I remember a January afternoon in our start-up company’s Dallas showroom. Mycolleagues and I were perfecting our pitch to sell digital marketing software to indie store owners. We were coming off a new software release and were counting on thisshow’s momentum to help us demonstrate traction.
Making the software less frightening was part of our strategy. Small business owners who buy our product access a simplistic way to send marketing campaigns to their loyal customers via email, Facebook or Twitter.
At one point in our discussion, an affable 60-year old woman approached me, and thefive-minute conversation she and I had became the basis of ourchanged product positioning strategy.“My grandson is proud of me,” she said,“After I used your product, I told him how Ipost to Facebook, create campaigns with a computer, look at my reports, and he thinks I’m cool.”
This single benefit turned out to be what kept her coming back to us. And she wasn’t alone. In fact, her revelation resonated with many more of our customers, and we realizedwhat customers truly gained when they bought our company and products was Pride. Knowledge. The courage to learn something new. The opportunity to impress. The ability to stand out in their community and be popular with their customers.
In other words, wewere not just giving them a software tool that generated sales; we were offering them confidence.
Grandma’s story changed our messaging and our selling/marketing too.Here are some of the things we did differently with her as our muse:
- Show Customers How We’re Making Their Dreams Come True. Small business ownershave entrepreneurial dreams, and we began tomore overtly encourage these dreams. Part of this encouragement was in helping ourcustomers learn more, work more efficiently, and make better decisions. A software tool and some technology guidance wouldn’t cut it. We had to lead. So one thing we did was re-name our talented Customer Care team to Marketing Consultants and we empowered them to do much more than problem-solveon single-issue needs. Today, they alsoadvise on campaign creation, marketing strategies and how best to use our reporting dashboard. For businesses with multiple locations, we assigned a dedicated consultant to help business owners leverage today’s social media and work toward making their ROI models ring true.
- Demonstrate To Customers That They’re Investing In a Goal, Not Just a Process.“Become a Smarter, Better, and More Efficient Marketer” is a goal we want every one of our customers to commit to. So, when customers sign on to us, we don’t just give them login credentials to a software process. We give them a defined ‘career track’ of ongoing education via email, free webinars, advice, video counsel, and written articles. Plus, we offer a team of humans who can guide their decision-making along the way. We want to know how they’ve improved. We’re implementing a ‘then’ and ‘now’ metric so that we know the change, even if it’s anecdotal. “How did we do against your initial expectations?” is another question we ask.
- Ensure that Customers Love us With Their Hearts, Not Just With Their Heads. A key opportunity for us is the sheer volume of customers willing to stray from our competitor because they have little emotional attachment there.One of the reasons for this is because the relationship with this competitor is perceived asan exchange of ‘monthly dues for services rendered.’ With this insight, we began to align our company with causes that were important to our customers (buying local, for example) and it resonated.Aligning with a company because it represents a ‘movement’ is powerful, as evidenced in Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology, Truth and Lies About What We Buy.Itdemonstrates to our customers: “we care about what you care about”
- Employ Friendly, Competent Humans Who Actually Talk on Phones.Customer care, as online shoe company Zappos has demonstrated, can be so pervasive that it becomes a company brand.But some modern-day companies, aspiring to be regarded as ‘technology titans’ and in their zest for efficiency, use technology in places where it’s not helpful. We always knew of the need for warm and caring individuals on the other end of the phone but learnings – such as this one in our focus group – gave us more reasons to invest in this area. We recently added Live Chat to our web properties and have seen it take off as a communication vehicle. This combines technology with human interaction and is just another example of providing quick and caring help when needed on customer terms, not ours.
- Create Opportunities For Customers To Learn In Ways That Are Fun to Learn. Our Social Media Director shows store owners how to best leverage Facebook and Twitter and the hundreds of other ever-changing social media tools out there. Sheruns Webinars and writes blogs and articles as part of our educational series called SnapEdu. And, in our permanent showroom, she presents 45-minute seminars. To truly engage users, she uses a technique of audience polling where each customer is given a device that instantaneously locks in a vote, which appears instantly in the presentation. But she’s realized that not all of our customers like to learn this way. So, for those who don’t travel or come out to seminars, she hosts a 4 pm “Snappy Hour” on Facebook — a time for customers to ask our resident expert, any question and in realtime, she answers them. Offering differentiated learning is vital.And, it’s fun!
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Realizing the power of tapping into emotional needs caused us to revamp how we listen to customers. When we started our company, we had a Customer Listening Plan and used surveys, focus groups, intercepts and placed customer advocacy calls. But it wasn’t enough. We were missing the opportunity to tap insights from key employees who are on the front line every day talking to customers. In addition, our feedbackreports were managed and owned by different individuals. So we made things simpler. We assigned one individual on our Product Team to own the new and improved Listening Plan. She began a monthly feedback huddle among all employees who regularly talk to customers called “Table Talk” where she catalogs and organizes customer feedback. By pulling together information that sits in various departments, we’ve already been able to identify trends and follow an expressed need all the way through — from identification to solution. Listening to customers and really trying to understand what they want is the job of everyone in the company. But, just as important, each individual needs a way to share that knowledge and understand what happened to that feedback after it was expressed.
To summarize, the way that technology is woven into the fabric of our modern lives, it’s natural to think that most challenges with customers can be solved with automation – with software – even if they are problems of the human condition. This also seems to make sense given the fact thatscaling high-quality customer care has itsfinancial challenges. But investing in and relying on good ‘ole human-to-human contact in a changing world could be a game-changer for a company.
Additionally, all marketing strategies begin with product features and benefits. But, incredible insights and differentiators emerge when companies take the time and resources to dig deeper into the “why” behind customer needs. Perhaps the most important realization is that customers buy for reasonsassociatedwith emotional needs of belonging, ego, mitigating fear and feeling confident.
Tapping these often unexpressed needs and solving for them in creative ways have helped our company grow exponentially in the last 18 months. It can work for your company, too.
Jill Berardi is Vice President of Strategy and Product Management at SnapRetail, which empowers independent retailers to easily market and sell their unique wares. She is accountable for the creation, enhancements and success of SnapRetail’s software products; and in helping to define and ambassador its strategic vision.