As to my background and credentials as editor of this publication: I began my career as a sports journalist, where I worked closely with Sports Illustrated, and later as a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer and as Weekend Night Sports Editor for the Cincinnati Post. I moved on to work as a copywriter in the marketing department at Union Central Life, then one of the top 50 insurance companies in the US. My next stint was as a Marketing Manager for KDI Corporation, a high-tech A&D conglomerate. From there I served for a couple of years as a writer and account executive at a promotion agency, working for Champion Spark Plugs, Owens-Corning and Jeep. I did a stint as editor of an international trade magazine and then made the jump to marketing management at a chemical company, and later at NuTone, a manufacturer of home building products. That’s when I made the big jump, opening a sales promotion agency with partners Richard Blumberg and Barron Krody. Over the next two decades we built the agency up to one of the 50 largest in the US, serving Procter & Gamble, Toshiba, Florida Power & Light, 3M, Imation, Quaker State, Pillsbury, St. Paul Insurance, among others. I sold the agency to join Cincom Systems — the oldest software company still in existence — where I worked with a phenomenal group of marketers as Marketing Director for Manufacturing Customer Strategies and to manage marketing programs with Microsoft Dynamics, our primary business partner . I retired from Cincom at the end of 2015 to put renewed focus on this online magazine.

Customer Experience Marketing Makes Buying Easier

“All About Me” kind of content must include the context of individuals, or clusters of similar individuals. Context is the interrelated conditions in which information or activity exists with other situational events that impact decision-making and the final outcome.

All consumption occurs within a context.

The more you understand customer context, the less information customers have to supply to you and the better you can serve them. That’s easier for them and easier for you. One way to get a handle on the context of a buyer is to watch what they do on your website. If you have a good marketing automation system such as Eloqua or one of Eloqua’s competitors, you can analyze their online behavior.

Online context reveals clues about customer interests, behaviors and experiences, etc. – all factors that collectively determine the needs of the customer, as well as help providers offer services to best satisfy those needs. Visitors who behave in a similar fashion are in a similar context. This enables you to launch content and offers to people in a similar contextual situation.

Content is a general term that describes articles, photos, illustrations, diagrams, videos, sounds, promotions, animations, navigational links, functionality and online tools that appear in the web browser view. Contents are contextual when they are personalized to be relevant to each individual visitor’s situation – the visitor’s fine-grained profile of demographics and informational interests, location, timing, needs and decision criteria.

Marketing is contextual when it is made relevant to each individual customer’s situation while also addressing the needs of the sponsoring enterprise (awareness, positioning, qualification, barrier identification, trust, closure).

Customer experience marketing brings customer and seller together so that the customers can make better decisions, faster and easier.

Is your brand All about Me?

What’s the difference between a product-centric and customer-centric approach to communication? In a word: relevance. Whereas product-centric messages promote features and price, customer-centric messages promote a totally personalized solution based on individual customer needs.

Product-centric communication exploits the value of a single transaction while customer-centric communication addresses the lifetime value of the one-to-one customer relationship.

This begins with content that is about customer pains and issues instead of the wonders of our products. First, show the customer that you understand their needs and their situation, and when you have gained their trust, guide them to see how your products address their unique needs better than the products of your competitors.

It’s no surprise that personally relevant communication is of the utmost importance to customers. In fact, one recent survey showed that only 26 percent of respondents would even act upon impersonal, “Dear Customer,” correspondence. That leaves three-quarters of your customers unsatisfied. So, now is the time to trade in the “We We” product-focused communication for the personalized “Me Me” messages that build repeat business. If you are doing this already, CONGRATULATIONS! If not, why not?

When implemented correctly, customer-centric, contextually relevant communications will enable you to:

  • Build personal relationships that keep customers loyal
  • Strengthen customer satisfaction
  • Communicate customer specifics that reduce future inquiry (and thereby reduce cost of communications)

A Different Kind of Courtship

A quantitative analysis by the Marketing Leadership Council of 4,900 B2B customers across two dozen industries concludes that teaching customers provides the most effective path to differentiation and, ultimately, greater customer loyalty.

