ice cracking in Duluth

The Midwest is often championed for its heart and welcoming spirit. This sentiment also holds true for business. 

Minnesota may not have the same tech sector cachet as California, but it’s quickly rising in the ranks. Tech hotspots boast nicknames like “Silicon Prairie” in Kansas City or, "Silicon Lakes" for us in Minneapolis. But the impact goes beyond words: Minnesota was recently named the fastest growing state for tech jobs in 2015 and best state for business in general. 

So what’s building all this Midwest momentum?

It All Begins With Customer Engagement

Elwin Loomis, a software engineer director at Target who's worked in the Minnesota tech scene for nearly three decades told CNET, "Everyone here is just a couple generations off the farm. There's a real down-to-earthiness feel here that I really like." In my opinion, it’s not just the “down-to-earthiness” in Midwest tech, but also an unmatched work ethic for cultivating business. Traction is traction no matter if you’re on the West Coast or in the heartland, and it all begins with customer engagement.

Some of the hottest companies in the coldest temperatures understand that turning customers into advocates is their top marketing priority. Startups and scaling companies soon discover that customer engagement has to be intrinsic to the company's DNA for them to realize the prosperity they aim for.

And to achieve marketing objectives — like increasing awareness, filling the lead funnel and winning mindshare — “customer-centricity” shouldn’t be relegated to words in corporate presentations. Marketing's traditional objectives have remained the same, but in today’s digital landscape it also functions as a change agent to reorient organizations to a customer focus. 

Why? It's clear which companies include the phrase “customer-centric” as part of a checklist and which hold it as a core value and measured organizational objective. People do what they measure. According to Deloitte research, true customer-centric companies are 60 percent more profitable than those that aren’t. Marketers that put customer engagement as the driving force behind everything they do, catalyze growth.

Here are a few lessons tech companies can learn from their Midwestern friends:

The Brand Lives Beyond the Software

Conferences like Dreamforce, TechCrunch Disrupt, Box’s Developers Day, or even lesser known ones, like elevate DIGITAL in the Midwest, raise a company’s visibility with high-profile speakers and media bonanzas. At their core, these events aim to deepen relationships between partners. We often cite the public, our shareholders and the Board as primary stakeholders, but customers, who have the option to take their business elsewhere, should be put before anyone else.

However, community and brand building goes beyond the buyer-seller relationship. An organization doesn’t need an expensive event to make a greater impact. The Hour of Code world-wide initiative, for example, is an opportunity to rally a local network and business community around a greater mission to celebrate brand values — like innovation and fostering education in STEM.

Any company can host an Hour of Code for their employees, customers and their families. This year, my company invited students from Visitation School in Mendota Heights to encourage young women in STEM to pursue their dreams and foster community beyond the business center in downtown Minneapolis. Companies shouldn't exist in a bubble — and that's a lesson we take to heart in Minnesota.

Face-to-Face Relationships Trump Digital (Even in Tech)

Customer user groups are made up of active user communities spanning across industries. User events can feature collaboration sessions with management and product developers as well as peer networking, access to specialized training and tools, and exclusive previews of upcoming products. They’re highly interactive and give customers a unique and exclusive connection to your organization and to each other. Yes, we sell tech, but our customers are also receiving a business partner, and there’s always an opportunity to take your partnerships to the next level.

Code42, a Minneapolis-based provider of endpoint data protection and security for the enterprise, also prioritizes one-on-one attention via its Customer Success team, tying in professional services and certified training to maintain the company's 97 percent customer satisfaction. Recently named SVP of Customer Success at Code42, Karen Pisha attests to the inextricable connection between product adoption and customer satisfaction to drive profit and customer engagement. At Eloqua, her former employer, Pisha’s programs helped triple revenues over four years and expanded sales to its existing customer base.

Take Feedback to Heart, and to Product Management

Innovation should be driven by your customers and solutions should be built around customer needs — by the customer, for the customer. That process might seem daunting, but you can start by being empathetic. Listen. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. Build an omnichannel communications model — a strong social media presence, generous blog content with strategic and tactical insight, contact center technology that can reveal the voice of the customer, online educational tracks, and so on — to respond to your customers’ needs.

Every company claims to take customer feedback seriously, but how many take action as a result of that feedback? The tech companies who quickly respond to feedback from all channels, portals, user groups, email requests and yes, even the call center, will develop fanatical customers and drive incremental revenue.

Tech companies that develop requested products or feature updates in response to customer needs send a clear sign to the customer that they were heard. This empathy is intrinsic to the hospitality and culture we Minneapolis companies bring to our business. Customer engagement isn't a front-of-funnel matter; it’s a customer lifecycle matter. Make it part of your every day work life.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Sharon Mollerus