• The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Pt. 4 – B2B Customer Retention

    If you’ve been following along in this blog series, you’ve probably read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, where we talked about the old B2B Buyer’s Journey, the new B2B Buyer’s Journey and why – and how – to align your sales and marketing teams.

    In the world of Services, or for companies who provide service long after the sale, the Buyer’s Journey is never done. Keeping a lifelong client requires multiple layers of marketing and relationship nurturing to extend the sales process. In Part 4, we’ll cover B2B customer retention and how you can close the buying loop and keep your customers forever.

    Let’s say you’ve successfully joined your sales and marketing teams and are ushering in new customers. Great! But now you want to know how to keep these new clients you’ve worked so hard to convert. You’re not alone in pursuing this goal. In a recent survey of B2B CMOs, 87% of them said that customer retention was their #1 strategic focus for 2017 – beating out revenue growth.

     

    But why is retention so important? Couldn’t you just deploy your sales team to go out and find new buyers? Well, you could. But we’re all about working smarter, not harder. In the long run, client retention ends up being a cost-efficient way to grow your business. According to Hubspot results, it costs about 5 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to generate new business from an existing customer. And a customer loyalty survey from Loyalty360, showed that three-quarters of respondents reported that 20% of their new sales come from current customers.

     

    To help you strengthen your customer retention, we’ve pulled together some best practices.

    1. Onboarding

    The best time to build customer loyalty is at the beginning of your engagement when the customer is excited about your offering and the solution for their pain you’ve promised to provide. If they’ve just signed a contract for your services or subscribed to your software, don’t leave them hanging and assume they’ll figure it all out. Now is the time to bring them closer to you.

    Demonstrate your value after the sale with consistent and meaningful communication. Send them welcome emails with info on the next steps in the process. Call them to answer questions and check in with their level of satisfaction. Send helpful documents or share how-to video links. It’s during this “honeymoon” phase that you can make the biggest impact on the relationship that follows. Your marketing team should have content ready to support these “touches”, and your sales team should be ready to guide the client through the initial phases of the engagement.

    2. Educate with content

    Instead of overwhelming your customer with educational material at the beginning, break it up into chunks and deliver it on a semi-regular frequency that coincides with where the customer should be in their experience of your service. Create content that showcases the newest features of your software. Host a webinar to provide more insight into your industry. Publish use-cases showing how your professional service has helped other similar clients. By sharing content that helps them maximize their investment, you’ll prove that you’re a company focused on their success.

    3. Communicate

    Consistent communication is one of the most important aspects of customer retention, but can also be tricky to implement. In a B2B transaction you’re not communicating with a single-buyer, but a whole group of people with different needs and questions. So, remember to stay in touch with stakeholders, leaders, and other employees who will have sway over a future decision to renew a contract.

    A good way to keep the communication flowing is to provide multiple channels for discussion and feedback. Include a phone number in your email signature and then be responsive when they call. Send a weekly update/check-in email to report on project progress or answer questions. Create customer satisfaction surveys to gather thoughts and complaints. Maintain social media accounts and quickly respond to any interactions.

    4. Listen and act

    There’s a popular stat that says, “for every complaint you receive, there are 26 other customers who had the same experience, but just didn’t say anything.” Don’t let this happen to you. Be proactive in asking customers about their experience. Listen to their responses and then take action to ensure future customers don’t have a similar experience.

     

    If you’re an engineer offering consulting services and frequently receive phone calls from clients who are frustrated by a lack of progress reports, do something about it! Listen to their complaints to discover what it is they want to know from the reports and why. Maybe they don’t want to know all of the technical project details but instead merely want someone to keep them abreast of any developments or roadblocks. They just want to feel involved in the process.

    5. Grow Respectfully

    Repeat customers should be your biggest advocates. They provide the bulk of your testimonials and references, which are critical for service-minded companies. Yet, growing these clients can be a tricky road to walk. In some cases, these clients benefit from legacy pricing or outdated services offerings that are no longer manageable or profitable for your company.

    Approach pricing conversations with transparent and appreciative tones. These are your best clients, so highlight that you’re grateful for their business. While speaking of the high points of your relationship you must also explain how the pricing or services they received before are no longer applicable given today’s business environment. Offer to ease them into a new agreement that still offers them favorable pricing but also brings them in line with your new business model. Ordinarily, your clients will understand the value you bring to them and the importance of staying in business. They’re business people, too.

    In those cases when you do lose a client, don’t fret. You’ve still got a hand in the game. According to the book Customer Winback: How to Recapture Lost Customers – And Keep Them Loyal, you have a 20-40% chance of winning back a former customer just by trying. Your odds are better at rekindling a relationship than at selling to a new customer, where you’ve only got a 5-20% chance.

