If you work in B2B, then you probably hear the terms “customer-obsessed,” “customer-centric,” and even “customer-powered” used interchangeably on a day-to-day basis. Rather than merely being buzzwords, the increased usage of this kind of language is a sign of how companies are shifting their priorities to focus on the value they bring to their customers.
Being “customer-centric” and “customer-powered” aren’t one and the same, however. The customer-centric approach is the first step towards designing your product and service offerings with your customers’ perspective in mind. A “customer-powered” approach takes things to the next level, where you’re actually involving key customers in your organization’s processes and decision-making.
TrustRadius’ VP of Marketing Russ Somers explains this distinction well: “In a customer-centric organization, the customer is passive. The company is structuring their offering around their customers, but they’re not directly involved. In a customer-powered organization, the customer has a voice, which the business ensures they are leveraging.”
It’s this way of thinking that drove the executives here at Influitive along with TrustRadius, Point of Reference, SurveyMonkey, and Sendoso to assemble the Customer-Powered Alliance, which aims to educate B2B marketers on how becoming a customer-powered enterprise can benefit their organization and customers.
This assemblage of heroes from the Martech Universe (any Marvel fans out there?) recently got together to host a webinar titled “Why it’s no longer enough to be customer-centric.” We discussed how brands can benefit from bringing in their customers as an extension of their team, and how to do it.
I’ve drilled down the major takeaways from our conversation into a convenient list of items you can action in your organization today.
1. Make your customers feel part of an exclusive club
For customers to want to support you in your initiatives, they need to see a clear benefit. One of the most meaningful perks you can offer your customers is to make them feel part of your community. “People have a desire to belong to something bigger than themselves and be part of a movement,” says Influitive’s CEO Mark Organ.
Customers’ ability to see the impact they have on an organization is also very powerful. It’s one of the primary forces we’ve seen drive acts of advocacy from our own advocates and our customers’. Customers love getting opportunities like providing product feedback, because it enables them to have a visible impact on the tools they interact with day-to-day.
Another factor driving customers’ desire to be inducted into your community—and part of the foundational research that led to creating Influitive—is social capital. “It feels amazing to be recognized by your peers for your contributions within your community,” says Mark, “and even more amazing when this recognition leads to career growth opportunities and new friendships.”
These days, there are communities growing everywhere, within infrastructures you do and don’t control. “People are talking about you on Quora, in blog comments, on social media, in support communities, and more,” Mark says. “Having one place where your engaged customers can share their experiences can make things much less chaotic.”
“If you want to build a customer-powered enterprise—meaning that you want your customers involved in every aspect of your business,” Mark adds, “having some form of community where you can easily connect with your customers is pretty critical.”
2. Give your customers a voice and amplify it
We live in a world of eroded trust, where buyers are wary of marketers and believe they’re being sold things they don’t need. As a consequence, consumers—in fact 82% of them according to SurveyMonkey’s research—look to the opinions of their like-minded peers when making purchase decisions, instead of trusting what brands have to say.
“Through all this, the voice that does remain true, resonant, and authentic,” says SurveyMonkey’s CMO Leela Srinivasan, “is the voice of your customer. I think that’s why we’re seeing the rise of TrustRadius and other review sites more than ever.”
Studies especially point to B2B buyers flocking to review sites to aid them in their purchase decisions. TrustRadius research finds that reviews are the number two source of information used by B2B buyers to inform purchases, whereas just a few years ago they were in fifth place.
That’s not to say that you’ll win customers by having only five star reviews. Buyers actually become skeptical when all they can find online are glowing accounts of you and your product.
“No one trusts a product or brand with nothing but perfect reviews,” says Russ Somers. “Buyers want to know the pros AND cons. They want to know that the reviews they’re reading are the voices of relatable people like them, from which they form their actual decisions because they trust marketers less than they ever have. Peer reviews are the antidote to this corrosion of trust.”
“B2B is increasingly becoming like B2C, seeing as consumers suddenly have a voice and they use that voice to drive change,” Russ says. Companies should adapt to this shift in buyer behaviour by empowering their customers to share their honest experiences on review sites, and acting on this well of customer feedback.
3. Think about customer references more holistically
In keeping with buyers’ move towards trusting their peers more than they trust businesses, customer references are a key resource brands use to help with closing deals. But, these can actually do much more, with influence on sales being only the first layer of what Point of Reference’s CEO David Sroka refers to as “The Customer Reference Onion”.
“When you introduce a customer to a prospect,” David says, “they both get to expand their professional networks, which is very powerful. And we see those connections linger on far past that initial conversation around references.”
Customer references are also vital for levelling up your marketing’s storytelling and for educating and training prospective customers. “The right customer references are the ones who model best practices and set prospects’ expectations based on working with you,” says David.
It’s important to make that distinction of who the “right” customer references are. In these critical interactions that can shape potential buyers’ impression of you, customers who effectively showcase the potential for success with your product will be instrumental.
