Today's post is by Joe Fuca, president, Worldwide Field Operations, at FinancialForce.
Like many of you, I witnessed the recession in 2008 and find myself watching for the signs that economic growth is stalling. It seems the writing is on the wall: venture capital funding is a trickle of what it once was, and spending on technology solutions is on the decline.
If spending slows and you’re reliant on sales from technology solutions, your universe of potential customers could soon shrink if you can’t deliver your promised value. Therefore, your existing customers become even more important – they’ve already voted with their wallets for your services and will be your biggest advocates in drawing new customers. As we potentially ease into a down economy, there is no more essential task right now than supporting a “customer-first” program in your business.
When the economy weakens, delighting customers needs to be the main focus of your business. Cultivating customer happiness requires structural changes in the entire organization, not just cheerleading – your business needs to be built in such a way that sales and support teams have the tools they need at hand to boost customer success.
Here’s my take on the steps needed to sharpen focus on customer success:
Establish tangible metrics for measuring customer success. How do we know if customers are meeting their goals, based on the products we sell them? I think it’s a mistake to rely on anecdotal evidence, because it doesn’t give your sales and support teams any benchmarks to guide their actions. Instead, you should set up milestones that tie directly to indications of customer success. These metrics should demonstrate that products are correctly built for customer needs, that support is solving problems quickly and effectively, and that product development is aligned with customers’ real needs.
As an example of usable metrics, consider measuring referenceability, which can take many shapes/sizes:
- How many customers say they’re willing to take part in case studies or provide testimonials
- How many hours have customers spent logged on to your product
- How many users does each customer have – and are they on the increase
Decide on the threshold that indicates customer success – it can and will vary depending on the customer – and then measure customers against these metrics. If customers don’t cross the desired threshold, sales and support should step in with extra attention.
Build a supportive infrastructure. Every team – global, field sales, inside sales, professional services, and so on – needs to deliver a common message to customers, in a way that makes them successful. Easier said than done, of course, which is why you need to create processes that support this message delivery. For instance, training should be a continual process, and should be widely available to sales and support teams at all levels. The latest product messaging should be pushed out to teams on a regular basis – down economies are not the time for inconsistent and confusing product messaging to surface.
Unify the customer experience. Customer view your business as a single entity, not as a series of departments. When they contact support with a problem, they don’t want to hear the support team has no idea what’s going on with a recent purchase of additional products, or what’s happening with an overdue bill. At the very least, it should be easy for customer contacts in one department to determine which of their colleagues from another department can resolve the issue. And ideally, your various departments suggest solutions to problems before customers even bring them up.
Customer data has the potential to act as the unifying force among departments. Think of all the data that different departments collect based on interactions with customers, and how that data can yield “crossover” insights. The sales team might be the first to realize a customer needs extra services like maintenance or training – and flags this for the support team. Or the finance department sees an unpaid bill that might impact service, and tips off the sales team, which can route this issue to the customer contact. With a single underlying platform, businesses can more easily aggregate, share, and access this data for fast business and greater customer insights all around.
In an uncertain economic climate, your current customers represent a business opportunity you can’t afford to fumble. Start today in rallying sales and support around a customer-centric mindset, so you can count on strong loyalty and references from your current customers as your competitors face a slowing customer pipeline. A customer-first philosophy will be what separates your business from struggling competitors in a down economy, ultimately endearing you to current customers and prospects alike.