Websites are big investments for any organization. Often perceived as the ‘face’ of an organization, the goals of corporate websites range from educating, selling to engaging customers or simply chest thumping on how totally awesome the company thinks it is. Just about everyone feels they have a voice when it comes to their organization’s website – Marketing, sales, customer service, product marketing, the CEO, the Board, etc. The focus frequently shifts from consciously defining how the website supports and enables the buyers’ journey to appeasing a committee of interests. That’s too bad because according to KoMarketing / Huff Industrial Marketing, 37% of survey respondents indicated that they will visit a vendor website 3 – 5 times before making a purchasing decision. The ineffectiveness of most websites is driven by digital marketing being slow to evolve their content marketing strategy to align with customer preferences. Websites should be speaking the customers’ language and solving their problems instead of what most do which is broadcasting corporate brand messages and selling products and services by using company internal language. Five years ago 95 percent of websites were comprised of collateral and product/service pages. Today, according to Lionbridge, that should be less than 50 percent. The other 50 to 75 percent should be storytelling, challenge/pain solving content marketing, and enabling tools and information for key moments of truth. To dig further into the role that websites should play in customer-aligned marketing, I sat down Clint Poole, VP of Global Marketing, of Lionbridge. Christine Crandell: Do websites still matter? Clint Poole: Today’s best websites serve as the backbone of a well-structured digital ecosystem whose components are meant to manage all of the desired customer/audience digital actions, from engagement to conversion. The website itself should serve as the definitive source for educational and meaningful content that is re-distributed across multiple digital channels in the sub-formats that make it relevant to the buyers’ preferences for those channels. The website should serve as the hub. The educate vs sell angle is a massive one. Content that educates and entertains is much more likely to be linked to compared to brand-centric or persuasive content. Customer-valued content gets you in front of new audiences with an element of credibility and social proof that can have massive viral effect. The above factors increase your website traffic which increases the size of your engaged audience which leads to conversions thereby increasing your opportunities and ultimately translating into increased sales and revenue. Christine Crandell: Where have marketers gone astray? Clint Poole: There is reluctance to change or at least the lag time to change. Over the past decade marketing professionals have become entrenched internally as they became overwhelmed with the complexities of the new marketing technologies and engagement channels. Culturally, the function has lost its focus on customer intimacy that used to be its core competency. We continually hear from Marketing leaders that they are driving “back to the fundamentals” of marketing, which includes developing an understanding of their buyer’s needs, preferences, and perceptions of a brand. For consumer marketers this is a challenge because their customers don’t necessarily want to have a relationship with the brand. That requires marketers to focus on analytics to drive conclusions and big data analytics have not been perfected to a point of prevision. For B2B, marketing measurement is just getting to a point of maturity where marketers can truly measure the influence of multiple touch points across a buyers journey. They are still looking at the overall map versus truly understanding the buyer “moments that matter” and focusing efforts on those critical interactions. Christine Crandell: You believe that websites should follow customer journey maps and engage in ‘educational storytelling’. How can marketers operationalize that advice? Clint Poole: The key is in the application of a new website strategy where the purpose is to educate and engage through content that is meaningful, relevant, and interesting to the buyer. This requires a finite understanding of the preferences of your target audience at each stage of their customer journey and creation of content that matters at each and every moment. It’s a matter of prioritizing which moments on the customer journey are most critical because there are too many moments to treat them all equally and buyers are too overwhelmed with messages to absorb everything. Personalization tools are driving the tactical application of right content at the right time, but getting it right is tricky. Personalization can be a powerful lever when real insights about your buyer’s pains are addressed through content and delivered at the right place and the right time with the help of tools that leverage digital body language and other knowledge about your visitor. Christine Crandell: Popular belief