Are you leading your business through a crowded, hyper-competitive space? For one of my clients, iTexico, this is quite true – meaning that, even with a successful track record and measurable, solid, growth, companies like iTexico must constantly find ways to reinforce their relevancy to their market on a daily basis. In order for you to cut through the noise, I’d like for you to consider building a little more “social” into your B2B marketing – and for this, we’re not talking Facebook or Twitter. Or even LinkedIn.
Just as Professor Mohanbir Sawhney of Kellogg School of Management recently pointed out - everything is marketing - we’ve discovered great benefits in the creation of Customer Councils. At iTexico, we hold a two-day event in which we throw open the doors, invite our consumers onto our premises, and listen intently. We are talking about the flesh-pressing, face-to-face kind of social connection – and in a globalized market where every customer’s opinion is more powerful than ever before.
The Councils help address two unique challenges for iTexico, which has major operations in both Austin, TX and Guadalajara, Mexico: how to achieve mindshare in a very competitive mobile and cloud development space, and how to build equity in the fact that Mexico has become an emerging frontier for computer programming and cloud development resources.
While customers and mid-sales-funnel prospects tour our iTexico delivery center in the heart of Guadalajara, we encourage them to offer detailed insights that we can later put into action. To make it worthwhile, and to increase the depth of our relationships with its customers, we design the agenda to include unique opportunities to enjoy the many cultural, culinary, and sightseeing experiences that make Guadalajara famous – tequila, delicious food, and great weather.
It instantly turns our employees, customers, and offices into additional marketers, and helps iTexico stand out for its customer-centric innovation – dare I say “disruption” - in a crowded space. It also helps them see tangible benefits of working with a world-class technical team, at a reasonable cost, located in a modern and safe city a short flight away.
Running the First Two Customer Councils
We insisted from the beginning that a big part of our agenda would be customer focus groups. In this part of the agenda, we merely ask questions and facilitate discussion, but let the customers speak their mind in full candor. By sharing their own experiences, the customers, in turn, market us, and let us know how we could improve our services to them. This is where the magic happens – customers sharing their stories and “selling” to other fellow attendees, while also making sure that we in marketing were not doing any “navel gazing”.
In today’s world, we know that the best sales are those that are made by users – not paid sales or marketing folks. The customers themselves were observing and learning about how other customers were using iTexico services to their advantage. This fostered a fountain of new ideas on how they could leverage iTexico for their benefit – better than any social platform could ever have provided.
In turn, iTexico’s technical leaders and “doers” highlighted technology trends and their own prowess in their respective fields. By mixing in social events like a fun visit to Tequila village, we created informal opportunities to strengthen relationships, leveraging our office and wider communities as “marketing collateral”.
Throughout the two-day event, our customers spoke more eloquently for us than any salesperson could. And, at the same, we built trust with our customer while learning more about our company than we ever thought possible.
Empower the Customer, Empower Your Business with Customer Councils
You can adapt our Customer Council idea to fit your B2B business, but remember, first and foremost – this should not be presented to your customers as a sales activity in any way, shape, or form.
Don’t be afraid to invite prospects to your event as well. This was very effective as our current customers were able to speak well about the company based entirely on their very real and personal experiences, making it almost impossible for prospects not to be impressed. And who knows – you may even sign a deal before the event is over.
As one of our Customer Council attendees said, marketing teams are commonly viewed as sitting in an ivory tower, coming up with ideas. These Customer Councils are designed to dispel that notion. We want to look inside the customer’s window, and ask them directly what value they see in iTexico. What attracted our customers to iTexico in the first place? What are some of the things they like now? And what would they want to see in the future? The value our customers provided in sharing their experiences was priceless – and allowed us to guide and check our marketing efforts like never before.
Are you ready to include your customers in your marketing efforts?
Atul Minocha is a Partner at Chief Outsiders. He is also a member of Sierra Angels investor group and teaches marketing at Hult International Business School in San Francisco, California. Contact Atul at email@example.com or on LinkedIn if you don't find him at your neighborhood Starbucks.