HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

Are you measuring your customers’ lifetime value? Are you investing in and enabling customer capabilities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Michael Schrage.

What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

For managers and marketers alike, the power to calculate what customers might be worth is alluring. That’s what makes customer lifetime value (CLV) so popular in so many industries. CLV brings both quantitative rigor and long-term perspective to customer acquisition and relationships.

“Rather than thinking about how you can acquire a lot of customers and how cheaply you can do so,” one marketing guide observes, “CLV helps you think about how to optimize your acquisition spending for maximum value rather than minimum cost.” By imposing economic discipline, ruthlessly prioritizing segmentation, retention, and monetization, the metric assures future customer profitability is top of mind.

For all its impressive strengths, however, CLV suffers from a crippling flaw that blurs its declared focus. The problem is far more insidious than those articulated in venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s thoughtful CLV vivisection. In fact, it subverts how customers truly become more valuable over time.

When my book Who Do You Want Your Customer To Become? was published, five years ago, its insight was that making customers better makes better customers. While delighting customers and meeting their needs remain important, they’re not enough for a lifetime. Innovation must be seen as an investment in the human capital and capabilities of customers.

Consequently, serious customer lifetime value metrics should measure how effectively innovation investment increases customer health and wealth. Successful innovations make customers more valuable. That’s as true for Amazon, Alibaba, and Apple as for Facebook, Google, and Netflix. No one would dare argue that these innovators don’t understand, appreciate, or practice a CLV sensibility.

Pushing organizations to rethink how they add value to their customers stimulates enormously productive discussion. A fast, cheap, and easy exercise for clarifying the innovation investment approach emerged when I operationalized my book’s principles. The simple but provocative tool generates actionable insights. Having facilitated scores of workshops around it worldwide, I know it gets results.

Ask people to complete this sentence: ”Our customers become much more valuable when…”

The immediate answers tend to be predictable and obvious. For example, customers become much more valuable when “they buy more of our stuff” or “they pay more” or “they reliably come back to us” or “they’re loyal to our brand.”

There are no prizes for recognizing that these initial responses reflect the variables that go into computing traditional CLVs. While everyone agrees these things are important, participants in the exercise quickly recognize how limited, and limiting, those instant answers are.

It doesn’t take long before the answers start to incorporate an investment ethos that sees customers more as value-creating partners than as value-extraction targets. For example:

Our customers become much more valuable when…

  • they give us good ideas
  • they evangelize for us on social media
  • they reduce our costs
  • they collaborate with us
  • they try our new products
  • they introduce us to their customers
  • they share their data with us

Almost without exception, these follow-on answers are disconnected from how the firm calculates customer lifetime value. But, almost without exception, these responses push people to revisit and rethink how customer value should be measured. At one company the immediate response was to look for correlations between CLV and net promoter score. At another, the conversation led to discovering a core group of top-quintile CLV clients, who served as essential references for closing deals with firms identified as top-decile CLV clients. Those reference firms instantly won renewed attention and special treatment.

The more diverse and detailed the answers, the more innovative and insightful the customer investment. The most-productive conversations came from cross-functional, collaborative interaction — not just from marketing, R&D, or business unit leaderships.

For example, for a global industrial equipment provider, customers became more valuable when they performed more self-service diagnostics and shared that information with the firm. That led directly to the firm’s technical services teams offering cloud-connecting APIs and SDKs that let customers customize remote diagnostic gateways for their equipment. Customers embracing self-diagnostics inherently boosted their CLV. Not incidentally, information access swiftly redefined how the company qualified prospects and computed lifetime customer value.

By investing in and enabling new customer capabilities, firms create new ways for customers to increase their lifetime value. Making customers better truly does make for better customers.

But in keeping with the segmentation spirit of CLV, the question can easily be edited and modified to produce targeted insights. For example, at one workshop we used two versions of the sentence: “Our best customers become much more valuable when…” and “Our typical customers become much more valuable when…”

The innovation investment insights for one’s best customers proved qualitatively and quantitatively different from those for one’s typical customers. Forcing people to rigorously define the distinctions between typical and best frequently leads to even greater creativity around customer value.

My favorite CLV vignette emerged from a session at a global financial services giant in London. As the responses grew longer, richer, and more detailed, one of the participants called attention to an interesting fact. Some of the answers, he observed, began with “we,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when we do something.” The others, however, began with “they,” as in, “Our customers become much more valuable when they do something.”