When it comes to advice on purchases, buyers want to hear from people who have been in their shoes—not from the companies selling to them. Point of Reference saw this firsthand when one of their customers within their community persuaded a prospect to consider them more closely, when it looked like they weren’t going to.
“We had a call from a customer who had previously connected with someone considering our solution,” says David. “They were now in the process of making their decision and it looked like they were heading down the wrong path. The reference had the credibility to say ‘this didn’t work for us, we wouldn’t recommend you do that.’ That was very powerful.”
4. Plug customer feedback into all areas of your business
It’s one thing to be actively asking your customers for feedback, but in order to walk the walk, it’s important that you reflect on the pain points your customers are experiencing and which suggestions and improvements you can add to your roadmap.
This is something SurveyMonkey especially focuses on. They’ve managed to involve the voice of their customers at several touchpoints, by having a customer speaker join each of their all-hands meetings and making customer feedback visible across their organization through a Slack integration.
“What’s important is that we’re not just passively watching these customer stories come in,” says Leela, “but we’re actually putting them in front of the right people on our team who might get meaning from them. We’re basically helping the organization connect the dots between customer feedback and areas of the business where that feedback can have a significant impact.”
Inviting your most fervent customer advocates into your community—through a customer advisory board for instance—is a great way to build that source of readily available feedback.
With companies prioritizing the voice of their customers more than ever, this has also led to the creation of new roles that act as a proxy for customers within an organization.
“Something I’m always thinking about when building my team,” says Sendoso’s CEO Kris Rudeegraap, “is which roles will really help us be more customer-powered. These roles include customer experience managers, community managers, and customer success ops.”
5. Be a champion for your champions
Something to remember when asking your customers to complete requests—whether it’s writing a review, participating in a case study or acting as a reference—is that there needs to be value on both ends. By framing your request in terms of the opportunity it provides to your customer, you’ll be surprised at how willing your advocates are to help.
“You want to enter this world of two-way advocacy,” Leela says. “Where I see marketing teams get things horribly wrong is thinking of advocacy as transactional interactions where they’re always looking for something. If someone comes into my universe as a customer advocate, you can bet I’ll be advocating for them too.”
You’re in a unique position to lift your customer advocates by providing them with recognition, education, and professional growth, which they might not always receive at their own organizations. Social media is also a great way to show your customer advocates some love.
“When it comes to our customers’ success, we shout almost as loudly as them on our social media,” says Leela. “It’s important to serve as a champion in return for all the championing that’s coming your way.”
6. Build emotional connections with your customers
“I know it sounds obvious,” says Kris Rudeegraap, “but it’s important to be thinking of your customers as humans. Companies should approach nurturing those customer relationships as though they were a best friend.”
Part of treating your customers like your best friends is listening to what’s going on in their lives and creating memorable moments around important life events. The team at Sendoso goes as far as creating new Salesforce fields to capture things like customers’ birthdays, new additions to their family, pets, and hobbies. Being able to operationalize this information enables you to get creative with how you’re showing customers you care about them—whether it’s sending a new leash to a dog lover or a baby onesie to a new parent.
It’s also important to think about how you’re helping customers grow in their careers. “The reality is,” says Kris, “these people may be a customer with you right now and hopefully their company will stay with you forever, but that person is going to move companies at some point. So the question is, how do you build a great relationship with that customer so that they’re thinking about you as they move on to their next opportunity?”
Some key elements that help with sustaining these relationships across career moves are customer rewards, empowering your customers to speak at events, providing peer networking opportunities, and inviting customers to be part of a CAB.
Perhaps the greatest way to facilitate those emotional connections with customers is getting as much face time with them as possible. “I love Zoom video,” says Kris. “I love showing my face to customers and seeing their faces. It’s so much easier to sense their emotions and really get to know them that way.” Other channels that Sendoso leverages to connect with customers are direct mail, in person meetings, online communities, and even text messaging.
7. Define your strategy before building out your tech stack
When faced with wanting to scale your customer community efforts, you know that you’ll need some sort of software solution (or set of solutions) to support them. But before getting started with researching which platform is best for you, it’s important to first nail down what you’re hoping to achieve.
“Before you define a tech stack, you’ve always got to define your objectives,” says Russ. “There’s any number of tools out there that can help with creating interactions with customers and mobilizing customer advocates, but the simplest tech stack that checks off your needs is probably the right thing.”
Learn more about what it means to be “customer-powered”
To wrap your head around what it means to be customer-powered vs. customer-centric, it may be helpful to think about it through metaphor.
A customer-powered organization is like a tandem bicycle ridden by an employee and a customer, where both are pedalling at full speed. In a customer-centric organization, the customer is present but the employee is doing all the work. In the race that is today’s marketplace, it’s clear that companies who get their customers pedalling too by involving them in all their processes will win.
For a deeper dive on what it means to be customer-powered, check out our Customer-Powered Enterprise playbook, where you’ll find in-depth explanation of how companies can leverage the power of their customers to generate results across Marketing, Customer Success, Sales, Product Development and more.