Very few marketers would say that their goal is not to create long term, strong, deep relationships with their clients or customers. Client relationships are what drive a healthy business and deliver value in both directions. And most marketers would agree that nurturing and growing those relationships requires high quality, ongoing engagement with those customers.
Where we sometimes see a disconnect is in what marketers consider to be engagement. Marketing programs are chock full of activities designed to connect with customers. Companies hold events: long, short, live, virtual. They build client communities. They develop reference programs and create client videos. They send product offers, newsletters, and case studies. They ask for input through satisfaction surveys, insight interviews, client advisory boards. As they chase from one activity to the next, filling out the program calendar, overwhelmed marketers might ask: so what’s wrong with that?
That’s a fair question, and the answer is less about the specifics of the activities and more about the mindset behind them. Consider the difference:
An engagement mindset
Customer engagement is about an ongoing dialog with reciprocal value, and an integrated experience with your company. The engagement mindset starts with the customer and how he or she wants or needs to engage with you. The activities they participate in help to address those needs in a cohesive manner: they are a means, not an end; and they are part of a larger strategy, not a series of standalone or one-time efforts. The strategy drives a conversation that carries on over time, and the purpose, the content and the outcomes build on each other and on the clients’ evolving needs.
An activity mindset
On the other hand, an activity mindset starts with the separate pieces of a program and figures out where to plug them in. Marketers focus on filling seats, adding to the reference database, and pushing outcomes, one activity at a time. The content and target audience tend to serve those isolated outcomes, and learnings and ideas do not translate to the next program. It is not always easy for clients to tell why they are being invited or how to prioritize the various outreach efforts. It is also challenging for clients to get a handle on whether and how their vendor is sharing information on their needs and the nature of the relationship across the different parts of the company promoting these various activities. This raises doubt on how well the vendor really knows them as individuals.
How an activity mindset can undermine customer engagement
It is worth considering the challenges that an activity mindset can cause to your hard-earned efforts to engage your customers, and how it may end up driving valuable clients away. Here are some of the unintended consequences we have seen:
- Proliferation and confusion of message and communication – customers are overwhelmed by emails and offers about so many different opportunities. It is difficult to extract what you are trying to tell them about engaging with your brand and how it applies to their specific needs.
- Devaluation of the individual activities and programs – the confusion results in the customers’ inability to differentiate which program is more valuable to address their own needs, and they become more likely to delegate participation or simply pass on the opportunity. This wastes time and resources and reduces the quality of the engagement as well as its potential impact on growing the business.
- Loss of insights and feedback – marketing activities and programs can generate insights and input from customers that can help your business. If these activities operate in siloes, the learning and feedback tends to stay in the minds and files of those individual internal teams. There is no system, process or reward for sharing the findings across the programs and no path for analyzing, understanding or taking action to grow the business or improve the client experience.
- Degradation of traction with value-focused clients – ultimately it is your most treasured clients—those who are focused on a relationship based on value exchange—who will be most affected by the activity mindset which fails to integrate and connect their experiences. Over time they will seek vendors who engage with them more holistically and strategically—leaving you behind.
However, if you are stuck in the activity mindset, there are steps you can take to begin the transformation, and in a future post, I will lay out some recommendations to make the shift.
Illustration by Richard A. Goldberg