“What is the difference between the potential customer lifetime value when we do something versus when they do it?” he asked. After a few moments of silence, the conversation went to a whole other level of engagement, around how the firm wanted to engage with and invest in its customers.

The best investment you can make in measuring customer lifetime value is to make sure you’re investing in your customers’ lifetime value.

HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

“The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Cara France:

What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

What makes marketing creative? Is it more imagination or innovation? Is a creative marketer more artist or entrepreneur? Historically, the term “marketing creative” has been associated with the words and pictures that go into ad campaigns. But marketing, like other corporate functions, has become more complex and rigorous. Marketers need to master data analytics, customer experience, and product design. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?

To explore this question, we interviewed senior marketing executives across dozens of top brands. We asked them for examples of creativity in marketing that go beyond ad campaigns and deliver tangible value to the business. Their stories — and the five wider trends they reflect — help illustrate what it means to be a creative marketer today.

  1. Create with the customer, not just for the customer

Everyone likes to talk about being “customer-centric.” But too often this means taking better aim with targeted campaigns. Customers today are not just consumers; they are also creators, developing content and ideas — and encountering challenges — right along with you. Creativity in marketing requires working with customers right from the start to weave their experiences with your efforts to expand your company’s reach.

For example, Intuit’s marketing team spends time with self-employed people in their homes and offices to immerse themselves in the customer’s world. Through this research, they identified a pain point of tracking vehicle gas mileage. Based on these marketing insights, Intuit created a new feature within its app that combines location data, Google maps, and the user’s calendar to automatically track mileage and simplify year-end tax planning.

Brocade, a data and network solutions provider, created a “customer first” program by identifying their top 200 customers, who account for 80% of their sales. They worked with these customers to understand their sources of satisfaction and identify areas of strengths and weakness. Brocade then worked with sales teams to create and deliver customized packages outlining what Brocade heard is working or not working, and what they would do about those findings. Later, Brocade followed up with these customers to report on progress against these objectives. The results? Brocade’s Net Promoter Score went from 50 (already a best in class score) to 62 (one of the highest B2B scores on record) within 18 months.

  1. Invest in the end-to-end experience

Every marketer believes the customer experience is important. But most marketers only focus on the parts of that experience under their direct control. Creative marketers take a broader view and pay attention to the entire customer experience from end to end. This includes the product, the buying process, the ability to provide support, and customer relationships over time. That takes time and resources – and it also requires bringing creative thinking to unfamiliar problems.

Kaiser Permanente believes that as health care becomes more consumer-oriented, the digital experience becomes a key differentiator. The marketing team instituted a welcome program to help improve the experience for new plan members. Members are guided on how to register for an online member portal, which provides access to email your doctor, refill prescriptions, make appointments, and more. The welcome program required coordination with many areas of the business. As a result of this program, about 60% of new members register within the first six months. These members are 2.6 times more likely to stay with Kaiser Permanente two years later.

Like many retailers, Macy’s has traditionally spent 85% of its marketing budget on driving sales. Each outbound communication is measured individually for immediate ROI. However, recently they began to take a more holistic approach, focusing on lifetime value and their most profitable segment, the “fashionable spender.” This group looks across the business to gather behind-the-scenes information on the runway, newest clothing lines, and aspirational fashion content. The metrics also changed. Macy’s started evaluating engagement per customer across time and platform instead of per marketing message per day. The results? In the last year, customers in the top decile segment increased digital engagement by 15%, cross shopping by 11% and sales by 8%.

  1. Turn everyone into an advocate

In a fragmented media and social landscape, marketers can no longer reach their goals for awareness and reputation just through paid media and PR. People are the new channel. The way to amplify impact is by inspiring creativity in others. Treat everyone as an extension of your marketing team: employees, partners, and even customers.

Plum Organics gives each employee business cards with coupons attached. While shopping, all employees are encouraged to observe consumers shopping the baby category. When appropriate, they ask a few questions about shoppers’ baby food preferences and share business cards with coupons for free products as a gesture of appreciation.

For Equinix, surveys revealed that a third of employees were not confident explaining its company story. The company introduced an internal ambassador program for its more than 6,000 employees. This program gives employees across all disciplines and levels tools to educate them on the company, its culture, products and services, and how they solve its customer’s needs. More than 20% of employees took the training online or in workshops in the first few months of the program, and employee submissions to its sales lead and job candidate referral programs were up 43% and 19% respectively.

