Published in April 2006

Creating Customer Resonance
By David McNutt

Learning to align the company with its customers.

     It’s a hard thing to lose a good customer. But it happens all the time. Sometimes companies don’t even know they’ve lost a customer because their communication with the customer is so poor. Customers can switch at the drop of a hat because the cost of doing so is negligible. What do they have to lose? Sometimes there is no reason not to switch, and often there is an incentive to switch because of the renewed attention the customer receives.
     This is important because you can’t sell enough new business to make up for the revenue loss from customer attrition. Yet, most organizations don’t have a handle on who their customers really are, how they are grouped, the role each group plays or how to optimize the relationships.
     A tool for improving this situation is called a “market alignment check,” which consists of a series of questions, interviews and evaluations that measure how your company is fitting within your various business arenas. The audit uncovers information that lets you understand what your market really is and who your real competitors are. It identifies your best marketing vehicles and answers how to reach constituents.
     Quite often, different customer groups have different communication and marketing needs, which is why a marketing approach, message and media selection may work for one segment, but not for another.
     For example, marketing to professional service organizations, such as architects and attorneys, can be difficult and requires specialized tailoring. Suppose you are considering an email newsletter campaign component targeting professional practitioners. These two groups are very smart and highly computer literate, so a marketing campaign that includes an email component likely would have some penetration. But the similarities between the two groups may end there.
     Attorneys do not like long copy (they like to write it, not read it). They consume vast quantities of information, are trained to follow an argument and can sniff out hype in a nanosecond. They are intrigued by a sharp, poignant message, preferably in text-only format that looks great on a BlackBerry.
     On the other hand, architects respond to more descriptive copy and likely are not so impressed by text-only messages. Because they are more stationary and near a larger computer screen, a nicely designed, HTML-formatted message has room to be seen and appreciated. There are 10 more differences between these two professional groups, but this illustrates the point.
     Understanding customer groups and their differences can mean the difference between a successful communication program and a flop. It can also mean the difference between retention and attrition.
     A market alignment check doesn’t just address marketing communications. A well-executed check also can reveal critical service needs that the company isn’t providing, or is delivering poorly in customer groups. The main purpose of the alignment check is to identify improvements the company can make to better align itself to its customer groups. A huge, unintended, benefit is the occasional discovery of an unmet market need.
     For example, a company in the outsourcing industry provides outsourced IT, facilities management and computing services to mid-tier colleges and universities. The company engaged in an alignment check to be sure its outsourced services were on target with its clients and with the market in general. The result of the engagement uncovered a significant market need for outsource consulting services to help its customers decide which services to outsource, to whom, and to manage the transition. The company has grown three-fold; 60% of its revenues come from consulting, and it is in an enviable position to cherry-pick specific outsourcing opportunities of its own. The nature of the company changed because it addressed an unmet market need.
     Sometimes opportunities aren’t as evident as the nose on your face. But, if you never study yourself in the mirror, you’ll never know. A disciplined market alignment check is essential to the discovery of how to resonate with your customers.



Chicago-based David McNutt, a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council, has been involved in many business sectors of the systems integration industry. Send comments to him at dmcnutt@testa.com.


 

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