As companies grow from five customers to five thousand, it can be difficult to maintain the same close connections you once had with them. Unfortunately, if customers start to feel the distance, they’ll become apathetic. In his Advocamp 2016 AMP talk, Seth Lieberman, CEO of SnapApp, proposes his solution to keeping customers engaged for life: creating more opportunities for conversation.

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I’m going to start with the bad news: you have a bunch of customers, and they hate you.

I have some worse news: you have even more customers who don’t care about you. They’re apathetic. It’s my number one priority to crush apathy and mediocrity in this world, because apathy is the killer of all things. It kills companies. It kills ideas. It kills progress.

The good news is that we can fix apathy. I’m a big believer in engagement and interactivity. Do you know which of your customers don’t like you or are apathetic? Have you done anything to fix that? Intellectual honesty is paramount. If we don’t know what the problems are or what the challenges are, how are we ever going to make it better?

The good news is we can do all that, and we can fix all that.

Two fundamental things to understand about marketing

  1. Marketers are going to own the entire customer journey, from first touch to last touch. I was talking to an education HR company this morning. Their last touch is 40 years. They’re helping teachers increase their knowledge and training from the time they enter the school system to the time they leave it. Marketers are doing demand gen, prospecting, sales enablement, customer marketing and advocacy. That first touch and last touch, that customer conversation, is going to be entirely owned by marketers.
  1. Experiences matter. When you buy a shirt, a car, a phone, this experience matters. If I do a crappy job, you’ll leave with a negative impression. If I do a good job, hopefully you’ll leave with a positive impression. Experiences matter, but we can’t fly around the world and talk to everybody face to face all the time, especially in the B2B world. Everything happens digitally, so digital experiences matter.

Number one, marketers own from the first touch all the way through the customer life cycle to the last touch. Number two, we have to deliver awesome experiences at every step of that process.

If we do a good job on the marketing side, we earn the chance to pitch you and sell you something. If we do a good job there, we earn the right to win a deal. If we win that deal in the first 90 days, we onboard you and we win the renewal. If we do all that, we win the chance to make you an advocate. Then we win the chance to do it again with somebody you refer to us.

The power of active listening

Active listening is mission critical. One of the most important things about great experiences and about customer conversations is that they’re dialogues, where most marketing is a monologue. Steven Covey has a fantastic quote I love, which is, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.”

This is really true if you work with sales teams. The first thing they’re thinking when they’re in a conversation is, “What should I say back? What should I answer?” What you really should be saying is, “What’s the problem? You’re saying this, but is that what you really mean?”

Marketers have to learn how to be active listeners, so we can understand what the problems are facing customers, and really understand what motivates advocates.

Once we start to actively listen, we want to make great experiences. Here’s a great experience: has anybody ever taken a trolley car? It’s great, but it’s less good than an Uber, right? It comes on demand anywhere I am, is super convenient and takes me anywhere I want to go for less than any other price. That’s part of a great experience.

The second thing is that you have to be personal. Knowledge and intimacy really drives brand, credibility and trust. This is really powerful, but it’s only done if we’re listening to what matters and delivering these great experiences.

Driving conversations at scale

If we think about how we do this today, we could pick up the phone. When you have five customers, it’s easy. When you have 50, okay. But what about 500? What about 5,000? What about constant contact down the road from 500,000? How do you have conversations with 500,000 people? You have to have a strategy and you need technology to enable those conversations.

What’s one of the most powerful things we’re going to get from having these conversations? We’re going to learn. The more we learn about people’s problems and challenges, the better off we’re going to be to fix them and turn that apathy into advocacy.

For those of you who have used net promoter score, or NPS, have you always been 100% satisfied with it? Does anyone not know what that is? It’s measured like, “On the scale of 1 to 100, how likely are you to recommend our product or service to somebody else?”

It’s called advocacy. That’s a conversation. It’s a very simplistic one, but that’s feedback. What’s good about the product? What’s bad about the product? What problem is it helping me solve? What would I change? How is my onboarding? How is my sales process? Why didn’t I buy? Am I an advocate? What kind of advocate?

