Customer Marketing’s Priorities in an Uncertain Economy

The tech industry is in chaos right now. In the context of customer marketing (CM), what do executives have on their minds? As a CEO, I know what’s important in challenging times. Simplification. Re-focusing on the fundamentals. In particular, we need to focus on fundamentals that are tangible, measurable, and contribute to our primary missions: customer retention and acquisition. The reality is that for better or worse, experimentation and related extraneous activities, people and tools tend to take a backseat. It’s fight, flight or freeze time. The question of the day? ‘What can we do today to bring in revenue this quarter?’

We have built our entire business on the idea that customer marketing supports the entire organization’s needs when it comes to amassing, maintaining and “deploying” our customer advocates to maximum benefit. The value to PR, events, social, community, IR, AR, digital and yes, executives (think earnings calls, joint speaking opportunities) is real and substantial. And yet, when economic anxiety grows, it’s back to basics, and near-term basics at that.

Customer Retention (+ Expansion)

CM’s role in this use case is to support the Customer Success or Account Management team. These people are measured on retention, it’s important. We all have customers who aren’t maximizing the value of our solutions for any number of reasons. In some cases it’s because they don’t have role models to emulate. Or, they may know what the end result should be, but aren’t able to execute. Know who can help? Successful customers. Connecting the struggling clients with those who are kicking butt may be the change agent needed. Suddenly the conversation isn’t about what your solution isn’t doing, but about how to get the most from your solution (i.e., as it was designed).

If a customer is on the fence about adding a new capability or an add-on feature/module, the problem is doubt. Will this addition be worth the effort and cost? Customer advocates to the rescue, once again.

Do your relationship managers think about the use of customer advocates for these situations? They may not. So all the program promoting you did with Sales and Marketing should be extended to this team. As always, the peer networking is truly appreciated by customers regardless of the catalyst. Customers might even be more eager to talk to a fellow customer than a prospect. Spread the word and help your customer success brethren meet their goals (and by default, the company’s goals).

Customer Acquisition

It’s hard to come up with anything quite as vital to a company’s health than sales. Retention ensures a base revenue stream, but that alone won’t catapult your company to new heights. It’s part of the formula. So, although the term “customer marketing” has not a hint of “sales” in it’s name, it is (or should be) high on a CM manager’s list of priorities.

Why are salespeople so well-compensated and treated with reverence by leadership? They are the engine that grows the company. Yes, they can be hard to corral, their attention spans fleeting and too often overly protected by leadership when it comes to communicating with them directly. But, they need CM—if it’s clear to them that you have something they need, and getting that something is not overly complicated and reliable.

Of all the things that fall into the CM bucket (community, digital, events, etc.), the most quantifiable element is advocates influencing sales. This includes demand gen where suspects become leads, become opportunities; and sales references where opportunities become revenue.

Working with Sales can be intimidating if you’ve never sold. So get to know their processes, their challenges, and translate into how CM can/should support them. This requires attending their team meetings, consulting with them on specific situations (e.g., big opportunities nearing the need for references), staying in tune with the “marching orders” issued by the Sales VP. Familiarity alleviates the sense of intimidation.

CM Priorities are Leadership Priorities

By understanding the headspace your executives are in during periods of economic anxiety you can endear yourself to the people making cost-cutting decisions. That said, they have to know that your priorities are theirs—don’t keep it a secret. One of our client program managers recently received a request from the CEO to make cuts and her response was to create a brief video explaining how the cut he was proposing would impact sales, marketing, and her ability to do her job effectively. She persuaded him to drop his request. This was a very clever way to get the CEO’s time, and present her case in a tangible way. Consider this approach as one of many “arrows in your quiver” for articulating how your program aligns to the CEO’s top imperatives.