One of the best resources available to marketers today is a healthy list of engaged, happy customers. Research from Demand Gen Report shows that nearly two-thirds (65%) of B2B buyers will turn to peer review sites when selecting and evaluating new technology. Customer success is paramount to both maintaining current revenue streams and attracting new business.
As such, B2B companies such as Qlik, Iron Mountain and HubSpot are making customer retention a growing priority of their marketing strategies and are taking steps to nurture customers during the adoption period. To ensure long-term customer retention and engagement, they are also creating customer communities and advisory boards. The results speak for themselves: Qlik hosts an online community of more than 100,000 members — designed to drive inter-client engagement and promote success — that has an average participation rate of 75%.
“People who are mature about this — who have actually thought this through — will have a buying journey that does not end at closed-won,” said Kevin Joyce, CMO and VP of Strategy Services at the Pedowitz Group, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “For a lot of customers, they think the relationship is just starting with closed-won. The buying journey goes into adoption and marketing has this very important, fundamental role in helping customers achieve value realization from what they’ve bought.”
According to Joyce, dedicating a portion of marketing’s resources and budget to customer retention, rather than focusing solely on acquisition may be untraditional for many B2B companies, but the value of doing so cannot be understated. Research from Profitwell shows that improving retention rates can positively impact a company’s bottom line by as much as 6% versus acquisition, which has a 3% impact. In addition, 70% of companies say it is cheaper to retain rather than acquire a customer.
“Organizations are starting to realize that it’s not good enough for [marketing] to go out and just acquire new customers,” said David Coates, Director of Customer Marketing at Iron Mountain, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “What we really need to do is to figure out how to keep [our customers] for longer than a year and get them on a regular renewal cycle. We need to pay more attention to our customers throughout the course of their lifecycle with us [and recognize that] the best way to win new customers is by getting your existing customers to tell stories about how good of an organization you are and to help amplify your message to the world.”
Nurturing Customers Through Adoption To Value Realization
While companies may have dedicated customer service teams that provide long-term support, marketing can play a crucial role in onboarding new customers and developing a positive relationship in the first few days, weeks and months following a sale.
“There are a lot of people who have their fingers in the customer pie post sale,” said Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst of B2B Marketing Professionals at Forrester, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “So, someone needs to take the lead and my vote is for marketing. Marketing, more than any other part of the company, has to be responsible for saying, ‘This is what our brand is about,’ and ensuring the rest of the organization internally and the customer experience externally lives up to that brand promise.”
According to Ramos, ON24 is a prime example of a B2B company that leverages its marketing department to nurture new customers and ensure a smooth onboarding process.
The marketing team at the webinar software company sends out a letter and package once a new customer has been signed, welcoming them into the “webinerd” community. They are then introduced to a customer success manager, as well as a series of online training videos. The post-sale marketing efforts are designed to help customers create their first successful webinar within the first 30 to 60 days.
“Where I think marketing has an advantage is that a lot of the disciplines, practices and process that they use for nurturing prospects into customers can be used to communicate with and nurture brand new customers into their first successful experience,” said Ramos. “Marketing needs to say, ‘Here’s the first four steps you need to get through. You’re at step two now, so what can I do to get you to step three?’”
HubSpot, an inbound marketing, sales and service software provider, also takes an active approach to nurturing new customers. According to VP of Customer Success Eva Klein, the company implemented health scores throughout the customer lifecycle. These scores are monitored at various points, with special attention paid during the first two months, to ensure a smooth onboarding process.
“We look at the customer’s health at day 30, day 80 and then we do it monthly after that,” said Klein in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We look at things like usage and value metrics that give us a good sense of where we need to direct our people on the account. At each of those points, we also have an opportunity for the people working directly with the customer to tell us the health.”
Once a customer has been flagged with a low account score, the team will work to determine the root issue — whether it be due to turnover within the account, technical difficulties, etc. — and develop a new timeline to get the customer back on track.
Qlik Fuels Community Engagement By Providing Red-Carpet Treatment Post-Sale
For results-driven marketers, the job doesn’t end once customers are up and running with their new solutions. The marketing department can help build robust, engaging communities for customers to connect with their peers, troubleshoot issues and drive company-wide success.
“Customer advocates don’t just happen overnight,” said Ramos. “You have to plan for them. You need to give them experiences, connections and just heartfelt thanks for what they do. The best companies treat their customers like celebrities.”
Qlik, a data and analytics company, created a Luminary program to give its customers the red-carpet treatment. The yearly award recognizes roughly 50 of Qlik’s top customers, who then receive access to Qlik’s R&D, product, support and management teams, as well as NDA briefings with product executives, VIP treatment at events and more.
In addition to Luminary program, Gillian Farquhar, Global Head of Customer Marketing, says the company aims to provide all of its customers with access to additional resources and a network of other customers via the Qlik Community. The online community, which invites customers to connect via forum and discussion boards, has grown to more than 100,000 members, nearly 75% of which are active.
“I’ve been at Qlik for nine years and have never seen more engagement from our customers than now,” said Farquhar in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We look at these communities as opening up our paths of communication with customers, and also connecting them to other customers. The more you can remove barriers for your customers, the more value you can provide. It’s changed everything for us.”
Other companies, such as Iron Mountain, are creating Customer Advisory Boards to connect with their customers. The data records and management solutions provider started its Customer Advisory Board in 2011.
According to Iron Mountain’s Coates, the board includes nearly a dozen members from the financial services sector. It is designed to drive high-level engagement with top customers, as well as elevate them as industry thought leaders.
The Customer Advisory Board meets on a yearly basis to discuss top-of-mind industry challenges, which are then combined into a best practices guide that aims to help other Iron Mountain customers address widespread issues such as information governance. The company also turns to its Advisory Board to create educational webinars and fuel product updates and development.
“We’ve definitely seen pipeline from the advisory board, but beyond the pipeline, what’s been helpful is around retention,” said Coates. “It’s allowing us to build stronger relationships with these organizations and to understand them at a different level.”
Whether it be customer advisory boards or online communities, forward-thinking B2B companies are taking active steps to create and maintain positive relationships with their customers beyond the traditional sales funnel. Nevertheless, they recognize that a marketer’s job is never done, and customer retention strategies will continue to change with evolving buyer habits and desires.
“Every single program that my team creates has one goal in mind — to make the post-sale experience with Qlik successful and valuable,” said Farquhar. “Customer marketing at Qlik is fairly new and we’ve only just begun. We never want to sit back and say, ‘That’s all we can do.’”