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Whether you sell to consumers or to business users, the individuals you are trying to reach today are informed, connected and armed with influence. They can switch products, shift brand allegiance, and broadcast their opinions with greater ease, speed and impact than ever before.

Winning Customers

As a result, many businesses today talk about the need to be more in-step with the connected customer. We use terms like “customer-centricity” and the “customer journey.” But we should be taking the conversation a step further.

The word “customer” implies a transaction-based relationship based on an exchange of goods and services. These people we call “customers” can also be brand advocates, PR allies, lead-gen resources and partners in promotion.  It’s a new relationship with a much higher standard of engagement.

Business leaders I talk to are beginning to recognize that the rules of customer engagement have changed for marketing. There are 2.4 billion brand-related conversations in America every day. Your Web site, store or phone line is no longer the first stop for prospects when they want to inform themselves. You don’t drive the conversation. Your community of customers, prospects, and interested bystanders are leading the conversation about your brand.

The new rule in marketing: You can influence what people are saying about your brand, but you can no longer own the conversation. Let go of control, listen to your prospects and customers, and give your marketers the resources they need to engage prospects in a two-way dialogue.

The rules of customer engagement have also changed for sales. As people turn to online information, social networks and communities for information, 57 percent of the buying process is typically completed before a decision-maker’s first interaction with a salesperson. The customer journey has changed; marketing plays a greater role in engaging prospects; and your sales people are struggling to stay relevant.

The new rule in Sales: In order to stay relevant to customers, it’s no longer sufficient to know your products, services and differentiators. You need to understand your customers’ unique challenges, industry and preferences. And you need to bring them new approaches to achieving business objectives or making their lives better.

Finally, the rules of engagement have changed for service. Across most industries, the actual differentiation between products has declined. Product uniqueness won’t keep customers, and customers have little patience for bad service. So smart companies are turning to customer service as a differentiator, and it’s paying off: 59 percent of customers are willing to try a new brand to get better customer service. Good service today means providing a seamless experience across all channels, engaging with customers on their terms, and offering new ways to solve their problems.

The new rule in service: Know more about your customers than they know about you — at the very least. Know their preferences, where they’ve been, and what they need from you to become advocates who drive more prospects into your marketing funnel.

In a way, every customer is still a prospect, with the potential to “convert” to either a brand detractor or a brand promoter. Given these new rules, is your company ready to stop talking about winning customers, and start engaging promoters?

Follow @jrlaute on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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