For many buyers, the decision to change vendors happens long before a product or service is delivered—or even before a purchase. Sellers often don't see the signs because they're focused on historical patterns, not buyers. By not understanding the buyers' experience through their eyes and how expectation gaps impact trust and credibility sellers inadvertently drive their own churn.
There are four experience disruptors that drive churn: ZMOT (or what Google has termed the ”zero moment of truth”), first sales call, handoff to support and the 90-day milestone. These disrupters have been institutionalized by inwardly focused, productcentric organizations that don't align themselves to buyers' experiences, expectations and sentiments.
The first disruptor, ZMOT,
is the point that occurs when marketing automation systems identify someone as a lead. Marketing often erroneously assumes the buyer is at the early stages of the purchase cycle when, in reality, they have already formed an opinion of the seller based on its social graph as well as by interacting anonymously with marketing assets.
At ZMOT, most companies believe they can accelerate the funnel velocity and treat prospects accordingly. That's when the first disrupter happens: an inundation of marketing emails, irrelevant calls to action, “freemium” offers that don't work or aren't really free, and those creepy follow-you banner ads promoting the product a buyer just looked at.
This experience differs from what the potential buyer expects and introduces doubt in their minds. Buyers typically gives a seller the benefit of the doubt and move forward; but, in extreme cases, they will completely disengage.
The second disruptor occurs when marketing passes the lead to sales. Buyers expect sales to have deep knowledge of them, their companies, their problems, marketing activities they have participated in and any social media conversations about the intended purchase.
Yet in more than 90% of cases, the exact opposite happens. The salesperson prepping for the initial call might only have looked at the buyer's LinkedIn page or their company's website. Sales' objective is to qualify the opportunity and perhaps schedule a presentation or demo, while the buyer expects the conversation to be continued. As a result, a total disconnect results; and, frustrated with their wasted time and the seller's loss of credibility, many buyers will eliminate that seller from further consideration.
Assuming a purchase has been made, a third disruptor occurs when sales hands the buyer off to customer service/support. Buyers again expect customer service to have in-depth knowledge of them and their purchase, along with all social and physical interactions to date. Sadly, customer service teams are usually not equipped with those kinds of insight nor are they trained in delivering a consistent experience aligned to buyer expectations.
This third disrupter also sets the clock ticking for exactly 90 days, when the fourth disrupter, the point of churn, can occur. Churn can be experienced in many ways, including no renewals, expansion sales or add-on sales; canceled contracts; or general relationship disengagement. However, if during that time the buyer's expectations can be understood, met and a value-based relationship built, the churn can be avoided.
The outcome of the 90-day period is fully in the hands of the seller.
Avoiding the point of churn requires more than just shipping a product or service that works as promised. It requires sellers to take an active interest in educating, onboarding and training buyers on how to realize the maximum value from their purchase. That means aligning field service, customer service, finance and marketing to buyer expectations and needs.
Some companies do this really well. Online shoe and apparel retailer Zappos.com is frequently cited, as is airline Virgin America. In the b-to-b sphere, companies such as Dell Inc., Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and FedEx Corp. are other examples. But the list is short, although it's not impossible to instill a buyercentric culture. If anything, the financial reward should be enough motivation to do this right. Happy customers make more repeat purchases at higher price points within shorter windows.
Whether a customer leaves or becomes an advocate is up to the seller. It doesn't require unnatural acts, but rather active listening for how buyer expectations change over time—and tuning the whole organization to align to the buyer and deliver a consistent experience.
Christine Crandell is president of b2b marketing consultancy New Business Strategies (www.newbizs.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.