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It a tough question, right? Many companies implement one or the other, but few implement a true hybrid approach. The decision on what to follow depends on many factors, not the least of which is corporate culture and cost of change. Additionally, one of the chief concerns is often the type of products being developed and programs implemented. First let me quickly define what traditional and iterative development are (well in my mind at least).

Traditional, or waterfall software development is probably more familiar to most. The basic belief is that complex software systems can be built in asequential, phase-wise manner where all of the requirements are gathered at the beginning, all of the design is completed next, and finally the master design is implemented into production quality software. Of course all of the UAT and customer experience testing is integrated as well. This approach is more akin to a production line where RGSs (Requirement Gathering Sessions) are held and system specifications are compiled. Then finished requirements specification document are turned over to “software designers” who plan the software system and specify the code, create wireframes etc. The design diagrams are then passed to the “developers” who implement the code from the design. Program managers build PERTs and GANTTs plus mitigation plans, to attempt to account for all of the roles, stakeholders, resources etc.

Iterative development is part of the “new school of development”. Most people know it by Agile or Lightweight Agile. The funny thing is, at its core it is really a return to the old days of software development. Agile methods call for software design to be both iterative and incremental. The IID process allows for continuous revisiting of requirements and change is not as impactful or costly as it is in Waterfall. The Agile Manifesto set the ground rules are follows:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more”.

So which is better? If you have followed some of my previous posts, you know that I have worked on a broad platform of product/services and offers. I have brought new products to market, launched existing products into new service areas and managed multiple product enhancements. There has been one truism in all of this: change. It’s inevitable. Whether the market conditions change, or the segmentation analysis, the requirements, the budget etc. change will happen. How a company manages change is a big driver for speed to market and success.

In my opinion, Agile provides more flexibility in addressing change and managing shifting priorities. By being able to review code with business owners and bashing it against requirements after a sprint, change is usually smaller and easier to swallow. Plus it’s cheaper in many ways. If using waterfall methods, you usually need to wait until UAT or another code delivery point to review prototypes with business owners then implement change. At that point all of the requirements may have changed and the product is not what was intended. You have now dumped money into “throw away” code or have created more work.

I think you can also take the best of both and implement some combination of traditional software development process and project management techniques and combine them with iterative phased development. This is not a true development hybrid, but a management hybrid. You can use Agile methods to feed a master plan or use even use your burndown chart milestones to represent project milestones. No matter which one you favor, your decision on implementation must focus on controlling the big 4 (cost, schedule, scope & quality). Not an easy task, but that’s what makes it fun.

How do you kill a product that just isn’t selling?

Keeping the product pipeline primed and innovating great new features to existing products is the core function of most product development folks. Throw in a little ideation and product roadmapping you are now a product development specialist. Wait, one more thing, you need to make the company money and either grow existing revenue or create new top line. This is where the job gets tricky.

When you look at products through the lens of the customer, you are forced to be objective and quickly realize which bring value. Overlay the financials and you land on those that need to be augmented, revamped and killed. This is most often a pain point in product management. How do you kill a product that just isn’t selling?

The Plainview Group has performed a study for the 3rd time on product portfolio management. http://www.planview.com/product-pulse-blog/comments/companies-streamline-product-developement/. It is clear that sunsetting products is not an easy task. ” This year, 320 product development executives and managers across the globe shared their priorities, risks, and pain points around product portfolio management (PPM). Because this is the third study on PPM, we were able to identify some encouraging trends, show patterns in corporate behavior, and see small movements towards maturity within the discipline”.

Once you have come to grips with the necessity to sunset a product, you have to develop a strategy to do so with the least amount of customer stress. Any good strategy involves solid customer communication and resolution paths. Here are few key steps:

  • Segment the customers into buckets
    • Customers likely to churn
    • Customers likely to stay and can be upsold
    • Customers likely to stay and will need a sweetener to buy the upsold product
  • Determine what if any churn is acceptable
  • Develop customer communications on product sunset with any upsell or sweetener messaging including dates for force sunset if applicable
  • Create sub-channel or online link to complete first responders and converters
  • Sunset product

It is important that customers see you have put yourself in their shoes as a user and have pre-defined paths that each customer can take before they lose access to the product. This should make them respond more favorably to your messaging. It is important to execute correctly to retain and even grow revenue. A product that is not performing in the market is simply an unneeded drag on support and sales forces that could be used promoting and supporting high revenue producing products.

