John Deere touts customer service as a focal point of marketing campaigns
When marketers discuss b-to-b marketing, the conversation often begins and ends with how to acquire customers. But while new business and lead generation are important for bringing in revenue, retaining customers is more often the real lifeblood of companies. Through targeted content and exclusive social networks, as well as coordinated outreach across organizations, marketers are putting their focus beyond bringing in new business, turning one-time enterprise customers into enthusiastic brand advocates for years to come.
Thirty-nine percent of senior marketers indicated they believe customer retention and monetization are the top priorities for 2011, according to the CMO Council's State of Marketing 2011 Report, released in July. Additionally, 64% of respondents described the retention strategies of customer segmentation and targeting as the leading ways to maximize the impact and value of marketing this year.
This comes at a time when b-to-b is seeing growth in general, with marketers expecting their enterprise budgets to increase an average of 6.7% this year versus 2010, according to Forrester Research. A growing need can be seen at the agency level as well, with Digitas this past March opening Digitas Business, dedicated to b-to-b marketing.
Within b-to-b, retention marketing has received particular interest from marketers lately.
"I keep track of the numbers on what b-to-b marketers are saying are their priorities, and every year they're pretty much the same," says Ruth Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy, a b-to-b marketing consultancy in New York. "But in the last year, the retention imperative has inched up."
Stevens attributes this partly to the economic downturn, which has required marketers to turn from high-cost acquisition to lower-cost retention, as well as a growing awareness that customers should be understood by their potential lifetime value to the company.
Q&A with Christa Carone, CMO of Xerox Corp.
Christa Carone discusses Xerox's b-to-b client retention strategy.
This has been the case for Motorola Solutions, which works with enterprise and government clients ranging from global retail chains to local fire departments. The company places servicing each customer through their entire lifecycle at the center of its marketing strategy.
"Once you close the sale, marketing can't disengage at that point — they've got to continue the nurturing of the [client] to keep those customers for life," says Eduardo Conrado, CMO of Motorola Solutions. "From acquisition, regular communications beyond face-to-face, as they take on new products or software updates — it should be a seamless, high-touch environment."
To reach these goals, Motorola Solutions taps into its exclusive research systems and databases (the sort that would traditionally be used for lead generation) to strengthen its business with existing clients. If a university has purchased the company's Wireless LAN for Education system and reports being satisfied with the product, for example, then it may be offered the TEAM VoWLAN solution, offering voice and data services to the client's mobile employees.
The company measures customer retention through quality surveys, through which it seeks input on products and customer service. In recent years, Motorola Solutions has expanded its content offerings on customer-targeted websites such as Next Generation Public Safety, offering news about the industry and features like "Fresh Ideas," stories that offer technology tips from Motorola experts and others in the industry. Existing customers can log in to get exclusive information about their accounts, from invoices to user manuals for products ordered years earlier.
"The trend you are going to see in many businesses is the public environment on your main dot-com site, but then a private environment within the site where a customer can log in and see all the information that's relative to them as a customer," says Conrado.
Content serves a critical role in customer retention, as white papers, newsletters and other forms of thought leadership and insights provide value to recipients.
In the recent white paper "Thought Leadership: The Next Wave of Differentiation in B2B Marketing," Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at Forrester Research, offers a few best practices for such content. The suggestions include a clear point of view, actionable advice and — surprisingly perhaps — no mention of the company's products. He suggests approaching the content as one would a political platform, with one "overarching, big idea" supported by a series of issues and corresponding positions that address a variety of audiences.
Increasingly, thought-leadership content and the retention efforts it supports are becoming more social throughout the industry.
"We're seeing the user group dynamic expand beyond high tech, with industries realizing it's the easiest place to start with social media strategy," says Ernst. "It helps retention since the company looks like a thought leader, providing value-added services, and the customer is tapping into a whole pool of experts and becoming aware of things they hadn't been."
Improving social has been the aim of antivirus software giant Symantec, which provides its customers with the forum Connect, where they engage with other customers as well as Symantec's technical experts. Customers can post questions or help others troubleshoot.
"There is no sales action or active marketing taking place — it's about them engaging with their peers," says Ashish Mohindroo, Symantec's senior director of enterprise security product marketing.