As the leader of a B2B company, you want to see your growth indicators going off the charts. You’re always looking for a way to do more, better, with less. The question is, “How?”The cornerstone of growth is #retention. And the cornerstone of retention is #customersuccess. Click To Tweet
Especially for B2B firms, the answer is both surprising and potentially disappointing: It’s all about how well you collect and act upon feedback – from the right people – within your customer base.
Today’s B2B companies only have indirect control over reputation. The best way to take some of that power back is by engaging successful customers that help widen your funnel. The more you can demonstrate to your accounts that you are helping them acquire results with your products and services, the more they will be able to advocate on your behalf. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
A well-oiled Voice of Customer (VoC) program can be the thing that expedites long-term growth by strengthening existing relationships while also helping you grow your army of advocates. How well is your company listening to individual accounts and addressing their business objectives?
5 Ways B2B Companies Can Accelerate Growth
- Improved expansion from a deeper footprint in accounts
- Improved retention from a “business results” mindset with your customers
- Better marketing ROI from advocate and detractor management
- Faster adoption of new modules/releases
- Optimized resources in the company that make the right bets
We’ll discuss each of the above over the next few articles. Not just how it works, but why it works and the evidence supporting its integration into your system. I’ll also provide crucial steps to follow to make it happen for your company. Let’s start with number 1.
Improved Expansion from a Deeper Footprint in Accounts
Your company may be talking to one or two people in each account regularly, but in B2B there are more people involved with the account than that – there is a buying committee. Customer Success / Account Management may have a deep relationship with a “champion” in the account, but how do you know if their point of view is in line with the rest of the group? Often, good mutual relationships can get in the way of honest feedback that might be hard to hear. Until you know what that buying committee actually thinks, account health is impossible to gauge.
By strengthening relationships with all key stakeholders in your accounts, you’ll have a much greater impact on growth. You can ask them for referrals, acquire new prospects from their LinkedIn networks, ask them to be a reference, or market their ability to gain business results with your products and services.
The development of an accurate contact list for each account allows all key players to be engaged for feedback. However it is imperative that your contacts not feel as if a request for feedback is another ‘pointless’ survey in their inbox. This is a personalized set of questions for their role so that you can improve solutions that accelerate their success. With the collection of feedback, the focus must always be, “If you give me feedback, we will listen and promise to address it.”
How it Works:
Engage the account champion to help you identify and recruit the additional members of the buying committee. The message must be clear: you’re committed to each person’s success and will address their feedback. You can’t always do everything they need or want, but you can at least acknowledge what they perceive as gaps in your solutions and set the right expectations for how it might be solved (or not) and when. Being truthful and upfront is key to ongoing relationships.
Active Recruiting: 3 Key Steps to Make It Happen
- Ask your champion if they’d be willing to provide feedback about what is working and not working so they can see success more quickly.
- When your champion agrees, ask who else in the company is in a good position to provide feedback about the value they perceive from your company’s products and services. The purpose of this is to see who else is in a position to influence purchase decisions based on their experience with your firm. Note that End Users may not be the right contacts.
- Ask your champion to forward a quick note, which you will provide, to the aforementioned people on your behalf with a request for feedback.
Voila, you’ve successfully activated an advocate, and you now have a list of key contacts. Send a brief and personalized questionnaire to those people after your champion has engaged them for you. Now when you get your responses you can see who is engaged in your solutions and who really isn’t with you. You will be able to identify those Promoters, the advocates who love what you’re doing and can open doors and introduce you to others that may give you opportunities for expansion.
Evidence that it Works
Our clients are routinely able to see 50%+
response participation (!) rates at the contact-level, and 90%+ at the account-level. Having this high level of engagement, they have gained ways to understand what revenue is at risk, while also understanding who their advocates truly are and what makes them advocates. This drives repeatable processes that help your company grow faster.
Even if your request for feedback doesn’t get a response you still gain a critical “data point.” A lack of response with active recruiting and proper positioning within the company sends a strong message: this person couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, take 2-3 minutes to answer questions that will help your company deliver a better experience and results. Disengaged contacts are generally silent for a reason, and research finds that silent accounts are at higher risk of churn.
In the interest of time and attention spans, we’ll tackle #2 through 5 in an ongoing series over the next couple of weeks. Of course, if you don’t want to wait, you can contact me or check out some of your peers’ results. For now, it’s also critical to understand what a “well oiled” B2B VoC program looks like…
Is VoC a ‘Well-Oiled’ Part of Your Company?
Whether you call it Net Promoter (NPS), VoC, Customer Experience, Customer Success, Customer Engagement or Customer Feedback (just please don’t call it Customer Surveys!), understanding how ‘well-oiled’ the program is within your company is an excellent starting point. Collecting and acting on trustworthy customer feedback is what really matters and should be part of the company’s DNA, integral to how it functions. So what does this entail?