is that ‘content is king’ and should live in the website. You disagree, why? Clint Poole: We believe the complexities of buyers’ preferences require a brand to consistently distribute the same message and content via multiple channels simultaneously. As such it can’t simply live on the website in isolation, but needs to be part of a well-designed content publication strategy that maps buyer preferences and effective formats for specific channels. Each of the digital channels plays a specific role and those roles are maturing. Blogs were once the posting ground for short-form content that marketing couldn’t justify publishing on a website. Blog posts were perishable content that fueled social and was often focused on “engagement”; not on ‘more serious’ product content. Today, most marketers realize that the main goal of all digital channels is to build relationships and trust. In response, blog content is slowly shifting in tone and length and we are seeing blogs trade quantity for quality. Christine Crandell: What are best practices to ‘assemble’ the right digital properties to build engaging, endearing, and enduring customer relationships? Clint Poole: We’re in the age of the consumer which means customers expect effortless, exceptional experiences every time they interact with your brand. If they don’t get it, you risk losing more than a sale. You risk losing trust, brand loyalty, and a profitable long-term relationship. Providing exceptional customer experiences is the new competitive differentiator. And since most buyers initially interact with companies through websites, mobile apps, and social platforms, the race is on to ensure quality experiences across those and all other customer touchpoints. My advice is to start by getting to know your customers through persona development, buyer process/journey maps, and intelligence based on behavior. Because only when you truly understand your customers’ needs can you coordinate touchpoints to provide consistent, seamless experiences that foster enduring relationships. Personalization is key. Today’s consumer expects the right content at the right time on the right channel—and in the right language. Which means brands must now scale and adapt experiences to meet the needs of their various global consumers. It is clear that website localization (including multilingual SEO, social media, marketing campaigns, and more) is a business imperative, however there is still work to be done. We saw this in our recently released State of Web Localization Survey and were surprised to see nearly 40 percent of respondents are still without a strategic approach to website localization. The cost of not localizing can be counted in lost opportunities and percentage of lost global market share. Where do you start? With a strategy that delivers locally relevant content, consistent messaging—and exceptional customer experience on a global scale.
We all complain about it, threaten to shut it down and not look at it for it consumes countless hours with questionable productivity benefits. I’m talking about our electronic tether to and the most convenient form of social escapism from the real, physical world – email. I have this game I play once a week, build a storyline by stringing together the headings of spam emails. Is it the story about beautiful Russian women fighting to save the world from coming to an end because a special scientist has been jailed for revealing NASA’s secret for curing hearing loss and is being tortured by certain physical non-performance? Or is the story about how to spice up live with an extra-marital affair? Wait, that story is actually taken byJosh Duggars and the Ashley Madison website. Not good use of my time you’re saying. For a white collar worker it’s entertaining while standing in the TSA line. We are addicted to email. Adobe Systems released the results from their latest email survey that included 400 interviews with USA white collar workers and Adobe’s Digital Index (ADI) which analyzed 17 billion visits coming from email. The study highlights are:
- Americans are addicted to email and check it around the clock
- People are guilty of checking email in awkward locations or times
- Email is and will remain a cornerstone of workplace culture
- Millennials check email more frequently than other age groups
- Email marketers need to do a better job to improve conversion rates
- Watching TV/movies (70%)
- In bed (52%)
- On vacation (50%)
- On the phone (43%)
- In the bathroom (42%)
- Driving (18%)
