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Customer Engagement Takes Center Stage at INBOUND 2016

Written by Julie Dietz on November 16, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Inbound 2016 explained just how important customer engagement is to business growth.

"This is going to be very unusual advice from a guy who runs a sales and marketing software company, but take dollars from sales and marketing. Put it in products and services and customer delight." Brian Halligan, CEO and Founder of HubSpot

When Brian Halligan, one of the men widely credited with coining the term "inbound marketing" tells you to take resources away from marketing, you know there's a major shift happening. Brian did just that last week at HubSpot's INBOUND Conference. In a keynote that was packed to the brim (quite possibly with a mind-boggling 19,000 attendees) he dove into his latest sales, marketing, and prospect behavior research. Has marketing changed in the ten years since HubSpot was founded?

The answer was, unequivocally, yes.

The change is a move away from traditional marketing and sales—even 'traditional' inbound marketing and sales—as we know it. Get on board with the change now and your company could see major benefits down the line.

How Your Path to Growth Has Changed

Technology has made it possible for startups like Uber to explode, bringing you more competition and radically changing customer expectations. Here's what Halligan's research showed about the market's evolution over the past decade, along with how it's affecting your growth now.

Customers Have More Choices

10 years ago, your customers and prospects only had four to five vendors to choose from. Today, they have between 14 and 15. That means supply has skyrocketed, but demand has remained static. For consumers, that's great. For companies, it means increased competition.

Customers Expect Personalized, Automated Self-Service

Amazon is a leader in personalization, but companies like Uber and Airbnb are right there with them. These and many other businesses are giving your customers exceptional, personalized experiences starting from the moment they visit the website. Your customers expect the same from you.

Customers Want Value Before They Make a Purchase

Have you ever been offered a free trial? Trials and free samples are becoming more and more popular with customers because they provide value with no investment. Your customers can try your offers with no risk, which helps them device if the full purchase is worth their time and money. Increasingly, your customers want you to give them similar value before they're willing to spend a dime.

The Single Biggest Factor Influencing Purchasing Decisions Today

Your current customers are the biggest influence on purchasing decisions today.

In the past, purchasing decisions were driven by your marketing and sales departments. While those departments are still important, today's customers are turning to a different source of information—current customers.

"Your customers are your third and most valuable channel," Brian said in his keynote. That's because according to Brian's research, you'll often find that prospects who made a purchase spoke with one or more of your current customers. In fact, two of the three largest buying influences relied on existing customers. Brian found that 58% of prospects rely on word-of-mouth referrals to make a purchasing decision and 46% relying on customer references.

Brian Halligan's research shows that 2 of 3 top purchasing influences center on your current customers.

Since your current customers have such a large influence on prospective customers, it's more important than ever before that you engage existing customers even after they make a purchase. You need to keep them involved with your organization so you can continue generating revenue from them and encourage them to bring new business into your company.

3 Ways to Focus on Current Customers (from Brian Halligan)

For many businesses, changing the emphasis from new business to existing business is a challenge. Brian suggested three ways that companies could consider.

Method #1) Commission Your Sales People on Customer Success

Yes, revenue should still influence your sales people's compensation, but it shouldn't be the sole basis for commissions. Reward your sales people for bringing in and nurturing customers that use your products and services well. These are the customers who are more likely to be satisfied and recommend you to their colleagues.

Method #2) Base Pricing on Customer Success

Don't stop at your sales people. The pricing for all your products and services should take customer success into account as well. As your customers do better, your company should do better also, so create a pricing structure that brings in more revenue as your customers succeed.

Method #3) Move to a Recurring Revenue Model

Since supply outstrips demand, it's becoming harder and harder to win new business. Your current customers, on the other hand, already know you. Build strong relationships with them to help encourage repeat purchases and higher-dollar sales that will grow your business. This recurring revenue may not be as exciting as winning new contracts, but it will set your company up for success.

Bonus: HubSpot has been hard at work to provide professionals around the web with the tools they need to focus more on current customers. They've even released free CRM software to help.

A Practical Way to Focus on Customer Engagement and Success

All of this brings us back to our opening quote from Brian: "take dollars from sales and marketing. Put it in products and services and customer delight."

Changes in the market and your prospect's buying habits make customer engagement essential. But how do you do act on Brian's suggestion? What do you spend that money on now?

Start with a home online. Many companies already have sophisticated systems for attracting and closing new business, but they have little infrastructure to keep customers informed and engaged after the initial purchase. Build a virtual space that your customers can access anytime, anywhere, to connect with you.

The space you create should incorporate educational customer communication and relationship-building tools that let your company focus on its current customer base. Increasingly, people are turning to customer portal or online community platforms to house all of these tools in one place. Other companies use private customer communities as a launching points for larger retention marketing or referral campaigns.

Some of the top customer engagement tools in online community platforms and other customer engagement software options include:

Customer-to-Company Communication Tools

You need the ability to gather customer feedback, listen to concerns, and answer customer questions. Choose software, such as an online community platform, that makes it easy for your customers to express themselves through blogs or surveys. Not only will your customers feel valued, but your company may even receive user-generated ideas for product improvements that increase your future growth potential.

Customer-to-Customer Communication Tools

Everyone wants to belong to something bigger than themselves and connect with peers who share similar interests. Provide a space where your customers can build a community around your brand by talking with one another, sharing best practices, and asking questions.

The best online community software will even let you open spaces up to the public so your customers can connect with prospects and recommend their favorite products.

Self-Service Tools

Brian's keynote highlighted just how important it is for customers to have 24/7 access to self-service tools. Create an online space with documents about how to use your product, the best ways to solve problems, and the most frequently asked questions. Making customers wait until business hours on a Monday to call for support will only frustrate them.

Company Update and Offer Tools

Keep your customers in the loop by communicating with them regularly. Give them updates on existing products and ensure that they're the first to know about new releases through blogs and emails. The best platforms will even give you the ability to create personalized messages (instead of mass emails) that help solve customers' problems and nurture them toward future purchases.

Pro Tip: When you research software options, look for a platform that tracks customer activity. You can use this online behavioral data to learn about your customers' interests, priorities, and concerns. That information can then help you provide more relevant, helpful communication as well as create personalized experiences for each customer.

Customer Engagement Takeaway

Whether you choose customer portal software or another type of engagement platform, make sure you're focusing on your customers' needs and engaging them in ways that provide value. Continuously adding value is the best way to keep your current customers, sell more to your customer base, and encourage customers to refer your organization to friends, family, and colleagues.

Brian probably said it best in his keynote: "In a world where supply outstrips demand, you never outgrow adding value to your customers."

Shift your organization's efforts to taking care of your customers with helpful sales professionals and informative inbound marketing. Then, expand to software that keeps customers engaged and continuously delivers value even after the sale. Your business will see the benefits both in customer satisfaction and sales as well as the new business your customers bring in.

Topics: Customer Engagement, Customer Success, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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