It’s a moving target: As companies struggle to become more agile and responsive to customer demands, customers change what they’re looking for—with increasing unpredictability. According to the 2017 PWC Global Operations Survey, 63% of business leaders said their companies find it challenging to understand their customers’ priorities, and 61% are hard pressed to change directions in response to a customer need. It’s a bit like navigating by a GPS with spotty satellite reception.
As a result, customer loyalty has taken a hit, and executing on the 4 P’s of marketing—optimizing product, place, price, and promotion—has become more complex. So it’s understandable that a company’s first inclination is to redouble and broaden its efforts toward meeting changing customer needs. But could the answer instead lie in selecting your clients more judiciously and prioritizing your time more selectively?
If your company is at a crossroads with regard to customer engagement, the following principles can provide more clarity about with whom, and how, to engage.
- Identify which needs matter – and get creative about meeting them.
Customers can be a needy bunch: with existing needs, latent needs, unrealized needs, or even incipient needs. Which are those that can never be fulfilled? Companies can only turn a profit by addressing a customer’s existing or unrealized needs, only a fraction of which fall within your company’s reach.
To address the latent needs of its SMB customers, Toronto-based TDBank recently formed a partnership with a fintech firm to provide ancillary services—in this case, a business valuation service. Coverage of the partnership in The American Banker notes that while such services are not broadly sought after, they can be critical to a select few – and they can increase loyalty.
The article quotes Aite Group’s research director, Christine Barry, on the value of ancillary services in a competitive market: “Our research shows that offering tools beyond traditional banking products are really what [customers] are looking for. Many go outside of the bank for these services, but they would prefer to have it all under one roof with someone they trust, like their bank.”
Barry’s comments point to the value of convenience to most any customer. By working with a partner, you can expand your service offerings, increase your value, and create new opportunities to engage with customers.
- Identify which customers matter.
In a B2B scenario with multiple stakeholders, identifying who makes the purchasing decision can be tricky. But it’s essential to your success. John C. Mitchell of Applied Marketing Science stresses the importance of identifying the most impactful roles to target, cautioning that “unless you consider whether these roles exist and how they influence your market, you risk overlooking an important constituency whose opinion may make or break your product.”
Mitchell suggests tracing a path from the point when your product left the building to its final destination. Between those two points, there are potentially many roles, such as a purchaser, a buyer, a specifier, or an operator. Each of these roles may be considered a customer. There may even be people who play dual roles, but the primary stakeholder is likely the person with so much relevant information that he could impact your product’s design.
- Let the customer set the pace.
In the rush to convert, we often forget the importance of slowing down and listening, asking relevant questions, and finding out what matters to our customers. Rather than rushing things along, focus on matching the customer’s pace. Become familiar with your customers’ mindset and needs—both current and developing, and their decision-making process. Be fast when speed is what’s needed. In all cases, be responsive.
The Miller + Heiman Group’s Tamara Schenk emphasizes the importance of tracking and metrics in anticipating and responding to changes in a customer’s needs, noting that, “only when we know what we currently do and how we do it, can we achieve the adaptability we need to respond to customer changes effectively.”
Tools such as social CRM can be invaluable in getting a sense of what customers are thinking throughout their journey, and are most effective when coupled with ongoing customer engagement and marketing initiatives. In addition, it’s critical that companies have a solution in place that formalizes the selling process.
In its 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Report, Miller + Heiman found that by formalizing their sales processes, companies can actually increase their ability to adapt to customer needs and meet sales quotas.
Solutions such as Smartsheet for Salesforce can help to provide a structured experience by connecting sales reps, consultants, and customers, and helping align everyone’s expectations as they move toward closing a deal. Real-time visibility via self-service reports and dashboards help teams rapidly align operations to strategy. And the ability to adapt your processes to match a customer’s requirements can help ensure that they stay engaged, and that your project stays on course to completion.