Old Navy has traditionally dedicated their media budget to TV, particularly around back to school. However, over the past few years, they’ve focused on digital content to engage kids around positive life experiences and giving back. Through this approach, the 2016 #MySquadContest led to 32,000 kids sharing their “squads” of friends for a chance to win an epic day with their favorite influencer, creating 3 million video views, a 60% increase in social conversation about @OldNavy, and a 600% increased likelihood of recommending Old Navy to a friend (versus those that viewed TV ads only). In addition, the program led to record breaking donations for their partner, The Boys & Girls Club.

  1. Bring creativity to measurement

The measurability of digital engagement means we can now know exactly what’s working and not working. This gives marketing an opportunity to measure and manage itself in new ways. In the past, marketing measured success by sticking to budgets and winning creative awards. Today, the ability to measure data and adjust strategies in real-time enables marketing to prove its value to the business in entirely new ways.

Cisco has created a real-time, online dashboard where the entire marketing organization can look at performance. The leadership team conducts a weekly evaluation to assess, “Is what we’re doing working?” This analysis can be done across different digital initiatives, geographies, channels, or even individual pieces of content. The result is an ability to quickly adjust and re-allocate resources.

Zscaler, a cloud-based security platform for businesses, created a Value Management Office. The Office helps each client define, quantify, and track their unique business goals associated with Zscaler implementation. Zscaler and their clients hold each other accountable to specific, measurable, time-based results.

OpenTable recently launched a companion app just for restaurants to make better use of the data they’ve been collecting through their reservation system. Restauranteurs can now get a handle on their business right from their smartphone, allowing them to easily answer questions like “How did your last shift perform?” The app can tell them if they are running light on bookings, and soon they’ll be able to activate marketing campaigns to increase same day reservations. More than 50% of restaurant customers on OpenTable’s cloud-based service are already using the app, visiting an average of 9 times a day, 7 days a week.

  1. Think like a startup

In the past, marketers needed to be effective managers, setting goals well in advance and then working within budget to achieve those goals. Today, creative marketers need to operate more like entrepreneurs, continuously adjusting to sustain “product/market fit.”

The start-up Checkr represents a trend we are seeing more of in the Bay Area in particular. Marketers are adopting the business practices of entrepreneurs such as lean startup and agile development. For its background check solution, Checkr wasn’t getting the results it wanted from traditional sales and marketing tactics as it expanded into new market segments. They realized they had to think beyond marketing as promoting an existing product. Adopting an agile method of customer testing and rapid iteration, they worked with engineering to rethink the product and bring a “minimum viable product” to market for these new buyers. As a result of this integrated, agile approach, the company easily hit some early 2017 revenue targets with conversion rates that are four times what is traditionally seen in the industry.

 

The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. The measure of marketing success isn’t the input, whether that’s the quality of a piece of content or a campaign, but rather the value of the output, whether that’s revenue, loyalty, or advocacy. Marketers of the past thought like artists, managers, and promoters. Today’s marketers need to push themselves to think more like innovators and entrepreneurs — creating enterprise value by engaging the whole organization, looking out for the entire customer experience, using data to make decisions, and measuring effectiveness based on business results.

 

 

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/03/what-creativity-in-marketing-looks-like-today

 

 

HBR: The Value in Wowing Your Customers

Are you using the Net Promoter system? I would like to hear about your “WOW!” moment. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Fred Reichheld.

The Value in Wowing Your Customers

A friend of mine in Dallas loves the local Chick-fil-A restaurant. The reason? An employee named Jose once asked my friend’s three-year-old to help with the mopping — and proceeded to give the boy a ride around the restaurant on the mop. For my friend, this was a “wow!” experience, the kind of out-of-the-ordinary event that you want to tell people about — and that inspires you to recommend the business that provided it.

One of my favorite examples of this happened at Rackspace, the managed hosting and cloud computing company. An employee on the phone with a customer during a marathon troubleshooting session heard the customer tell someone in the background that they were getting hungry. As she tells it, “So I put them on hold, and I ordered them a pizza. About 30 minutes later we were still on the phone, and there was a knock on their door. I told them to go answer it because it was pizza! They were so excited.”

I’d have been pretty excited, too, if I were that hungry customer. Another “wow!” moment.

Maybe you noticed something about these wows: They don’t cost much. I call them “frugal wows.” A company that brings a smile to the face of its customers in this manner builds a huge reservoir of goodwill and positive word of mouth at very little expense.