Why should I care about UX as a Marketer?

I wanted to share a few thoughts on UX and marketing since some of my recent work has focused on that.

Since my last post, I have been focusing heavily on projects that require a new tight UI and UX design. For those that need a refresher, check out this link for a detailed breakdown of the differences between UI and UX. http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2012/06/ui-vs-ux-whats-the-difference/. Essentially, UX design deals with the overall experience associated with the use of a product or service, while UI design deals with the specific user interface(s) of a product or service. Effective UI must include UX design elements. I am going to answer the question today of why you should care about UX as a marketer, because you should!

There are a ton of different resources that give opinions on the principles of UX. Here are my simple 3 “big rules”:

1. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes                                                                                                                                                    You should always be thinking as a customer to contextualize their experiences with you.  Think of the journey from the customer’s perspective.  Customer mapping at different points depicts the journey over time and channels, and shows what the customer is thinking, doing and feeling throughout the whole experience.

2. Clearly define the Rules of Engagement
Engagement Principles are guidelines for the interaction of the service.  These need to be defined up front before development begins. Much of a UI deals with how the service looks and feels and the voice/tone, but where many products are lacking is in customer experience. Think of the process flow. Your brand is on top as the centerpiece. All branches, PDM cycles etc., must support brand tenets. The Brand feeds a style guide, which defines how a product looks and feels. It also feeds a product’s voice and tone  and experience principles or how you interact with the product.

3. Measured Delivery
Figure out how to ship products to customers correctly the first time.  Don’t release a poorly executed product no matter how great the planning and roadmap says it is. Adaptive Path’s CEO Brandon Schauer has a great analogy using cake as a product. Don’t ship the bare cake as v1 and then the filling as v2 and then the icing as v3. Customers don’t think like that. Ship a product that has a little cake, a little filling and a little icing and then your next release can be a larger cake. And of course we need to be concerned with the experience of the first run, since that is the first impression a user has with our product.

I’ve talked about the VOC (voice of the customer) in previous posts as a necessity in the product development process. It is just as important for marketers. If you ask any User Experience Professional what the principles of their profession are, one of the first principles you’ll hear is “Know Your Users”. Makes sense, right?

 If you want to create great experiences for users then you must know something about them.  Plus if you don’t know the customers, how do you know what they want? Figuring out what they want and targeting the offer to that is the special sauce.  The marketing industry existed long before UX came along, and good marketers are as focused on their users as any UX professional is. Wikipedia defines marketing as: “Marketing is used to identify the customer, to keep the customer and to satisfy the customer.

Too often marketers focus on macro demos (age, gender, income marital status, other metadata) to determine users and target offers. I’ve even espoused this as a pillar of good marketing tactics. However, these factors only provide the most basic insight into the life of a user. It does not tell the whole story.

Additionally, good marketing often goes unnoticed. When a marketer does their job and presents a timely and valuable product or service we don’t even notice we are being sold. Similarly, a good UX pro can go unnoticed: great design is invisible to users because they’re too busy enjoying the product or service to even think about it. However, when a marketer focuses on the wrong product attributes or misses the market need, it distracts us and we  notice it.  

As job responsibilities often dictate, UX professionals are more focused on design than marketers are. Usually, people start considering UX as part of the product design or development process that ignored or assumed too much about its users. UX Pros try to right this wrong: they have seen how hurtful a poor understanding of users really is. That’s why the phrase “Know Your Users” is so central to UX. UX pros push to have all of this considered during the ideation phase of the PDM cycle.

In essence, UX is really just good marketing. It’s all about knowing who your market is, knowing what is important to them (walking in their shoes), knowing why it is important to them, designing accordingly (rules of engagement) and measuring the delivery. Once released it’s the job of PLM folks to consistently listen and adjust to the marketplace; improving the experience of those in your market.  If you think about it, good marketers actually do a lot of UX work,  and vice-versa. The next time you are ready to start the PDM process, consider UX and marketing as legs to the product stool. They are inexorably connected. 

