I saw a very brief opinion-type post, “B2B Mktg needs to curate a vibrant community”, by Paul Dunay over on his Buzz Marketing for Technology blog, which set me thinking.  His point is that we as B2B marketers spend too much time and effort on finding and getting new customers, and not nearly enough on leveraging our existing customers.

In the post’s first comment, Rob Leavitt cites a recent report from CSO Insights which says that new customer acquisition is a top priority for 91% of marketers, while cross-selling and up-selling is a distant third priority.  Actually, for SMB B2Bs, I’m surprised that it’s only 91%, since they typically don’t yet have the breadth and depth of products and/or services needed for cross/up-selling to be a significant revenue source.

Your customers can help improve your offering

But even without that, Paul points out a number of other benefits B2Bs can realize by fostering closer relationships with their best customers and creating some measure of differentiated treatment for them…

  • instant and indisputably valid feedback …vs. paying for focus groups to provide less-valid insights
  • product-improvement or new-product ideas that can be prioritized and piped directly to your R&D groups
  • co-authored thought leadership materials

Of course, there’s nothing completely new here… enlightened B2B companies from IT systems vendors to airframe manufacturers have been doing this for years, through user group conferences, mail/phone surveys, etc.  The difference now is that much of this can be done so much more easily online, by leveraging the public social networks and even creating private user communities.

They can even help you get new customers

Which got me thinking… what if you could deputize all those loyal customers as marketers on behalf of your brand? …so that you would realize not only the benefits listed above, but also a very direct and visible impact on revenue?

The answer is that, in effect, you can …and this is hinted at in that same post comment from Rob Leavitt:

“Ironically, building stronger relationships with existing customers is probably the best route to getting new ones, too.”

In fact, this has been happening forever, via word-of-mouth.  Now it can happen easier and faster, via social networks …whether the vendor is involved or not.

Your challenge/opportunity is to maximize the potential of this very natural process for the benefit of your company/brand.  Doing that requires at least the following elements (and you may think of more)…

  • Products/services that truly delight customers (think Apple …before the recent iPhone flap).  No amount of marketing can make up for shoddy products or customer service.
  • Some sort of reasonably structured program that makes your top-tier customers feel special and involved, which (along with those great products) will help nudge even the natural wallflowers toward evangelism.
  • Online facilitation of the conversation among members of this group, between them and the company, and between them and prospective customers.  This can range from your energetic and continuous involvement in the social-network forums that your customers frequent, to the creation/moderation of a private online community.

Interestingly, by focusing on your existing customers, you’ll also be maintaining your focus on capturing new ones …but just in a different way.