Every company today talks about being customer-focused. Some of them make good on this promise, but many fall short. Talking to your top customers on regular check-in calls and going to quarterly business reviews isn’t really being customer-focused. It’s being customer-friendly. If your goal is to add value to your customer’s business — and in turn, to your own — you need to do more.

I’ve been thinking about this topic in light of a recent award we received at Invoca. For the second year in a row, Invoca was named one of Deloitte’s 500 fastest-growing technology companies in North America. This recognition comes on the heels of growing our enterprise customer base 550% over the past three years. While the technology that we provide at Invoca is pretty amazing, there are a lot of companies with great products that don’t grow at this rate. Where the team at Invoca has really done things differently is by taking our focus on customer success to the next level, and being truly customer-centric.

Here is what we have learned at Invoca about being focused on customer success:

You Can’t Solve Problems Until You Understand Context

In order to anticipate customer needs, you must first understand what really matters to your customer’s business. You should understand the company’s strategy, competitive standing in the market, and ultimate objectives — in the same way that you know your own business. In my experience, the best way to do that is by reading annual reports and investor presentations, listening to public talks by the CEO and other executives, and observing what the company is sharing on social media.

Once you have that broader business context, you can immerse yourself in the work of your “champions.” At Invoca, we primarily sell to digital marketers, so we need to experience the marketing funnel firsthand. That means engaging with our customers’ content, exploring their websites, and going through the purchase process online, via phone, or in-store.

Since joining the Invoca team, I’ve seen everyone from sales reps and account managers to executives embody this approach. At our recent customer summit, 3 Day Blinds Chief Revenue Officer, Dan Williams shared this reflection on working with our team: “The Invoca team was great about learning our needs and desires, where there was friction, and things that we needed to fix, look at, or optimize. They really care about our business.”

Talk Less, and Listen More

In enterprise software, most employees spend a lot of time talking to customers. That is important — your customers often need information that only you can provide to make informed day-to-day decisions. For example, customers often want to know if you’re planning to ship an incremental product feature; often, they are asking because if you don’t, they need to line up IT resources to build a workaround.

You need to earn a customer’s trust by responding to these types of questions, but for a subset of strategic customers, you also need to get to the bigger picture. And the single fastest way to understand what is truly happening with your customers is simple — stop talking, and start listening. Ask open-ended questions, giving your customers the opportunity to speak at length about what they are trying to accomplish. (In contrast, questions that elicit simple “yes” or “no” answers keep you talking, rather than prompting your customers to open up.) Use your contextual knowledge to tie what they’re telling you to what’s going on at the company. Look for opportunities to help them move the needle with new products, new projects involving your existing products, or by introducing them to companies and people you know.

Then think about what these outcomes could mean for your business. Invoca’s Voice Marketing Cloud has evolved as a result of our conversations with customers about their business challenges and opportunities. For instance, one of our long-time customers had seen incredible benefits from using Invoca to optimize paid search campaigns. Yet the company’s growth objectives were outpacing the cost-effective reach of paid search, so the marketing team was looking for new ways to generate demand. A brainstorming session led to a mutually beneficial result — the customer ramped up tests of paid social media campaigns, and we at Invoca initiated discussions to expand our call intelligence solutions beyond paid search to Facebook. The end result was Invoca for Facebook, the most popular product we have introduced to date, and our customer was able to drive broader reach with the same visibility and confidence that they had come to expect with Invoca.

Use Face Time to Your Benefit

Building this type of strategic partnership with a customer doesn’t happen overnight — you have to find the right opportunities to have these more intimate conversations and build trust. Usually, this works best when you’re meeting face-to-face, often with a whiteboard in reach, as that environment prompts the type of informal exchange you want.

If you’re looking for a simple way to assess the depth of your customer interactions, here’s a first step: After your next in-person customer meeting, ask yourself these two questions. First, how much time before the meeting did I spend learning about my customer’s business, versus preparing materials to present? And second, during the meeting, how much of the time was I asking questions and listening, versus talking?

The answers to those two questions will provide pretty clear feedback on how truly customer-focused that interaction was.

Over time, you will know you’re moving in the right direction when your customers are excited about what you have accomplished together. They will champion your work, externally and internally, and you will likely hear how it has impacted one of their key business metrics. And in exchange, you will continue to find insights that you can apply to new product or service offerings.

Ultimately, being customer-focused isn’t a one-off exchange or a standing meeting. It’s a different way of growing your business.

Gregg Johnson

Posted by Gregg Johnson

Gregg is a seasoned digital marketing and SaaS leader, with over fifteen years of extensive experience bringing products to market in emerging categories, leading large teams, and working with the world’s best enterprise brands. Most recently, Gregg led Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s social marketing product line, where he integrated $1 billion of M&A investments into the Salesforce product portfolio. Prior to that he drove product strategy and development for Salesforce Chatter, helping define the nascent category of enterprise social networking and rolling out one of Salesforce's most successful products. Earlier in his career, Gregg was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and worked in sales, marketing and product roles at several startups. He graduated from Stanford University and holds a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business.

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