Where to Spend Marketing Dollars: Acquisition vs. Retention

In past posts, I have spoken about a disciplined NPD (New Product Development) and closely managed Go-To-Market process as necessities for effective market release. I have also spoken about target messaging and product individuality. These are all table stakes to making sure customers are cared for and products hit the right audiences. Today, I want to focus more on the age old marketing strategy question of where to put your marketing dollars, customer acquisition vs. retention.

It have long been a debate for companies who argue over whether it is more important to retain old customers because it is less expensive than acquiring new ones, or spend more to acquire because it is one of the most effective ways to get the new customers that will produce new revenue and become more valuable. Practically, a balance is ideal.

Retention Vs. Acquisition

There is a long standing axiom that companies putting money into customer retention over acquistion net the best return. Retention focused messaging is a good place to start, positions your company well and allows you to focus on the messaging that draws customers to your product. It should increase margin accretion, engagement and loyalty within the customer base. Always a good thing!

How to spend additional dollars and the split of the budget becomes the next important hurdle to striking a practical balance. The decision should be based on traditional product metrics (margins, internal costs, competitive issues, etc.). However, most companies proportionally spend more of the marketing budget on acquisition over retention. Why not? Acquisition is sexy and brings in new dollars. Albeit usually at a discounted rate and lower margin. Heavy acquisition spend should not be at the risk of retention or you will see increased churn and lower customer loyalty. Spend more on retention and those costly acquisition programs are not necessary because fewer customers are leaving. Take care of retention and you can hone your acquisition messaging and grab a larger share.

CRM is all about building relationships

Effective companies learn about their customer’s needs and values, and create programs to match that learning. Loyalty programs work great here. They give the customer value, provide product and industry education to the customer while affording you with an amazing opportunity to interact with the customer and learn what they need and want. These programs should define decisions on training and additional customer services. It opens a communication line with the customer through which you can build a more intimate relationship. Administration of the program is personal preference, but should be easy to understand and follow for the customer with social media as a lynchpin. Customers will return and “buy-up” with you if you are engaged with them and providing perceived value. You can even use a loyalty program as part of an integrated acquisition platform if you have strategic partners that provide value. Mining your partner’s customer records may be possible if there is a tie in. 

Onboarding – Done Right  = Stickiness

O.K. you are going to need to spend some money on acquisition, but make it a meaningful spend. Many companies fail to maximize a new customer’s relationship because of poor understanding
and investment in managing the relationship during on-boarding. Too often a company over “sells” a newly acquired customer without educating them on the brand promise, how the loyalty program works, or the many ways to interact or purchase with the company. If companies invest some time and effort immediately post point of sale in customer education, they can increase customer loyalty and add-on sales. Companies need to make customers feel special with a thank you e-mails, survey on purchase processes, or invitations to private events. You can even ask for customers to create an online profile with social media hooks in the survey process. Essentially, you are building better, longer lasting relationships with customers who are truly engaged. Don’t let your hard earned acquisition efforts go to waste by not properly onboarding your customer. On-boarding correctly will yield repeat customers, loyalty and stickiness.

In Summary

Generally companies with fully baked value add loyalty programs, spend 30% of their marketing dollars on retention. You should be spending 60% of your dollars on customer growth. If you have a good customer, you should be able to grow them. You should make sure you are getting as close to 100% share of wallet before abandoning spend on a customer. This resultant margin accretion is found money. You should ensure that person is growing by the level of involvement with you. Were they after the lucrative offer, or have you done a great job on-boarding them and making them an advocate for you?

