"Understanding customer feedback in real-time is imperative for marketing leaders moving forward. It’s not a challenge. It’s critical."
Maureen Cole is a Marketing Director for Cohesive Solutions, a premier IBM partner that maximizes asset reliability for highly-regulated asset-intensive industries. In this interview, Cole explains why she’s passionate about marketing research and tells the story of how she turned one survey into real revenue.
How did you get into the marketing profession?
I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in Education. But at the time education was not at the forefront of the state’s support plan. I struggled for a few months to find a job and then found a part-time position.
It was my first job out of college, pretty much a basic administrator role. However, it was with a major company in my city, an IBM reseller, and this position introduced me to the corporate world. Because my background was teaching and instructing, I went into an area of focus called compliance.
One thing led to another and I ended up in a marketing support position since I could build programs to help others understand brand regulation rules. At this point, I moved to a software company that supported me going to classes and taking certifications. Over the years I gained certifications from AMA, Baldridge Institute, Lean Six Sigma, Pragmatic Marketing, and Miller Heiman.
A few of these courses were focused on surveying and customer satisfaction. This played a big role in shaping how I would eventually dissect audiences. During these few years, I felt I found my real passion. Though, ‘marketing found me’ is probably the best way to put it.
I believe it happened for a reason. I get to do a little bit of everything, no two days are the same. Marketers are typically multi-faceted wizards, we create events, manage budgets, messaging, implement technology and develop brands – all of which support a company’s relevance. One day I’m meeting with lawyers about trademarks, or writing website content and the next I’m hosting a roundtable with the top U.S. energy providers. All fine by me.
What types of projects interest you most?
One thing that really captured me was a certification course for survey analysis of client feedback. This is typically a marketing responsibility because companies want to know how satisfied their clients are and how to utilize the information in case studies.
A project I worked on around client satisfaction just fascinated me. I loved the data coming in from the online tool. I think we used SurveyMonkey. The data gave me insight into the roles and responsibilities each customer faces. This experience taught me how to ask questions. Not necessarily to drive answers, but to drive the ability to get meaningful feedback.
One thing I learned is that open-ended questions don’t get you a lot of information. But if you supply three unique answers or multiple choices, people are more likely to respond. I enjoyed developing that skillset to figure out the best way to ask something of a customer. Then use that information to adjust our offerings, solutions or performance. I still use surveying today as an part of our marketing strategy.
Can you describe your favorite marketing campaign and the challenge you faced?
The first big success where I realized the power of surveying an audience was at Citect, now owned by Schneider Electric. We surveyed our client base in the U.S. We’re not talking about millions of people, but an audience of about three or four thousand.
We had two parts to the survey. First, it was a test to see if our contact information needed improving. That’s another thing surveys can do, shore up your client list if you feel like it’s losing validity. Second, we asked questions about their use of the software, what version they were on and would they be interested in upgrades, new licenses or training in the near future.
The survey came back and we found out that about 33 percent of our users were retiring in the next two to three years. I don’t know about other companies, but you can’t survive without 33 percent of your existing audience. Who would replace them? We found out people were interested in training and upgrading, but we hadn’t provided enough information. So we used our data to push special campaigns.
Within six or seven months we were booking about over a hundred thousand dollars in training, upgrades and additional licenses. I realize that’s not the norm. This experience was back in 2004 or so, but I still think of it as an example of using your customer’s voice to improve your marketing programs.
How did you measure results?
Surveys are never one and done. If you’re going to ask customers for feedback you need to do so on a regular basis. Whether that’s quarterly or annually, whatever your audience demands. If your sales cycles are short, then your survey needs to be relevant to that timing. If your sales cycle is a year and a half, then an annual survey is OK.
I try to encourage organizations to set up an automated program where you get feedback from your clients consistently. Best practice is to have a regular discussion with your team about which results will ultimately drive performance.If there’s something not quite right with a client, they’re most likely going to say so in a survey.
I’ve found that the more often you survey the better off and safer you are. If you’re just doing it once and never do it again, there’s no point. You have to stay in touch with your customer’s needs. Those needs change and evolve.
In two organizations I worked at we turned a survey analysis into a lead generation solution using Salesforce.com. CRM and survey tools are now bridged to give sales reps a way to see results in real-time, and deal with problems before they become tragedies.
From a marketing perspective, I’m using the data to make sure our implementations are on time and under budget. Is the software we sell meeting the customer needs? I’m looking for the story inside the data.
What trends do you see happening in B2B marketing for 2020?
Over the last five years, ‘work alignment’ between marketing, sales, and operations has become a deal-breaker. Like when companies want their subject matter experts to present at conferences and trade shows.
For example, what if you’re committing them to 20 different events next year? And what if more than one subject matter expert is required? That’s a lot for them to manage on top of their regular workload. If the their time is billable, that has to be reconciled.
So marketing programs have to be aligned with other divisions whether they’re in operations or executive leadership. Marketing used to launch multiple promotions, whenever and wherever… not anymore.
Work alignment gets executive leadership to buy-in before committing to a conference. So the message or press release can be shared internally before releasing it to the public. This gets everyone on the same page before it’s too late.
Any Other Trends You See?
Another trend has to do with brand responsibility. Companies need to ask if they’re delivering what they say they will. There are tools that let you sync customer feedback into the existing customer profile in your CRM.
The more a marketer is familiar with surveying tools and analysis and being able to build on the information that comes out of customer feedback, the more powerful the message and brand will be. It’s partly a technology question. Are you using Salesforce or Hubspot? Is there a way to monitor customer behavior on your site and sync with customer feedback?
Of course, it depends on what you offer. If you’re marketing tennis shoes, getting feedback is very different than long term service contracts. For a high services delivery environment like healthcare technology or enterprise business, you need to dissect the feedback and learn how to manage it.
I see understanding customer feedback in real-time is imperative for marketing leaders moving forward. If they’re not doing so, maybe they should consider doing it themselves. They could look at tools like Survey Monkey that allow you to sync customer feedback with the data in your CRM. It’s not a challenge. It’s critical.