The Marketing Strategist:
Six Steps to Establishing a Formal Customer Engagement Program
Customer engagement programs can strengthen relationships and build loyalty with key stakeholders at existing customer accounts. Research shows, however, that customer engagement programs are most successful when managed programmatically—not as one-off activities or campaigns. Here are six steps that Marketing can take to establish a formal customer engagement program. A successful customer engagement program has many moving parts, but ITSMA’s framework can help companies create more effective customer engagement programs: 1. Set clear objectives. Clear, appropriate, and well-communicated objectives are the cornerstone of any successful program. First and foremost, a customer engagement program must focus on deepening relationships, not on short-term sales transactions. All stakeholders across the company (senior executives, account managers, marketing, and so forth) need to both understand and agree on the program objectives, such as engendering loyalty and trust, strengthening existing relationships, developing new relationships, and more. This is often easier said than done because it is difficult to partition the customer engagement activities from the broader account team objectives. Still, the customer engagement professionals must persevere! Ultimately, the only reason for investing in customer engagement programs is to position the company for increased revenue growth within the account. However, this objective must be understood as a long-term, indirect benefit. The immediate concern is the quality of the relationship. 2. Tier and target customer accounts. Through strategic tiering and targeting of customer accounts, companies build relationships with those customers, and the executives within those customers, that present the greatest upside. One-size-fits-all programs rarely work. Furthermore, with limited resources, companies are unable to provide the same level of engagement across all of their accounts. Some accounts are targeted for one-to-many programs, while others receive more attention through one-to-few and even one-to-one programs. Many of the companies ITSMA has worked with create different programs for various tiers of accounts. And then, within accounts, personalization—based on personal profiles of key individuals—is highly effective. Customers are typically selected based on current revenue or profit, potential revenue or profit, strategic value, or the current state of the relationship. Individuals within accounts can be targeted by position, reporting relationship, role in the purchase process (e.g., budget holder, decision maker, influencer, end user), or influence. Some programs are designed specifically to spot the rising stars and help accelerate their careers. Sales (or client directors/partners in professional services firms) should be involved in the customer selection process. Sales owns the customer relationship and if the account team is not on board, failure won’t be far behind. 3. Balance the event and communications mix. The best-performing companies take a programmatic approach, as opposed to an event-focused approach, to their customer engagement programs. They also follow an overall cadence and communication strategy based on customer input. Specifically, they:
- Connect in-person events with ongoing communications to progressively build stronger relationships. Without diminishing the importance of face-to-face activities, a sophisticated use of linking communications elements (email, newsletters, webcasts, and interactive social media) could significantly enhance the return on investment (ROI) from expensive in-person meetings. For some companies, the follow-up activities capture and communicate significant value, extending the shelf life of an in-person event.
- Avoid overreliance on one-to-many activities, such as large annual conferences that do not encourage more intimate and mutually beneficial relationships. Although big conferences are likely to remain important, a tiered approach should be explored, incorporating one-to-few activities such as advisory boards and customer councils. Follow the trends and develop events that are smaller in size, shorter in duration, customer-driven, and centered around peer networking.
- Create an exclusive club via membership boards and councils that provides an untapped opportunity to strengthen relationships, create advocates, and build unparalleled insight.