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[Part 3] 5 Ways B2B Companies Can Accelerate Growth

Posted on August 30, 2016 , by Steve Bernstein
[Part 3] 5 Ways B2B Companies Can Accelerate Growth

Part 3:  Better marketing ROI from Advocate & Detractor management

Negative feedback is only bad if you aren’t hearing it.

Welcome to the third installment of our 5-part series about accelerating growth in B2B companies. The first post in the series looked at developing a deeper footprint in accounts and methods to engage “Champions” in that effort, while the second in the series evangelized “owning” a metric and driving a “business results” orientation with customers.  Today’s topic on growth acceleration is focused on strategically managing word-of-mouth (the way prospects really come knocking on your door) by effectively managing your Advocates / Promoters and identifying and “neutralizing” detractors.
What is Strategic Word-of-Mouth Management?
Most B2B Marketers are focused on creating new leads and there are many paths that smart professionals can take to make this happen.  Think about where your best leads originate: Does the word “referrals” come to mind?  We know that today’s Buyers are highly educated about your market and offerings before they ever contact you, so the key is to be a part of those “birds of a feather” discussions as early as possible, and ensure that your company is discussed in a positive light during Meetups, networking lunches, conferences, LinkedIn forums, and other conversations.  To that end, you can either passively wait for advocates to refer, or you can proactively make it happen.
With regards to accelerating growth, there are two areas in play here: Cost (which frees up budget for more activities) and Retention:

  • Cost

Marketing pushes hard to bring in new clients.  You may celebrate when a new deal closes, but hang on: The work is only just beginning for your account teams.  The customer has expectations… is your company meeting them?
As a Marketer you may be thinking, “It’s not our responsibility.  We brought them in.  That’s our job.  We’ve moved on.” But perhaps the capabilities that have been marketed have been oversold and your new clients are expecting optimized capabilities that may not exist in the capacity they have bought into. That new unhappy client could make a massive negative impact in the company by not just draining resources but also by telling friends and colleagues about their (unhappy) experience.

  • Retention

In building a house you lay a foundation and work up from there.  But imagine every time you start working up the walls everything crumbles as the foundation blocks you laid melt away. To keep growing you need to be retaining your foundation, i.e. the clients which are long-term and pay your salary every month. Retention of clients will ensure that you can grow, not just by keeping money coming in but also by helping uncover new success stories and referrals that keep your messaging on point with proven results.
Why Should Marketing Own Strategic Word-of-Mouth Management?
Beyond the above point of driving referrals, understanding how the message you’re putting out there drives customer success will make a difference to the business. If the message that you’re sending out is directing the wrong customers to you (or setting the wrong expectations), then chances are you aren’t going to make customers happy. It’s like a steak restaurant marketing themselves as a wonderful place for vegetarians: Sure, they may have something meat-free on the menu, but really it’s not what people go there for.

Setting the wrong expectations or catching the wrong prospects creates churn and negative word-of-mouth. Is your marketing casting too wide of a net?

The return you get on your marketing needs to make up for the investment in campaigns (spend). So if marketing is focused on the wrong message, then your budget will attract prospects which might close and yield results for you in the short term but will kill your budget over time.
How Strategic Word-of-Mouth Management Works
We’ve spoken about how strategic Marketing is, and how capable marketing champions create an advocate army.  But the wrong messaging can also bring unnecessary detractors.
It all starts with knowing exactly what your company is good at and what customers should expect. Many people are almost afraid of talking to their own clients and asking them questions about how they’re doing in case they say something negative. We need to take the fear out of negative. Hearing something negative is a good thing (it may not feel like it at the time): Would you rather hear something negative from a client directly, or find out later that your company was never invited to a sales opportunity because of the negative perceptions spread through word-of-mouth? Negative feedback is only bad if you aren’t hearing it. If you hear it then you can act on it to improve and stop negative perceptions by resolving a situation or at least by soothing any frayed nerves.
So if you want to know the best way to sell yourselves to new clients, then you better ask the ones you have.  What is working for them?  What do they think your key selling points are?
If you’re wondering how to ensure your path is right, start by asking those customers you already have:

  1. To what extent are you happy with us? (or some version of this, including potentially the “Recommend” question)
  2. Why?
  3. What did you experience?
  4. What did you expect?
  5. Why did you expect that?
  6. What was the impact to the business as a result?

This action has double-pronged benefits. First, getting feedback this way allows you to refine your messaging, which is going to serve you well in the long-term.  When you ask your customers these questions it helps you to refine the message you’re putting out there. It also highlights where your company’s core capabilities are and what you’re doing well so you can build on that practice. Sometimes this process reveals things that you had no idea appealed to your customers. Sometimes, of course, it will give you negatives, but now you have the opportunity to improve your messaging so that you can counteract any issues with prospects before they can turn sour.
But this tactic also allows you to build stronger and deeper relationships with your customers. Requests for feedback that ask the questions above – backed up with a promise to take action on what they are telling you – allow you to find your more advocates/promoters and detractors, while simultaneously helping to refine your message. By the way, if you’re going to use a survey tool to help then you might also check out our whitepaper to ensure that whatever solution you opt for can handle your B2B needs.
Evidence that it works
Waypoint Group works with companies who want to ensure their customers are successful.   Working with Humanity, we were able to instigate a series of improvements via a monthly feedback effort designed to understand which accounts were successful and why. The business impact was significant:

  • 681 new advocates identified
  • Converted and retained 46 at-risk accounts
  • Initiated 20 case studies for Marketing, saving 80+ hours in production
  • Compiled a prioritized list of customer requested product enhancements linked as drivers of customer sentiment and linked to financials

Marketing must ensure that the message about the brand is accurate. Getting feedback will help you to pinpoint your genuine areas of value and success and make it easier to acquire and retain customers. Off-topic messages are liable to create difficult customers who are more likely to churn as they have been promised (sold) something which is not what they have received, resulting in churn and a detractor. Your current customers are your best way of understanding who the “best fit” prospects truly are.  Go beyond merely finding case stories.  Use “customer success” to help shape your company’s positioning and messaging strategy while proactively managing word-of-mouth.