Five years ago, if you had asked your customers how they first learned about your company, they probably would have said some variation of search engine optimized content: your blog, your ebooks, your Youtube tutorials. Today, the answer is much different:

"What sources of information do you rely on when making purchase decisions for business software?"

information-sources-business-software-hubspot

That chart tells you everything you need to know about being a marketer in 2018: Your customers are more effective at marketing your business than anyone you could ever hire. As trust in companies has dwindled and consumer influence has grown in recent years, more and more of a company's sales are directly influenced by their existing customers. I've often joked that for data-driven marketers, the scariest phrase in the lexicon is "word-of-mouth," because it's so hard to know how to influence it.

"There's no way to optimize for word-of-mouth," marketers will tell you.

Of course, there is, customers will likely reply: Give us a good experience.

Business culture is saturated with well-intentioned platitudes about the customer experience: Solve for the customer, be customer-first, the customer is always right -- just to name a few. But these phrases seldom evolve beyond the sign hanging in the office lobby into a true strategy and set of metrics for empowering customers to be the driving force behind your business.

Customer-friendly companies are everywhere, but these three case studies have all found a way to transform "solving for the customer" from a sentiment to a truly pivotal strategy.

3 Companies That Have Succeeded Through Customer Growth

1. Lemonade

When you hear the words "insurance claims," your mind immediately goes to bureaucracy, paperwork, and a long perplexing process. Want to know rates? You'd better call back during business hours, then wait on hold, then go through an application process.

Lemonade, which markets itself as a new technology-fueled approach to insurance, cuts all of that uncertainty and rigamarole out of the equation by putting their pricing front and center. They use a bot nicknamed 'Maya' to help first-time visitors clearly understand pricing from the start. Once pricing is out of the way, the consumer can feel confident making an informed decision.

lemonade-pricing-tool

But being transparent about pricing is just the first step. Customers also want to know that pricing isn't set up to take advantage of them.

In the words of Dharmesh Shah's Customer Code, "Customers don't mind paying, but they do mind being played." And insurance companies historically have a bad, if not always deserved a reputation for gaming their pricing models to create the best possible returns for themselves rather than their customers. Lemonade tried to upset that tradition by divorcing the company's profits from the claims process. Here's how it works:

"We ask members to choose a Giveback cause when they sign up. People choosing the same cause form a virtual group, or a 'cohort' in our terminology. Behind the scenes, we use each cohort's premiums to pay their claims, and we Giveback leftover money (up to 40%) to their common cause."

Why charity? Well, this works on multiple levels. It assures the insurance buyer that the company's profit motive isn't tied to their claims assessment process. Lemonade also theorizes that this cuts down on insurance fraud, as customers are less likely to try to game the system if doing so would taking money away from causes they care about.

Pricing can seem like the least interesting part of marketing and sales, but it can be ripe with opportunities for innovation and customer delight. Lemonade doesn't hide pricing, they create an experience around it. By being transparent and changing their pricing model to incorporate charitable giving, Lemonade earned customer trust and a creative opportunity for word of mouth promotion.

This year, HubSpot Research asked buyers how pricing played a role in their purchase decisions. 69% said confusing pricing would keep them from making a purchase. Turns out clear pricing not only drives purchases, it can also drive word-of-mouth.

2. Airstream

Most B2B or high-price-point marketers send leads through a careful lead scoring and nurturing process, helping them separate the high-quality leads from those who aren't ready to buy. This is designed to keep your company from wasting time on deals unlikely to close. It doesn't do much for the customer, however.

Airstream, a well-loved manufacturing company that makes travel trailers and touring coaches decided to take a different approach to these cohorts of unlikely buyers. They enabled them.

Airstream segments their database into two groups: 'Streamers' and 'Dreamers.' Streamers are people who already own or are likely to soon own an Airstream. Dreamers are those who dream of owning one someday. Airstream made the conscious decision not to filter out interested but unlikely buyers and instead to leverage their passion as an extension of the Airstream marketing team. They feed the Dreamers content and ideas to spark their imagination. They encourage social sharing and pivot their own marketing to reflect their fans' perspectives.

Dreamers readily share their stories on Facebook and Instagram. #LiveRiveted is a popular Airstream hashtag, with 84,000 entries on Instagram, countless tweets, and a steady stream of inspired stories on their community blog.

Airstream has grown tenfold in the last three years, and credit it in large part to the momentum they've been able to build out of their audience. As Stephen Hileman, a marketing manager at Airstream, explains. "They're all influencers for us that would cost us millions to reproduce if we did it in a more traditional way."

3. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The road to an unhappy, disinterested customer base is paved by a thousand tiny moments of friction. Choices that seem small at the moment can snowball into big disruptions of the customer experience, and make repeat purchases less and less likely.

The tricky part is that growth itself is often the source of that friction. As your company gets bigger, you hire more staff. Your growing employee base has more handoffs between them and different, sometimes conflicting, strategies. Growth adds operational complexity in a business that we inadvertently pass on to customers - and so it was for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

"Our different departments were quite disconnected, and communicated to their various audiences in quite fragmented ways," explains Risa Goehrke, Director of Marketing. Customer personas spanned a range of needs - they could be a member, a one-time visitor, a future donor or student in Hall's educational programs. Many fell into more than one of these categories at once.

"Each of our departments had their own way of speaking to their audience, their own cadence, their own look and feel to their emails. It was all over the place," Goehrke says. "Our customers could have been receiving three to four or five emails a week from us, and cross-departmentally we wouldn't even have known that. The reason this causes problems for our customers is it can lead to a certain point of confusion, and eventually even a distrust. "

Seeing the friction it had begun to create for visitors, the Hall of Fame completely transformed the company's approach to customer interactions. They got their marketing, sales, donor relations, and site services, teams, working out of the same database and shared a view of the customer. They expanded inputs to that database to include messages coming in from Facebook, phone calls and onsite interactions. They're now literally on the same page when it comes to customer interactions and the friction in that experience for the customer has been drastically minimized.

Some of this is technology, but a lot of it is decision-making, culture, and the strategy to see it through. By targeting the points of friction in their customer experience, the Hall of Fame was able to make a meaningful difference in a short amount of time.

Every business wants to solve for the customer, but those who actually make the strategic shifts to align their team's incentives to their customers' success end up growing better as a result. This requires a shift in mindset to the long-term, and the willingness sometimes to take short-term hits to your numbers for the sake of better and more profitable long-term relationships. All the search engine optimization in the world can't outweigh the impact of a successful and happy customer.

A version of this blog post was originally published on MarTechAdvisor.

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Originally published Nov 9, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated November 09 2018

Topics:

Customer Success