Thoughts and ideas from SHAKE Marketing Group

How to Stay Relevant To Your Customers During Uncertain Times

The talk about being “customer-focused” is everywhere in the business world. It’s a term we hear frequently and there’s hardly any successful company — regardless of industry, type, or size — that doesn’t describe itself as customer-focused. The question is — what does it actually mean? And more importantly, how can we actually put it into practice?

As we continue to experience ongoing uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, companies in all industries have been presented with a tremendous opportunity to get back in touch with their customers.

Perhaps you’ve claimed to be “customer-focused” in the past, but now is your opportunity to prove that you really understand what your customers are thinking/ feeling/ trying to achieve.

What Makes a Company Customer-Focused?

As a B2B marketing consultant, I often come across companies that call themselves “customer-focused,” “customer-obsessed,” or “customer-centric.” They casually throw around these terms on their websites and marketing brochures, but their processes are anything but customer-focused. Why is this so? Because it’s pretty easy to talk about, but it’s difficult to get it right.

Simply put, a customer-focused company is the one that puts customers at the center of its processes, operations, and business decisions. Such businesses think about what they can do to add value to their customers as opposed to treating them as sales targets and simply as means to make money. It takes more than just treating your customers as a priority; you need to step into their shoes and view your business model through their lens.

Where Do We Start?

Becoming a customer-focused company is not easy, and it’s certainly not an overnight job. But you can start thinking like a customer-focused organization, and that involves taking a long, hard look at things you’re probably doing wrong.

Here are three most common mistakes that I see marketers making. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to make some changes in your marketing strategy.

1. You’re not focusing on a specific customer target

This one is, by far, the most common mistake that marketers make. One reason is that businesses get too tempted to roll out their product or service in the market and the general approach is that of "build it and they will come". Others simply lack— or refuse to spend — the time to come up with an ideal customer profile.

Too often, marketers and business owners skip the part where they are supposed to define their target customer and they dive straight into execution. I’m guilty of this myself.

When I first started my company, Shake Marketing Group, I wasn’t too focused. I knew I wanted to target B2B organizations, but hadn’t done much thinking around company size, location, or industry. I had spent several years working inside of Fortune 500 companies and had always made sure our marketing plans started with “WAWT” (pronounced as ‘what’) – as in ‘Who Are We Targeting?’ So it’s a bit ironic that I committed marketing mistake #1 – not defining my ideal customer. Perhaps, it just shows that even those of us who think we know better end up falling into the trap.

As a result, I ended up taking on some clients that weren’t ideal for my business model and caused a lot more effort and work than I expected. Luckily, I learned my lesson and made myself answer a series of questions to determine who I really wanted to work with.

But too often, I see my clients stuck in the mode of “we are targeting everyone with a heartbeat”. If you’re in the same boat, I’ll tell you what I tell them: If you target everyone, you’re targeting no one and most probably letting your hard work, time, and marketing budgets go to waste.

That said, here’s a checklist of information you could gather about your current customer base to figure out who your ‘perfect’ customer is and why.

· Industry

· Location(s)

· # of employees

· Annual revenue

· Years in business

· How long they’ve been a customer

· What products/ services they buy from you

· What pain points and/or triggers initially brought them to your company

· How profitable are they for your business

· What was the sales cycle like? (Long, short, complex, etc.)

· How easy are they to work with?

· Do you enjoy working with them and why? (Some customers can be a drain on your energy and resources, and therefore wouldn’t be “ideal”)

2. Chasing the shiny objects

I’ve seen many of my clients being totally obsessed with new software or regularly investing in new tech tools without any improvement to their bottom lines. Interestingly, this condition has a name — Shiny object syndrome.

This is the case when brands and marketers are distracted by flashy marketing technology and “quick-fix” tactics. They chase after these shiny things, hoping to get all their business problems out of the door. In the process, they overlook proven principles that have helped many marketers succeed.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve experienced what it’s like fall prey to the shiny object syndrome. But here’s what I’ve learned — get the foundation right, then look for ways to make it better, faster, or cheaper.

We think we are behind the ball if we don’t have every possible tactic implemented. But it’s practically not possible to use every tool and tactic under the sun. There are over a million possible marketing technologies out there and it just keeps growing every day. Video, social media, email, webinars, events, blog, PR…seriously, the list is endless.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for testing and trialing new tactics and approaches. But I believe following the 80/20 rule works best for most businesses. Bake 80% of your marketing budget and resources into time-tested strategies and best practices, and leave 20% to experiment. Plus, you will feel relieved at saying ‘no’ when the next salesperson comes knocking on your door promising ‘overnight’ success with some marketing tactic.

3. Failing to connect with what your customers value

In 2017, I co-authored a book called Value-ology, which teaches marketing and sales professionals how to tune into what their customers value and communicate with them in a way that resonates.

In preparation for the book, I interviewed several marketing leaders across various industries to learn what was working and what wasn’t when it came to marketing. The one thing I heard over and over was how easy it was to become internally focused and lose sight of the customer. Instead of researching and learning more about customers, there is an imbalance of time spent collecting ROI metrics and justifying activity.

The fact is, if your marketing approach is not centered on your customers, you’ll find that your efforts are losing impact with every passing day. Why? You’ve probably noticed that your customers’ expectations are growing and changing. No longer are they satisfied with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. They expect you to get to know them and their business and offer up solutions and products that are relevant and useful. And 68% of Companies are increasingly competing on the basis of ‘customer experience’. If you don’t know what your customers care about and value (and thus what they are willing to pay for), how can you expect to keep up?

A Harvard Business Review article cites a recent survey that found 80% of buyers don’t believe that the salespeople they deal with understand their business. What does it mean for your business? It means that by understanding your customers and what they value, you are better positioned to create marketing tactics that wins more hearts and deals.

While there's a lot more to being customer-focused than fixing these three common marketing mistakes, they are an excellent place to start.

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B2B marketer showing confidence with a customer-focused marketing approach.

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