How customer retention is replacing acquisition during the coronavirus
Just months ago, B2B marketers had lofty growth plans focused on driving a large quantity of leads into their sales funnels. Today, with so many businesses struggling and lead-generating events off the table, those plans have been torn up. Many marketers are now making customer retention their top priority, which is a victory even if it means making contract concessions.
Couchbase, an open-source database software company, has found success with this approach. Because "customer-centricity" is part of the company’s core values, Chief Marketing Officer Peter Finter said it is easier to demonstrate increased empathy for customers—which translated into “we’re in this together” messaging, making training courses free and flexibility on terms. “We want to take pressure off our customers,” says Finter.
How have company values informed your actions during COVID?
Let me focus on our fourth value: “Solving hard problems driven by customer outcomes.” Some of our customers are facing unprecedented challenges, so one of the things that we can do to help is give them the ability to leverage our product without having to increase their expense in the short term. We’ve been able to give some of our customers the ability to expand the use of the product without paying for it right now. We want to help them through this transitional period the best way that we can.
In some cases, it's about helping them accelerate projects that they were already working on, because those projects were designed to reduce the total cost to their business. Depending on the customer, we tried to think about what it is that they most need. We talked to them about where we can help them the most, and we tried to come up with a solution which will be most useful to them during this transitional period. In the end, good business is really predicated on those stronger relationships.
How are you helping customers transition to digital?
Transitioning in a seamless and non-disruptive way is going to give companies the edge. When you come along and say, “Let me throw out everything you had, here's something brand new,” it's extremely hard to adopt those technologies. But when you give them a path to say, “Bring with you the expertise that you've gained over the years and now apply that in this new environment,” we think that's going to make it successful. Make it familiar enough that they'll bring it in but give them the underpinnings and the new architecture to allow them to do things they could never do before. That's the approach we've tried to take for our customers, and I think everyone who's trying to leverage the cloud to give people more flexibility and agility is well positioned at this time to help their customers through this transition.
Is there anything that surprised you about your customers during this time?
One of the things that I've noticed is just how much people want to be involved in solving the bigger problems. The creativity and innovation that people are willing to put into it is tremendous. We didn't go to our customers and say, “Hey, have you thought about using our technology to do something?” No, they are leveraging it on their own and they're sharing some of the results.
As CMOs, our job is always trying to help point people to the value that we create. It's extremely rewarding when you see people discovering that value for themselves and then telling you what value you create for them. That's the virtuous cycle that I think we all aspire to as CMOs, and it's really been amazing to see some of that starting to happen during this time. It sometimes seems to me that it takes the really challenging situations to reveal some of the amazing things that would otherwise have gone unnoticed or maybe never even have happened. I am a silver lining guy.
What’s your approach to demand generation right now?
We're experimenting. I think all of us are going through that transitional planning phase right now, but what's at the heart of it for me is: Do you really understand your target customer? Down to the persona level, what are the challenges that they are now facing? It may be different from what it was just a month or six weeks ago, but what are the things that they are now seeking to deal with, what problems are they now being expected to solve, and where is your relevance in that? Ultimately, pushing a product onto somebody whose world has been turned upside down is not going to be effective. It'll actually be offensive, the totally out-of-touch organization that none of us wants to represent.
How does Couchbase avoid being tone deaf?
It's not about trying to join that line from COVID-19 to your product. That's a mistake. That's not where people are going to respond. What people are going to respond to is evidence that you are understanding and empathetic to the situation that they're in. The more we can think like the very people that we want to engage, the better. So one of the actions we've taken is to flip our model a little bit. We've gone internal and asked our own developers to tell us how developers like them are experiencing this transition because developers are key influencers to the purchase of our product. We've given them access to the underlying code for our website and said, “Go rewrite the website for a developer-centric experience based on where you are right now and what you are thinking about right now.”
It's an unprecedented step for us, so we're taking a bit of a risk here, but we are really trying to align with our target audiences better than ever before.
What are some ways you can build relationships during this time?
The test for all of us is: Are we actually able to show up in a way that says here's something that is going to give you some value without expecting anything in the short-term in return? People understand the transaction, the balance of value, but if you can defer the expectation of return on that investment in a way that they appreciate—and it could be as deferral of payments, it could be a free use for a period, or it could be something that actually doesn't cost you a lot but they might value highly. Education is a great example of that. We've made all our training for free during this period as a way of saying, “Look, we care about you and what you're doing. We understand you aren't going to be able to pay for this, but we want to make an investment together so that when you come out the other side of it, you're in a better position to move forward and we have hopefully helped use your time well.”