Saturday, July 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: Only Customer Opinions Matter

A friend of mine who works in a small startup created the following post based on some recent experiences.  There are a number of gems in here, including:
  • educational webinars are a great way to find leads, but be careful about including too much product content.
  • to really understand what your customers want, ASK THEM.
  • any marketing activity must be measured to gauge success.  If it's not working then change it.
  • nothing pisses off your professionals more than telling them HOW to do something.  Tell them the results you need and let them loose. There is a fine line between guidance and micro-management.  The upshot is that this startup is going to lose a very talented VP Marketing .

Our company’s CEO and Director of Sales have been urging me to add more product content to our most successful lead generation program, a a free educational webinar series with 10% or less product content. Because it’s educational, our contacts forward the invitation email to friends, acquaintances, and colleagues in our industry, ultimately delivering between 300 and 500 new, highly-qualified contacts into our CRM every month.

We survey attendees at the end of every webinar, and it’s abundantly clear from their comments that they attend for the education. Both the CEO and Director of Sales have praised the program and recognize that it’s been an extremely successful tactic to get new leads into the system.

And yet…they want to change it. They think that adding product content to the webinar “won’t hurt”, that attendees will “appreciate it”, and (here’s the ironic part) it will “speed up the sales process.” I have resisted their suggestions simply because attendees have consistently stated in the post-webinar survey that they highly value the industry education and are thankful that we don’t subject them to product pitches. But, after a direct order from the CEO, I added 30% more product content to the most recent webinar for a total of 40% product content.

The webinar attendees’ reaction on the post-event surveys was immediate and virulent. Our satisfaction scores in every category dropped from an average of 4.5 to 3.5. And we got comments like this: “If I had known this was going to be a product pitch, I wouldn’t have attended, and I wouldn’t have forwarded the invitation. I’ll never attend one of your webinars again.”

Great. There’s a prospect that we’ve disappointed who will not take a sales rep’s calls, not respond to subsequent webinar invitations, and will never, ever refer us to potential customers. When I reported this reaction to the CEO, he snapped, “Well, I guess you were right again.” Then he said, “How do you know what our clients want better than people who have been at this company years longer than you?”

What a confounding and—dare I say—stupid statement! I knew what our target audiences’ reaction would be to the webinar change because they told me. My opinion doesn’t matter. In addition to our post-webinar surveys, the marketing department regularly surveys our contact database to better understand their business problems and how they apply technology to solve those problems. We share survey results with the management team and everyone in the sales and software development organization. They read the results and then go back to what they were doing—based on THEIR opinion of what our clients want.

Why do CEOs, CIOs, sales reps, marketing managers, software developers, documentation writers, etc., think that they know more about their customers’ and prospects’ business needs and challenges than the clients and prospects do? Why do they guess, or worse, assume that they know? Why does it not occur to them that clients would tell them, in explicit detail, if only they would ask?

Prospects do tell salespeople what they want as part of the sales process. The best salespeople listen well and, if asked, could accurately describe what their clients want. Unfortunately, many salespeople are so focused on closing the sale and moving on that they filter what prospects and clients tell them and transform those needs so they align with the product or service the reps is selling.

If you continue to believe that your opinion is more important than the opinion of your clients and prospects, prepare to be proved wrong in disastrous ways—by expensive marketing campaigns that fail, product releases that flop, plummeting client satisfaction, lowered renewal rates and unmet sales goals. 


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