What Buyers Want
Technology is giving companies an unprecedented view of their customers: demographic data; buying preferences; behaviors that signal the intent to buy; and analyses that enable them to develop expectations about how customers are likely to act during the buyer-seller relationship. Those abilities are new and, in many cases, hold a lot of promise.
However, as we expand our capabilities to understand the customer through technology, it can become easy to overlook the fact that customers have changing expectations as well. Buyers want an easy buying experience, and they want to feel as if they are being sold to as people, not as consumers.
Too often businesses miss the "relationship" part of CRM and create processes that run directly counter to the expectations of customers. While those expectations are changing, they have not become unpredictable.
What Customers Expect From Businesses
The easy stuff should be easy. Customers expect that getting basic information about a company should be a snap -- a visit to a website should present the obvious information at a glance. How customers can contact the business, what it sells, where they can buy it, how they can get problems solved, and other basic information should be readily available, without forcing customers to go on an exhaustive hunt (website search is ideal for this).
The more complex your product is, the more things fall into the "easy stuff" bucket, so think like a customer and make sure you provide answers to the most pressing issues. Keep track of the things customers call and email about, because they indicate things that are not easy to find.
Make sure that your site makes information easy to find on mobile devices, too. Customers use their devices more than they do their PCs, so making it easier to find information on one platform than it is on another makes no sense.
Your marketing should bring me value. Customers expect a return on the time they invest in listening to you. It's not enough to send an email with your potential customer's name in the subject line. You have to provide customers something that provides sufficient value that the customer thinks it was worth the time to look at.
Verticalization of marketing content is much more useful than personalization; by understanding who customers are and delivering marketing content specifically focused on their needs, you can go from being a glorified spammer to a company that's a trusted source of information, and one that demonstrates its intent to help customers succeed.
If you want me to choose you, make an effort to be the choice. Customers expect sellers to be active and present during the decision process, even if they're not in direct contact with the sales force. Customer journeys should be opportunities to discover the best purchase to address a buyer's needs. If you want to be part of that journey, you need to be active in creating points within it.
That means being serious about mapping your content and creating content when it's needed to fill in the blanks. It also means responding to buyers in social media when there's a conversation you can contribute to. It's not enough to set up a storefront and expect customers to wander in -- you need to be active in capturing their attention and demonstrating why you're the best choice.
If I'm ready to buy, be ready to sell. When customers are ready to hand over their cash, companies need to ensure that deals get done -- not at the speed of the company's processes but at the speed the customer expects. Delaying the completion of deals with manual processes for quote generation, approvals, contract signatures and other readily automated activities works against the ideal of sales acceleration, and in this day and age it's disrespectful of the customer's time.
Worse yet are the byzantine internal processes of some companies that can delay deals for no reason other than to satisfy internal demands. Ask yourself what's more important: closed sales and happy customers, or the placation of someone internal who insists on a process working a certain way?
When I have a question, you should have a satisfactory answer. Customers expect your business to be the expert on your business, and this expertise is delivered via service and support. Service has been called "the new marketing," and while this greatly undersells the things done by actual marketing, the truth is that support can keep customers from churning, and turn unhappy customers into satisfied and loyal ones.
To do this, companies have to arm their service agents with two things: knowledge about products, instilled through training; and the power to make changes to keep customers happy. "I don't know" and "I can't do anything" are not acceptable answers.
Knowledge about me should be transferable. Customers know that businesses collect information about them. Their relationship with the business may be primarily with one person or a small team, but their perception is that the entire business knows about them and who they are.
In this age of automation, it's inexcusable for customers to have to reintroduce themselves over and over again each time they have to work with a new person or a new department. When this happens, it reveals a neglect of the customer information infrastructure -- a neglect that springs from the business' utter disregard for the customer's time. It's disrespectful, and customers know that it's unnecessary.
Your relationship with me does not end with a closed deal. Customers expect an ongoing, business-based relationship. Getting the deal done is great -- but that's just the beginning of a longer relationship, especially if you work within the subscription economy.
A lot of companies, however, fail to keep up their end of the relationship after the deal is consummated. Marketing to those customers ceases, human contacts dry up, and the customer ends up feeling jilted. This may not matter much until renewal time, which may be the moment when you realize that your competitors have been more active in communicating with your customers than you've been. The "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" approach just does not work in an era when buyers expect much more from sellers.