- You talk but who listens?
You’re talking to your clients and you may be hearing their feedback directly. That’s excellent. But can you guarantee how that insight is being actioned across the company? Are you capturing the hearts and minds of the people that make purchase decisions? What structures are in place to oversee this? Is the way you deal with customers being actioned as a company response? If not, why not?
It could be as simple as a lack of structure in reporting, or it could be a lack of direction. This is where a CEO can lead the charge. To create a company-wide response it must first become known what the response should be.
- Response Rates (think: Participation rates)
A high participation rate from your customers in providing actionable feedback is imperative, especially in your ‘strategic accounts.’ You need to be hearing from 100% of the accounts in that segment. Remember quiet accounts are far more likely to churn, and if those accounts are the strategic ones that bring in key revenue then you’re in trouble.
Accounts should be treated like individual plants in your greenhouse. As the botanist you must ensure you understand each of their needs, and that you pay attention to their yields. They’re all different, so the same whitewashed response will not work. Without nurturing, both plants and accounts will not thrive.
- People, Not Accounts
To truly understand sentiment, you need to hear from the key players in each account. Hearing from your Support Team who work with End Users is not the same as hearing from Decision Makers and Key Influencers to know if the account is healthy. End Users may think you’re wonderful, but what if the rest of the customer buying committee think you’re not worth the money…now who do you need to hear from?
- Act on Feedback
No-one enjoys completing surveys or giving constructive feedback unless they’re extremely annoyed or they’re sure you’ll act on it. So if they’ve given you their time you better not waste it.
Following up on feedback is the crucial element. You’re getting information that is a valuable gift, and like all gifts you receive you have to express gratitude to keep it coming. So send a follow-up, or redirect it to the right person and acknowledge the information you’ve been given. Not only does this act confirm to your client that you actually care about their account, it can also enable you to fully understand the feedback they’ve given and gain a better understanding of the context around it, thus deepening the relevance of the information and getting to the root cause to solve the problem.
On an initial level reaching out to a contact in an account who has provided you with feedback, especially if it is negative, can go some way to helping to soothe an issue. Especially when feedback has come from a place of irritation, being heard can assuage frayed nerves. Ultimately anyone who gives feedback wants to be heard. If you’re not demonstrating that you’re listening (e.g. with thanks for feedback and a plan for how your company will address what they are telling you) can rest assured, you won’t receive any more.
What Your ‘Well-Oiled’ VoC Can Do for Growth
- Put away the “survey”
Proper B2B VoC is so much more than the usual blanket emailed survey. Sending a survey does not constitute engagement; sure it can be a start but it can’t be everything. Customer Engagement/VoC is all about engaging the right people in accounts, not just talking to anyone who’ll respond to your survey and calling it ‘feedback’.
Engage with the people you need to hear from in an account so you can understand all the things you’re doing right and understand where the optimal improvement opportunities lie. You may find that using an online questionnaire helps you to scale the process but that should be where the similarities between ‘Customer Engagement/VoC and ‘surveys’ end.
- How Representative is your NPS?
Ask yourself, exactly how representative is your current NPS or VoC of your business? NPS can be a great tool to measure who would recommend you but if you’re not asking the right people, you might as well not be doing it.
If you’re aggregating data from everyone who gives you feedback and then wrapping it up with a big bow you have a problem. You need to understand the roles of the people in the accounts you’ve invited to provide feedback in order to know if the feedback is representative of the account’s sentiment, especially since each role will generally have different needs and expectations.
Don’t waste your limited resources working with bad data, get specific. If you’re spending money on marketing, sales, CS/account management, engineering etc. then make sure that the data you’re harvesting from clients is as solid as it can be. Either invest in cost-efficient software to break down your feedback and reports so you can see exactly how representative the data you’re working with is, and/or bring a holistic flow to departmental information. If all departments are able to interconnect and understand the needs of each, there’s more ability to share valuable knowledge.
You’re aiming to ask the right people, the right questions. If you don’t, you not only irritate people who think you should know better but you could also miss crucial information which could be leading to churn.
So know who is happy, and potentially more importantly, know who isn’t. Those who are happy are going to refer you and referrals are wonderful free marketing from trusted sources. If you have advocates who are referring you then find them, acknowledge them, and most importantly ensure they stay happy.The cornerstone of growth is #retention. And the cornerstone of retention is #customersuccess. Click To Tweet
A VoC Program is a fantastic opportunity to engage with your customers and most importantly avoid having your customers feel like they only hear from you if you want to sell them something (which does nothing but start to build distrust). VoC programs are all about communication. So feedback, or lack thereof, can tell you a lot about an account… if you’re talking to the right people. Good VoC management can accelerate your growth, so remember to check out Part II of our ‘5 Ways to Increase Growth’ series.