    At the end of the day, however, your pipeline should be full of new customers to replace those that leave. If your brand is sound and your marketing is in place, you will establish new relationships that evolve into strong repeat clients.

     

    Conclusion

    Use your time and money smartly. Instead of reinventing the sales wheel, keep it rolling with smart customer retention. After closing a deal, stay invested in the relationship and start building customer loyalty through onboarding, educational content, communication, responsiveness, and incentives.

    This last step in the B2B Buyer’s Journey is critical. To keep the sales cycle running like a well-oiled machine, continuously review all aspects of your company. Refine and improve your intangible offering. Hire helpful and smart front-line team members. Engage and support buyers through the whole journey. This holistic approach to the B2B Buyer’s Journey will ensure that customers come back, again and again.

    Want to move forward with your business? Let’s talk.

  • The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Then & Now – Pt. 3

    Sales and Marketing are One Team

    In Part 1 of our B2B Buyer’s Journey blog, we covered the traditional, and outdated, journey that looks like Awareness->Consideration->Decision. We proposed that today’s informed buyers don’t always go through the sales funnel in order.

    In Part 2 we presented a new B2B Buyer’s Journey with stages fitting of a buyer who has done online research and will respond to engagement and education in a journey that resembles Discover, Explore, Buy, Ask, Use and Engage.

    In this blog we ask, how should sales and marketing teams respond to the new, fluid, B2B Buyer’s Journey? The answer is to join forces.

    Why Bring Them Together?

    Sure, it’s great when team members work together, but why should they? Marketing and sales teams frequently act as independent silos (see our blog on this), with the marketing team working to produce leads for sales and ending the relationship there, and sales standing by waiting for qualified leads without giving marketing any guidance or feedback.

    Combining these two groups might seem pointless. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

     

    Today’s sales teams need content and tools to guide their conversations with prospects. This material turns sales reps into subject matter experts and gives them an edge over the inaccurate and outdated information that turns up in a prospect’s independent search results. As such, the reliance on marketing has never been greater.

    For the marketing team, their efforts culminate in conversions. But in the world of intangibles and professional services, that conversion is hard to measure.

    A lead may fall into the funnel and land in the lap of a salesperson who is neither prepared nor informed enough to manage the inquiries of the prospect. All of the best marketing campaigns are meaningless if the person guiding the sales process can’t close the deal.

    Additionally, if marketing isn’t getting real feedback from the sales team, their perspectives on the market will be skewed. Buyer personas, customer pain points, trends in the market; all of this rich information comes directly from the sales team in the trenches.

    Without a cohesive team, the cycle of sales and marketing is busted. It will be evident in the company’s performance and, more importantly, in sagging customer loyalty.

    “There is no question that, when Sales and Marketing work well together, companies see substantial improvement on important performance metrics: Sales cycles are shorter, market-entry costs go down, and the cost of sales is lower.” July-August 2006 Harvard Business Review

    How to Combine Sales and Marketing?

    For marketing and sales to align, both parties have to agree on goals.

    This seems fairly obvious. Beyond just focusing on revenue, marketing targets and sales quotas must meld together. The new joint team should ask themselves these questions (in order) to gain a greater collaborative vision:

    • What is our company’s revenue goal?
    • What is our average deal size? Aka, how much are we currently earning per customer?
    • How many customers must we reach in order to achieve our revenue goals? Divide revenue goal by average deal size.
    • How many of our leads convert to customers?
    • How many leads do we need to reach revenue goals?

     

     

    Ideal Leads, Defined by Both Teams

    The sales and marketing team must also work together to define an ideal lead. The sales team’s experience will be the most valuable resource in defining the ideal lead, because they typically have the highest level of interaction with prospects. They engage leads directly and thus understand the buyer’s pain-points, concerns, and questions.

    Marketing’s role in defining the ideal lead can be as a data resource. Using information collected during the sales cycle, marketing can identify certain traits in leads that have historically led to conversion. For example, marketing’s data insight might reveal that a high percentage of conversions start from a prospect seeing a Facebook ad targeted at women, aged 30-40, living in Florida and married with children. Sharing this type of lead information can help the sales team decide which days/times would be best to send an email and what kind of content they need to convert the lead.

    With both teams focused on shared goals, the next step is to analyze and score the leads. Evaluating a lead based on fit and interest can help determine their stage in the buying journey. If the lead needs an offering (fit), but isn’t interested, marketing can ramp up nurturing efforts. If the lead both needs (fit) and wants (interest) the offering, sales can quickly deliver a conversion. Each step in the buyer’s journey can trigger specific actions by sales and marketing that continue to bring the buyer closer to the final conversion.

    The communication within the joint team can produce better coordination and a far more sophisticated understanding about the ideal lead. Ultimately, ideal leads, or at least better-qualified leads, will reduce the amount of time the sales team spends courting prospects who aren’t ready to buy or have no interest whatsoever.

