4 marketing roadblocks to customer obsession

Originally published in CMO Essentials on May 15, 2015.

B2B marketing used to be a simpler proposition—conduct market research, agree on a creative and compelling message, and execute campaigns around that message. Today, marketing is responsible for targeted branding, messaging, ample and quality demand generation, event collateral, competitive positioning, ROI, digital and social awareness and more. We must be experts in more areas than ever before, and we must be willing to give up what previously worked well to try what might fail, in order to bring value to our organization.

Marketers must now be “specialized generalists” — generalists enough to understand the many channels and technologies available to them, but experts enough to be effective across channels – and deeply so within at least one of them—which means that marketers need to be master collaborators, as well. There isn’t a single element of the marketing mix that doesn’t contribute to the overall strategy and the results produced, and marketers must know a lot about all of these strategies in order to be effective and understand how their customers think, educate themselves and buy. Analysts and industry leaders are now rallying around this concept, labeling it “customer obsession.”

The question then becomes: Is it enough to make the collective decision with your marketing colleagues to be customer obsessed, and if so, what are the roadblocks B2B marketers face in achieving this customer obsession?

1. Limited access to our “characters”

Successful marketers know that telling a compelling story is paramount to their strategy. However, most marketers aren’t given the power to alter (or even be informed of, often times) the product roadmap, nor do we have the time to immerse ourselves in the sales process in order to truly understand the scope of what prospects want to know, and what kinds of challenges they face. So, we aren’t given full access to complexities faced by the central characters in our stories.

It is highly difficult for marketers to tell relevant, relatable stories if we can’t get inside the minds of our protagonists. The plot, the dénouement and the resulting resolution are all contingent on character. And let’s be honest. Stories that engage smart, adult readers shouldn’t be of the fairy tale variety.

2. Data takes time to analyze

Analyzing and measuring data is critical to understanding product-market fit, customer behavior, user-experience, retention, and the buyer’s journey. Aberdeen research, for example, found that 67% of marketers report using analytics for campaign development, and another 56% report using analytics to improve customer relationships.

Unfortunately, the most important metrics are often the hardest to measure, or at the very least, take the longest time to parse, optimize and improve. And to make matters more complicated, software suites that offer color-coded charts and real-time analytics often present a slew of additional challenges that marketers don’t have time to spot or configure in ways that make more business sense.

If you’re a B2B marketer with a sales cycle of 6 months +, measurement in these areas becomes even harder.  Open rates, number of followers, and traffic are all important, but marketers must be able to quantifiably connect their efforts to hard metrics, such as revenue and growth. If you launch a marketing initiative in January, but you can’t connect those efforts to sales until July or even December, it’s not easy to optimize or make the case to change your mix in the interim. And if you’re a newer company that sells high-value products or services to enterprise brands, this can take even longer due to less data and unique buying journeys.

3. Late onset marketing ADHD

Unless you’ve got a large staff of inbound marketers, outbound sales people and digital and social marketers driving and optimizing your campaigns, marketers have to be able to narrow their focus. And since the most successful marketers today are also voracious readers, trend spotters and self-teachers, narrowing your focus to what works and what’s relevant takes a lot of consistent research, blog-reading and self-educating.

We must avoid marketing ADHD by learning to focus on the right tools to drive the right results, which requires us to be savvy marketing consumers as well.

Today, B2B marketers should be passionately curious (but able to channel that curiosity effectively), ready to shift focus on a dime if the data dictates it, and willing to take risks to reap results.  That’s not always easy for marketers who previously relied on a signed-and-bound marketing plan to guide their efforts, or who aren’t willing to let go of more traditional way of doing things.

4. Not everyone orders the same dessert

If four in five B2B purchases involve multiple decision-makers, then I’ve got to be a marketing and sales patissier to appeal to all of them.  Without sitting in on sales calls all day, or having direct access to the decision makers to pick their brains, this is incredibly difficult. To further complicate matters, decision-makers move to new departments, organizations go through a total “reorg,” or the team recalibrates their lead-gen strategy. All these factors can result in a need for a totally new recipe.

Take all these ingredients, whisk them together and try to produce one perfectly set and torched creme brulee. Serve up the creme brulee, wait for it to be eaten, and monitor the faces of your consumers for their reactions. Tweak your recipe, adding a bit more or less creme this time, making sure to catalog every minuscule change you make to the recipe so that you can do some “if this then that” reasoning for the next iteration.

