My garage looks like a weight loss contraption museum. There’s virtually every piece of workout equipment sold on the shopping channels and then some. One child asked if we were going to donate the older ones to the Smithsonian as she’d just learned about that museum in school. With enough hardware out there to start a small gym, one can’t help but reflect on the disconnect between intentions and actions.
It’s just the same way for many companies when it comes to spending prodigiously for the tools to get relationships with their customers in shape, only to find six to nine months later the same processes being used and the same results delivered. The only difference is they got their faster with the help of software. It seems so many companies are finding it easier than ever to automate, speed up, and turbocharge their way into mediocre performance with customers all because they don’t stop to re-define the essence of their strategies for attracting, selling to, and serving customers in the first place.
Resolving to Flexibly Communicate Comes First
What’s needed isn’t brain surgery-level redefinition of company-wide processes, but an intense new focus on embracing flexibility. The more successful a company becomes, the more rigid it tends to become. Good times make embracing the challenge of changing tough, but every company has to change to survive. With those thoughts in mind, here are recommended resolutions for customer-facing strategies in the coming year:
- Resolve to get roadblocks out of the way of truly hearing customers. This is the hard part because in many companies it’s cultural. There’s a lot complacency in successful companies that exceptionally strong channel partners will continue sustaining revenue, or a what-appears-to-be-loyal customer base paying for maintenance. If you’re successful, your competitors are targeting those channel partners and customer base.
- Resolve to learn about RSS and what it means to your strategies. Simply put, RSS is a format for syndicating content where audiences commonly subscribe using the RSS aggregator of their choice. Web-based aggregators are available from Bloglines, Google Reader, Pluck, NewsGator, Yahoo and many others. It’s best to experiment with subscribing to RSS feeds first, then plan out your own RSS feed strategy, segmenting by influencer group. These influencers could include prospects, channel partners, analysts, your existing customer base, or any other audience you regularly target today. The depth of what you can do with RSS deserves another column that I resolve to do in 2006 on this topic.
- Resolve to get your blog act together as a company. For many small company CEOs I speak to, they see blogs as the interior monologue that pervades James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s time to throw off the preconceptions of blogs, however, and realize they are a potent force in shaping perceptions. In 2006 it will be a very good idea to define a policy on employee blogging at a minimum, and second, consider writing one that delivers candid, honest information to the outside world.
- Resolve to get a linking strategy together now. The extent to which you link to other sites and they link directly to you affects how search engines assign page rankings to your site. Resolve to pick 100 sites you can add value to with links, and likewise, contact other sites to get yours listed. You can use this link popularity tool to check both your site and those you target to see how you and their sites are doing.
- Resolve to educate first and sell later, especially in emerging markets. Resolving to go after face-time and educate prospects first and assume these will be very long sales cycles. With established customers, focusing on the emotional aspects of trust, performance, convenience tends to work best. This is according to research completed in the Journal of Market Research.
- Resolve to implement Voice of the Customer programs that focus on loyalty. This is critical for any company relying on an installed base for the majority of its revenues. Resolve to discover the dynamics of loyalty in your customer base, specifically what distinguishes the most from least loyal customers. Resolve to create strategies that go after what’s wrong with your company first, and don’t worry about the accolades. Consider customers voting with their dollars the ultimate compliment.
- Resolve to become the top company in your industry that responds to complaints with a personalized response. Now this is a tough resolution but one definitely worth going after, because the direction in this area is to automate and incent mediocrity early and often. Delve deep into how you are handling these processes and look for areas to change not technologies, but how people do their jobs and get compensated for them. Bloggers have had a field day with the breakdown in this area by the way, so if you know this is broken in your company today it’s best to get moving on the 3rd resolution ASAP.
- Resolve to turn pricing into a competitive channel weapon. Another process where software gets thrown against the problem and companies hope parts of the packaged solutions stick is pricing exception handling with channels. Resolve to get deep into how special pricing requests are handled with your channels and automate it first manually by trimming unnecessary steps and delegating approvals. Then layer in technology. Companies are winning more deals by taking these steps to turn pricing into a competitive weapon.
- Resolve to bring customers into your new product development process. This gets lip-service in companies who are blindly complacent to the competitive dynamics surrounding them, but as new product introductions grow in revenue and market position importance, even the largest companies are re-defining their product lifecycle management processes to include customers more than ever before. Consider Accenture’s recommendation for bringing customers into the NPD process and start your own this year.
- Resolve to experience what your prospects and customers do monthly. Go out and do an audit of your company’s performance monthly and bring back lessons learned, the good and the bad. Try to buy from your company, get service, and even complain just as a typical customer would. This is a great test to see if your strategies of becoming more flexible and easier to do business with or working or not.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.