Interestingly, in light of today’s economic challenges, companies who already have a loyalty program in place, have identified retention as a key goal for the loyalty strategy, and who understand that they are spending money to keep customers are much better off than those spending 90% of their budgets on acquisition. A clear message that can be delivered to existing customers is “we recognize that times have been hard. Here’s what we can do for you Mrs. Customer.” There is a level of trust in the relationship investment that makes it an easier message. So instead of spending $100 on that customer trying to acquiring them and discounting your product base you could spend just $3 talking to them, maintaining their business and making sure they don’t go to a competitor and being able to say “we’re here for you when you’re ready to spend again.” That $3 is a lot cheaper than $100. You create and enduring relationship that customers value and help thwart consistent “promo hopping”. So, spend on retention first and then spend on acquisition with a better focus on how to retain 

In past posts I have focused on implementing GTM standards for product release management. I have made the case that the LBGUPS (Learn, Buy, Get, Use, Pay Service) model can be applied to all products and all industries. The standards afford companies the ability to manage their releases on time and under budget more efficiently. It is important for companies and teams to note that while applying these standards, they should guard against losing their product differentiation messages and market positioning.

No one comments on corporate culture and the workplace dynamic better than Scott Adams’ Dilbert. Check out this apropos strip. http://bit.ly/4y8AEB. Even though standards often create comfortably and conformity, a case can be made for individuality in product development and the GTM process to avoid mediocrity and parity. Whether your products and services are sold via direct sales reps, channels, verticals etc. the efficacy of the sale is based on intrinsic product value. The product value might be price based, customer service based,  or offer increased value and /or productivity. It can also be any combination of all of these. Either way every product has “reasons to believe” that should tie back inherently to the brand value and proposition. (Check my past post dated 8/10/10  for info on marketing and brand cohesion). These “brand proof points” tell the story of how your new product/service fits into the overall portfolio and benefits the customer. Customers purchase based on brand or product individuality with integrated reasons to believe. The challenge of a product development, release management and marketing team is to display how their product is different from what is in the market today while staying true to the brand framework and offer.

These key product values need to be identified and translated early in the strategy and product development cycle to avoid customer confusion on offer vs. value. By inserting a review of brand credo and value proposition early in the strategy and development cycle, requirements teams, product development and marketing can avoid scope creep and execute a streamlined development  and deployment process. The resulting product or service will not violate any brand or “big rules” and strengthen the customer’s “reasons to believe” in the brand or offer proposition. Now the easy part….sell!

It’s been a few months since my last post. I have been head down on completing my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. For those of you that have completed this you know how difficult it is. For those of you that have not and are looking to, brush up on your college stats. That has been the toughest part for me. 

All of this focus on hypothesis testing, ANOVA, Chi-Squared, DMAIC, Kaizen events etc., has got me thinking. Can you apply Six Sigma strategies to marketing processes and roles?  With a little research it’s easy to see that Six Sigma and Lean is usually applied in financial, manufacturing and healthcare companies. However, I think you can definitely apply the principles to companies/departments that focus on marketing.       

When you strip it down, GE defined Six Sigma as a “disciplined methodology of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling the quality in every one of the company’s products, processes and transactions–with the ultimate goal of virtually eliminating all defects.” Check out this clip of an interview with Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, on his view of what a Six Sigma company is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNMULFcLuIM.  The Six Sigma approach says if you can reduce process variation, you can improve organizational effectiveness and efficiencies.  

Applying six sigma strategies even if not formally entering the entire process will enable companies to improve marketing’s strategic, tactical and operational processes leading to top line revenue growth. By applying Six Sigma to marketing you can develop a more efficient marketing workflow, become proactive about process gaps and performance improvement while honing in on the correct growth indicators. Measurement of performance is one of the five fundamental phases in the Six Sigma methodology. Once you begin measuring marketing performance, you can begin to make modifications and improvements. Six Sigma provides a methodology for process improvement and an easily definable way to prove its value.

Applying one of the key philosophies of Six Sigma, DMAIC, you can see how it can be used to improve existing business processes. DMAIC includes five steps:

  1. Define – job functions, goals, and deliverables consistent with customer demands and the organization’s strategy
  2. Measure – current performance and processes, and collect relevant data for future comparison and improvement
  3. Analyze – the data relationship and factors leading to variances and defects, utilizing specific proven statistical analysis tools
  4. Improve – the process to eliminate defects 
  5. Control – any variances before they result in defects to improve overall performance.  Let’s consider how we can apply the DMAIC process to marketing to grow revenue.