I hear a rumble and it’s not the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area last week. It’s a market shifting; one of those “who moved the cheese” kind of rumbles. Marketers are challenged in achieving full customer lifecycle visibility and understanding how data science can drive more effective customer engagement and conversion. So they invested in technology, much of it on a “leap of faith”, believing that the next application or new ‘cool’ technology will deliver higher quality revenue and better line-of-sight. Marketers being bullish about technology resulted in the infamous 1,876+ vendors graphic. The MarTech space has begun to consolidate. The day of reckoning is upon MarTech vendors as companies take a hard look at the real ROI. It’s not about nurture ads, retargeting, or predictive analytics in and of themselves. Instead, marketers must prove to their CEOs and Boards ROI – how much revenue came or how faster the sales cycle is from the technology. If the investment can’t be tied back to quantifiable revenue the odds are high that the particular Cloud application will not be renewed. Demonstrable ROI isn’t the only thing driving consolidation. Managing four to ten or more marketing applications with varying degrees of integration is a nightmare and expensive. I have one client that uses Silverpop and NetSuite, one ‘talks’ to the other but not the other way. Marketing technologists, in- or outsourced, can be expensive. There has to be a better way and marketers are increasingly demanding that their table stake applications be on one platform. How the MarTech market consolidates and who the winners and losers will be remains to be seen. “Nurture, retargeting, predictive analytics, CRM, contact data, dialers, etc. really need to be all under one roof,” shares Henry Schuck, CEO of DiscoverOrg. “Predictive analytics is great but just knowing who the next likely buyer is doesn’t help if marketers can’t call them, email them, or put ads in front of them. Dialers are great, but not having phone numbers to call makes them fairly useless.” Schuck cites examples of the type of consolidation that marketers are looking as Salesforce’s acquisitions of ExactTarget and Pardot which bring Marketing Automation under the CRM Umbrella or Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua and Blue Kai which aim to do the same. In the midst of the debate about marketing technology is a growing voice about data. Schuck shares that “without data you’re dead in the water.” Everything hinges on the QUALITY of data; it is food for MarTech applications. The cornerstone of best-in-class marketing organizations is accurate contact data and the prime source of value in the marketing technology stack. How did data become unsexy? Decades ago, long before the Internet, data used to be very sexy. It was the lifeblood of marketing. Every marketer knew that if the data they were using for direct mail, events and outbound calling was bad, there was no place to hide. It was obvious. Back in those days, due diligence on database companies or list providers was intense – how frequently were the contacts called and information verified, what were the data quality processes, how was the data maintained, etc. The king of database companies was a La Jolla, California-based organization called Computer Intelligence (not the current company with the same name). The depth and accuracy of their account and contact profiles was unrivaled. How did data lose its sex appeal? “We got drunk on social media and high on content creation,” believes Schuck. “Marketers bought into the belief Hubspot was preaching that inbound will drive all the leads you need. Interesting that Hubspot has an outbound sales team to generate leads.” The days of cold call being dead and replaced by social media are over. Ironically, the value of data as core to the ability to engage prospects and customers never went away; it just slipped from the limelight. It’s back with marketers re-recognizing that high quality data is key to their success. The door has opened for companies like Avention, RingLead and DiscoverOrg to disrupt legacy companies like Dun & Bradstreet and Hoovers who have not changed their methods. “It’s almost as though many marketers gave up on the concept that data could actually be accurate or good, shared Schuck. “But newer technologies and companies are proving that good data is not unobtainable” Avention and InsideView gather intelligence on accounts and use technology to gather, aggregate and cleanse data. These companies are layering multiple data sources together to provide near real time insights into buyer intent. Bombora is a rising backend data source because they focus on algorithm data consumption. Just giving you the fact that an account is doing research on a specific topic – is a good trigger for action. Knowledge of action taken is gold. For marketers and sales reps accuracy is paramount to action that converts. DiscoverOrg believes that you still need a human to interact with database contacts to have truly accurate data and be able to leverage Bombora to the next level. Selecting the right data source still comes down to doing due diligence. Schuck’s advice to marketers is to:
- Track everything,
- Know exactly the revenue realized from every tool and data purchase investment,
- Invest only in those that result in measurable revenue,
- Set benchmarks for each tool before making the purchase and measure it annually.
- Keep all of your data fresh and in sync.
- Be deliberate about how you keep your data current, clean and truly sales ready in your CRM and Marketing Automation systems.
