Where are your customers and how can you find each other? You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: the Internet and the advent of cloud technology have fundamentally changed the way buyers buy. Because of this, your marketing efforts and online presence need to be in step with where your customers and potential customers are in their purchase-decision journey. Partners tell us that often, by the time they speak with a prospect, that prospect has already conducted research, been through demos, and done a significant portion of discovery around the problem they need to solve. Further, with instant access to so much information, the speed to purchase has been accelerated, giving you less time to build relationships. Understanding where that prospect is in their journey allows you to be in step, rather than running to catch up.
A recent study we conducted with IDC, interviewing 14 successful cloud partners, turned up some valuable, actionable insights about innovative ways these partners are reaching customers. I’ll be sharing more of what we learned, in-depth, in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned for those deep dives. But there are things you can do now to be ready to capitalize on those insights and begin aligning your marketing with where your customers are on their cloud journey.
The six stages to purchase – how does your customer buy?
According to IDC, there are six distinct stages to the cloud customer purchase journey: exploration, evaluation, purchase, expansion, renewal, and advocacy. Customers spend more or less time at each stage depending on their level of familiarity with the product. In addition, they may enter at different stages according to their need. However, no matter what stage they’re at, they won’t move to the next one until they’ve resolved the questions they have at their current stage. One major takeaway from the study was the discovery that successful cloud partners’ marketing aligns with and intersects that journey at critical points.
So, what are the stages? We’ll go into them in greater detail in subsequent blogs, but in brief:
  1. Exploration: At this stage, the customer has a business challenge and is looking for solutions. The customer’s goals could include lowering costs, raising productivity and/or responding to a threat. Customers are looking for information, so partners need to clearly communicate to that customer what their unique value proposition is. And be very specific! As customers search, they use keywords specific to their needs, so focus on customer segment and vertical as much as you’re able.
  2. Evaluation: The customer is validating sellers by taking demos, following references, and enlisting in product trials. Partners want to get to know and keep track of those customers and find good points of intersection. At this stage, the customer may share information with the partner – this is where you begin to get to know the customer and can ensure your messages to them are relevant and valuable.
  3. Purchase: The customer is ready to commit. This is a great spot for partners to provide testimonials, quotes, ROI tools, case studies, whatever the customer needs to tip them over the edge.
  4. Expansion: the customer has purchased and is using the product; now they’re ready to move from pilot to company-wide rollout, for example. At this point, partners should consider providing best practices to drive success, plus leveraging your service, sales and marketing staff to help cross- and up-sell into happy accounts.
  5. Renewal: The customer is reviewing to decide whether to continue the relationship. A key insight from successful cloud partners was to reach out and check in with your customers starting 90 days in advance of renewal and make sure all outstanding issues are resolved and avenues for cross-sell or up-sell are addressed. Don’t leave renewal to billing or auto-renewal.
  6. Advocacy. The customer loves you! They want to be an advocate for you, so let them: make your customer the hero in your marketing. Get testimonials, case studies, and shout outs on social media.
Marketing readiness: where are you?
Having a strategy for each stage of the journey requires an investment of money, time, and effort, whereas matching your capabilities with the customer journey will get you the best rate of return. To know how to proceed, you’ll need to understand your business model and answer questions like:
  • Do you have marketing staff and dollars directed at marketing activities?
  • Do you focus on SMB customers or larger customers?
  • Do you focus on new or existing customers?
  • Do you have a vertical specialty?
Map your capabilities to the journey: if you have only one marketing role, you may not be able to focus on marketing in all phases of the customer journey. For example, if your marketing staff is very lean and you focus on new customers, you may want to invest in the Explore, Evaluate and Advocacy stages. If you have a lean staff and focus on existing customers, put your efforts in the Expansion, Renewal and Advocacy stages. (We’ll get into more detail on the types of activities you should choose in later blog posts).
To get started, now is a great time for you to map your unique customer journey – think about the ways they find you and work with you. This will show you where you have gaps you could fill by leveraging materials Microsoft provides.
Your customers are online – there’s no question that having a digital presence is no longer a “nice to have,” now it’s a requirement, if you want them to be able to find you. Here are things you can do now:
  1. Take stock of your existing resources – marketing staff and funding, skills you have in house versus those you may want to hire out – and then write your unique value proposition and map your customer journey. This blog will help you craft a compelling value prop.
  2. Content is king – on the web and everywhere else, so leverage free content from the Partner Marketing Center.
  3. Put yourself in front of customers on Microsoft.com. Have a profile on Pinpoint. Keep it up-to-date, refresh the content at least every six months, ask for reviews from your many satisfied customers: all of these will help your profile rise to the top in customer searches. This video will help you understand Pinpoint’s algorithm for optimization.
The reality is you now need to form and nurture relationships with customers who don’t know you, you need to find and communicate with them where they are, and you need to understand where they are in their cloud purchase journey so that you know what to say. Having a robust online presence is key to all of these needs.
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