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12 posts from October 2014

Our customers take steps in a journey, not a slippery slide down a funnel

We've been using a very unfortunate metaphor for years: the sales funnel. Supposedly, leads are dropped into the top and slide out the bottom as customers. Yuck.

Actually, we are guiding contacts on a journey, and we need to think about the next step they have to take because we can't take it for them.

CMS Wire: Customer Journeys Trump the Traditional Sales Cycle, 2014-Sep-15 by Julie Hunt

To connect authentically to what customers need and want, customer journeys trump the traditional sales cycle. The sales cycle has been an inside-out process, tied primarily to sales goals and operations.

Learn more about tracking the customer journey at our companies:


How It's Done:

Nuances of Using:

Research on Its Effectiveness:

Second step in loyalty: connect to a shared interest

Tq-120815-tbMost businesses plung into a loyalty program with their most frequent or biggest customers. Although it's not a mistake, there are pitfalls in this approach. We may discover that our biggest customer is only accidentally our customer--a big cause for concern on many levels. 

Before we invest in in a loyalty program, we check our most important customers to find out WHY they are using our services. In the first place, we'll discover whether or not it's sustainable. Then we enter a loyalty program with our eyes open as to the real long-term opportunities. 

Hub Magazine: Sweet Spot (Excerpt from Aaker on Branding), 2014-Sep/Oct, by David Aaker

To connect with a shared-interest area provides avenues to a relationship much richer than those of an offering-based relationship that, for most brands, is driven by a functional benefit and is relatively shallow and vulnerable. Further, people attribute all sorts of good characteristics to brands that they like and with whom they share values and interests. If Pampers is so intimately informed and involved in baby care, its products will be perceived to be both innovative and high quality.

A shared interest also provides a source of energy for the brand. All brands need energy. It is a discouraging truth that brands throughout the world that lack energy have been losing equity for more than a decade at a disturbing rate. It is not easy to inject energy into a brand that is not one of the rare brands blessed with visible innovation or high customer involvement. One answer is to create a shared-interest program that will serve to energize the brand through its innovation, involvement, or purpose-driven content.

First step in loyalty: be loyal to yourself

I was in Zabar's again a couple of weeks ago. There's really no good reason for me ever to go back. Their food makes me fat. I actually dislike their bagels and coffee! I usually have to go out of my way to be there when it's open. There's nothing important nearby. And yet every year I trek back. They continuously update it, but Zabar's always feels the same. Like the first year of my happy marriage when my husband and I were starting out in New York. 

My loyalty to Zabar's is irrational. It's not based on any shared value except being true to oneself. The store has grown stronger over the years, but held onto its identity, even as the neighborhood around it has changed. You can spend a lot of money there, but you can find joy in spending a couple of bucks (chocolate croissants). 

Zabar's is really, really nice to its customers. I don't recognize their owners or employees, and they don't recognize me but we respect one another. Most places in New York have disappeared or changed since we moved away, but Zabar's survives. It's inspiring.

These days, networking IS sales... agree?

At a recent workshop, Doug Bain of Growtheorem, a consultancy in sales management, stated that as far as he could see, getting in front of a prospect at a big company requires either (1) a personal introduction from someone the prospect already trusts, or (2) a major initiative in industry-leading content: articles in major publications, popular books or blogs which cause the prospect to contact us. Cold calling, trade shows, direct mail:  all kaput. 

The contemporary business scene has so many contact spigots wide open that we are all overwhelmed with people trying to do business with us. Hardly anyone wants to connect to someone who hasn't already been vetted either by the media or by a colleague. 

HBR Blogs: The Freelance Economy Still Runs on Word of Mouth, 2014-Oct-9 by Justin Fox

When we interviewed people, what they told us was, “Well, networking is sales now. It used to be different, but …”

Even when you’re talking about moving to these online systems like Elance-oDesk, your reputation becomes so important, and your reputation is a function of your network. And I have to add when I started in tech, networks weren’t that important. If you had a good idea, you could get a hearing, and you could get funded, and you could build a business. Quite honestly today if you don’t have access to a network that gets you introduced, you can be brilliant and get nowhere.

Why would that be more so?

It’s just gotten so much bigger. There’s so much going on, and at this point there are key gatekeepers and key people that you need to get to. The industry used to be a lot smaller, and you could meet people at shows, or you could just cold call them and they’d answer the phone, and that stuff just doesn’t happen anymore.

Get ahead of the curve in serving your customers

One of the most important reasons to gather information about our customers is to plan the future of our company. Our competitive edge is the ability to use that information to better satisfy and anticipate customer needs. 

Searchblog: Living Systems and the Information First Company, 2014-Oct-11 by John Battelle

Put another way, NewCos are "information first" companies. They map the flows of information in a market, and organize themselves so as to exploit or leverage those information flows, even if the flows are "potential information" - information used in a new way, a manner which may be more efficient, productive, or valuable. Put information first, and let that determine how best to organize energy and matter. Industrial era-companies, on the other hand, value their hard assets first (energy, matter), and only view information as a way to organize or protect those assets.

How to educate our customers for their own success

We can either educate our customers to succeed in their business or to succeed in our business. 

Why would we educate them to succeed in our business?? Well, that's what we do when we try to get them to excel at using our products and services. Instead, our products and services are only a means to the end goal of their success in their business. 

Our best customers may be inept and infrequent users of our products and services but that may be just fine. If there's one small but important thing they can only do with our help, and if that thing means greater success... and if they know it, we will have succeeded. Advice for startups trying to educate their customers, 2014-Aug-13, from Des Traynor interview by Andreea Mihalcea

There are two types of education for your customers: teach them how to use your product and how to get results.

If you want to take Workable as example, one piece is “here’s how to post a job”, and, the more important piece is “here’s what a great job post looks like”. Keep in mind that when someone tries to assess if a product is good, it’s not about him being able to create a job post. It’s about him being able to get job applicants. The same applies to Mention or any other tool — they can teach you how to use their interface, or they can teach you what are the right things to search for.

A lot of people focus too heavily on teaching how to use their tool forgetting that teaching how to get results is actually more important. You need webinars, documentation, articles and screencasts to help your users get much better at using your product.

Coach your sales team to share content for more efficient selling

David Meerman Scott has a good slideshare explaining why we have to shift to using content to generate leads in the era of permission marketing. Since we can no longer interrupt people, we have to either develop or own content or constantly be on the lookout for good content to share with our prospects and customers. We usually need to do both. 

As David points out, that means that sales managers have to shift their measurements from volume of activity to how well a sales person uses content. For many companies, even if they have a few salespeople, this shift will be wrenching. 

A company's marketing department may or may not be generating enough material for the sales team, but nothing can help the sales team avoid responsibility to understand their customers and what needs to be shared, and when. 

New selling process:

  • Research your target's challenges
  • Understand what's available to help them
  • Position yourself as a trusted source of information
  • Share the right information at the right time

Web Ink Now: Sales Managers Must Adapt to the New Rules of Selling, 2014-Oct-14 by David Meerman Scott

Managers must realize that when salespeople are interacting on Twitter or updating their LinkedIn profiles, this activity is more likely to contribute toward eventual sales than cold-calling a buyer.