I recently sat down with my colleague Jamie Ziegler to chat about the role of sales organizations in customer loyalty programs – an important consideration for B2B companies. Jamie has a wealth of practical knowledge on the topic having run global loyalty programs at JD Edwards and VMware and spent several years as an enterprise salesperson herself.
As we talked, we naturally hit on a number of well-documented best practices like closing the loop directly with customers for service recovery and growth. We also identified a handful of equally important but often forgotten tips. Here are five of the less obvious items you can use to give your program a boost:
- Focus on the real payoff. Salespeople are the superheroes of most B2B companies. They make the rain that fuels growth. However, loyalty program leaders often treat salespeople more like they’re racehorses, dangling carrots in front of their faces while whipping their backsides to drive KPIs. Unfortunately, this old-school approach just doesn’t work. Why? Because it doesn’t focus on the real payoff for sales – decreased churn and increased spend. If your program facilitates better selling – and communicates accordingly – salespeople will get engaged. We know that loyal customers are less likely to go to RFP, less price sensitive, more likely to bring new business in the door, and more likely to act as your coach in those new deals. Preliminary results of a new study we’re conducting even show that Promoters (loyal customers as measured by the Net Promoter methodology) are 7x more likely to put a salesperson in front of their bosses. That’s real value for a sales team.
- Communicate through channels salespeople actually use. Most salespeople are extremely busy (like most of us) and tend to block out non-urgent communications, especially emails (unlike many of us). One large B2B company recently found that only 8% of salespeople opened emails from the CEO, 18% opened emails from a VP, and 26% opened emails from a direct manager. To be heard, loyalty program leaders need to choose the right channels to communicate with sales. For broad communications, many firms find success by broadcasting voicemails rather than emails. For training and planning, in-person still works best.
- Provide a path out of whack-a-mole hell. Most loyalty program leaders know they must enable salespeople to close the loop with individual customers for retention and growth. That’s a great activity, and it yields direct, significant results. We’ve found that an average B2B company with $1 billion in annual revenue can gain more than $12 million every year with just a minor improvement in closed-loop activity.However, focusing on individual cases can trap salespeople in a frustrating game of whack-a-mole, where they’re just reacting to urgent issues as they arise. To maintain sales engagement and ensure long-term program success, give salespeople a way to report on the root causes of closed-loop cases. That will enable you to then identify and act on opportunities to stop those moles from popping up in the first place. Add some communications about the systemic issues you’re addressing, and salespeople will be more likely to stay engaged.
- Facilitate customer-focused account planning. Closing the loop with individual customers and taking action at a corporate level are both well-documented practices, but many B2B loyalty programs end up forgetting to enable action at the account level too. That’s a problem, because the account level is where salespeople naturally focus. To enable customer-focused account planning, start by making it easy for salespeople to get to know entire accounts – which customers have and haven’t responded to surveys, their roles, and their actual responses. Then provide a simple template salespeople can use to track account-level issues, actions, action owners, and status updates.
- Don’t forget to tell customers what’s happening. Even after making significant investments, many companies still don’t tell customers what they’ve improved and why. That’s wasting a big opportunity. When VMware decided to change its pricing model in response to customer feedback last summer, the firm’s CEO told customers directly at a major company event. He was rewarded with a standing ovation, and the story got picked up in The Wall Street Journal and Wired. Not bad. At an account level, encourage salespeople to share the account planning documents referenced above – or at least versions of those documents – directly with customers. Simply seeing that salespeople are listening and responding to issues can significantly increase customer loyalty.
These tips are just five of many best practices that help loyalty program leaders engage their sales organizations. We’ll dive deeper into B2B customer loyalty programs at our VoCFusion event May 14-17 in Las Vegas. I hope to see you there.
In the meantime, I’d love to see your comments on whether you’re using these tactics or what else has made you successful in engaging sales in your program.