Why would an employee make that kind of a gesture? No doubt the individuals involved are good-hearted folks. Doing well by others makes them happy. But there are plenty of equally good-hearted people in other companies who would never think to offer something extra to a customer. It just wouldn’t occur to them to go beyond their usual duties.

What distinguishes Chick-fil-A and Rackspace is that both companies have created what might be called a “Golden Rule” culture. Employees treat customers as they would like to be treated if they were in the customers’ shoes. Rackspace calls it “Fanatical Support” and views it as a cornerstone of the company’s competitive advantage. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy says, “We strive to deliver something for which there is unlimited demand — being treated with honor and respect.”

Both companies regularly survey customers using the Net Promoter system. They disseminate the scores and responses throughout the organization. They follow up with unhappy customers, and they make a point of acting on the feedback they receive. In other words, they take their commitment seriously.

So it’s hardly surprising that employees of these companies would come up with imaginative ways to wow the people they serve. It isn’t only their own good-heartedness or their personal commitment to the Golden Rule — they know that’s what their employer values as well. And they know that their actions will ripple outward through the recommendations their customers provide.

Barbara Talbott, the retired head of marketing for the Four Seasons, tells the story of acts of intelligent kindness: a pot of tea delivered gratis to the room of a guest with a bad cold, a vaporizer for a mother with a croupy child, and so on.

Her point is that if you hire good employees, they will seek out opportunities to be kind. They know that when the line at the front desk is five deep, then they must be intelligent and move the line expeditiously, but if there is no crowd, then that is the time to add a little flare and conversation.

All this sheds light on the ongoing conversation about employee happiness. Most people are happiest when they get a chance to do something that others truly value — when they can act according to their best instincts. More and more companies are making sure that they support those instincts with the right team structures, leaders, tools, and training. And they put in place systems that give employees immediate feedback about how they have enriched a customer’s life — or why they fell short and how to fix it.

For an employee, that support is likely to mean a chance to make a real difference in the life of a customer. How fitting that the employee’s company gains from this as well.

 

HBR: Using Surveys to Understand the Customer Journey

Are you using surveys to understand who your customers are? They can help you determine what your customer needs. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review.

Using Surveys to Understand the Customer Journey

Your organization has plenty of data about customer behavior that tells you what different customers do where and when. You can see when they visit you online, how long they search, and how much they spend.

But too often the why behind their actions remains elusive. With the mountains of information you collect, the insights are often difficult to find, take too much time to discern, or require additional data. All this means it takes marketers too long to get important information that could make a real difference to the customer experience—and the bottom line.

“If you want to have a major impact, you need an integrated approach to see what is happening at all customer touch points and understand how effective you are,” says Joerg Niessing, a marketing professor at INSEAD.

A recent study published by INSEAD found that the number of sources of marketing and customer data that a company integrates correlates strongly to performance vis-à-vis competitors. The study focused on customer and marketing data, including:

  • Digital analytics such as optimizing email campaigns, testing content, and analyzing digital pathways to optimize website use and experience.
  • Customer analytics including lifetime value and loyalty calculations, response and purchase propensity modeling, and micro segmentation.
  • Marketing analytics such as demand forecasting, marketing attribution models, market mix modeling, and media budget optimization.
  • Sales analytics including pricing elasticity modeling, assortment planning, and sales territory design.
  • Consumer analytics including surveys/questionnaires, customer experience research, and customer satisfaction/advocacy modeling.

Those companies that leverage multiple sources and focus diligently on demand generation have significantly stronger business performance, especially total shareholder return.

But insights uncovered from many data sources often beg the question, “Why?” To answer that, modern marketers go directly to the source: consumers.

Traditionally, companies that use surveys and field research to try to get at the why behind the what pay a lot of money for information that is often too complex to understand and too slow to arrive. When it does come in, it is sometimes no longer relevant and leaves organizations trying to solve last month’s or last year’s problem at the expense of current ones. Attempting to get speedier or less costly results risks compromising accuracy.

But innovations in market research are changing the game. Today’s easy-to-use survey tools help marketers fill out their knowledge of customer behavior much faster than traditional surveying methods.

Companies that make use of these fast, convenient survey solutions gain insight not only into what people actually do, but also what they say they will do—and in that gap there could be opportunities. “Marrying digital and marketing analytics with consumer research from surveys gives marketers deeper insights and opens up the number of hypotheses a company can test,” says Suzanne Mumford, head of marketing for the Google Analytics 360 Suite. “Marketing today is in near real time and your data should be, too.”