    “B2B sales and marketing teams need to prepare their reps to have high-value conversations with prospects. This includes tailoring collateral and content to meet the needs of new buyers, so that sales reps are providing answers to the questions buyers are asking at each stage of the buying cycle. ”

    – Kurt Andersen (@SAVO_Group)

    What To Do To Unify

    Hopefully by now you’re a believer, and you’re ready to break down the silos of sales and marketing. Embrace the “we are one,” mentality. However, before you send a company-wide email announcing the new “Salarketing Team,” consider some facts.

    A survey by Demand Gen found that the three biggest obstacles to sales and marketing alignment were: Communication (49%), broken and/or flawed processes (42%) and working towards different metrics (40%).

     

    Here are some tips for improving communication and operations:

    • Embrace Closed Loop Reporting

     

    Marketing shares data/info (such as lead background information) with sales, and sales reports back on the effectiveness of marketing content. “Closing the loop,” means that sales shares with marketing which leads converted, thus helping marketing determine their best (or possibly worst) lead sources. Sales managers must develop accountability processes that keep their sales team engaged in the process.

    • Develop a Sales and Marketing Service Level Agreement

     

    Sales and Marketing can create a document that defines what each team will do to help each other. Much like the service level agreement you sign with your clients, the Sales and Marketing SLA is a series of activities and obligations the new joint team carries out in order to respond quickly to daily sales and marketing actions.

    • Establish a Communication Space

     

    Move the sales and marketing teams next to each other in the office. Make it easy for them to bounce ideas off each other and quickly share info. In general, the cultures of sales and marketing are not that dissimilar. Both are known for free-spirited demeanors and “work hard, play hard” attitudes.

    To better facilitate insight, launch an online dashboard or other tracking system that provides data on leads, results of marketing campaign, sales analytics, etc…anything to keep the communication transparent and flowing.

    • Share Success

     

    When sales teams hit their goals, they usually enjoy rewards and accolades. Does marketing? In the new joint team, victory should be celebrated both individually (because salespeople love their trophies!) and together as a team who fought the war together. Marketing may not be as individually competitive as salespeople, but they still experience the “high” of crushing company goals.

    In summary, combining your sales and marketing teams won’t be an effortless challenge, but you’ll reap the rewards through better lead engagement and, in turn, higher revenue. In our next blog, B2B Buyer’s Journey: Part 4, we’ll bust the “One And Done” attitude and study the value of nurturing an ongoing buyer-seller relationship. The Art Of Service is in the long lasting relationship, not quick and dirty transactions.

    Want to move forward with your business? Let’s talk.

     

  • The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Then & Now – Pt. 2

    The New B2B Buyer’s Journey

    In our last blog, we explored the traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey – Awareness, Consideration, Decision – and argued that it was time for an update. We propose a new B2B Buyer’s Journey that is more fluid with the buyer having the majority control of the journey. Buyers can now decide if – and how – they move through the process, and when and where they get their information.

    Gartner’s Hank Barnes had this to say about the new B2B Buyer’s Journey:

    “The traditional model is we build awareness, and then, we drive interest, and then that creates desire, and finally, that leads to action. That’s been the traditional model of marketing and sales approaches in technology for a long, long time.

    That’s really not what’s going on on the buyer’s side – and it’s particularly not what’s going on given how the availability of information via the web and social networks has changed. What we see is a buying process that’s much more fluid, and there’s a lot of complexity…

    We don’t compartmentalize. While I’m exploring, I’m also evaluating. In many cases in technology, earlier in the buying process, I may be engaging with providers to learn about new ways to do things. We see these as streams that ebb and flow throughout the buying process.”

    This shift in power means that the seller’s marketing team is now much more involved in the lead-to-revenue cycle. Instead of just focusing on getting leads in the door, they now have to produce content that drives awareness, answers questions, provides support, and delights and retains.

    Instead of assigning a stage to the buyer, the new B2B journey should focus on answering: Who? Why? When? What? Where?

    Who? As we mentioned above, B2B purchase decisions are made by teams. The new B2B Buyer’s Journey should consider the customer not as an individual, but as a group of individuals with different needs and desired outcomes from the transaction. A CEO might want the product/service for a reason completely different than a Project Manager, but both people could be involved in the final decision.

    Why? When thinking about the buyer, it’s best to determine why they’re interested in your company. What pain-point does your company offer to resolve? How do you compare to competitors in your field? What unique value do you offer to the buyer’s company?

    When? Meet the buyer at their stage in the buying process. What questions does the buyer currently have? Are they just doing some comparison research? Or, have they decided to hire you, but are just evaluating which services they need? Have they already purchased your software, but aren’t sure if they want to subscribe for another year? By understanding their motivations you can then provide answers to help move them along in the buying process.

