If you’re in a top-performing marketing team, the odds are good that you’re using some form of marketing automation in tandem with a lead scoring system. Marketing automation helps track your activities — whether they occur virtually or in the real world — and then tracks prospects’ responses to them. The scoring system then provides a quick way of prioritizing those prospects, allowing you to evaluate and pass them to sales rapidly.

But even the best performers miss something in this equation. What happens when a customer actually speaks up? Or when a customer responds to a survey with data that indicates he or she is ready to buy? Or hints about the activities he wants to help drive his buying process?

We're Asking Questions and Ignoring the Answers

Perversely, the customer’s actual voice doesn’t make it in to most of these marketing programs unless someone manually short-circuits the process. This is a shame — we poll, survey and quiz customers and potential customers all the time. But, according to Maritz Research, only 34 percent of companies say they’re doing a good job translating the data they collect into action.

We’ve become so accustomed to using technology for sensing what customers are doing and extrapolating what they want, we’ve managed to exclude the actual voice of the customer. Even when we open an avenue for customer input, we usually then simply ignore what we hear.

This is a monumental waste of an opportunity for both marketing and sales. In a well-functioning company with an aligned sales and marketing operation, the two sides compare notes and adjust things like lead definitions, lead scoring plans and a pathway for leads to be returned to marketing for nurturing. Where in these discussions is the opportunity for customer feedback to inform these decisions? It’s not usually built into the process.

But there is an opportunity today to change that. Technology is allowing not just greater opportunities to collect customer input but to put that input to use throughout the marketing and sales cycle, creating more personalized buying journeys for customers and more effective selling processes for sellers.

Integrating Customer Input

Now that we have the means to do so, it’s time to build the voice of the customer into every stage of the buying cycle. Naysayers are enthusiastic in their hatred of this concept, asserting that allowing people to think about what they’ve experienced will slow the selling process. In reality, it could very well salvage the selling process if you’re off on the wrong foot, or head off problems if a response suggests a negative reaction to an upcoming part of the sales process.

And we’re not talking about a series of long surveys, either — a series of one or two-question surveys is all that’s needed. Over the course of three or four short surveys, you can gather six or eight key questions’ worth of data — plus, you open the door by asking for comments and allowing free-form responses. You can even check if this feedback mechanism meets with prospect’s approval. If it doesn’t, shut it off.

Realize that the prospects’ input is a key indicator of buying readiness and thus should not be excluded or segregated from the lead scoring process. A lead scoring plan is a great thing to have, but it won’t work at its optimal level if you leave out the ability of a prospect to self-identify as ready to buy, and it won’t work if you disregard input — both negative and positive — that the prospect volunteers.

You may have a prospect that finds your content and offers interesting, but calls you out on an aspect of the selling prospect that leaves a bad taste in his mouth. He may bubble to the top of the list based on his score, but he’s probably not a good bet to be passed to sales yet. Similarly, a prospect may come to you with a glowing recommendation and announce that you sit atop his short list. If the scoring system has no way to include this input, the customer may be ignored and, by the time his score climbs high enough to merit attention, his ardor may have cooled.

Including the customer’s voice in you scoring system, or using input to bypass the system entirely, requires some judgement and finesse. After all, input can be unstructured and not a simple binary indication of interest, like a click or a download. But it’s far more accurate in determining a prospect’s sentiment than a set of digitally-recorded activities. This is something that a senior member of your lead generation team should be responsible for, using a general set of scoring criteria for input from customers that mirrors your lead scoring system and then making judgements on a case-by-case basis of how the score should be affected by that input.

Feedback Helps You Gets Personal

One area where customer input, survey data and other voice of the customer information is uniquely useful is on a case-by-case basis. Marketing can use this data to adapt its approach on a very personalized basis. If a prospect voices a preference toward a particular type of content that may not be part of the set of content you’ve designed for his segment, you should be able to act on that desire. If a sales rep detects a need for a change of tactic based on feedback from a prospect, he can modify his approach to that specific prospect. Feedback helps personalize the sales experience for the buyer.

At the same time, if the right platform is in place to analyze feedback, the aggregated data about all customers in a segment or across the entire customer base can be used to identify trends and modify sales and marketing behaviors on a broader basis. If enough customers are expressing a preference for something out of the ordinary, it stops being out of the ordinary and simply becomes part of your marketing processes.

Sales is adept at requesting one particular type of customer feedback — the win/loss survey. It’s vital that this information is shared with marketing so it can check the effectiveness of its efforts and identify steps it could have taken to make the buying decision easier. Often, this win/loss data ends up confined within sales, or gets marooned in product marketing. The reality is that this data is important for every aspect of marketing because it is the truest indicator of whether marketing is setting the stage for success or failure.  

But the end of the deal cannot remain the only part of the buying process where the buyer is invited to have input. Examine your marketing and sales processes, and build opportunities for feedback into them, with prompts for the prospects and processes built into your systems to use feedback to drive actions. This is the only way to assure that you’re providing customers with the experience they want in their dealings with your company, and it’s the best way to transform marketing so that it delivers the buying experiences that customers really want.

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