The “age of the customer” has had a dramatic effect on organizations. New positions abound that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. One of those positions is the customer success manager. The concept is to have a team of employees focused on exactly what the position’s title describes – the success of the customer. However, and ironically, companies have implemented the position to focus on getting additional revenue from the customer instead of ensuring the customer achieves their outcome first and foremost for the lifecycle of the relationship. The function, as well as the industry of customer enablement and empowerment, remains early despite market rhetoric. The good news is that things are changing and rapidly. That is reflected in the challenges the 2015 Customer Success Salary Survey & State of the Profession Report found facing customer success teams. It speaks to the need for companies to rethink and realign the definition of customer success roles :
- Reactive approach to customers
- Time management and focus
- Visibility into customers
- Scaling the team
- Clarity of the role and goals
- Chief Customer Officer / VP of Customer Success between $150,000 and $175,000,
- Director of Customer Success between $125,000 and $150,000,
- Customer Success Manager between $75,000 and $100,000.
Totango’s study found that 43% of customer success employees come from sales and/or account management compared to 24% that come from support/services organizations. That background accounts, in part, for the role’s revenue focus instead of customer outcome attainment. Other fields from which customer success managers come from include marketing, product/engineering, finance and consulting.The good news is that companies are starting to realize that an overemphasis on revenue runs counter to what they and their customers want which are to build enabling and enduring relationships based on lifecycle outcome attainment:
- Product adoption – 57%
- Churn reduction – 55%
- Onboarding – 47%
- Customer advocacy – 42%
- Customer support – 39%
- Upsell – 20%
Dr. James Canton, a futurist, stresses that companies must continually change to survive. “Uber-connectivity, high velocity, real time transactions, IoT and data overwhelm the average company struggling with fragmented technology, data and asynchronous transactions,” Canton recently shared with me. Most leaders, of any generation, are ill-equipped to deal with the multitude of challenges in front of them. There is a handful of successful CEOs that have figured it out and know how to blend intuition with technology and when to abandon traditional practices. I asked Sandra Kurtzig, CEO of Kenandy, a SaaS ERP solution; Keith Krach, CEO of DocuSign, a digital transaction management vendor; Andres Reiner, CEO of PROS, big data software; and Sid Banerjee, CEO of Clarabridge, customer experience software, to share the lessons they’ve learned that shape their leadership and companies. What is striking about all four of these serial success stories is how grounded and personable they are. Each is driven by a passion to solve customer problems first and foremost followed by building a healthy company. They lead from passion and vision, not from ego. And eagerly shared their top five lessons learned. Be Customer Obsessed All four CEOs are obsessive about being “sticky with customers.” Kurtzig shared that “being close to the customer is paramount. Speed and agility are core requirements to responding to customers, on their terms.” Customers, today, have shorter attention spans and products need to support customer behavior just as much as key capabilities. Focusing on what the customer really needs instead of “trying to build everything into the product” was a lesson for Kurtzig. Her fourth company, named for her two sons Ken and Andy, started by accident like all her companies, to address a glaring need she just couldn’t ignore – the lack of a comprehensive cloud-based ERP software solution. Building the first release is a balancing trap many companies fall into, they either hold off market release believing robustness will be the defining differentiator or they release less than a minimum viable product. Her advice is to actively involve target customers as partners early in the product planning process. An engineer, one of Reiner’s hardest lessons was that the product didn’t matter. Enabling customers is crucial, “while products and technology are important, training and change management are the keys to success,” he shares. “As a company scales, be watchful to not leave your customers behind.” The language and mindset of these CEOs is well beyond today’s popular customer experience rhetoric. They expect their teams to not only understand customer behaviors along the entire lifecycle, but to build products that effectively engage those behaviors along the way. As the global standard for digital transaction management, DocuSign’s Krach shares, “We measure our success by our customers’ success.” In fact, all employees are aligned around a single, non-financial performance metric indicative of customer success: Successful Transactions. And by aligning the company around this