How do you, at scale, have these interactive assessments and conversations to figure out who are going to be your best advocates, and what their advocacy persona is? For example, I’m a social butterfly. I have a lot of followers on Twitter. I look good in front of the camera. You need to understand their strength and weaknesses, just like employees.

If you manage people, you’ll understand this theme. It’s the same with your staff. Who wants to work with someone who’s apathetic? You want to work with people who say things like, “SnapApp is the best place to work in Boston, and you should come here and work here too.” That’s the same thing people say about products. “You have to buy this. You have to do this.”

Involve your customers in the conversation

Give people a voice to share their opinions and their ideas. Even if they don’t get their way, they should be part of the conversation. Involving them in the conversation and giving them a voice is powerful because they know you care.

Show that you care, because I believe most of us do care about our customers. I know I care about mine, and they’re really important. We’ll never be the next Oracle or Salesforce if we don’t care about our customers and make them successful. We have to involve them in that process and give them a voice to share everything.

I want to share a nice story about Blackbaud and give you some practical advice. Blackbaud is a for-profit company selling tools and services to not-for-profits. They make money by helping not-for-profits be more efficient and solve problems.

One of the stories that came in is, “Every time I use Blackbaud I save 20 minutes. I have to do this 5 times a week, so Blackbaud is saving an hour of my time a week.”

They built a calculator for their other customers. They said, “Well, if this person is having this problem, they’re representing that we’re helping them. Who else has this problem?” They built this conversation by saying, “Hey, let us see how much time we could help save you.”

Long story short, for the first time ever, that internal team beat quota by 33% and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of more software and services to their install base.

Blackbaud’s Powerful New Revenue Stream: Advocates
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Now, advocacy is not necessarily about selling more goods and services to your customers. The people who don’t care about you or hate you won’t buy anything from you. This conversation is a feeding ground to find advocates. Involved in this process, they’re recycling these same problems and conversations they’ve had with their install base, and they’re feeding it back to their other customers and say, “Hey, do you have this problem? Tell us your story. Participate. Tell us what’s good and what’s bad.”

They’ve rolled that out as a way to find advocates and to have conversations with their customers, as well as to figure out who to sell to, which is ultimately what we as businesses want to do. We want experiences to resonate. We want the message we’re delivering at the time we’re delivering it to resonate with that audience, to drive value for them and value for us.

Where to get started

First, who are your customers? It’s usually the CMO’s job to have that customer conversation. We’ve really got to know who they are as people, because companies don’t buy things, people do.

Figure out who your customers are and what they care about. This is mission critical. We should be doing this at every one of those first to last touches. Why are you having the sales conversation with us in the first place? What’s the problem you hope we’re going to solve for you? Then why did you buy us? What’s the problem we solved for you? Why is that a problem? What does that mean for you as an individual?

Ultimately our job at the individual level for our customers is to get people promoted. Let me get you promoted. We want you to be so successful using our solution and solving your company’s problem that you get promoted.

That’s good for the company, but that’s good for you too. If we do that, you’re going to take us to the next place. It’s the customers for life concept. Tesla is probably building customers for life. You buy one Tesla, you’re going to buy another Tesla, and another Tesla. Hopefully they last long enough that you only have to buy three, but you’re going to keep buying Teslas. That’s the goal.

The last thing is to make them part of the conversation. You have to care what people are saying and give them a platform. Communities are a great way to have conversations, but they’re really dangerous, because the only way to write something on the internet is to never read the comments. In this scenario, you can’t put your head in the sand. We need the right forums in the right ways to have this input, to have these conversations, to allow people to be part of the conversation in a structured way.

Finally, the company values have to come from the company, not from the CEO. You can’t make people be advocates. You have to help make them part of the conversation and give them value. Tell them what’s working and help them do better. Ultimately those people, when they’re part of the conversation, become your true advocates. Hopefully, we’ll turn that apathy into advocacy.

The CMO’s Guide To The Next Gen Customer Experience
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