Say your website analytics reveal that one segment of your visitors are highly engaged with your site content, but their visits aren’t converting into sales. “You can ask them directly about what keeps them coming back and about why they don’t buy. Surveys let you take your data one step further and round out the picture of the customer so you can make informed business decisions and tailor your customer experiences,” says Kevin Fields, product marketing manager for Google Surveys.

Surveys are also useful if marketers find themselves in an internal debate about two campaign concepts. Before making a large investment based on subjective opinion, marketing leaders can validate messaging by asking the target audience about their preference.

For modern marketers, surveys have become an essential element in an integrated marketing approach—they produce insights that complement those uncovered by other data sources. “I want to make sure that the customer voice is front and center but that we also surround it with other data — that we can make really good, holistic business decisions,” says Stacey Symonds, senior director for consumer insights at Orbitz.

So think about what you’d most like to ask your customers—or those who visit your site but don’t buy. Today’s survey solutions allow businesses to get sophisticated, accurate data in a matter of days, not months. Because these methods are more affordable and quick, they allow businesses to continually iterate to meet customers’ needs.

“Surveys empower organizations to get answers when they matter,” Fields says. “And getting those insights quickly helps marketing stay nimble.”

 

HBR: The Best Salespeople Do What the Best Brands Do

Does your sales force create extraordinary experiences that embody your company’s brand?  Are you cultivating emotional connections with customers and providing real value for them? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Denise Lee Yohn.

The Best Salespeople Do What the Best Brands Do

It’s not news that the role of salespeople and selling is changing. In the past, salespeople were often the first step in a purchase process, and could significantly influence customer decision-making by controlling information about pricing, availability, competitive advantage, etc.

But in this era of nearly ubiquitous information, customers usually engage with salespeople after they’ve already researched their purchase and in some cases made their purchase decision. Digital commerce and disintermediation have caused many customers to question the importance of having a sales relationship at all. Moreover, companies are learning that true sales success isn’t indicated by the number or size of deals closed; it’s measured by getting and keeping the right customers.

Great salespeople succeed in this new business environment by doing what great brands do. I laid out seven critical brand-building principles that great brands follow when I wrote my first book. I’ve now found that these principles are as instrumental to restoring sales to its role as a valuable, sustainable, integral business function as they are to building great brands.

  • Great brands start inside. Great salespeople sell inside first. Just as great brands start brand-building by cultivating a strong brand-led culture inside their organizations, great salespeople know the first step to sales success is actually one taken inside their own companies. They contribute tremendous value to their organizations through their market insights and direct communication channel with customers. So they help their companies with product development, marketing strategy, and customer service by serving as the Voice of the Customer internally.
  • Great brands avoid selling products. Great salespeople cultivate emotional connections with customers. In the book What Clients Love, Harry Beckwith explains that relatively few businesses actually sell products, services, or even expertise; most sell satisfaction. “Progressive does not sell car insurance. It sells comfort: the comfort of knowing that if you have an accident, they will be at the scene, ready to write a check.” In the same way, great salespeople don’t try to sell items or programs. Instead, they appeal to and connect with their clients through emotion, brand story-telling, and thought-leadership. In doing so they take the attention off price and features and appeal to the feelings customers value and the identities they want to experience and express.
  • Great brands ignore trends. Great salespeople don’t imitate, they innovate. Great brands don’t follow what everyone else is doing, nor do they wait to take their lead from customers. In the same way, great salespeople offer their customers unique perspectives and often seek to push their thinking. They present a differentiated sales experience by challenging customers’ status quo and teaching them something new and valuable. They are the “Challengers” that Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson identified in their research into what distinguishes high sales performers.
  • Great brands don’t chase customers. Great salespeople attract the best customers for their company. Just as great brands know they’re not for everybody and so they seek to attract loyal and profitable customers through shared values and common interests, great salespeople are selective when engaging prospects. Research by VoloMetrix, a sales productivity firm, shows that top sellers build deeper relationships with fewer customers rather than casting a wider net of shallower engagement. Salespeople cultivate profitable, sustainable customer relationships if they’re savvy enough to focus on accounts that inherently represent a good fit with their company instead of trying to close as many deals as possible.
  • Great brands sweat the small stuff. Great salespeople create extraordinary experiences that embody their brand. Great salespeople know that they can strengthen their brand if they interpret and reinforce it and its differentiating value throughout the sales experience. So they examine all the different touchpoints between the customer and the brand in the sales process and seek out opportunities to infuse the most influential ones with the brand’s key values and attributes. They’re also aware of the power of social selling today and they carefully manage their social network activity to make informed, authentic, personal connections.
  • Great brands never have to “give back.” Great salespeople create real value for their customers. Great brands don’t engage in questionable business practices and then try to make up for them with charitable activities and social responsibility programs — they create a positive social impact in the way they design and run their businesses. Likewise, great salespeople don’t engage with customers simply to make a sale — they look for ways to make their clients more successful. Leadership consultant Scott Edinger observed, “Sales-training programs rightly focus on finding clients’ ‘pain points.’ But great salespeople also know there’s value in pointing out successes waiting to be exploited.” They know improving a customer’s condition may not always involve a sale and they do it nonetheless.
  • Great brands commit and stay committed. Great salespeople impart the unique value of their brand. Many salespeople feel pressure to gain new business or retain accounts at any cost, but the most effective ones do not give price concessions just to win deals. They are convinced of the value their company offers and they skillfully help their customers understand it as well. They employ the techniques put forth by the writers of the book Value Merchants, drawing on their knowledge of what clients value to convey their offer in a way that resonates with them.