critical metric with everyone laser focused on ensuring the customer’s ability to successfully transact business on The DocuSign Global Trust Network, the company saw more successful transactions in 2014 than the previous, and its first, 10 years in business. While PROS is in the big data space, Reiner’s focus is no longer on features/functions but on how big data enables customers with recommendations and actions at key moments. He believes that enablement drives consistent customer experience while increasing agility, for his company as well his customers. It's All About People A common characteristic of these four CEOs is a passion for employees and culture. Having the right skill mix for each stage of the company’s growth was a key lesson each learned. Kurtzig believes in mixing the generations. “Millenniums have high expectations of how software should perform. They bring a consumer mindset to enterprise applications. While seasoned employees bring deep experience and adult supervision,” she shares. “You need both.” Banerjee’s lesson is that people can make or break you, “invest heavily in finding and retaining the smartest people to work for you.” Along with building a culture rooted in accountability, “it’s important that team members understand why people succeed or fail. There are weak links and you have to move them into a different role or out of the organization,” shares Banerjee. “A culture of complete transparency, where everyone knows who’s accountable for what and how they are progressing is essential for high-growth companies.” Krach furthers, “The company with the best people wins.” Krach makes a habit of – and encourages his team to – “surround yourself with people who are better than you.” Kill Silos From The Start As companies hit the growth curve, knowing how to manage sales, training and employee onboarding in addition to products and customers is crucial. One of Reiner’s lessons was the dampening effect silos have on growth. “Silo-prevention has to be part of the culture,” shares Reiner. “And that starts with leadership.” For him, preventing silos comes down to hiring smart people that leave their egos at the door. “Diversity creates strong organizations where people naturally help each other,” stresses Reiner. “That, along with growing people from within by moving them across departments and roles, builds deep connections and empathy.” His advice is to look for people who measure their success by how well peer teams achieve their goals. The bottom line is that all employees must model the desired behavior. Keep Life In Balance Krach emphasizes that humor is core to his leadership model. It keeps teams together and motivated through the inevitable bad times as well as the good times. “Keep the vision in front of everyone,” shares Krach along with “don’t take yourself too seriously and keep a healthy work/life balance.” He’s quick to show you pictures of his children as well as the mementos from team building and company meetings. Kurtzig shares the same principle of keeping one foot solidly in family and life. Family is priority and she actively seeks the input and advice of her sons. She does readily admit that being an engaged CEO and maintaining balance is hard. Any C-Suite executive who claims to have ‘nailed balance’ is either not doing their job or delusional. Watch Trends More Than Competitors Keeping a close eye on the market while forging new paths is a lesson all shared. Before Kurtzig started development of Kenandy’s first ERP application, she looked at Oracle, SAP, Google and Microsoft technology foundations. Convinced the platforms were not future-ready, she (with some prodding by Mark Benioff of Salesforce) decided on Force.com. Her advice is to “keep a close watch on market trends” and don’t get too attached to your technology. “Take risks. In today’s market, proven methods are not always the best methods,” Kurtzig stresses. “If an emerging trend looks strong and is better than what you’re working with, embrace it.” Competition, viewed the right way, makes your company better because it forces the team to step up. “At the same time, it’s important to focus a company on its own strengths and its own strategic vision, rather than being overly consumed with what the competition is doing,” stresses Banerjee. “It’s important to closely monitor the competition but not to the extent that it derails your strategy or causes the team to become destructive.” The Net, Net These five lessons are not what most readers might have expected. Raising capital, hiring the first VP of Sales or Marketing, finding those initial customers, managing a board – none of these topics came up. These lessons were, in retrospect, the things these CEOs wish they knew when they started out. “You’re going to make mistakes,” Kurtzig emphasizes. “Learn from them.” Banerjee offers six additional pieces of advice:
- Conserve cash
- Get comfortable with conflict and confrontation
- Be highly adaptive and flexible, especially with people
- Surround yourself with a support system of seasoned CEOs
- Don’t solve problems for your team, let them do it themselves
- When you’ve stopped growing personally, it’s time to move on.