By Bill Lee
Are you ready to grow your company? If so, the business world is full of specialists who are all too eager to help. Brilliant ad agencies and clever marketing communications experts. Highly trained salespeople. Talented product developers. Even Ph.D. analytics eggheads. And while these professionals certainly have valuable services to offer, they all fall short in a critical way: None of them come from the buyer's world.
No one can truly understand your customers or genuinely share their interests unless they are a customer themselves. Everyone else is a layer removed, which makes it exceedingly hard for them to relate to actual buyers and respond to their needs.
Increasingly, companies are figuring out that they do have a resource that comes from the buyer's world, a resource that is key to creating robust, organic growth. Their most powerful growth engine is their existing customers.
If you can harness the knowledge, natural enthusiasm and peer influence of your very best customers — your "Rock Star" customers — they'll market, sell and help develop breakthrough products for your firm better than your internal resources can do, and often at a fraction of the cost. In short, they provide a natural and deeply reliable way to grow a business.
Consider the superb results companies are getting from this new way of thinking about customers:
- Customer salespeople achieved, in effect, 80 percent close rates for Salesforce.com, which was key in growing their business in the face of much bigger, better-funded competitors.
- SAS Canada "customer champions" helped the firm restore declining customer retention rates — which had fallen as low as the mid-80s percent — back to the firm's traditionally high retention rates of 97-98 percent.
- Local MVP (most valuable professional) customers are critical in helping Microsoft penetrate foreign markets affordably and effectively, providing the firm its most effective marketing communications and saving it hundreds of dollars in support costs.
- Customer content and engagement built rapid growth in the success of Intel's social media and Web-based marketing efforts, increasing "customer contacts" by a factor of tenfold and overall page views by 100x.
- The "lead users" that 3M brought into its innovation process improved revenues by factor of eight times over innovations from internal product developers.
These are just a few of the powerful, growth-fostering impacts "Rock Star" customers are creating for a variety of companies. And engaging customers in such ways is generally much less expensive than hiring additional employees or costly agencies. But it does require some new thinking.