Both end users and decision makers value companies who provide education about problems and solutions. Education is the most significant driver of customer loyalty.

However, to impact the purchasing decision, the teaching should lead to unique reasons your brand is best at resolving the buyer’s issues.

Early in the buying cycle, customers seed education on new issues and outcomes that offer unique perspectives. As the buying cycle moves to evaluation, they want help to navigate alternatives and to avoid potential landmines. At the selection stage, they want to learn how to quantify financial value.

  1. Lead to your unique strengths — teaching should further customer appreciation of your unique strengths
  2. Challenge customer assumptions — teach something new that will stick in the minds of customers
  3. Catalyze action — teaching must point to your solution with a reason to take action now

A set learning questions we use at Cincom helps us prepare relevant and actionable marketing and sales programs:

  1. Tell me what you need
  2. Tell me why you need what you want
  3. Tell me how we can help you

The conversation today must move from “we have a knowledge-based platform” to “I’d like to talk with you about accelerating your sales three times faster than you can do this today.” You want to learn about their aspirations and determine the gap between where the customer is today and where a new reality can take that customer.

  1. Why buy anything
  2. Why buy from me
  3. Why buy from me now

The conversation must eventually demonstrate the cost of not selecting your decision. “Every day you stay with your current methods is costing you $375,000. The return on our solution will occur within 90 days. You simply cannot afford to stay where you are.”

The most effective means of differentiating your customer’s purchasing experience so you are helpful and you end up with the sale is to teach in such a way that it reframes the way a customer assigns value to factors that you uniquely do better than any other supplier.

The CEM Challenge

The Dysfunctional Difference

With over 40 years working in marketing and sales with national and regional companies, my observations blend into certain realities.

A lot of companies are dysfunctional.

They were dysfunctional then and years later, they still are.

A few do almost everything right.

There are profound differences in how these two types of companies go about creating value for their customers and provide positive customer experiences.

These differences determine how different companies generate economic value — by first creating a valued customer experience. But for all the words written about customer experience, so few seem yet to get the message.

A massive study by the Conference Board confirmed that only 5 percent of companies have achieved sustained inflation-adjusted growth of more than 6 percent.  All the other companies have stalled out.

Recent studies confirm similar patterns:

Profit from the Core (Chris Zook and James Allen) — 13 percent of 1,854 companies achieved sustained growth.

Creative Destruction (Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan) — 16 percent of 1,008 companies achieved sustained growth.

Good to Great (Jim Collins) — 9 percent of 1,435 companies achieved sustained growth.

The numbers tell the sad truth.  

It is all too easy to succumb to a kind of corporate hysteria in which the illusion of action wrapped in a great deal of rhetoric replaces effective action.

“When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, leap and shout.”We allow corporate infighting. Alternate approaches are pitted against each other in an “either-or” scenario in which there can be no winners.

Yet worse … we apply incremental band-aid solutions that address symptoms instead of causes. The problems persist, yet we expect better results.

Such common actions can put any company definitively in second or third place or in no place at all.

Personality Traits of B2B Decision Makers

Whether we are trying to recruit physicians to staff a hospital or buyers of enterprise software or managers of contact centers, we need to understand the context from which various buyers are coming. The better we understand the context and the personality traits that these B2B decision makers have, the more skillfully we can manage a productive conversation — hopefully leading to a sale. Continue reading Personality Traits of B2B Decision Makers

Customer Experience Goes South in the Contact Center. Who to Blame?

By Dale Wolf

A variety of different surveys indicate that at best only one in ten consumers have an outstanding experience when calling corporate contact centers. The other nine are average, mediocre or poor. The fact that I work for a company selling contact center technology brings an interesting observation. As much as we want to sell our solution, the reality is that providing a great customer experience on the phone is mostly about how you use the technology. Sure, you need certain features to enable agents to fluidly provide fast and accurate responses, but the customer happiness is about how company policies and whether the agent actually cares about providing the customer with a wonderful experience.