    What? What can you do to support the buyer’s decision? Do they want regular how-to emails? A downloadable ebook with case studies about your service or product? The buyer’s role should also be considered when deciding what content to deliver. A CEO may want a printed proposal with examples of previous projects, whereas a marketer may want a photo-heavy case study.

    Where? And, finally, think about where your buyer discovers information about your company. Did they meet your Business Development team at professional events? Are they following your social media profiles? Tailor your content offering to match the buyer’s stage, location and role.

    Asking the 5 W’s above results in a B2B Buyer’s Journey that’s more fitting for today’s environment. Forrester Research suggests that an updated version of the journey would include 6 stages: Discover, Explore, Buy, Ask, Use, Engage, where the journey is always in flux and the buyer is getting information from different sources during all stages.

    The chart below shows how the different stages of the new B2B Buyer’s Journey interact. Each of the 6 rings (Discover, Explore, etc.) represents a stage, but the buyer does not necessarily pass through them in order or in a vacuum. For example:

    During the Discover stage, the buyer may be doing research on a mobile device and the web, while also browsing print material and social media.

    Listening to peers and sales people – they’re also processing input from many sources and discovering information on their own terms.

    From the Discover stage, the buyer may jump to the Explore stage and start doing in-depth research on the seller’s company website or at events, among other channels.

    It’s even possible that the buyer may altogether bypass any further research/evaluation and move straight from the Discover stage to making a buying decision and becoming an advocate.

    There’s no one predetermined journey for today’s B2B buyer; each will have a unique timeline, budget and desired outcome. The best thing for a seller to do is to keep their marketing content up-to-date and to support the new journey in a nimble fashion.

    As a seller, it’s crucial to accept that the B2B Buyer’s Journey has changed and resulted in the buyer having more power in the buying process. This is a good thing. Sellers may feel powerless in this new era of B2B sales, however, a cohesive marketing strategy that understands the new buying process can help you determine how to successfully engage buyers. Stay tuned for B2B Buyer’s Journey, Part 3, where we’ll discuss how your marketing and sales team can work together.

     

    Want to move forward with your business? Let’s talk.

  • The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Then & Now – Pt. 1

    The Traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey

    Modern-day Business-to-Business (B2B) buyers are better-informed and more-capable than ever before. Thanks to the internet and online research, B2B buyers are no longer dependent on sellers to provide information or to help them evaluate products. In fact, 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to a sales person [Forrester].

     

    What does this mean for the seller? It means that the traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey – Awareness, Consideration, Decision – is no longer relevant and that a new B2B Buyer’s Journey needs to be embraced. The traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey had the right goal, which was engagement, but the approach was wrong. It was too simplistic and suggested that B2B buyers operated in a vacuum and were only going through one buying process at a time.

    For example:

    A leading apartment developer might see a Facebook ad for a local civil engineering firm and be prompted to contact the firm to ask some questions about an upcoming project.

    Assuming the apartment developer had already been through the awareness stage (Facebook ad) and the consideration stage (phone call to get answers), the civil engineering firm would start trying to push the decision stage by having their sales team send emails to the apartment developers with project quotes and deadlines for taking advantage of their proposal.

    However, what the civil firm doesn’t know is that the developer is still in the budget planning phases of the project and working with an internal team to consider their engineering needs, while also managing the buying process of professional services for other development projects. The buyer doesn’t want quotes, they want an informational resource to help them evaluate options.

    Phone calls from an engineering sales team and aggressive emails to close a deal would be invasive and not considerate of the buyer’s stage, which may be fluctuating between awareness and consideration, as the buyer does more online research and asks the engineering firm more questions.

     

    Like the apartment developer example above, most B2B buyers don’t act independently when it comes to making a purchasing decision. The traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey implied that a salesperson could work solely with one B2B buyer to complete the transaction. In reality, a buying team is usually involved in the process, and it’s not an easy one. A “decision” typically requires multiple stakeholders to have all of their questions answered and for purchases to be approved on different levels.

     

     

    Even if the seller has a great product that matches the buyer’s needs, patience may be required as no amount of sales content can speed up a buying team’s process. In the meantime, the seller’s marketing team can champion initiatives to support the buyer: create valuable/informative content (FAQs library, how-to guides, etc.) and make it easily accessible, host a free Intro webinar, develop a detailed post-sale customer support policy, etc…anything to help the buying team feel confident in their choice of working with you or purchasing your product.

     

     

    How can sellers better plan for the B2B buying transaction? The new, updated, B2B journey takes into account the buyer’s knowledge and the fact that they’re more in control of the process. Stay tuned for our next blog – B2B Buyer’s Journey, Part 2 – where we’ll talk about a journey more fitting for today’s digital environment.

    Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.