Great salespeople implement all of these principles in a cohesive, coordinated approach that mirrors the brand-as-business management approach used by great brands to develop powerful and valuable brands. Just as great brands cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with their customers, great salespeople cultivate a deep connection between their company and their client’s business. To borrow a term, the best salespeople are brand evangelists.

Guy Kawasaki first adopted the term “evangelism” into the business world by applying it to an innovative approach to sales, marketing, and management. Evangelism, as he defined it, means “convincing people to believe in your product or ideas as much as you do” because evangelists believe that what they offer is truly helpful and valuable to others.

Over the years, many technology companies have developed the role of a technology evangelist or “chief evangelist.” These people are charged with building up support for a given technology, and then establishing it as a standard in the given industry. Like these technology evangelists, brand evangelists — that is, great salespeople — build up support within a market for a brand so that it becomes the brand leader in its category.

Importantly, brand evangelism is not another one of the customer-centric or customer-driven sales approaches that have become popular in recent years. Customer-centric sales and most other sales improvement approaches are pursued for the sole purpose of increasing sales. Brand evangelism is about engaging customers in a way that produces stronger and more valuable brands and sustaining long-term business success for their companies and their clients.

 

This is what great salespeople do.

 

HBR: How Top Salespeople Land Hard-to-Get Meetings

Are you connecting with your customers for the long term or just for the sale? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Stu Heinecke.

How Top Salespeople Land Hard-to-Get Meetings

Richard Branson famously said, “Succeeding in business is all about making connections.” Mr. Branson surely has little trouble getting anyone he wants on the phone, but the rest of us could use a little help.

While I was researching my new book, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, I asked the top 100 sales thought leaders in the world, “When you absolutely must reach someone who is very important but nearly impossible to reach, how do you do it?” What I discovered was a shadow practice that has been extremely effective at breaking through to critical contacts, but no one actually had a name for it.

I dubbed it “contact marketing,” and found it to be a surprisingly effective marketing technique. Based on my interviews, reported response rates averaged from 60% to 80%, with some campaigns actually hitting 100%. What exactly is contact marketing? It’s a fusion of marketing and selling, employing specific campaigns to connect with specific C-level executives and top decision makers. The idea is that you only need a few dozen of the right high-level relationships to change the scale of your business. Contact marketing can take many forms, but there are five takeaways you can use to make your own high-level connections:

Deliver something of value. Here’s your chance to stand out, to be audacious, and to create a meaningful connection. The objective is not to attempt to bribe someone to meet with you, but to deliver something that makes a difference to the recipient. It should express your brand personality but contain absolutely no pitch. Your first mission is simply to create a connection, to establish yourself as someone they’ll want to listen to. While you might use search results and social media postings to try to determine an executive’s specific challenges and desires, there are also some simple assumptions you can use to open doors, based on universal desires shared by most business leaders. We all want more success, recognition, and income, but we also want to do the best job we can and leave a mark. For example, I’m a cartoonist, and I’ve found that my cartoons can touch upon all of these markers in a very personal way. Sending a personalized cartoon, like the one below, has become a can’t-miss way for me to connect with virtually anyone, but anything that recognizes the recipients’ desires, helps them do their job more effectively, or enhances their business in some way can be highly effective.