And if you discover, much to your horror, that creme brulee just isn’t satisfying your prospective consumers’ palates, consider a lemon soufflé or the more traditional apple pie.  Or try serving them right-to-left rather than the more preferred left-to-right.

These marketing challenges can be solved, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, these solutions aren’t downloadable and ready-to-implement in 24 hours. These solutions take humans to engineer, execute, manage and optimize. But if it’s true that marketers are as passionate, solution-oriented, creatively and strategically minded as they should be, then we are uniquely positioned to take it on.

The solution lies somewhere in the new marketing mindset, the data, the customers who produce that data, and the power and scalability of the products we use to become intimately acquainted with them. Marketers who build time into their plans to sit down and work with the data as a team rather than relying on software to digest and transform it for us, will make the cut and so too, will the products and services they sell.

What is brand advocacy?

 

 

5 key factors in a successful referral program (hint: closed-loop!)

Here at Amplifinity, we’ve been helping great brands run and grow referral programs for over seven years. I’ve been here since the beginning, and I’ve learned many things. As Manager of Client Services, I can tell you there are five factors that really make a big difference in running a successful referral program.

 

1. Maximize Awareness

In order for any referral program to be successful, it must have lots of referrals! Getting a large number of referral prospects into the pipeline and engaged with your sales team is critical to your program’s success. The most effective way to ensure that your referral pipeline is full is to have a referral marketing plan that utilizes all available communication channels with your customers and partners – your referral advocates. Referral marketing plans are always-on, integrated strategies that should be central to your company’s sales and marketing efforts.

2. Make it a seamless experience

A key factor that determines the success of your program – and whether or not your advocates make multiple and repeat referrals – is your advocates’ perception of how easy it is to refer to you.

The easiest referral for an advocate to make is one where they see opportunity in knowing or finding out that someone whom they know is in the market for your products or services. When this opportunity presents itself, the advocate needs to be able to quickly and easily communicate the referral and give a clear path to purchase, either online or off-line.

The referral program website must be both comprehensive and easy to use and understand. In addition to giving your advocates many options to refer, it must also define the referral process for them, give a status for each of their referrals, and help answer common questions they may have with an FAQ section. The website should also have both a desktop and a mobile version; the mobile version will be easy for the advocate to access when they are out and presented with the opportunity to refer.

3. Keep your advocates and prospects in the loop!

Keeping your advocates informed by communicating the status of each referral is key to keeping them happy. If an advocate does not receive regular updates about their referrals, they’ll wonder “What happened?” and “Where’s my reward?”

Proactive communication regarding each referral is not only helpful in keeping your advocates informed and happy, it also provides you with an opportunity to nurture your advocates, remind them about the program’s benefits, and ask them for additional referrals. If an advocate knows where their referral is in the sales process, they may even be happy to follow up with them and nurture them towards a successful purchase.

Each time a referral moves through a step in the sales process, an email notification should be sent to them to let them know. When a referral becomes a lead, when they purchase, and when the referral reward is paid out all represent key opportunities to nurture each advocate and improve their performance. Receiving an email notification that says that a referral has purchased and a reward is on the way has a huge positive impact on the advocate’s brand equity, especially in regards to a closed-looped, referral program. Why not capitalize on it by asking for another referral? This will help your advocates with one referral to achieve two, two to achieve three, and so on.

4. Help people to refer off-line as well as online 

Earlier in this post, we talked about advocates needing to be able to to quickly and easily communicate a referral, especially when the opportunity presents itself. Each referral program should give advocates the opportunity to refer both online and offline in a variety of ways. Referrals will most often choose the easiest path in front of them to make a purchase, so it is of paramount importance that the referral program supports their choice to aid in a seamless, closed-loop experience. Some common and important referral methods to leverage include:

  •  Printed referral cards, which can be mailed to an advocate or printed at home.
  •  Verbal referrals, where an advocate gives their referral program number or account number to their referral, who will then give it to a salesperson when making a purchase.
  •  Email referrals, which leverage branded referral program content, and are available in the referral program website.
  • Social media referrals, which also leverage branded referral program content, and are shared by the advocate from the referral program website to their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc).

