Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristin Zhivago, author of “Roadmap to Revenue.” She has a ton of experience with uncovering what customers really want/need and how to align the marketing and sales process to delight customers. When she agreed to do the interview, I was naturally excited to see her insights. Without further adieu…..
Nick: You have a very practical approach to figuring out what customers want, how much weight does social media listening hold?
Kristin: Social media listening is incredibly important, of course. It can alert you to both positive and negative developments in terms of what customers are saying to other customers about you. But it does not replace the in-depth phone interviews of current customers. If these interviews are conducted properly, they will reveal critical buying process information, in a cohesive, “now we clearly see the trends” kind of way that leads to making the right business decisions.
The goal is to understand how they bought and why they bought, to use that information to reverse-engineer your successful sales, then produce new sales in quantity. You have to get the whole picture; you have to interview at least 5 people who fall into the same buyer category (by demographic, job function, need, etc.), and you have to ask them all the same open-ended questions. By the fifth phone call, you will understand what you are doing right, what you could be doing better, and what you need to do next. You will understand, in a human-to-human, deep way, what the customer’s agenda was when they started to buy and why they ended up buying from you.
I’m sure we all could argue that social media reveals these issues, but calling 5 – 10 customers of a given type and hearing them all say that the same five things are very important to them (by the way, they always agree on what those top things are) is quite different from “hearing” people bring these issues up, in a random fashion, in the social media channels. Plus, the most important question is “WHY” and you don’t get that answer as easily (if at all) through social channels.
Nick: Rather than taking social data at face value, how do you use it to augment your customer interviews?
Kristin: The companies that really make the best use of social media use it as a service medium. If a customer expresses a frustration or a desire, someone with organizational clout (in other words, they can actually help solve the customer’s problem) gets right on it and makes it right. These “best use” companies also provide interesting, useful, and relevant information to their followers.
Because happy customers can be very quiet, and unhappy customers can be very vocal (and that vocalizing can go viral!), I do not consider social media to be a valid research tool by itself. The balanced and contextual aspects, which are the earmarks of any valuable research results, are simply not there, just because of the very nature of social media. It is much wiser to call customers who share certain characteristics in common, and hear what they have to say, than it is to assume that the more vocal or active customers represent the majority.
However, once the “big picture” research is done, social media commentary can add compelling anecdotal support for the research findings. An executive team that has been somewhat isolated from customer input can understand the big picture issues and opportunities based on the results of the in-depth conversations with customers. The icing on the cake is for them to be 100% “convinced” by a representative, pithy social media comment that simply “nails it.” This one comment can even become the rallying cry, a concept that the CEO returns to, over and over, while trying to make the company more customer-centric.
This is the norm, not the exception; it happens quite often in my revenue coaching work. The company leaders read the word-for-word transcriptions showing what customers say on a given subject, and one phrase in the report, or one comment made in a social media channel, sums up the situation quite nicely. That then becomes the reminder for the entire executive staff of the customer’s reality, and the decisions they make going forward are influenced by that reality – which is as it should be.
Nick: Have there been instances where social media listening data was totally off-base, and the phone call provided more valuable data?
Kristin: Sure. As I mentioned, one very vocal customer can drive the social media conversation in one direction, while the bulk of the customers are not at all interested in that issue. While it is extremely important to address that person’s complaints as immediately, thoroughly, and publicly as possible, it is also important to see the incident in context. Why is this particular customer having this particular problem? Do other customers share this customer’s concerns? Or is it an isolated incident? The phone calls reveal what the bulk of the customers are thinking, and serve to put these issues in the proper perspective.
And yes, there have also been situations where a single negative comment turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, a early indicator to a much larger problem. The company’s management must know which category these comments fall into, and the only way to do that is to conduct the big-picture, in-depth research.
Nick: If you were in the shoes of a B2B or B2C company, how would you get started in social media listening? Would you approach the 2 verticals differently?
Kristin: I always laugh when people say that “B2B and B2C are the same, because you’re selling to people.” Yes. Last time I checked, except maybe for bots clicking on Facebook ads, bots don’t buy – people do. We all get this. But the minute you go a level deeper, and look at how those people make their buying decisions, a different kind of distinction comes into play.
The more important question is, how much “scrutiny” are they applying to the purchase? In both B2B and B2C purchases, there are four categories of scrutiny: Light, Medium, Heavy, and Intense. The higher the price, and the more complex the product/service, the heavier the scrutiny.
- Light Scrutiny products and services involve one person, a couple of basic questions (Do I really want this? Can I afford it? Do I want to buy this instead of something else?), and the decision is made.
- Medium Scrutiny products and services still involve one person, but there are more questions (think clothing, eye glasses, simple software products, etc.). These questions must be answered to the buyer’s satisfaction, or they won’t make a purchase.
- Heavy Scrutiny products and services involve more than one buyer (IT manager and the CEO, for example, or a husband and wife buying a house), lots of questions, a demo and/or test drive of some sort, a salesperson to answer questions and write up contracts, a contract, the purchase, and possibly service after the sale.
- Intense Scrutiny products and services involve all of the above, plus you “get married.” It’s an ongoing service or a very large custom project. This is really where “relationships” play a major role.
These four scrutiny categories are much more relevant to the social media listening activities than the “B2B versus B2C” categories. If you interview your customers, and ask the right questions the right way, you can map out the customer’s buying process and the customer’s experience after the sale. Your map can include “what the customer expects from us in the form of social media channels and interactions.”
In other words, if they expect to find you on Facebook (typically B2C companies), you should be there. If not, you can skip it. If, on the other hand, they expect you to be on LinkedIn (usually B2B companies) and would notice and appreciate your contribution to discussion groups, you need to be there. You can literally ask them, during the interviewing process, “What social media channels do you use as part of your buying process [remember, this is what matters!], and how would you like to see us participating in those channels?”
The answer to this question will guide your social media decisions and actions. It’s important to remember that every company and its customers are unique – even in terms of what customers expect the company to do for them. The best way to find out where they are in the social ecosystem, and what they’d expect you to do if you joined them there, is to ask them.
Nick: Finally, where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Kristin: It’s available pretty much everywhere, both in print and ebook format. The book website shows all of the customer and press reviews; that site is http://www.RoadmapToRevenue.com, and of course, it’s available on Amazon and in the iTunes store. So far I haven’t gotten a negative review, which makes me very happy. My consulting website is http://www.zhivago.com and my blog is http://www.RevenueJournal.com. By the way, the interview questions you should be asking and the best practice methodologies for conducting this research are all spelled out in my book.