Gregg Lalle, VP, international sales and strategy, ConnectWise.

Gregg Lalle, VP, international sales and strategy, ConnectWise.

According to Forrester, customers are between 30% and 90% of the way through their buying journey before they contact a salesperson. This means they've already made up their minds before businesses can convince them that they're the best option.

For Gregg Lalle, VP, international sales and strategy at ConnectWise, businesses that stand out are those that are 'maniacal' about customer service, smart about marketing, and take a consultative approach to customer relationships.

"They evaluate every touch-point they have with their customers to make sure they're providing brilliant service. If not, they figure out what can be improved and set new goals."

One study found that businesses that focus on the customer experience see more than 43% higher performance than those that don't. But there's a disconnect: 80% of businesses think they're delivering superior service, but only 8% of customers agree.

Tarred with the same brush

Businesses of all sizes face similar challenges, says Lalle. They're concerned about security, data backup, disaster recovery, and scaling, but they don't want to feel like they're being generalised when they approach managed service providers (MSPs) for help.

Rather, they want someone to listen to their problems and to feel like those problems are treated as unique when engaging with MSPs.

"Customers are more demanding than ever. They want more information, they want to be educated, and they want to be part of the decision-making process. But they also want this information from a trusted source."

MSPs can be that trusted source, says Lalle, with the right marketing capability, toolsets, and a personal touch.

Customer journey framework

Lalle outlines six steps that a customer goes through in what he calls the customer journey framework, or "wheel". These are:

1. Awareness, or the information-gathering phase. This is often the first time customers are exposed to a business's marketing messages and is the ideal time to educate customers. That's because, at this stage, customers might not be sure what they want. Businesses can drive that conversation through specific marketing messages tailored to the buying persona.

2. Evaluation, when marketing becomes a lead and the sales team takes over.

3. Purchase, when orders are placed, quickly and accurately.

4. Delivery, which should be supported by a well-communicated project plan.

5. Support, which should be a painless process enabled by smart communication tools.

6. Billing, which should end the journey on an accurate, professional note.

"There are many touch-points that go into delivering good service: blog posts, e-mail responses, Web sites, invoices… Customers expect excellent service at each one, and each one is an opportunity to deliver positive experiences that captivate, convert and delight customers," says Lalle.

"Businesses need to be operationally efficient and have well-oiled processes to move the customer fluidly between these touch-points, while measuring their performance and benchmarking how they can improve. If they're not concentrating on each step individually, and on the wheel as a whole, they're not concentrating on the right parts of the business."

Smart marketing

Lalle likens the customer journey to a manufacturing process, which repeats the same steps over and over. Each time the wheel turns, businesses should look for ways to improve every step. In customer service, this means conducting experience surveys at every touch-point to score how well the sales, support, marketing and accounts teams interact with the customer and what they can do better next time.

"From the customer's perspective, it feels customised and boutique but, on the inside, the same blueprint, with the same processes and workflows, is followed for every service or product; it's just nuanced differently," he says.

"Businesses that don't measure how they're doing and don't benchmark their performance against an industry average, are doing themselves a disservice. They shouldn't be afraid to ask for feedback: they desperately need that customer input to drive business growth, which ultimately leads to profitability."

Smart tools

Consistently excellent customer service will differentiate average MSPs from excellent ones, says Lalle. To achieve this, businesses need toolsets that help them work smarter, achieve operational maturity, and transition to workflow-based organisations.

"Toolsets should enable businesses to market to different audiences, do lead scoring, and reach customers on the social channels they're already using, from one place. It's no longer about inbound and outbound marketing, but about how to engage with customers personally and give them what they want, when they want it.

"When everything is in one system, with one database source, it's easier to track all these marketing assets, understand what the customer needs, and to tweak each touch-point accordingly."

For Lalle, in a talent-scarce economy, businesses should get the most out of their tools by automating and standardising as much as possible. "MSPs will market each solution differently, but the blueprint, or the six steps, should be standardised across the organisation, using a single toolset. This makes it easier to track how effective the marketing is, where the leads are coming from, what leads are closing, and what needs to change."

Smart consulting

Once most of the marketing process is automated and the business is hitting all customer service metrics, teams will have more time to focus on building customer relationships.

"The business review model is crucial for building relationships and maintaining the trusted information provider role," says Lalle. "Ideally, business representatives should visit the customer at least twice a year, but preferably every quarter, to discuss not only their performance, but also the market, what's coming, and how the customer should prepare."

This focus on personalisation and relationships is what will differentiate businesses in the scramble for customer attention.

"Businesses may need to invest in training to ensure their teams have the communication and strategic planning skills to be able to structure something meaningful for the customer. This is easier if they themselves have a partner who can deliver the full customer experience and can help them understand what 'good' looks like and how to get there."

The customer journey is never finished, says Lalle. There will always be new technology, new marketing campaigns, and new customers to support. "Businesses need a proven methodology that moves the customer smoothly from awareness to billing, so that they don't waste any opportunity to meaningfully engage with their customers."

Download Connectwise's eBook: 'Defining (and winning at) the customer journey', here.