Moments of Truth in Marketing

I had a long discussion about the vendor-customer relationship recently, and the idea of “moments of truth” came up. You might be familiar with the term, but probably not in the marketing sense. 

Many people associate a moment of truth with war or battle, a time when people have to stand up for what they believe in and take unappealing and dangerous actions for the common good. Thank goodness those moments are far between, but they aren’t the only moments of truth that individuals or companies have.

Moments of truth happen all the time in business. They are situations in which one side of a relationship has to step up and show care, concern, or empathy for the other side. You could argue that moments of truth drive commerce. After all, what is a purchase decision at heart other than a customer’s conclusion that a vendor can help solve a problem that he can’t solve on his own?  It’s the first moment of truth in a relationship.

There are six steps in that relationship; that is, the customer lifecycle: discovery, evaluation, purchase, use/experience, bond, and advocacy. Almost any company with a reasonably incentivized sales team can get through the first three or four parts of the lifecycle. But when they get to bonding, many companies fall down. Their customers get frustrated, some leave, and some spread unflattering words. When bonding fails it’s usually because the vendor failed one or more moments of truth.

Failing to bond means fewer customers say good things about a vendor, whether unsolicited or via a formal Net Promoter Score survey. Without good word of mouth it becomes harder to sell. 

This can be bad enough in a conventional product sale, but in a subscription environment, it can be lethal.  The subscription business model is loaded with moments of truth. It’s built to give customers the maximum flexibility to cut losses if a vendor is failing.  

In this environment, marketing has a very special role to play because it’s not expected to simply pump out content. Marketing is increasingly the place where companies collect, score, and analyze customer data to determine whether moments of truth are being met.

As more companies conclude that they can’t ignore their installed base, in between pushing out their newest product or service, marketing’s role changes from seasonal to year-round. The year-round job is to ensure that the company is bonding with its customers, not once during the sales process, but continuously to create repeat business and advocates for the brand. That’s always been the theory. But now in practice, we have the tools to do the job. The only question is: Do we have the desire?

  Denis Pombriant is founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group LLC. His research on such topics as social CRM and social responsibility is widely read in North America and in Europe.
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