Today's marketer knows being present where their customers are is crucial to success.
Modern marketers hopefully also understand the days of pushing a message out and hoping it reaches, and then resonates with, a desired audience are over. In fact, the marketer who really understands how the game is played now knows that marketing, and really all business, has been flipped around -- the customer is now in control of what they hear, where they hear it and whether or not they choose to engage. They are conducting their own research before making purchases, their ability to talk about your brand has an almost unlimited reach, and as a marketer it’s imperative to understand how your audience wants to engage.
Even in the B2B world where Marketing used to collect as many names as possible, hand those off to Sales, and let the sales team work those leads down the long pipeline of a complex sale, today even B2B prospects are 85% or more down the buying cycle before ever flagging firms down.
To meet this challenge marketers must take a customer-centric approach to marketing.
Customer-centric marketing starts with Sales and Marketing alignment
Kristin Zhivago is a revenue coach, author of “Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy,” and a longtime proponent of customer-centric marketing.
Zhivago says becoming customer-centric begins with ensuring your prospects and customer have a seamless experience through the entire process. She explained the challenge in a MarketingSherpa article, by stating one of the biggest problems facing companies today is finding a solution for how both Marketing and Sales can meet the customer’s needs during the buying process.
What does this mean for the customer-centric marketer? Understand where the customer is in that process and what area of the company -- Sales or Marketing -- should be involved at each stage. From the customer’s perspective, the process should be defined by their needs, and not some arbitrary system set up internally. Instead of looking at it as areas that Marketing handles, and areas that Sales handles, what the customer needs should define what business area is engaging them at any point in time.
Take the time to actually interview your customers
Your customers will tell you what they want from you, but you have to give them that opportunity. Zhivago suggests actually interviewing your customers. Break customers into groups, for example: happy customers, unsatisfied customers, from large companies, from small companies, from different major demographic groups.
Actually speak with people within each of the groups you’ve identified. After five or six different interviews within each group, she says, trends will begin to emerge that can impact your strategies.
In a blog post Zhivago points out how interviewing customers can uncover a “gating factor” impacting potential sales: “When I interview customers for my clients, they always tell me about a requirement that must be met in order for them to consider buying that particular product or service. For example, I am interviewing clients for a website development firm. All of their customers have invested heavily in a particular content management system (CMS). If they were to look again for a website developer, they would start by only looking at firms that specialize in that content management system. They want a developer who knows their CMS inside and out -- the nooks and crannies, the pitfalls, and best practices. That is their gating factor.”
She points out these interviews will glean different, and possibly more honest, feedback than just finding out what those same customers have been telling Sales.
Your customers listen to each other, not you
"Nobody trusts marketing copy, but they do trust other customers," Zhivago warns. She says they don’t give much weight to your messages, but they do talk directly to each other and you want to know what they are saying. You can do this through your customer interviews and also just tracking how your brand is being discussed and reviewed on social media platforms and around the web.
Because of this Zhivago offers some actionable advice: “Given this buyer reality, you would think that CEOs and entrepreneurs would obsess about how their customers are treated. They’d call their own 800 numbers. They’d hire secret shoppers. They’d conduct after-sale interviews to find out how things went and how they could be improved. They’d tell their employees and partners what they learned, and what everyone was going to do to improve.”
If marketers aren't already engaging in customer-centric marketing tactics, the key takeaway is that marketing has fundamentally changed and it’s not going back to the time of running one-off campaigns. The customer now owns the process and the modern marketer should take advantage of the opportunities this new reality has opened up.