So how does this apply to marketing?  The role of marketing is to keep and grow value of existing customers in the CRM flow and acquire new customers in the Acquisition flow. Effective marketing programs must establish goals and deliverables to track effectiveness and deliver value from the two flows.  The various marketing functions will need to be integrated to create a comprehensive and integrated workflow.  Flowing the processes allows you to map the workflow and develop metrics tied to marketing activities that relate to desired business outcomes. These activities will become standardized across the organization and enable successful data collection to identify areas of improvement.

Performance can only be measured and improvements made after data collection.  The first step in measuring and improving performance is to determine what data exists, where it exists, what is needed, and how to obtain it.  Customer specific purchase patterns, marketing program results and conversion rates, actual costs for programs and people, lead quality data,  associate lead cost,  and churn are examples of some of the data that can be assessed. Once the metrics are defined, the team should use the data to establish baselines. This is a key application of DMAIC.  These baselines are used in a statistically significant way to develop hypotheses of variances and test results.

Marketing metrics are established with full knowledge of the desired business outcomes. Consideration needs to be given to not just the cost of the programs, but also how these investments contribute to the company’s ability to achieve its goals and generate profit.  Business outcomes may be related to cost to acquire, the rate of acquisition, customer affinity and value, loyalty, etc.  By analyzing the data and understanding what it means, marketing can determine the degree of impact it is having on the organization, and redesign processes that will improve performance.  Analysis leads to the improve step.

Improve: A performance driven organization with the customer voice in mind welcomes opportunities for improvement. The main purpose of applying Six Sigma to marketing is to determine how to improve performance and processes.  Data analysis should result in valuable insights that generate possibilities for improvement.  These possibilities can include enhancements in tools, systems, processes, and skills.  Working through these changes, marketing can play a greater role and better align with overall strategic imperatives.

Change/Control: All the analysis is done and the process changes have been identified. Now it’s time to implement these changes.  The changes might be new data mining tools, collateral, or media (print or online) etc. They all need to be managed and brought to market with quality program managers and a disciplined process. The control and change phase ties closely to the control phase identified in PMI’s 5 Process groups discussed in some of my previous posts.  

Applying Six Sigma to marketing is efficacious and will increase the ability to deliver the company’s strategic imperatives. You will see improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the marketing planning process and operational processes and be able to quantify a direct correlation between implementation and top line revenue growth.

In the past I have spoken mostly about getting your product to market, making sure you have good marketing programs to support your brand and building an ongoing relationship with customers.  Now, I want to touch on how you can offer support for your product and the role of customer self-assistance.

Just a few years ago when you needed help for a product you bought, you would call the company you bought it from and talk to someone. Companies often staffed call centers to handle billing and tech support. Soon after companies began outsourcing all or parts of call centers to offset direct labor costs. We are at a crossroads in the customer support business. Some companies offer staffed call centers, while others have begun migrating to a more 2.0 expereince moving primary support online. Much of this depends on the product/service being offered and the target customer base. If you are re-selling Retail Electric service for example, you are probably still very heavily supporting your customers through traditional call center tactics. If your model includes SaaS apps or other web-based distributions, you have probably added more self-help options. Truthfully, we most commonly see a hybrid approach of traditional support options and next-gen apps. Companies need to understand how “their” customers will seek support.

There are endless options you can choose from when offering self assistance. From self diagnostic tests to chat and e-mail, the choices are endless. Not every option is right from your product or customer base. Choose from some of the options I outline in the two major categories below and apply them consistently to your product/service, offer, marketing, brand and customers.

