Growth Frameworks

The Customer Marketing Guide: Six Steps to Keeping and Growing Your Existing Customer Relationships

In today’s uncertain market environment, new customer acquisition has become more challenging. Many marketers have a heightened focus on embracing existing customers in their strategies this year. Across our portfolio companies, we have seen the value of strong customer marketing, helping to improve retention, create new revenue opportunities, drive marketing efficiency, generate referral business and lay a strong foundation for long-term growth.

To help teams think through and strategize their approach to customer marketing, we’ve created the following six-step guide.

1. Find out how you can help your customers more

Your customers came to you because they believed you could help solve a problem, but they likely have other needs, pain points and goals that you haven’t uncovered. But how do you uncover those needs and help position your team to address them?

  • Just ask: Offering to help by connecting directly, whether virtually or in person, shows your customer that you care and provides you with valuable insight into their needs.
  • Create a focus group or survey: Focus groups can make customers feel special, and surveys can be fun, frictionless ways of engaging customers and gaining valuable data in response.
  • Talk to your sales and customer success teams: Your colleagues are likely already engaging directly with customers and often have a direct line of sight into what they are saying.
  • Read customer comments on social: Social media platforms can be a treasure-trove of unvarnished insight into your customers’ needs.
  • Pay attention to product feedback and reviews: These are often a great source of customer pain points. We’ve seen teams gather feedback and reviews from stores, eCommerce sites, online forums and review websites.

2. Create offers that “wow” and content that sticks

When thinking about customer offers, marketers often jump to tactical considerations about channels, what competitors are doing, and discount margins. While important, these areas can have little to do with the actual needs of your customers.

So where should you begin when working to create more relevant offers and content?

  • Start with customer needs: Use the qualitative and quantitative data on your customer’s goals and pain points from step 1 above.
  • Think of intrinsic value: An invitation to a forum or event, an educational piece of content, a free tool, connection with customers or influencers – these can all serve as effective intrinsic value offers for customers.
  • Use discounts purposefully: Discounts can be effective, but don’t overuse them. We see teams use bundles, gifts with purchases, cashback and personalized offers as good alternatives to blanket discounts.
  • Make content clear, concise, and memorable: Content that is clear on benefits, quick to absorb and easy to recall has the best chance of inspiring action in your customers.

3. Take a needs-based approach to segmentation and messaging

With all the data available on customers, marketers often segment customers based on shared characteristics instead of considering customer needs. This approach can lead to a mismatch between what the customer wants and the offers you provide. Instead, consider the following:

Segment by customer needs: This makes it easier to keep offers relevant and match them to the right customer at the right time.

  • B2C companies often segment based on a customer’s seasonal needs, previous purchase behavior and history, app engagement history, and discounts on products fit to their needs.
  • B2B companies frequently segment by needs based on the customer’s industry-specific requirements, geography, and historic product usage.

Create tiers of customers: Some customers may require more bespoke handling based on the size of their contract: the bigger the contract – or the higher the average selling price (ASP) – the greater the need for “white glove” treatment. Companies often create “tiers” of customers and adjust the messaging according to the need.

  • High-ASP organizations (especially in B2B and healthcare) tend to deploy one-to-one campaigns toward tiers of priority or high-value accounts.
  • Lower-ASP and SaaS businesses tend to deploy one-to-many or one-to-all campaigns toward tiers containing several customers.

4. Deliver delightful channel experiences

Existing customers may already engage with you routinely, and in most cases, they’ve already provided valuable contact information. Because of this, a channel strategy for existing customers doesn’t need to be complex or costly.

  • Cover owned channels first: This is likely where your customers are already engaging: email, apps, SMS, organic social, website and web properties, and portals or forums.
  • Be incremental with paid media: Common paid channels include paid social, paid search, video, and display. We’ve seen marketers successfully use remarketing and custom audiences to target customers in paid.
  • Keep customer experience top-of-mind: All is for naught if you create a negative or unmemorable experience. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes when thinking through their end-to-end experience.

5. Let others do some of the legwork

Customer marketing is a team sport that can generate network effects across your customer community. Effective customer marketing efforts will involve executive leaders, marketers, product leaders, customer success teams and, importantly, customers themselves.

How can you make customer marketing more cross-functional?

  • Make meaningful connections: Customer advisory boards, customer-only events, ambassador programs and online communities can create effective and long-lasting connections.
  • Develop relationships with influencers: Your advocates and superfans can be the best influencers, and they don’t have to have huge followings to have a huge impact.
  • Partner with your customer success (CS) team: Consider incentivizing your CS teams to gather feedback and testimonials, which can then be used by your marketing and your product teams.
  • Encourage customers to share: User-generated content (UGC) can be effective at engaging existing customers and creating network effects. We’ve seen companies successfully source UGC through photo contests, “share your story” campaigns and trade show photo booths.
  • Let customers hear from other customers: Peer references and testimonials are some of the most powerful assets for social proof, relatability and success stories – and they can be creatively repurposed as website video assets, social posts and blogs.

6. Take a holistic approach to measurement

With activities spread across many offers and channels, we recommend a comprehensive approach to measuring customer marketing performance. No single metric can tell the full story, and no attribution metric is perfect. (Remember: there are even dark funnel considerations and network effects that need to be taken into account.)

Consider beginning with a core set of metrics, baselining them, and then monitoring their development over time. Examples might include:

  • Revenue metrics such as lifetime value (LTV), average order value (AOV)
  • Efficiency metrics such as return on ad spend (ROAS), cost-per-action (CPA), customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Behavioral metrics such as customer retention rate, in-app retention rate, channel engagement rates (e.g., email open rate, click-through rate, social engagement rate, etc.), customer referrals and rates, time-based engagement rates
  • Sentiment metrics such as net promoter score (NPS), social sentiment

In our view, customer marketing is only growing in importance. In fact, 41% of respondents to Gartner’s 2022 ABM technology survey cite an existing customer use case as being most important, up sharply from 24% in 2020¹. As organizations scale, existing customers become even more critical for the social proof they provide, the referrals they create, and the revenue growth that they generate. We recommend making sure that customer marketing is on your roadmap this year and embracing your existing customers to help position your business for long-term growth.

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Cae Keys

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The content herein reflects the views of Summit Partners and is intended for executives and operators considering partnering with Summit Partners. For a complete list of Summit investments, please click here. Published on April 19, 2023.



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