey ends - is essential to supporting wins within the buyer’s journey. However, few marketing functions are structured, staffed or funded to support this focus.

If you knew the one thing that would make the biggest difference in closing deals, you would use it, right? As it turns out, very few companies do. Let’s change that.

In a recent post, my colleague Lisa Singer shared data from our 2013 persona study highlighting what factors senior-level decisionmakers trust most when choosing a vendor. About 80 percent of these relate directly to customer experience – either the buyer’s customer experience (previous experience with the vendor) or someone else’s customer experience (vendor-provided references, opinions of internal and external colleagues). The remaining 20 percent, although not labeled as such, are also tied to customer experience – e.g. brand perception, which is built on customers’ collective experience, and relationship with sales, which is a personal aspect of customer experience.

Once again, here are the results:

CustomerExperience

Clearly, focusing on what happens after the buyer’s journey ends is essential to supporting wins within the buyer’s journey. However, few marketing functions are structured, staffed or funded to support this focus. Let’s consider two critical gaps in most b-to-b companies’ marketing investment strategy: customer advocacy and post-sale lifecycle nurturing.

  • Time to invest in advocacy. According to our data, 50 percent of companies spend less than five percent of their marketing program dollars on customer advocacy and references. This has serious implications for the quality of content and interactions available to support campaigns. Most investment still goes to internally generated content, which has a much lower impact on buyers at all stages of their journey vs. content based on stories from customers. Part-time or too-small advocacy teams are under-resourced. They struggle just to keep up with the demands of everyday reference call requirements, so they don’t have time to pursue more strategic advocacy content and interactions. As b-to-b companies add or re-allocate resources to focus on content development, that investment will have the greatest impact if a good portion is put toward advocacy-based content.

  • Time to invest in customer marketing. One objection we often hear is that it’s hard to find customers willing to share their stories. We know it’s hard, but this is usually for one of two reasons. One is that it is impossible for the under-resourced advocacy function to do all it can to find and encourage advocates to share their stories. The other is that few advocates want to tell the company’s story. This is a very different problem. Chronic underinvestment in the post-sale customer lifecycle results in marketing that is demand-myopic, speaking only to the needs of buyers, not the needs of customers after they buy. (See our post on customer marketing.) As the data shows, customers’ post-purchase experience is the make-or-break factor in closing demand, so investment in customer experience is investment in demand creation. Smart b-to-b companies are shifting a share of marketing investment into post-sale lifecycle nurturing and are consolidating the functions within marketing that already focus on this area (e.g. customer feedback/insights, customer events, customer communities, customer communications, advocacy and reference teams) into a cohesive, strategic customer marketing team. (See our post on customer relationship nurturing.) By bringing these groups together to collaborate on customer lifecycle support, it’s easier to define how marketing’s toolkit can improve overall customer experience.

In our recent study asking b-to-b CMOs about their top priorities, customer marketing came in at number two on the list of new roles to be added (behind social media, which is arguably customer experience-related, so I’ll support it). Let’s hope 2014 budget allocations reflect this priority – it could make all the difference.

Megan Heuer

Megan Heuer is Vice President of Research at SiriusDecisions. With more than 20 years of industry and professional services experience, she has worked both in – and for – organizations to build a wide variety of collaborative sales and marketing deliverables that drive systematic, predictable growth. Follow Megan on Twitter @megheuer.