  1. Social Media – The social web spurs conversations that can help or harm a brand. Customer complaints can reach thousands of people within minutes. Consumers expect an immediate response. Monitor conversations on Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds, your Facebook fan page, and other industry specific social channels,  and forums. This helps you respond quickly and appropriately to global or groups of issues. All of these social channels allow you to engage your customers in authentic conversations to assist them, and support brand loyalty. Offer peer-to-peer support forums. By allowing them to ask questions and find answers in an online community, users talk to each other, build relationships and solve issues without adding a single call or email to your contact center’s workload. Monitor the forum content and gain reusable content for your knowledge base.
  2. Web Services – According to Forrester Research, 72 percent of online consumers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions rather than contact companies via telephone or email. You need to provide this growing base of customers with options. You will free up agents to handle Tier II and III issues, drive down costs and do more with less.  Build and maintain a knowledge base of product information, and FAQs. Continuously add to it through social media tools, dynamic adds and search etc. Offer pop-up guides within the base to lead the conversations, or even link out to chat/e-mail services. A staple in the web services category is Chat. It can bridge the gap between your website knowledge base and phone-based interactions. It provides a way to engage a customer or prospect before they abandon a purchase or when they have problems solving their own customer service issue. Consumers like the immediacy of chatting with agents on an organization’s website. Chat can provide more timely and personal resolution, especially when leveraged as a complementary point of contact to the traditional call center support channel. For more complex issues, offer e-mail support with defined turn around times. Finally, push it to the cloud and make all of this available anywhere, anytime and any place. Mobile support with native app building is here and beginning to move all of this information past just PC accessibility. Take advantage.

The key in all of this is to provide your customers with interaction options across many channels and use your common knowledge foundation to provide consistency and efficiency. Empower your customers to self-serve at their convenience, through their communication channel of choice. Please listen to your customers and learn what they are thinking and act on it. Who cares if you think it’s a great service plan if they don’t? Keep your most loyal, knowledgeable customers—the ones with strong opinions and great product ideas close. Make them part of the ideation and innovation processes, so they can help you identify new business opportunities, guide your product roadmap, prioritize and refine ideas, and develop your next breakthrough product. Lastly, evaluate, baseline, identify and adapt to your customers.

You may have the best GTM strategy, an excellent project manager, built and brought your product to market with the customer in focus, but if your offer is not surrounded with marketing programs that match your brand, you are sure to miss your mark. The continuum of the GTM cycle must include marketing programs as part of the LEARN Phase of LBGUPS that add to your company or product line brand.

Let’s assume we are starting our brand, launching a new product line or transforming our offer plan for a product line. We need to ask a few key questions:

  1. Is our brand and marketing programs conveying consistent messaging, and building on our established brand?
  2. Have we done research and segmented our customer base to target our offers?
  3. Do our offers leverage each other?

Tamsen McMahon adds another apropos question to the list from a recent post on her blog shared with Amber Naslund http://www.brasstackthinking.com/2010/08/offer-or-sell/ “Offer or Sell?”.  Are we offering what we sell or selling what we offer?

Companies need to further the customer relationship and offer value vs. a product. Do you want to be perceived as a company that pushes widget after widget with little value add? You might  sell units, but will might fail to build a lasting relationship with your customer.  The marketing activities you use to support your product should not only push your current offer, but enhance brand awareness and elicit brand resonance/loyalty. If your brand fails to resonate and people don’t buy in to, you are doomed.

In today’s climate of corporate distrust fueled by bankruptcies, accounting scandals and non-transparency, your brand must be consistent truthful and respected to continue to enjoy success. As David Kiley explores in the clip on my vodpod widget on the right for Business Week, brand trust is what sets the stage for great performance and consumer trust.

In a nutshell, bring your product/service to market, build your reputation, treat your customers as your #1 commodity and watch the profits roll in.

You have followed my “Golden Rules” to bring a product to  your customers putting them first and managing the process through controls. Now you need to keep the customer in that #1 position and leverage them for add-on sales and incremental revenue. It is significantly cheaper to retain and add-on to a customer base than it is to acquire new ones. Use the information you gather about your customers to make customer service more than just a j.o.b. Give them a quality experience and complete satisfaction, and they will reward you with their business. Use my CRM and customer service strategies to keep your customers longer and engage them for future sales:

Make Great Service a Priority in Your Business

Every great leader establishes “imperatives” for his business and the people who work to make it successful. Excellent customer service must be one of these imperatives. Your staff needs to be trained on your standards throughout the organization; your policy that customers come first needs to consistently reinforced in every setting. Start small and set a standard way of opening/closing all customer interactions. Engage your employees by empowering them to make decisions, use good judgment, and bend the rules appropriate to their level and responsibilities.  Your operating “imperatives” must include good service and your staff must have the ability to operationalize your vision.

