Meaningful Customer Engagement

About twelve years ago I was in a meeting with one of my clients and we were speaking about their approach to customer acquisition. As with many such meetings, there were whiteboard diagrams, initiatives posted to the wall, and discussions about the strategy. Not far into the meeting, one of the directors spoke up and said “if we focused solely on marketing to our customers, we would overachieve on our objectives”. He continued, “if we simply were able to renew 10% of our customer base, we would drive $40 million in incremental revenue this year.” He had clearly done his homework and got the attention of everyone in the room.

While he was right in his analysis, the biggest obstacle to focusing on the customer base was the state of their customer data. To put it as nicely as possible and by their own admission, it was a disaster. However, his point was well taken. They could focus on new customer acquisition, which of course is important, but they had an even bigger opportunity if they focused their marketing efforts on their current customer base.

And this is where I see many marketers struggle . . . engaging customers across the full customer lifecycle. So often, when I speak with CMOs, they focus on demand generation solely within a new customer acquisition context. What they are missing however is maximizing customer lifetime value (CLV) which can only be done if you build the relationship at every stage of the customer journey and continue to nurture that relationship after their initial purchase. (Side note, engaging customers throughout the entirety of their lifecycle actually begins before they buy anything).

Defining the Customer Lifecycle

There has been plenty written about the customer lifecycle and many have documented the various stages that are a part of that lifecycle. I have my own, represented by the image below,  that I use with clients and I believe fundamentally that in order to engage, nurture, convert, retain, and grow your customers, there has to be a concentrated effort at every stage and it requires a unification of marketing, sales, and customer success/support.

full customer lifecycle framework

Orchestrating the Customer Journey

I have spent a good deal of time working with clients in developing and implementing their approach to customer journey orchestration (I prefer the term journey over lifecycle. Lifecycles indicate that there is an end and that is not something you want for your customers). Virtually every time I begin a discussion with a prospect or client about orchestrating the journey they immediately begin talking about their technology.

I am a big fan of technology, but technology is not a strategy and will not get you any closer to an end-to-end engagement with your customers. The role of technology is to enable your orchestration strategy that’s it and you should not invest in any more technology until you have your customer journey engagement strategy defined. 

So if customer journey orchestration is not a set of technology, what is it? The definition that I use is as follows: 

“Customer journey orchestration is a carefully defined strategy that delivers meaningful customer engagement at every stage of the customer journey. This strategy is then enabled by technology.”

This Time With Feeling

The key word in my definition above is “meaningful”. In B2B it is easy to often lose sight of the fact that we do not market, sell and support accounts; we work with people and people want to have a great experience at every stage of their journey. We demand this in our consumer lives and that human desire for a great experience does not disappear just because it is in a  B2B context. 

With this understanding, it is vital that organizations begin to understand what their customers want to feel and experience at each stage. Of course, this becomes all the more challenging in B2B where you typically have multiple roles engaged at various parts of the journey, all with different perspectives, motivations, and behaviors. This is why marketing should be leading the way in developing buyer insights that can inform the strategy for each and every stage of the customer journey. 

Included in these insights should be personality traits and an understanding of what customers expect and desire from the brands that they engage with. How do you collect these insights? First and foremost you talk to your customers and ask them. If this is not a continual practice in your organization, I highly recommend that you make it one. Secondly, sales and customer success have a treasure trove of insights that they can share to help shape your strategy. Additionally, research into the industries in which your customers operate will provide additional information. Keep in mind that this is not a one-time exercise, it is a continual process.

Making The Case For Full Lifecycle (Meangingful) Engagement

One of the things I hear often from executives is how to justify the cost of full journey engagement. The first step is changing the language from cost to investment. And the investment in delivering meaningful engagement will certainly pay off. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed the following for both transaction-based and subscription-based businesses: 

Transaction-based: Customers with the best past experiences spend 140% more than those with the poorest past experiences.

Subscription-Based: Customers with the best past experiences have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year; customers with the worst experiences have a 43% chance of being a member one year later. In fact, those who gave the highest CX scores were likely to remain members for another six years.

This is significant ROI and furthermore, engaging and delivering a world-class experience at every stage of the journey is now a bigger competitive advantage than price or product. 

To begin this process start with mapping out the full customer journey (use the graphic above if needed), identifying the customer roles that are active at each stage, defining the experience they expect, and aligning that to the roles in your organization that are responsible for the delivery of that engagement & experience. Lastly, identify technologies that will be needed to enable the engagement strategy. 

In 2015, I wrote a book called Driving Demand. As you may have guessed from the title, the book was focused on demand generation. While there is plenty from the book that still applies, I realize that it is not enough for organizations to simply drive demand for their product or services. In order to achieve growth they must look across the full spectrum of their customer lifecycle and drive meaningful engagement. It is when this happens that organizations will win and have customers that become advocates.

Carlos Hidalgo

Carlos Hidalgo

Carlos Hidalgo is the co-founder and CEO of Digital Exhaust, a data-driven, AI-enabled consultancy. Carlos serves his clients as an advisor, consultant, and teacher to ensure they have meaningful engagement with their customers at every stage of the journey and are able to mature and create sustainable growth.

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