Strategy Spotlight: How to turn your customers into a powerful asset

Julie Neumann
June 15, 2017

Strategy Spotlight: How to turn your customers into a powerful asset

Bill Lee is the founder of the Center for Customer Engagement, where he has built a community of top-tier corporations that includes Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, HubSpot and Oracle. We sat down with Bill to discuss how customers can become a valuable resource for today’s technology companies.

Why do you view customer engagement as such an important driver of business growth?

One of the most innovative areas in business today is finding ways to engage your customers that provide extraordinary value beyond just clearing their checks. Existing customers are helping to educate buyers as they make their purchasing decisions. More experienced customers are helping and supporting less experienced customers. Some are providing incredible insights and guidance on new products and innovation. And the very best marquee customers do all of these in particularly effective ways — when engaged with properly, they are pulling technology vendors into the future.

Where should technology vendors start if they want to strategically leverage customers across their organization?

That’s a great question, because the C-suite increasingly recognizes this as a huge but often untapped opportunity. “But where do we start” is one of the most common questions I’m asked by executives. Step one, they have to look at the entire customer experience holistically, from the very earliest phase of the buyer’s journey all the way through to deployment, retention, expansion and advocacy.

Step two is to get serious about creating a great customer experience throughout all those stages. Too often these phases are delegated to uncoordinated programs with little actual clout. You need to re-orient the major customer-impacting operations — such as product management, professional services, support, engineering, marketing and sales — and hold them responsible for their part of the customer experience. After all, they’re the ones that are actually creating it. And a key resource for this, at all phases of the customer journey, is other customers. That is, integrating them into what I call the Total Customer Experience you’re creating.

The most outstanding application of these ideas that I’ve seen is at Misys, a financial services software firm that recently merged with D+H to form a new company called Finastra. Their chief marketing officer, Martin Herring, is a visionary when it comes to customer advocacy and engagement, and is approaching customer experience completely holistically. For example, they have about 10 programs that customers can key into to get support, and six of those programs involve customer advocates, influencers, community or other forms of customer engagement. In a sense, you could say that 60% of the support that Misys offers isn’t coming from internal employees, it is coming from customers.

So how do businesses continue to innovate in this area? The answer to that is, find better ways and more insightful ways to engage customers. You also need to measure customer engagement and incentivize a great customer experience. Establish KPIs for that and include them alongside business objectives for all your customer-impacting operations.

What should marketing and sales teams focus on as they start to embrace their customers?

Specifically for marketing and sales, you need to ask, “What is our buyer trying to achieve? What’s their need during the awareness and the consideration stages of the buyer’s journey? What job are they trying to get done at that stage of the journey?”

You can boil it down to two things. Number one, they’re looking to be educated. Not spun to, not pounded with tons of emails, not the usual things that sometimes marketing and sales can be tempted to do. Then the second thing is, they want help making the optimal decision. They don’t want to be pressured, they don’t want to talk to a salesperson who is only going to promote their solution. They want help picking the right software based on their needs.

Which is why peers are one of the most preferred sources of information, and often the most trusted source, in the buying process. It is not going to be marketing, or even analysts, but somebody like me who has a problem similar to mine. How did this solution work in this scenario? What are the pros? What are the cons?

Be transparent. Be authentic. Be innovative. Study how your prospects are getting educated and their buying process. Then think of how you could make their experiences even better, easier and more effective for them. That’s a very valuable process to go through. Once you’re clear on that, engage your existing customers and leverage them at stages of the customer journey where their voice can add value to other customers and prospects.

How do you get your customers to take those next steps?

When it comes to motivating your customers to engage in things like advocacy or supporting other customers, I find these three motivators work consistently well.

One is, people want to affiliate with their peers. Humans are hard-wired for this. We like being part of and contributing to a community.

Second is the role of reputation. Your customers want social status, they want to build their social currency and professional reputation. When you talk to these extremely engaged customers, their motivation often boils down to being recognized as an expert.

Third is having a say. Autonomy is a very powerful psychological motivator, so we’re inclined to participate in initiatives where we have autonomy. When we have a say in the process, when we actually participate in decisions, that’s a huge motivator. We want to know that, in addition to positive feedback, our constructive feedback is also being considered and impacting the product.

But that’s the what, the next questions is, where? Where do buyers go in this trust-deficit world that we’re living in? They can’t trust what marketing and sales people tell them. They trust their peers, but they can’t possibly know everybody. So where can they go? You can add value by pointing them to any resource that connects them with their peers.  This includes open communities, that are either third-party sites like TrustRadius or even ones hosted by companies that don’t restrict access to just their customers. But you need to ensure these places are and remain truly open and trustworthy — they cannot just be marketing vehicles in disguise.

Why is TrustRadius a compelling step forward when it comes to customer engagement?

Let’s go back to the early stages of the buyer’s journey, where prospects are trying to get educated. They are looking for trustworthy help in making an optimal decision for themselves and their firms. When you give them information from and about your customers, that’s great and definitely helpful to buyers. But let’s face it, they’re your customers that you’ve chosen. Buyers are naturally going to be interested in a resource where they can get the views of a variety of customers — especially if that information is authentic rather than some sort of disguised marketing asset. And that’s precisely the role TrustRadius plays, both on the review site and through vendor tools. Such resources clearly play an increasingly important role for buyers.

Want to see how companies like Oracle and Marketo use TrustRadius to engage customers and influence buyers? Request a demo today.  

About the Author

Julie Neumann
Julie Neumann was the Director of Content Marketing at TrustRadius, where she focused on educating and engaging our vendors. A journalist turned tech marketer, she has built programs at Yahoo!, MapMyFitness, Bigcommerce, Clearhead and more. Julie has an MA in journalism from the University of Texas and a BA in English and Economics from Vanderbilt University.