Marc Russman recently pioneered Customer Success Marketing for the IBM Cloud Business Unit. His objective: To integrate the art of storytelling into a disciplined marketing process.
Marc has now joined The Marketing Practice in the US to advise enterprise clients as they embark on inventive and disruptive marketing strategies. I caught up with him to get some of his thoughts on his work with IBM and the impact of his customer success strategy there.
What is ‘Customer Success Marketing’?
Nothing is more contagious in business than success. Satisfied customers have fascinating stories to tell about the benefits they’ve experienced from deploying a new technology or service. So, why not ask a happy customer to share their story?
Customer Success Marketing is an orchestrated process for identifying, capturing and leveraging customer stories. Communicated internally, success stories go a long way toward building an atmosphere of success across an organization. Utilized externally, customer success stories are a powerful means of attracting new buyers.
If it’s just a set of customer stories, why is it called a ‘program’?
Highly satisfied customers don’t pop up by accident. Customer success is the outcome of many business processes working harmoniously together. The same is true for developing customer success stories. They should be the steady, predictable outcome of a program that has measurable goals and objectives. This is a disciplined process with a management system that ensures a continuous flow of new content. Sellers should know with certainty they will have the customer evidence needed to close deals. And with this program, marketers have confidence in the supply of fresh new content to deploy across marketing channels and in campaigns.
Why do you think businesses are starting similar programs?
Customer references have a very limited shelf-life and age rapidly. Prospective buyers want evidence of customer satisfaction that is current and relevant to their business challenges and industry. A Customer Success program drives a tighter link between sales and marketing that results in a more rapid identification and delivery of new stories and marketing content. The program can also reward customers for their loyalty.
It places the focus of everyone in an organization where it should be: On ensuring customers are so satisfied they want to share their experience with others.
When it comes down to it, what is the value of Customer Success Marketing?
Customer references are the most valued sales asset for closing deals. These stories, case studies, blogs or customer quotes are verifiable proof-points of success. Similarly, customer stories are valuable to marketers because the content can be leveraged to raise awareness, develop interest and nurture prospective buyers.
Does that mean the salesperson plays a critical role?
Customer Success Marketing takes the art of storytelling and surrounds it with the discipline and rigor of a marketing campaign. Salespeople have the closest relationship with customers and play a pivotal role in the program. They are accountable for identifying customers who are willing to provide a success story. After asking the customer to share their story, they hand off to marketing to develop the story. They also need to communicate the value proposition for participating in the program to their customer.
On the other hand, what role does the customer play? What’s in it for them?
Customers who share their success stories need to see this effort as a win–win. A bundle of benefits should be presented to a customer considering participation. Customers who agree to provide a success story should be offered tangible rewards that are significant and meaningful to them. But, they don’t have to be monetary. Their story will receive media exposure which is a huge benefit in itself. In addition, customers can be provided with services like technical support or education credits as an example. Other benefits might include free trials or beta tests, access to executive roundtables or pre-release disclosure briefings for new offerings. The key is to provide the right set of benefits to the right customer which requires flexibility and an understanding of the customer’s needs.
Is it a resource-intensive program to run?
Establishing a cross-organization Customer Success program requires senior management support. The objective is to create an atmosphere of success throughout the organization. Managers can demonstrate this commitment by opening every meeting with a customer success story. They’re difficult programs to run―complex, and requiring tight integration. Dedicated resources are required to support the program. Sales enablement is necessary to educate sellers on the value of customer success stories to the business and their role in driving customer participation.
How do you justify that kind of investment? How do you measure it?
Objectives and targets are essential to the program’s operations. For example, individual salespeople can be assigned a target for identifying a specific number of customers willing to participate in the program. Marketing targets can also track improvement in awareness and customer reach. A scorecard is a tangible measure of progress to share across the business with other key performance indicators. Rewards and incentives for the sales team are a good way to reinforce the importance of customer success activity.