Offer something of further value. As your request for contact is received, it’s a good idea to include something additional as a reward for taking the proposed meeting or phone call. Some campaigns split a gift in two — a remote-control model sent with a note explaining that the withheld control unit will be delivered during the meeting, for instance. Although this has reportedly worked, it can come off as being too pushy. A far better approach would be to offer relevant research, a white paper, or a free audit of some aspect of the target executive’s business when the meeting takes place, as a way to provide the incentive you may need to actually get the meeting. The point is to continually add value to the connection building between you in a way that helps the executive do their job more effectively.

Include the executive assistant. Many sales reps do their best to avoid, circumvent, or trick the executive assistants they encounter, but that is a fatal mistake. Don’t think of assistants as gatekeepers; think of them as talent scouts, always on watch for extraordinary opportunities their executives would otherwise miss. Once they’ve rendered assistance, be sure to thank them with a modest but meaningful gift. If an assistant has been helpful to me, I often send a card with one of my cartoons personalized in their name and a handwritten note of thanks. Whatever you send, don’t make it look like a bribe; a dozen roses is way too much, but a gift card for a few lattes is perfect. Just make sure it expresses your appreciation for their help.

Secure the meeting. Arranging a call or meeting can be painfully tedious as all parties attempt to coordinate openings in their schedules. You can either suffer the details or use one of many productivity tools on the market to get your meeting on calendars, such as Calendly, Assistant.to, ScheduleOnce, and TimeTrade. I recommend x.ai, an artificial intelligence agent that makes the necessary arrangements via email, from the initial request right on through to confirming meeting times on everyone’s calendars.

Connect, don’t pitch. Once you’ve gone through the trouble of arranging the meeting, it would be a waste to ruin it with a misguided pitch of your company’s product or service. So don’t do it. Instead, be ready to have an exploratory but informed conversation about an issue by researching news stories or mentions in their social media feeds. Share other cases in which you’ve helped companies in their industry gain new competitive advantages, but never start the meeting assuming your offer is right for them. Be human, explore, and have a conversation.

Here are two stories of how others have used contact marketing to inspire a few ideas for your own campaign.

Dan Waldschmidt’s swords. Dan Waldschmidt is an extreme athlete, an author, and one of the top sales bloggers in the world. But his core business is turnaround consulting. To connect with prospects, he scours the business news for stories of missed earnings estimates. When he finds one, he has a beautiful sword made with an engraved inscription in the target contact’s name. It’s sent in a fine wooden box with a handwritten letter telling the CEO he’s got his back in the next battle — but says nothing about his turnaround service. This offer has generated a near 100% response rate and numerous multimillion-dollar engagements while beautifully expressing the value Dan delivers and the personality of his brand.

NoWait app launch. The founders of the NoWait app, which allows you to put yourself on the waitlist of your favorite restaurant from anywhere, used Contact Campaign as the basis of their entire launch strategy. They targeted the CEOs of 30 top restaurant chains with a brilliant campaign that used personalized videos delivered on iPads in custom NoWait packaging. Their highly targeted approach allowed the company to focus on the people who could do them the most good, using a minuscule $30,000 marketing budget to achieve their objectives. As a result the NoWait App is already used by more than half of the targeted chains.

I’ve always used my own cartoons to connect with great effect, but you don’t have to be a cartoonist or send expensive gifts to break through to important contacts. Just produce a contact marketing campaign that makes you stand out as someone the recipient really needs to get to know. Do your research and figure out the sweet spot between what your future client needs most and why you’re the best person to help them reach their goals.

 

HBR: Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Are you measuring your customers’ experience? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ana Brant.

Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Almost everyone in the luxury service industry talks about “listening to the voice of the customer.” But listening is not the same as understanding. How you listen, and to whom you listen, is critical. Even a smart, high-end business can be led astray by misunderstanding the strengths and weaknesses of different customer feedback channels.

In this piece, I’ll lay out a few of the strengths and shortcomings of a few of the more common channels, based on my experience as global director of guest experience and innovation at the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels.

Mystery shopper ratings

One ubiquitous tool for evaluating the quality of the customer experience in service industries is the mystery shopper. The mystery shopper plays the role of a customer, evaluating service on a checklist of criteria. With these checklists, mystery shoppers measure compliance to a set of standards related to physical attributes and service delivery. Your own company or an external evaluator (such as AAA or Forbes Five Star) may set these standards. Mystery shoppers are best for measuring efficiency — but not experience.