5. Recognize the power of referrals

Referrals have the power to create an enormous amount of brand equity in prospects that are interested in your products and services. This leads to higher spend on the initial purchase, higher lifetime value for each customer, and greater engagement with your brand. This should be a central focus in sales and marketing strategy and planning, from the CMO’s office to each individual salesperson. The referral program should be a central part of a salesperson’s training, where they should be taught to recruit advocates who will naturally recruit people whom they feel are a good fit and help make warm introductions. Those prospects will naturally have a higher amount of brand equity in your business when they are introduced to one of your salespeople.

This is the case both for prospects who are unfamiliar with your business, as well as those that may have shown interest in the past. In addition to creating new leads, a referral will sometimes re-activate an old lead, or sway a purchase decision on an existing opportunity. A good referral program will recognize this, and credit advocates for these referrals when they happen. Referral program policies should be written with the flexibility to recognize such referrals, prioritize them as the source of the purchase, and credit them when they have a been a factor.

Photo Credit: Magdeleine

 

What is brand advocacy?

 

Promoting your B2B referral program: Don’t forget the SPICE!

A B2B referral program will be a highly successful as a source of new business if you promote it with success in mind.

Marketers generally like acronyms, so in the interest of the K.I.S.S. principle, I offer my fellow marketers an acronym to emphasize the key principles of referral program promotion:

S marketing

P ainless

I nnovate often

C reate trust

E mpower your advocates

 

SMARKETING

Smarketing is a cool term that denotes the mutually beneficial and strategic alignment of sales and marketing teams.

Make it your top priority to involve sales at every point in your planning from concept to benefits to how the program is promoted and optimized.

A successful B2B referral program is dependent on smarketing to bring home the ROI, so the more you work with and prove the benefits of your program to your sales team, the more successful and visible your program will be.

 

PAINLESS

A basic marketing principle, keeping your program simple and painless from registration to making referrals to earning rewards will ensure that your advocates stay engaged, excited and empowered.

 

INNOVATE OFTEN

You’ve geared up for a killer program launch and taken every step to drive your customer or partner advocates to refer and refer often. And it works! You’re a marketing star! Everyone is lavishing praise on you and your team and asking how they can create their very own referral program thanks to your super powered marketing ingenuity!

Don’t get too comfortable, Mister and Missus Marketer.

Just like you wouldn’t run the same TV spot for years on end, you can’t just let your referral program go. It’s like any other marketing or promotional best practice: keep it fresh and innovate often. Change it up. Offer a “double your rewards” promotion. Spice up the creative. Stay on your toes!

 

CREATE TRUST

A referral program requires the same marketing discipline as any other strategic initiative. We mentioned that a lack of planning for your referral program can result in a flop.

The same goes for creating trust with your advocates and the prospects they refer to you; if you fail to create it, your program won’t work.  We’ve seen it happen and we don’t want it to happen to you.

But you can still easily lose all that hard-earned trust if you:

 

  • Try to run your referral program manually, which more often than not, leads to missed or dropped referrals, forgotten rewards, or a lack of appreciation for every advocate’s referral and closed deal that results from that referral.

 

  • Make the program clunky, cumbersome, difficult-to-understand or too much work to implement.

 

EMPOWER YOUR ADVOCATES

There are numerous ways to empower your advocates but the three most important are:

 

  1. Give your advocates many ways to refer – email, social, printed cards, SMS, and any other way they communicate with your brand.

 

  1. Offer advocates a pre-written suggestion for social sharing, but also allow them to change your suggestion and personalize it.

 

  1. Make registering for the program as quick and easy as possible so that they can advocate for you without too much effort.

 

Remember that a B2B referral program can easily become your demand-gen bread and butter. Your bacon when you bring home the bacon. Your referral program will take the cake. But when you’re shakin’ and bakin’ up your program, don’t forget the SPICE!

What is brand advocacy?

Why hospital and healthcare referral programs fail

Amplifinity’s CMO, Trisha Winter, is featured in Multichannel News discussing common mistakes she hears about everyday when speaking with people who run some of the largest referral programs in the world. She compiled a suggested list of solutions to those problems and what she learned over the course of her career. She also talks about how to upgrade a referral program so that it’s the most valuable weapon in your marketing arsenal. (Read More)