Have your marketing results been a little lackluster lately? Are your carefully scripted product videos or clever infographics being met with a collective yawn? There’s a reason for those shrinking response rates, but you may not like it. Allow me to be blunt: No one cares what you have to say about yourself.
Across all our studies of what B2B buyers prefer and trust as they go through the buyer’s journey, the clear favorites are content and interactions that give insight into other customers’ experiences and help a buyer know what it will be like after they buy. Sales teams know this, too: They’ll be the first to say customer story-based content or events – or references – are the most helpful at all stages of selling.
Don’t believe me? Here are some facts from SiriusDecisions’ primary research on C-level B2B buyers:
- 89 percent of CXOs say their perception of a vendor’s brand “moderately to significantly” influences their short-list creation.
- 75 percent of a CXO’s research is done via personal interactions and viral communication networks.
- 80 percent of a CXO’s final decision is based on his or her own or others’ experience with your company.
Now take a look at your Web site, your content and all the other ways you’re communicating with prospects and customers. How much of it is you talking about you? I’m willing to bet this describes most of the information produced by B2B marketing organizations, and shame on us. There is a better way – through aligned customer advocacy and engagement support.
Let’s start with some vocabulary. Here are SiriusDecisions’ definitions of some key elements of a customer-centric strategy:
- Customer experience. The perception of value that a customer has from direct experiences with your brand, including the buyer’s journey and the post-sale customer lifecycle.
- Customer advocacy. The combination of activities that help customers share their experiences with your brand (formally and informally). Tactics include case studies, references, videos, social media, community (online and offline), events, user groups, analyst relations, investor relations, media/PR support and more.
- Customer advocate. A customer who is willing to speak on your behalf, inside or outside his or her own company, and via formal, informal and/or anonymous channels.
- Customer reference. A customer who is willing to speak directly with a prospective buyer to support a specific sales cycle.
- Customer engagement. The positive, non-selling interactions and content that support customers’ ability to adopt and get value from what they buy during all stages of the post-sale customer lifecycle. This includes – but is not limited to – advocacy activities.
Appropriate focus on each of these areas is essential to creating a better marketing plan, but they must all be properly integrated into that plan. Right now in many B2B companies, customer advocacy and engagement support areas are siloed, reactive and under-resourced, despite clear evidence showing how critical they are to the buyer’s journey and post-sale customer engagement. Being poorly aligned and under-resourced inhibits the customer advocacy/engagement function’s ability to realize its full potential to support better business outcomes. In other words, you’re missing out on a sure thing.
What can be done to bring appropriate focus to customer advocacy and engagement? The first is awareness: Throughout the planning process, ask “Can advocacy help here?” When evaluating a content need or event schedule, consider whether it can be told from the customer’s point of view or based on customer evidence. Add the words “from the customer’s point of view” to everything you look to create and see what impact that shift has on the integration of advocacy into marketing planning. Marketing leaders need to make sure representatives from advocacy and customer marketing are part of the planning process, not just seen as tactical support after assets are built.
Greater focus on advocacy will, for most marketing leaders, highlight a gap in the resources (both people and program) supporting the required output. Planning time is ideal to look for where additional funds or personnel are needed. If new funds are not an option, look to reallocate existing funds that are currently spent on content and activities that don’t yield great results. Stop creating content that doesn’t get used (and our data shows this applies to up to 70 percent of content) and look to resource the sure thing instead: advocacy.
Finally, you can help us with a study of how B2B companies are looking at customer advocacy and engagement and how it’s defined, aligned and resourced today. This survey will take just 10 minutes, and as our thanks, we’ll share results that you can use to make a case for additional investment in company advocacy by your company. Investment in customer advocacy and engagement is sure to be one of the smartest moves you’ll make in 2015.