Engage Your Customers to Sustain Ease of Doing Business
Early in this series we talked about the Customer Performance Framework, which defines a set of capabilities that enable outcomes ensuring “customer performance.” Customer performance is about putting the right attention on your greatest asset: your customers. When you orchestrate key capabilities across your organization with the goal of delivering substantial value for your customers you give those customers all the right incentives to be your greatest advocates. And the return on that asset will be incremental revenue and incremental margin.
There are many different capabilities described in the framework. In combination, those capabilities support the outcomes, or objectives, we have talked about: customer acquisition, retention, effort (Ease of Doing Business), engagement, adoption, value, and brand advocacy.
To date, this series has focused singularly on the Ease of Doing Business aspect of the framework. Customer engagement plays a crucial role in sustaining Ease of Doing Business. We’ve identified a handful of our favorite customer engagement programs that are especially impactful in this regard:
Account Management: Simply put, great account management can paper over almost any problem from an Ease of Doing Business point of view. The best account managers intervene on behalf of their customer (ideally without their customer even knowing about it) and advocate, head-off issues, resolve problems as they arise, and proactively develop partnership models that continuously strengthen the relationship and enrich both parties. Strong account management is foundational and must be programmed across all tiers of the customer segmentation strategy. A strong account team or function, supported by the right tools and processes, eases the burden on the customer across almost every dimension of the relationship and across almost every interaction. But account management can’t be the sole Ease of Doing Business facilitator.
Coordination of Resources Across Lines of Business: Strong account management will of course help this, but beyond the core team assigned to work with a particular customer, there needs to be a governance model for how all front-office and back-office team members work together (versus independently). Clear rules of engagement, standard processes, tools, and the right metrics are key. Compensation plans, other incentives, and rules for internal collaboration come into play here too: weaving together all of the otherwise disparate resources to focus on one strategy in service of the customer.
Orchestration of Customer Care: Especially in complex global B2B situations, even customer care—which is designed to be a solution to a problem—can often be THE problem. You can have multiple geographies and lines of business, and even product lines, simultaneously trying to resolve a problem but in the process making matters worse. Thus, customer care functions need to be highly orchestrated with an eye toward simplifying the interaction for the customer when things inevitably go wrong.
Executive Sponsorship: Relationships are the nutrient that feeds partnerships, nurtures transactions, and fuels growth. In a business setting, we need to be deliberate about how we develop and maintain partnerships at various levels. A robust executive sponsorship program is the backbone of an organization’s ability to manage relationships between its executives and its customers’ executives. The strength of those relationships will form the basis for addressing Ease of Doing Business challenges head-on.
Communications Strategy: Having a communications strategy that addresses both the reactive situations and how to proactively connect with your customers will make an enormous impact on Ease of Doing Business for your customers. As this is written, a certain cable company is not communicating with me in any sort of productive manner about my internet service being down (going on 36 hours now). To get updates on when the problem will be fixed, I’m instructed to text ‘update’ to them. I do that and either get nothing in response or an ever-changing estimate, or ‘currently there is no estimated time for when this service will be restored.’ We’ll just say this is the exact opposite of Easy to Do Business With and leave it at that.
Advisory Councils: A multi-tiered program of advisory councils, where you have product-feedback councils for your engineers or product designers, industry or market councils for your go-to-market teams, and executive councils for your top management will help with relationship building, provide invaluable feedback, and even secure deals. There are straightforward rules for managing these programs effectively, but it’s mostly about investing in a great learning experience, solid planning (6-8 months lead-time), and getting the exact right people in the room. After that, it’s all about keeping the conversation at a strategic level. Invariably, the feedback will be 70% on Ease of Doing Business. When you fix these customers’ challenges, they will be your greatest advocates.
Product Adoption Strategies: Without a deliberate strategy to help your customers push and ease the adoption of your product throughout their organization, whatever objectives they sought when buying your product in the first place will not be achieved. Ease of Doing Business is meaningless without pervasive product adoption.
Value Realization: The sooner you are able to help your customers target business benefits, track their progress toward realizing those benefits, and measuring the actual attainment of them, the better off your customer will be—and the better off you’ll be. Modeling your customer interactions around how you help that customer achieve real OUTCOMES is the single most important thing you can do to be a real partner. That, in turn, will yield incremental revenue and most likely margin returns for you. This will also create stronger, reference-able customers willing to become powerful brand advocates. Value Realization may well be the most elemental approach you can take to address Ease of Doing Business for your customer.
In summary, you can think about Ease of Doing Business in two ways: first, how to identify and address the key challenges you are facing today; and then what are the programs and capabilities needed to sustain Ease of Doing Business:
These capabilities, or programs, service Ease of Doing Business over the long haul. Where to begin is always a great question, which we have addressed a number of different ways over the past couple of months.
If you’d like to continue the dialog or if you’re interested in learning more, check out our Ease of Doing Business Accelerator here.
Until next time,
Jeb Dasteel & Curtis Bingham