Know What Makes Your Customers Tick

Instituting a formal way of tracking your customer interactions will help you identify your best customers, as well as those who may not have utilized your offerings in a while. This will tie to a communication loop I discuss later. There are many software applications designed to do this. Depending on your size and scale of operations , simple Web-based apps or powerful “enterprise software” products might be appropriate. Maintaining current contact information and notes about each transaction with the software, you can sort the data or analyze it to uncover patterns of customer issues/resolutions. You can leverage it to build your knowledge base, CRM strategies and further hone your customer service professionals.

Use your Knowledge Base of Stored Wisdom

All organizations with great customer service programs have one similar trait. They have a consistent system for responding to customer inquiries or complaints. Your employees need to provide accurate information to your customers and offer a  solution to a problem or quote policies that address specific customer situations based on previous interactions or simulated conversations.

Your front line customer service warriors need to know exactly where to look for answers. Developing a “knowledge base” with answers to FAQs, methods for solving problems, and standards for resolving disputes prevents people from relying on the expert knowledge of others only that have more experience. This living breathing store of information should be flexible, provide an avenue for addition/suggestion, and be accessible remotely. Your goal should be to resolve issues during the initial customer contact, and make servicing the customer a comfortable, manageable process.

Effectively Manage Your Customer Relationships

Once you have some history on your customers, and how they interact with you, you can identify your best customers and reward them. You can institute frequent buyer services or cross promote your products with other similar or related offerings across industries. You can extend a service program, offer a 3 for 2 etc., the options are endless. The key here is to manage your customer relationships and reward them for their loyalty. Your churn will drop and your acquisition costs will drop.

Stay in Touch With Your #1 Commodity

Consistently reaching out to customers will make them feel you value their business (which you should). You can use standard off-line tactics, such as postcards, newsletters DMs, magazines or on-line strategies such as e-mails, blast news messages about products, special promos, etc. (of course make sure you follow CPNI rules and give them the opportunity to opt-in/out). Capitalize on social media and ask them to follow you on twitter, subscribe to your RSS feed from your blog or become a Facebook Friend. A simple hard copy or virtual thank-you note after a major purchase goes a long way. This creates a forum inviting customers to contact you with questions, feedback, or to discuss additional requests. Make sure the customer knows that they are your #1 focus, and you are always there to solve their problems, meet their needs and incorporate their ideas into future product developments.

By making customer service an imperative, knowing what makes your customer tick, establishing a knowledge base, managing your relationships and maintaining an open line of communication you capitalize on your acquisition investment and leverage your best sponsors, happy customers!!

By now, you have all read my previous post on the GTM cycle and the interrelationships between the various phases. You also now know that it’s critical to develop a go-to-market plan that clearly describes the goals of the new service and outlines the steps needed to market, operationalize, and support the product/service.  Just as important as the go-to-market plan, is the controls that are put in place to manage the risks/dependencies and timelines. This is where a good program/project manager is introduced.  

PMI, the standards organization that sets the guidelines for Project Manager Certification (PMP) recognizes 5 basic process groups typical of almost all projects. The basic concepts are applicable to projects, programs and operations. The five basic process groups are:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing

Processes overlap and interact throughout a project or phase. Processes are described in terms of:

  • Inputs (documents, plans, designs, etc.)
  • Tools and Techniques (mechanisms applied to inputs)
  • Outputs (documents, products, etc.)

These ITTOs form the document base for most projects and guide the project teams through the GTM process to bring products/services to customers on time and under budget.

A quality program/project manager works cross functionally to “connect the dots” and keep everything on track. Without this experienced professional, the best product/service will fall flat before it reaches market and before it delivers on its promises. Organizations need to segment each product/service and structure the GTM process with the PM being the lead.  If successful, companies will capitalize on their often sizable investment in human capital.