- Michael Kerman
What Your Customers Told Me
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
Over the past 9 months, I've been fortunate to be involved with 4 separate projects that all revolved around helping companies better understand buyer insight, preferences and actions. These were all B2B companies that spanned a variety of industry sectors and I spoke with around 60 customers in total.
Talking to customers is always eye-opening, but these experiences were different. There were five (5) consistent themes that surfaced:
1. They Like You... but Don't LOVE You. In every case, customers were very articulate about how they felt about the vendor they selected and their offerings. Even in cases where the customers were very positive about the impact of the solution, they didn’t gush about how much they love the vendor. Every vendor wants to move up from being “just another vendor” to being considered a “valuable partner” and ultimately, a “trusted advisor”. What I found interesting was that none of the customers across the four companies saw their vendor as a “trusted advisor”. Their biggest concerns are feelings that:
They are "talked at" more than "listened to"
Vendors have no regard or patience for their purchasing process
Vendors over-commit and under-deliver on product capabilities and quality
Vendors aren't bringing best-practices, market insight and being prescriptive; in many cases, the customers feel they know more about the problem topic than the vendor
Salespeople are trying to upsell or cross-sell them on the "next great thing" before the customer is even satisfied with the usage of their initial purchase
Customers also feel pricing is overly complex and difficult to justify and sell internally.
2. Customers despise inconsistency. Another aspect related to the point above is that customers feel they are treated inconsistently. Sales, pre-sales, support, customer success and executive management all treat them differently. One customer said that Sales was friendly, but didn’t listen well and therefore, the customer had to repeat everything to the pre-sales team. Once onboard, the support team seemed to be bothered by their questions and the customer success team did little to hide their goal of upselling new solutions. Another customer said that they were asked to participate in case studies and testimonial videos by executives even though they had just implemented the solution 3 weeks earlier. All of this came to light when developing customer journey maps and witnessing the incredible variability in how the buyer was treated.
3. Do You Even Know your Customer? In one project, I was given a list of 50 customers to reach out to and conduct some 1:1 interviews. Several issues immediately appeared. Out of the first 10 customers I called, 7 of the contacts were no longer with the company. In another case, the “great” contacts I was given at this “ideal customer” weren’t even part of the purchase decision. One wasn’t even at the company at the time the solution was purchased and the other was in a different division and had no knowledge of the purchase decision. While this was not unusual, it is a stark reminder our customers, just like our companies, frequently change. People leave, change roles and new people join. The question is really how well we manage these relationships, keep track of the buyer map and decision-makers and keep our internal sales and CRM data current.
4. Under-Utilization is Rampant and ROI is Unclear. Every time I get on the phone to speak with a customer, I’m poised to hear about how much this solution has meant to their business, how they can’t live without it and the value it delivers. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. In more than 50% of my interviews, customers report that they’re using only a tiny part of the product and have no plans to change that. For example, a customer of a robust procure-to-pay solution reported only using it for reporting while an enterprise contract management customer reported only using their powerful CLM application for document vaulting/storage. So, while the “shelfware” problem has decreased, it certainly hasn’t gone away.
All of this explains why customers are consistently unable to articulate any type of quantitative ROI, even in instances where a formal business cases was required as part of the initial procurement process. Customers say it is impossible to calculate an ROI given their rollout, utilization and metrics tracking was all so different that what was detailed in the initial business case.
5. They Want You to Succeed. Despite all of this, even the most jaded customers say they really what their vendors to succeed. They hope they will improve their products, provide better customer support, stop pushing unnecessary offerings, respect their business and purchase cycles and probably most of all, deliver more value. Customers want their vendors to come to then with best practices, industry benchmarks, market-validated blueprints and templates. They want vendors who can bring insight that can shorten their application learning curve and enable them to better service their own customers.
So, here 5 steps you can address these issues:
1. Contact Validation. Ensure the key people who were involved in the purchase decision (including finance, procurement, IT, line of business, etc.) are still there. If they’re not, find out who is handling that role. Also, find out where this person(s) went. If they left but liked your solution, perhaps you can call on them again in their new organization.
2. Survey your Customers. Yes, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a good way to measure customer health. However, it won’t provide insight into how well your various touchpoints are performing. Is Sales sub-par but the Support team are miracle workers? Conduct a cross-functional survey to understand where you are meeting their expectations and where you’re falling short.
3. WIIFM. Every vendor wants a customer who will do a press release, case study, testimonial video, reference calls and joint speaking engagements. However, what is in it for the customer? All of these activities take time away from their own job. Why should they spend all of this time helping you and your marketing and sales efforts? While it isn’t popular, you may want to consider some type of financial incentive including future purchase discounts, discounts on education/training, reduction in professional services fees, free conference/seminar passes, etc.
4. Invest in a Robust Customer Success team. This is especially important for very robust and/or complex solutions. However, the Customer Success team needs to have a broader set of objectives than just contract renewal and managing ARR. Customer Success needs to own making sure customers are actually using and getting value from what they purchased. They must be empowered to leverage Sales, Field Engineering, Support, Value Engineering and Product resources to ensure utilization, customer satisfaction and customer reference levels are all high. Also, ensure processes are streamlined and consider using a robust platform such as Gainsight to track customer success and integrate with your CRM platform.
5. Leverage External Resources. It’s amazing what a customer will tell a total stranger and yet, will minimize this when they’re talking to their account rep or support agent. Why is this? It’s simple – customers want things to improve but don’t want to (in most cases) see anyone fired. So, most customers will “sugar-coat” their feedback when it is solicited by a company employee and yet will completely open-up when it is done by an external resource.