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Category: Relationship Management

Jeff Marr

Inside the Buyer’s Mind

It has been said that people buy for two primary reasons — to solve a problem and/or to feel good about what they are buying. That truth stuck with me after hearing it described many years ago by Michael LeBoeuf, one of the first business authors to focus on customer loyalty. 

There’s a practical and an emotional side to most purchases — an outcome desired by the buyer, but also some level of trust or satisfaction sought from the seller or the brand. Learning those desired outcomes and feelings is the challenge for salespeople and marketers. It requires some background research and questions asked to decision makers and product users during the marketing and selling processes. 

Once you know what customers are really seeking, you can craft your value proposition. Make sure to address what’s really in it for them — how your solution will pay off and benefit the buyers in a way they don’t have a ready substitute for. And get beyond the practical side to the more emotional undercurrents of what the purchase could mean. One of the most classical B2B value propositions was in the day of mainframe computers when people said, "Nobody will ever get fired for buying IBM."

Jeff Marr

Driven One Lately? Lessons from Ford (Part One)

While never being a true "car guy" or attached to any one auto brand, I confess to having long admired the Ford Motor Company. Ford’s in the news again for getting by on their own in the wash of government bailouts. But this survival trait fits the company I have observed over some time. 

My intrigue started many years ago reading Halberstam’s The Reckoning, a fascinating parallel history of Ford and Nissan. I still recall some of the Ford family saga — from Henry Ford’s genius, to his harsh treatment of talented son Edsel Ford, to Lee Iacocca’s launch of the Ford Mustang and his later falling out with "Henry the Deuce" (Henry Ford II — the third generation). It was a page turner and shed Ford in a new light for me. Their story is certainly not boring. A silver lining for Ford management seemed to always follow even the worst errors.

Not long after reading the book, I heard Tom Peters at a late 1980’s conference say that, having consulted with each of Detroit’s big three, Ford was clearly in the lead toward producing high quality vehicles. Ford leaders were the ones who "got it" on quality. Ford had just rolled out the Taurus, and around the same time began advertising, "Have you driven a Ford lately?"

To this day I feel that was a brilliant campaign, because for years Ford and the rest of Detroit had been off track with their products. They needed to win people back, and the humble message, combined with a better quality product, worked. The innovative-at-the-time Ford Taurus became in the ’90’s not only Ford’s top model but the number one selling car in the U.S. for some years.

I like Ford’s persistence and ability to make comebacks. I like their willingness to innovate ahead of their competitors. I like how they align their products with their marketing and promotion.

And so far, I like how they are being led by the current CEO — more on that in Part Two.

Jeff Marr

Customer Surveys are Confusing

Want a quick tip on how customers think? They not only see your company as a whole, but assess each interaction with you. 

Every customer encounter adds (or detracts) from that overall view or brand image. That’s why companies do both relationship customer surveys and service transaction ones in their customer survey research.

Now there’s the problem. The exact same question asked on both survey types — relationship and transaction — produce different results. And that can cause confusion in the ranks, not to mention the boardroom. 

For example, let’s say the score for technical support in the relationship survey is 60 percent favorable and flat. Well, the same question in the technical support survey may be 70 percent and climbing. So what gives?

The fact is, you are measuring different things, despite the questions being the same. Your technical support is improving in this case, but customers as a whole (scored on the relationship study) aren’t aware of that yet. Transaction study customers rate what just happened to them – their immediate experience with you. There’s a lag for all customers to learn that.

So what do we do about this? My suggestions are:

1. Clarify for executives and others the difference between the survey types.

2. For KPIs, use the transaction-based version of an overall score for that service type.

3. When transactions processes improve, tell the rest of the customers you are making strides — don’t just wait for word of mouth.

4. Do keep both types of feedback – actual experience ratings, but images of those on your relationship study also, because those are key drivers to be enhanced in building customer loyalty.

Jeff Marr

Engaging ’em

"Engagement" remains a popular business term, although it’s not so new. By the way, aren’t business people faddish? When you come across a new term in a meeting or an article, you can count on hearing it repeatedly until it runs its course. 

I remember first hearing, "engaging the workforce" a few years ago.  Workforce engagement happens when employees are more involved than just showing up. They get it or are into it. They’re involved in their jobs and what your company is trying to accomplish. They support the direction their team or company is taking. Now I hear "engagement" applied to various business relationships — customers, partners, suppliers. I recently heard a college administrator discuss "alumni engagement". 

Customer-facing workers being engaged would seem to be the first step of customer engagement.  As a customer I think you can always tell when someone seems less than engaged serving you. If it’s too much for them to be excited about their jobs, front line people should at least care about what customers are experiencing.

Showing customers you care goes a long way, especially in problem situations. Doctors had to learn bedside manners. Now in the economic downturn, even attorneys are being forced to learn and practice customer service. In this article, one lawyer had been directed for the first time ever to follow up on past clients, and was stunned to learn they not only appreciated it, but sometimes had further business to render. The lawyer concluded, "Everyday I need to be thinking about these existing clients."

That’s actually a good mantra for any customer-facing professional.