One checklist measure in the hospitality industry, for instance, is how promptly a guest is greeted upon arrival in the lobby, and whether she is greeted by name. But in this era of heightened sensitivity to privacy, does that always make sense? Suppose we’re talking about a luxury hotel guest who is a paparazzi-shy celebrity? A mystery shopper report would never alert me to the receptionist who had the good sense not to speak that guest’s name out loud.

A mystery shopper’s report is an important tool to help us deliver efficient service. But it’s equally important for my team to remember that a checklist, which tends to reward repetitive behaviors, cannot encompass everything we hope to be.

Opinion surveys

This is the easiest feedback channel to misinterpret, for luxury businesses and others. Results are best when it’s a scientific survey built on a proven customer-engagement methodology. One survey we recently did helped us distinguish between what business and leisure travelers look for in a hotel. It told us that we needed to work on winning back a greater proportion of business travelers as leisure guests, and positioned us to increase that by 6% over the following six months.

However, beware the opposite. A quick online survey (à la Survey Monkey) can set a luxury organization into fire-fighting mode about a one-off problem that’s not a true trend. Also, this data can be interpreted — and manipulated easily – by managers, to fit any agenda.

Social media feedback

Many businesses track Twitter and Facebook as measures of how well they are doing on customer service. For luxury brands, social media posts serve one main purpose — as online postcards.

When we looked closely, we found our guests most often use these channels to brag that they have stayed with us. What can we do with that sort of feedback? A lot. These insights don’t tell us about our customer service performance, but they can inform our marketing and customer experience strategies. For example, we see meal pictures showing up frequently on Instagram. So a question we can ask about a luxury room service meal is, is the presentation Instagram-worthy?

Looking at a series of posts from customers can also remind us of what differentiates us from our competitors: afternoon tea at The Dorchester and the soufflés at The Beverly Hills. At Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, for instance, guests find a high-end fluffy robe and slippers – with a twist. The slippers have red soles, like Christian Louboutin shoes. We learned via social posts that guests love this touch (especially those who remember Carrie Bradshaw’s fashionable stay there during the last two episodes of Sex and the City).

Social and review posts can also deliver “aha” moments about competitors’ offerings. For example, are luxury hotels delivering the same items – say cake and champagne – to special occasion guests? If so, you can strive for something more distinctive.

Social media is best for discovering what customers really value about their luxury experience with you. This information shapes customer experience strategy. Of course, they can also provide early warning signals that service has slipped. If your social media posts read like comment cards, that’s an alarm bell.

Review sites

In our industry, it is a common misperception that the review sites are used only to find deals. That has led some luxury service providers to discount them. True, not everyone on a review site will be your target customer. However, we’ve learned that many luxury shoppers use sites such as TripAdvisor to validate their choices prior to making a final decision, and browse our reviews and those of our direct competitors. That’s a customer we certainly want to win, so our managers respond to TripAdvisor reviews. Sometimes, this also presents a bonus opportunity to turn a one-time guest into a repeat customer.

Sites such as TripAdvisor can also help identify gaps in what you think is important to customers vs. what customers say is important. While surveys only tell us what we think we want to know and social posts often showcase the best highlights of a guest experience, review sites highlight our blind spots. And when customer reviews include images, they show our products and services through our customers’ eyes, not how professional photographers pose and light them for our website. This can be a reality check for us.

They can also help you look into your competition’s customer experience. Ask this key question: What do you have that customers love — and your competitors lack?

First-hand observations

It’s also valuable to learn when your own eyes trump all. One of the most powerful and often underappreciated tools for improving service and performance is direct observation. Sit in the lobby and see how staff members greet guests, how traffic flows through registration, and how well people work together. Someone in the luxury car business could apply the same principle to seeing what really goes on in the showroom, or in the sales manager’s office.

Luxury innovations usually come from understanding and addressing new needs. For instance, while sitting in the lobby of The Dorchester, members of my innovation team observed guests walk to the theater desk to book tickets for a West End show, and then go to the Concierge Desk to arrange for dinner reservations and transportation. Why, they asked, should guests have to go to two desks to arrange one evening? Now the theater desk staff make all the arrangements a guest might need. I am not sure we would have discovered that less-than-seamless service issue any other way than by sitting in the lobby and watching.

While auditing and measuring the customer experience, remember the ultimate goal is to gather information that helps deliver a level of customer service that differentiates your business. Do not expect technology-driven and repetitive checklist-style evaluations to find it for you.