Any organization providing products or services wants to be visible to its potential customers. It’s important to give them the information they need in order to make a purchase decision. That’s been marketing’s mindset and focus for many many years. They’ve been extremely good at it, helped by many tools, applications and data insights. Yet marketers’ effectiveness is waning. Customers now expect to communicate with brands through any channel, at any time and with any device, requiring marketers to multiply the outlets through which they share their messages. Web sites, Facebook, Twitter, branded blogs, Pinterest, Instagram… and the list goes on. As long as we cover all those bases, we’re alright? Right? Well, there’s a snag. This multitude of channels leads to a lot of messaging that’s non-relevant or out of context. The result: the audience tunes out. Forrester estimates that in 2015 and for US marketers alone, $9.7 billion will be mostly misspent for social marketing. You may be talking (and judging by the $9.7 billion, loudly!), but who’s listening?

The prospect whisperer

More than any advertising, 83% of prospects completely trust opinions of friends and family. Happy customers that speak on your behalf are your advocates, and they’re more effective than paid channels. They broadcast to their personal and professional networks comments about your products, services, offers, new releases, etc. simply because they love what you as a brand do for them. Did you know that three out of every ten will mention you on a weekly basis or more? These advocates are like diamonds for a business, and you may already know who some of your company’s advocates are. But how do you find more or, better yet, grow them? If you have a community already, that’s a great place to start mining yet your whole customer journey needs to be geared towards nurturing more advocates.

Going from a prospect to a customer to an advocate is much like a procession with various stages along the way. Not all who start the journey will finish it. Yet those who do will become your advocates, and will, in turn, start others on their customer journey with you. By driving people to a vibrant peer community at each stage in the process, you can make the whole customer experience as pleasant as possible. Below are specific ways in which your online community can activate members and bring them ever closer to becoming one of your next diamonds during the following six stops in their journey.

Discover stage

More often then not, prospects looking to satisfy a need start by Googling. So, your community and all the great content you have to offer must be available right there on the first search results page. In fact, 71% of all business purchase decision begin with a search engine. Whole books have been written on how to optimize your rankings, but it’s no secret that the main search engines rate trusted, authentic, relevant and engaging sites higher. You also need to be aware how your audience is likely to conduct their discovery. If that’s from a mobile device, make sure your community is mobile friendly so that it will rank equally high when searching from those devices.

Research stage

An interested prospect will want to delve deeper into your offerings, and their research will take them further into the community. It’s crucial to provide relevant information and a host of options that help them to do just that. Make sure that the prospect can search in their words. What they call a ‘connection grid,’ you may refer to as a ‘contact diagram,’ so ensure your search works with synonyms and ‘did you mean…’ suggestions. And when the search results are provided, it’s great if they weed out outdated, older content from current, official documents and postings.

Purchase stage

When the prospect is ready to buy, the best place for them to do so might be right from the community, so e-commerce integration will be very helpful. Yet you’ll no doubt already have an e-commerce website in place, so why not bring the community directly there as well? Whilst making their purchases, prospects (now nearly customers!) still want to see reviews, ratings or other information related to the purchasing process.

Usage stage

A purchase is just the start. If you can help the customer be successful through the process of installing, implementing, or using their purchase, it can be the start of a long line of additional and repeat purchases. Your community should continue to be a source of valuable information, such as rich media and content for your newest customers. How-to-videos will get them started on the path to being successful, and official FAQs and user manuals can help to guide them along.

Ask stage

Chances are that at some point along the way, these customers will have questions. Something might not work they way they expect it to, a part could break and need replacement, or users might just want to share how your product can get even better. You should guide them to the answers and be prepared to listen. This is an ideal opportunity for bringing the power of the community to bear on sourcing answers, assisting each other, and identifying which answers are most helpful. No question should be left behind because what’s not answered by the community can be handled by the CRM system and your employees. Ideas should be encouraged and conversation should flow so that your customers know you’re listening.

Advocate stage

Do all this, and you’ll have a growing group of successful, passionate customers in your community. Using analytics, you can identify those that are advocating or would be well placed to advocate. Rather than just sit back and let it happen, bring them together into a sub-community. Invite them to your equivalent of a select frequent flyer lounge where you can incentivize and reward them for sharing your content (to drive awareness), and for being thought leaders (to drive leads and sales). You can give them a voice in product direction as well as access to new products, which will fuel this enthusiasm even more.

The diamond greenhouse

While this customer journey may sound like a linear path; in fact it’s circular. The “advocate” stage leads back to discovery, because advocates not only continue to buy from you, they draw in new prospects through social selling and content marketing. They may not even be aware they are doing this; they’re just having a great time being your customer. And that’s what drives increased engagement in your community. Increased activity and user generated content (by advocates) mean more SEO. Advocates provide insight into how to use your products and services, and answer questions when new customers ask. They even advocate for other customers to become advocates as well.

An advocacy-focused customer journey that’s supported by a healthy community can seriously heat up your prospect conversion rates. Isn’t it time you got your own diamond greenhouse?

Wim Stoop’s “Activating the Customer Journey: Six steps to growing your own diamonds” article was originally published by Loyalty360 on November 1, 2015:


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