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.
Symantec can then use the questions and issues posted on the forum to inform everything from advertising strategies to product development. For example, in April, the company launched a beta version of its software program Endpoint Protection 12, inviting customers and prospects to try it out and then compare notes. Customers requested additional features including access for managers to the Web-based version of the program, which Symantec then added or planned to add in the final version.
In addition to its forum, Symantec employs a customer advisory board and industry user groups to get more direct feedback. If a customer buys Endpoint Protection, it determines whether Holistic Protection or Data Loss Prevention might also be helpful to the company.
"We try to engage with them to understand what their infrastructure looks like, what are their needs, and where we believe there are gaps where we can partner together to resolve," says Mohindroo, adding that this may even mean suggesting a different vendor if Symantec could not best solve a customer issue. "We are more interested in a long-term partnership than a one-time sale."
Though Mohindroo acknowledges that "there is no perfect science for tracking this," the company does look at its retention rate, reviewing software renewal rates and other statistics.
"If we do see some weakness anywhere, we actively engage with customers to find out what's happening. Is it product-specific? Is it pricing-specific?" Mohindroo says the company aims for a retention rate "as close to 100% as possible."
Getting everyone on board
Tips for measuring ROI
in a b-to-b campaign
Gauging the effectiveness of marketing continues to be a challenge, but this is especially true of companies whose marketing activities support retention or upsell within existing accounts. But vague metrics can become manageable once marketers set specific goals.
Keeping the customer happy is a particular challenge when it comes to enterprise clients. A series of Forrester Research studies commissioned by Adobe Systems in May 2010 found that while 46% of b-to-c consumers said they were satisfied with vendors' online purchase process, just 17% of b-to-b customers were. Marketers say this sort of disparity is typical, since the relationship with the enterprise client is much more complex.
"There are more teams involved, so you don't have the luxury of a one-to-one relationship," says Ben Watson, principal customer experience strategist for Adobe Systems. "It's a many-to-many relationship — you've got more horses to corral."
That has driven Adobe to revamp how it tracks enterprise customer satisfaction and retention. A consequence has been organizational change, particularly the development of a "customer success program" connecting the sales, service, support, consulting and marketing teams.
"We all work with our customers in order to figure out what the problem is and where the opportunities are. But more importantly, there's now an internal process that's wrapped around that," Watson says. "I do think that retention is a higher priority than it used to be."
Adobe began doing quarterly business reviews for individual accounts, something previously reserved for product development or marketing campaigns. Earlier this year, Adobe also launched a "Customer Listening Post," featuring video feeds to all of Adobe's support centers, its social media monitoring and interfaces of active support cases, to discover leading trends or themes. The data can be filtered by client, Adobe program or issue. Adobe's marketers can use the data to get a sense of customer concerns and history, and shape the company's messaging.
"We eliminated the alt-tab problem. We brought all of the interfaces that are required for us to service a customer — Adobe.com, the store, our own CRM systems and our phone system — into a single application that gives a single view of a transaction or support case," says Watson.
He describes the company's email marketing efforts as a shift from "fire and forget" strategy into a "nurture" strategy, more sensitive to where the customer is in the lifecycle. That ensures the company can avoid over-communicating, as well as nurture the client as he or she purchases additional products over time.
Taking a lifetime approach
Focusing on the long-term value of a customer rather than the latest sales transaction is a growing part of marketers' ROI approach, says Rick Segal, president and chief practice officer of marketing agency Gyro.
"They have to look at not only how did they perform in the last quarter, but also what kind of revenue and contribution has this company made over the entire time they've been in relationships with them," says Segal. "That's one of the best metrics: 'This company has been a customer of ours for 23 years, and part of our revenue stream every quarter over the lifetime they've yielded this amount of revenue and productivity.'"
The lifecycle approach has become more central to email marketing as well. By way of example, Stevens points to a marketing trade show using a series of triggered emails to keep attendees updated about the event, or a subscription-based business that reminds customers when an order should be renewed.
"Companies are putting in place robust, ongoing communication streams that are triggered based on the relationship between the customer and the marketer," she says. "People have been drooling over triggered email and talking about it for years, but thanks to marketing automation, it is starting to hit its stride."
New tools have been rolling out to help marketers strengthen and measure their retention and CRM efforts over the customer's entire lifecycle. In June, email services firm StrongMail launched Lifecycle Marketing, which allows email marketers to design, automate and track their triggered email marketing programs.
The same month, Adobe launched the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management, which draws on its own internal retention efforts. The platform allows companies to build multichannel digital interactions for social and mobile customers, connecting marketing and IT with customers. At the same time, Adobe introduced six Customer Experience Solutions for b-to-b use, meant to correspond with six points during the customer lifecycle.
"More and more, b-to-b companies are moving away from a reactive, sales request-driven approach to customer marketing toward a fact-based approach," says Megan Heuer, service director of marketing operations strategies for SiriusDecisions, a b-to-b sales and marketing consultancy. "An insight-driven process means companies know specifically what opportunity resides in their customer accounts, and the likely challenges they'll have in winning it."
Technology is being used in other ways to boost enterprise success. For Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating, distributors and contractors who sell the company's products are the primary target of its b-to-b retention efforts, and technology is a key tool.
"In the last year or two, our focus has shifted to how do we disseminate the massive amount of information we have to our sales channel in the most concise and up-to-date way possible?" says Gabriel Weiss, program manager of interactive and emerging technologies at Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating. "We use technology to promote and sell our technology."
Among such new technologies are Microsoft Tag quick response codes included in the company's brochures and product literature. When a distributor or end user scans a barcode with a smartphone, it takes him to informational websites and YouTube videos featuring customer testimonials. The videos are meant not only to interest the end user in the product, but to showcase the distributors as knowledgeable thought leaders, Weiss says.
Mitsubishi also recently rolled out an enterprise-based iPad program for contractors not available to the general public, offering in-home selling materials, videos, presentations and other tools.
"We try to provide our customers — the contractors who are actually in the home — as many tools to support them from a selling or education standpoint as possible," explains Weiss. "We support them as often, with as much stuff as we can."The end of b-to-b as we know it? As advancing technology has allowed the physical workspace to become virtually unnecessary, distinctions between b-to-b and b-to-c marketing have come into question. Segal raised some eyebrows late last year when he declared "the death of b-to-b" at a marketing conference in Berlin.
"The individual is carrying their own computing power on their person and has transcended the firm as the principal organization element in b-to-b communication," Segal says.
With work-life and home-life boundaries in flux, Segal contends, it has become more important than ever to appeal to clients in inspirational and emotional ways — as humans, rather than as organizations.
Segal mentions a print ad Gyro created for John Deere, featuring a lumberjack looking across a vast forest and the tagline, "We work for the guys who look down on the clouds."
"Ninety percent of business decision making is emotional, and yet if we were to comb through the archives of b-to-b marketing communications anywhere, most are rational in their flavor and character," says Segal. "We need to appreciate how to touch the human emotion, especially when speaking to b-to-b customers."