From Seller to Advisor: Engage Your Customers to Help You Stop Pitching

If it is all about the customer experience, why are we still pitching? ~ ITSMA panel discussion

This is a good question, and one that gets to the heart of one of marketing’s biggest challenges of shifting the approach to customer engagement to a client-centric point of view. We took on this challenge at last week’s ITSMA annual conference.

Janis Fratamico, Director, Relationship Marketing at Bloomberg and David Coates, Director, Customer Programs at Iron Mountain, joined me in a panel discussion where we talked about how to move from a transactional to a relationship-based approach when it comes to engaging customers.

A Relationship-Based Approach to Engagement

Here are a few key takeaways from the insights Janis and David shared.

The role of storytelling

Use stories to create analogies, engage on a personal level, and connect with clients beyond the sales deck.

From b-to-b to h-to-h

Understand that even in b-to-b environments, the interactions are human-to-human and you need to identify with the personal, human side of your customers to truly engage and build relationships.

Making the customer a hero

Focus on making the customer a hero in their role through empathy and understanding.

The guiding principles of research, preparation, authenticity

Success requires taking the time do the homework to understand customers and the connection points within your organization; preparing in advance for the conversation; and moving beyond the canned storyline to an authentic dialog based on the preparation.

Working from a Customer Point of View

The panelists recommendations align well with what we have seen in our work with companies to engage more successfully with their executive clients.

We have found that customers provide the best fodder for enabling and driving the change. 

Here are several areas we would suggest to focus your efforts to provide your organization with access to that customer point of view.

Create the right environments for non-salesy conversations.

One of the most important roles for marketing to help overcome the “pitch” is to provide sales-free, value-added forums for sales teams and business leaders to interact with clients. We find that customer advisory boards—with their strategic perspective and their focus on value exchange—are particularly powerful to serve in this this role.

If you are not ready for an advisory board, or are looking to broaden the points of connection, consider creating peer forums, networks, or other engagement platforms using the same principles that make the boards so powerful.

Be the conduit to learn about your clients.

Marketing should take the lead in learning more about clients: extracting their stories, their interests, their priorities and synthesizing and packaging them up for the rest of the company to use.

Many marketing organizations are already doing this to some degree in the course of the client programs they run, but formalizing this function and owning those conversations provides a powerful tool in driving change and ultimately increasing revenue and relationships.

Share your clients’ stories internally.

An important role for marketing is to spread the word about your clients’ stories, and help the sales teams understand how clients view their challenges and how they describe success.

One habit that gets people thinking is to start every meeting with a customer moment: share one piece of insight or advice you’ve collected, one idea you have heard directly from a customer.

Another idea is to create a customer insight report, an ongoing forum for people to share what customers are saying in the form of a report back to the company. (Read here for more on these ideas.)

The idea is to make these client stories part of the corporate lexicon, which will in turn bring more stories out of the woodwork and into the hands of client-facing teams.

Prioritize the integrated repository for feedback.

Having an integrated, consolidated view of customer input and insight is core to effectively enabling the recommendations, yet is elusive for many marketers.

This requires accessing information from across functions, much of which is often ad hoc, informal or in people’s heads, or buried in the comment lines of online surveys.

Make it a priority to identify and collect as much of this feedback as possible in one place so you can mine it regularly—and make it accessible to the sales teams and others who touch clients often.


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