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May 2010 Archives

Follow the Money: Customer References and Demand Gen

Posted by Bill Lee on May 18, 2010 at 03:18 PM

Positioning a customer reference program as a  . .  . customer reference program . . . won't get the attention of senior management at any firm. It's a function. A cost, in the preception of most. Reference program budgets reflect this.

But two emerging developments, which came into view at last week's Sirius Decisions 2010 Summit, will bring reference and other key customer engagement programs squarely into the spotlight, if they're positioned and run correctly. 

1. First, where marketing is concerned, budget dollars are flowing into demand generation--which use targeted marketing efforts to drive awareness and interest in a company's products and/or services. That was evident from the audience--some 500 people from an impressive array of companies on hand, , some 15% of whom i'd say were VPs or above. 

2. Demand generation programs need content. In particular, content that can or should be developed by customer reference programs. That's because "peers" are buyers' most trusted sources of information throughout the buying process (see last post).

Here are some more interesting stats and takeaways from the Summit (following last Friday's post) that will have important implications for reference programs:

- Siemen's VP of Marketing Lief Pederson reckons that 70% of the buying decision is completed before the buyer contacts their firm, up from 40% just a few years ago. That is, buyers are checking Siemens out through their sources like their peer community and/ or online. Obviously, Siemens wants their customer references involved in those conversations.

- By 2015, 71% of all B2B leads will come through the web. (Currently the number is 58%) Again, you want those leads reading about and interacting with your customer references and customer communities (whether on your site or elsewhere) during the buying journey.

- There is growing acceptance of the notion that marketing must remain engaged with lead generation throughout the sales cycle--as opposed to simply generating "inquiry" leads up front and tossing them over the wall to sales. Marketing will need to help "nurture" leads that are falling by the wayside, and in particular continue to provide content and support throughout the buying process. And we've already seen what the most consistently trusted source of information is throughout that process.

- There is also a growing awareness that firms must analyze and understand the buying process, not just the sales cycle. What does the journey from education and awareness to purchase look like through the eyes of the buyer? References can play a critical role in understanding this process (attention: case study writers) as well as supplying relevant content to support it

- Back to Siemens: Pederson's team reinforeced this view of the expanded role of marketing (and implicitly of customer references) by asking, What if:

           *  we could convert 10% of our visitors into email contacts?

·                * we could convert 50% of those into actionable leads for sales?

·                 * 25% of sales pipeline was directly sourced from marketing (not just influenced)?

     Is there any doubt that customer-based content will be critical in making these numbers a reality?

Peers are Becoming More Critical to Attracting Buyers: Research from Sirius Decisions

Posted by Bill Lee on May 14, 2010 at 03:58 PM

I've been attending Sirius Decisions 2010 Summit this week, and getting up to speed on the art of building demand for your products and solutions. In their 2010 survey of B2B buyers, here are some striking results on the question of what sources of information they value most duing the buying process.

In particular, they looked at the most valued sources of information in all stages of the buying process:

-- early, educational phase

-- middle, assessing vendors phase

-- late, the purchase decision phase

The importance of information from peers in all buying stages is significantly up. For example, the importance of peer referrals in the early (educational) stage of buying was up from 31.2% to 51.1%.  

Also, the importance of information from vendors is going up, particularly in the middle evaluation phase, from 3.5% to 11.4%. And the perceived importance of social media is falling.

What does this mean? When prospects are thinking of buying, they want, most of all information from their peers, particularly those who have a similar problem or issue to theirs. They want this information more than info from analysts, trade publications, consultants, etc.

The decline in trustworthiness of social media may be due to the increasingly excessive "noise" coming from that area. Social media sites that provide good content are still going to be valuable influencers of buyers.

As for vendor information--the information your firm is providing--when buyers get to the middle (evaluation) stage of buying, they are becoming more open to information from vendors, but it must be useful info. Not the usual marketing verbiage, but information that can really hep them decide. In addition to information from your existing customers,  white papers and other thought leadership content can be very valuable here. 

Also your firm should be investing in recognizable thought leaders from within your firm who can provide frank and honest information buyers need. Take this self test: select an important product or solution category that you're firm is placing a lot of emphasis on. What search terms are buyers using to get more infomration about this area? Do a google search of one of those terms, followed by the phrase "thought leadership." For example, "cloud computing thought leadership." Here's the test: does any blogger from your firm come up in the top 5 search results (not counting paid advertisements)? Does a blogger from your competitor?

We Could Rescue the Dog, But Not This Business

Posted by Bill Lee on May 4, 2010 at 02:05 PM

You either love customers or not, but you can't fake it. 

Recently I came across a stray dog as I was just starting a bike ride on lovely Katy Trail near downtown Dallas. I'd snuck out from work for a quick ride and was in a bit of a rush to get done, but I'm also a hopeless dog lover (HDL). So I stopped and began the arduous task of trying to coax a scared and skittish dog to get close enough to secure him, get the info off his collar and call his undoubtedly frantic owner.

 Before too long I was joined by three other fellow HDLs, and the dance began in earnest with a very hard to get pooch. What does that have to do with customers or a business? 

As luck would have it, we wound up in the parking lot of  a local  small fitness center just off the trail. I'd seen it before, and in fact was kind of interested in it since I live close by, but had never checked it out. Before too long, someone looking like the owner or manager showed up, parked his car, walked across the lot with cell phone in ear, and right through the middle of our "net" around the dog. He glanced at the dog, glanced at us and just kept on walking. Didn't say a word.  

A few minutes later he stepped outside again, glanced at us,  and proceeded to do the cell phone thing again. He didn't ask what was going on (it was obvious), didn't ask if he could be of any help, didn't even acknowldge our presence though he clearly saw us.

Think of that. Here are four prime prospects for his business. Three things were obvious . We work out (we were all in some form of work out gear).  We live nearby (or at least regard the area as a convenient place to come for a workout). We wanted to help out the dog. But he was too busy with his cell phone (calling prospects?!) to bother with us. 

Had he simply expressed concern and support, offered to make a phone call, asked if we'd like  some water--anything--he'd have had at least one hot prospect (me) wanting to know more about his facility when it was all over. But I would guess that all he saw was a mangy dog and a bunch of idiots with nothing better to do. 

It seems to me that either you like people and have predisposition to helping them out, or you don't. And if you don't, it's hard to turn that off and on just because someone had the label of "customer" or "prospct" stamped on their forehead. Despite its stellar location, with hundreds of fitness concious people jogging or riding by it daily, I give his business 8 to 12 months max. 

Oh, as for the pooch, a nice lady from the office building behind his facility saw what was going on and brought us some doggie treats she kept around for her own dogs.  Thanks to the treats, we reeled the dog in, got hold of his collar and got the phone number off his tag, and called his owner, who came running like the wind from more than a mile away. Owner and pooch reunited. Come to think of it, she was pretty fit too--yet another lost prospect for our callous fitness facility guy.

Customer Reference Forum's Onsite Workshops Have Gone Live

Posted by Bill Lee on May 3, 2010 at 09:37 AM

Following up least week's early "heads up," here are links to the press release and to the web pages about the new Customer Reference Forum onsite workshops.

They're designed to get customer reference programs well aligned with company strategy, poised to take advantage of social media, and in great shape to help support the growing economic recovery.