One of the critical success factor in your post-recession growth plans is your customer base. Your customer base is as valuable an asset to your business, as your people and products are. And your customers can represent the quickest growth opportunity you have.
One of the first places to look in evaluating your post-recession growth strategy is your customer base. A key measurement of your customer base is its loyalty to your company and your products. For some companies, customer loyalty means customer satisfaction. This is not the case, though. Loyalty goes deeper than merely being satisfied. Being ‘satisfied’ is really a point of entry with customers. It is an expectation that must be met in order to be in the game. If your customers are not satisfied they will actively go elsewhere. But to merely be “satisfied” also means to be open to change. Change that the next savvy competitor can leverage to take away your customers. More importantly, your customers’ loyalty levels will dictate just how effective of a role they will play in your growth plans.
There are several companies providing customer loyalty analysis, each offering their own terminology. In general terms, though, the overall customer loyalty spectrum goes from aversion to dislike to satisfaction to like and to champion. The objective is to build your business plans, sales and marketing programs and customer interactions with the focus of keeping you customers in the top end of that spectrum.
As you look at loyalty — and just how much attention you want to afford to it — look at the benefits. Customer loyalty moves beyond simply satisfaction to create:
- Recommendations for your product- either formally as in a customer reference or informally within their peer group
- Ready-made pipeline for cross-selling other products and services
- A profitable well for new and updated solutions
- Lower churn rates, ensuring more customers for the long term
- Positive positioning of your company in on-line forums, blogs, Tweets and other social media resources utilized or frequented by the key decision makers
So what is the best way to move forward and implement a customer loyalty initiative? There really is no cookie-cutter formula. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all program that you can just pick up and adopt. There is, however, a process you can follow to create, implement and manage a successful customer loyalty program. And it is as simple as A, B, C.
The first step is to ensure that your business model is in alignment with your customers’ business model and their most pressing needs. This means understanding your customers’ business – their industry, their customers and their business pains – and knowing it better than your competitors do. With this level of knowledge you can better align your sales, marketing, and support with your customers’ business. To the degree you can, you may want to segment your base and create a targeted customer program to be even more fully engaged with your customers and creating stronger ties with your business.
An important thing to consider when aligning with your customer is the current sales planning model. How effectively does your territory planning, account planning or opportunity planning integrate valuable customer information? Is it built around solving customer pain points? Does it incorporate industry trends and best practices relevant to their needs? Answering these questions will require that you have access to the right information and the ability to turn it into actionable business intelligence and effective programs.
Once you have (1) set up a customer-focused infrastructure to more effectively engage your customer base, and (2) developed a sales model that’s well aligned with customer needs, the next step is to ensure that it’s adopted throughout all levels of your organization. That means ensuring that the new model is endorsed throughout the management chain and reinforced as an integral part of the sales management discipline.
After management, the sales team also needs to embrace this initiative. After all, they are the primary champions on the front line and the key to its success. Last but not least, the new model must have buy-in from the other key constituents in the organization that will help make it successful. This includes marketing, technical support, customer service, development, accounting and other groups that can have an impact on customer engagement.
One thing to consider for buy-in is establishing cross-functional teams in support of key accounts or tiers of accounts. Representing each of the key areas of your business, these teams can be valuable to the sales planning process, ensuring a higher level of customer engagement and avoiding “silos of influence” that can derail the initiative.
For your customer loyalty efforts to be successful at all, they must have consistency. To start up a program and begin to engage with your customer in this new, more effective way, only to stop after a while, or to do so intermittently will do much more harm than good. The process you establish must be an on-going effort that is part of your daily, quarterly and annual sales management function. To work, it must not only stick, but it must be built right into your organizational DNA.
Author: Jeff Ballard is an international marketing executive best known for creating and managing innovative, results-oriented programs and campaigns to drive revenue via new products, markets and channels worldwide.
Stratus Marketing is a leading consulting firm and launch marketing agency for the technology industry. Stratus has helped dozens of leading technology firms to create customer alignment through loyalty initiatives and cross functional teams. Learn more go to www.stratusmarketing.com
To contact Stratus direct email: [email protected] or call 208-761-1489