When we think of marketing partners, we most often think of channel partners (resellers) or strategic alliance partners (companies with offerings that complement our own). Yet there’s a third, often-overlooked category of marketing partner: your customers. That’s right, enlisting your own customers to help you market can be highly effective. Let’s look at an actual, recent example.
A technology manufacturer partners with a customer
PVD Products Inc. is a leading manufacturer of custom thin-film deposition systems capable of depositing a variety of materials as small as fractions of a nanometer onto various objects. This exacting process plays a critical role in many products and technologies from medical devices and semiconductors to military radar systems and alternative energy.
After more than 20 years in business, PVD Products had a superb reputation and a loyal base of customers ranging from high-profile universities, small tech startups and Fortune 500 companies. PVD Products knew the market would soon grow quickly and knew they’d have to step up their marketing efforts to capitalize on this growth.
With the help of the consultant Baron Strategic Partners, PVD Products interviewed customers, analyzed sales data, and identified several customers (world-leading academic institutions) willing to openly discuss their use of PVD systems.
PVD invited one of these high-profile customers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to collaborate on a joint webinar. MIT accepted. PVD hosted and managed the effort and MIT provided their excellent speakers.
PVD Products brought in MarketReach to plan, execute, and manage a pilot webinar and gauge its marketing effectiveness. Leveraging PVD Products’ excellent reputation and the MIT brand, MarketReach publicized the webinar and drew attendees through an integrated email campaign. In terms of numbers, the campaign was a great success:
- 9% response rate.
- 60 attendees.
- 68% of non attending pre registrants asked to receive more information on PVD Products and notices of any future webinars.
Encouraged by the pilot results, PVD Products worked with MarketReach to quickly plan a second webinar in partnership with Ohio State University. Implementing a similar outbound program, PVD Products and MarketReach once again received great results, including:
- 11% response rate.
- 20% increase in pre registered attendees.
- 74% of pre registered attendees asked to receive more information on PVD Products and notices of any future webinars.
Today, partnering with customers is a standard element of PVD Products marketing initiatives, with four such webinars held yearly. By holding these joint webinars, PVD Products has significantly improved their sales pipeline.
“These webinars have provided vastly better results than all our social media marketing efforts of the past two years combined,” said Jim Greer, president of PVD Products. “With MarketReach’s help, we have also implemented a follow-up lead-generation effort to the webinar registrants. These marketing initiatives from the past year have more than doubled the size of our prospect contact list.”
Partnering success factors
Here are a few factors that can impact your success in partnering with customers on marketing efforts:
1. Listen to your customers
For PVD Products, it all started with listening intently to their customers.
Listening to your customers and gaining an understanding of the true perceived customer value of your offerings is often not as easy as it appears. Many companies begin this effort thinking they know why customers value their offerings and then find they were wrong.
Proper customer listening will also help you to identify:
- Your strategic marketing goals.
- The critical opportunities for marketing and sales success.
- How to best engage customers.
- The opportunities to leverage customers in your own marketing.
- And how to instruct your teams on overcoming obstacles.
2. Ensure mutual benefit
To enlist a customer in marketing efforts, you need to understand that customer’s goals. You get only so many chances to ask a customer to be a marketing partner, so do your homework. Make sure the partnership will be a true win-win.
In PVD’s case, they recognized that their customers were academic researchers who need publicity and industry recognition to attract both research grants and top student candidates. This opened the door to a discussion of the joint webinar concept.
3. Choose the right marketing effort
You need to identify the marketing effort that will yield the greatest impact. While testimonials and success stories can yield benefits, there are other productive ways to partner with your customers, including:
- Interdepartmental advocacy: Ask your customer to promote your products or services to other departments in their organisation. Ask them to send introductory emails to other department heads to help grow your foothold within the customer’s enterprise. This way, your customer becomes an extension of your sales force.
- Joint/co-branded webinars: These can give both you and your customer positive exposure with prospective customers. You can work with a marketing firm to plan, manage, and execute the webinars and gauge effectiveness.
- Co-branded joint email campaigns: Invite prospective customers to webinars, leveraging your customer’s brand recognition and reputation.
- Customer use videos: Create brief video interviews with customers, discussing how they have put your product or services to beneficial use.
- Customer advocacy: Ask customers for feedback, referrals, and reviews—which you can share with prospective customers.
- Events: Showcase how your offering helped the customer overcome challenges. Consider using the customer’s success story as a basis for your booth interactions. Instead of approaching prospects with “Let me tell you about our products,” ask “can I tell you how a customer of ours boosted staff effectiveness by 20% in just one month?”
- Speaking opportunities: Enlist your customers to speak at conferences and other events about the use of your products or services at their company. This can both boost awareness of your brand and build your customer’s reputation as an expert.
4. Know when to seek outside help
When you’re a successful business leader, it’s easy to assume you know your customers well and know how to reach them. But knowing your market and customers well does not always mean knowing how to:
- Interview your customers to capture critical feedback.
- Analyse customer feedback to make vital marketing decisions.
- Avoid the cognitive biases that can distort analysis and derail good decision making.
- Best leverage customer feedback for go-to-market planning and sales enablement.
- Implement those marketing initiatives in the most effective way.
If you have any question about your expertise in these areas, turn to an experienced, reputable consultant or agency for support.
Brighten your future
Partnering with your customers is just one way to revitalize marketing effectiveness. Indicators of your customer-partnering success may include:
- Sales pipeline strength and accuracy: Partnering with your customers can help you capture more qualified leads. In the case of PVD Products, they clearly saw an increase in the number of RFQs from organizations that had not reached out to them before.
- Sales effectiveness: Truly listening to your customers will improve your ability to target those customers most likely to buy. You’ll also be able to communicate value propositions that better resonate with customers. Accurately capturing customer feedback will also allow you to better prioritise feature development.
- Marketing effectiveness: Leveraging your own customers in your marketing efforts can strengthen the credibility of your marketing messaging, helping to accelerate the customer buying journey as well as strengthening your marketing ROI.
For more information on how PVD Products partnered with its customers to boost marketing impact, read the following article by two of the PVD’s own executives.