The features touted by Cincom as essential elements within the technology are three-fold:

  1. A unified agent desktop (that lets the agent see all the information that is relevant to a particular customer call without digging through a lot of back-office applications).
  2. Intelligent scripting (to guide the agent into the most productive and relevant conversation path).
  3. Automated, personalized fulfillment (that enables an agent to send back to the customer confirming information about the issues they discussed on the phone).

Given these three capabilities, a well-trained agent can extend to the customer a perfect customer experience.

The fact that some 90% of contact center interactions annoy the customer is uncalled for and unnecessary. It is mostly indicative of corporate cultures that have not made the shift to customer experience marketing. The agents reflect the culture and the compensation policies of the company they work for.

Senior executives with poor customer service in the contact center need first to look at themselves and the culture they are fostering. Change that and the customer experience will improve. Change that and you will grow faster and more profitably than your competition.

Why I Profess Lead Nurturing

By Dale Wolf

Lead Nurturing and Customer Experience go hand-in-hand. Nurturing implies that you stay in contact with prospects across a longitudinal time frame. Done properly, this should increase the customer experience. I say "properly" because nurturing programs should initiate outbound communications that deliver value to the prospect at each stage of the buying cycle. During most of this cycle, the prospect is most likely not even in an active buying situation … the time is not right. We need to recognize where the prospect is and what they need at any given time and then provide an offer that is meaningful, relevant, useful. Such nurturing improves the experience.

A situation came up at our company just this week. A prospect we talked with almost a year ago was at that time too far into a buying process with another vendor. We got in late. But we stayed in contact. In the interim they were becoming dismayed with the vendor they selected. We recently made contact and the time was now ripe for us to step in and offer a proposition that met their needs. Had we given up on that prospect and not nurtured the decision makers with valued information, we would not have the opportunity that is now on our plate.

Nurturing works because eventually the timing for each prospect will be right. By showing them you care along the way, you will be invited to participate. Building a great customer experience begins long before you have the customer. And it never ends after you have the customer.

Customer Experience and the White Lie

Opinion by Dale Wolf

Howard Sewell writes on his blog that "A growing number of Silicon Valley companies are promoting Webinar events broadcasting at a specific date and time, but that (unbeknownst to the attendees) aren’t broadcasting live. Companies just flip the proverbial switch at the appointed time and play the recorded event, even including a canned Q&A session at the end."

In my opinion "this growing number of Silicon Valley companies" has it all wrong.

In the era of “customer experience” and the requirement of building trust with customers, this strategy seems to make no sense at all. 

Sure a live event has a sense of urgency that can stimulate a surge in attendance. But this white lie is just not worth the risk. If you are willing to lie about a webinar, would you be willing to stretch the truth about a product feature? Would you promise a delivery date you only hoped you could achieve? Is your warranty really backed by promised service?  Once you get away with a little white lie, is there temptation to take the lie a bit futher the next time. Maybe we can promise, uh, a rebate and then put such fine print details that make it impossible to get the rebate. Maybe we can promise the lowest price in the industry and make the invoice so confusing that the customer cannot figure out how we are billing? 

You can fool a customer once. After that, they will not believe anything you have to say. The white lie is a slippery slope.

Meet My Terms or I will Leave You

By Dale Wolf

Keep in mind, now, that customers are in charge; not you. That boat has left the dock. The toothpaste is out of the tube and no one can put it back in. The war was fought and the customer won.

The new battle is over customer experience.

But to the chagrin of a large office products manufacturer the bar for earning customer loyalty is higher than any of us might want to imagine. This company does over 250,000 customer satisfaction surveys a year. To say they manage customer loyalty is an understatement! When this company did the usual survey of 5 customer loyalty attributes, they noticed an unexpected conclusion.

Customers who were generally satisfied on several attributes did not repurchase as much as those who were satisfied on all attributes. The customers were demanding a 5 out of 5 in exchange for their loyalty. In my books, a 5 out of 5 attributes is a perfect score. Well, I can’t meet that kind of demand, you might be saying. Perfection is out of the question. It is impossible.

Meet my terms, the customer is saying, and I will be loyal to you. If not, well, there are a lot of providers to select from.