Voice of the Customer with a purpose
Have you ever launched a product based on the input of a salesperson for a national account and then wondered why others won’t buy it? Or added features only to find that the added cost prices you out of customer consideration? These are examples of failed strategy execution based on Voice of the Customer (VoC) activities designed without a clear purpose.
Top companies listen to their customers, analyze the feedback, act on what they learn, and monitor the results. They do this with a specific purpose in mind. It might be performance improvement or growth related – any area that is important to achieving their business objectives. The market and customer insight gained from this VoC collection is used to guide the allocation of people, time and money to areas that will have the greatest impact.
The aim of VoC work is to provide a clear description of the need, issue, or problem to be solved from the customer’s perspective – it’s not to solicit desired features or technical requirements. That work is left to the various business functions – engineering, marketing, sales, service, HR, etc. – who are tasked with developing solutions based on the customer’s description of what they are trying to accomplish. Product, marketing and sales strategy execution can all benefit greatly from VoC plans designed for a specific purpose.
- Product strategy: Done well, VoC provides a clear understanding of customer needs and should be used as a key input to the development of requirement specifications and product and feature roadmaps. Ultimately, companies do not have enough resources to address every problem in every market. Instead, the product strategy can address the most attractive market problems that their product can uniquely solve. Effectively designed VoC activities help answer important development team questions: can we build a solution that fixes the customers’ problem, is our solution differentiated from the competition, can we win in the marketplace, and will customers pay for it?
- Marketing strategy: Well-designed VoC plans can provide the information for effective go-to-market strategies. Marketing needs to understand the critical problems customers want solved and are willing to pay for. They must also understand how competitors win – is it price, product, customer intimacy? They will need to address demand creation and develop a communication plan describing the product value and why someone would want to buy it. Since channels have different cost structures, VoC can provide insights into what the different channels will do, what the sales and marketing cycle for each will be, and what expectations are regarding the customer experience.
- Sales strategy: VoC activities can be designed to provide the data needed to create ideal buyer profiles and buyer process maps. Ideal buyer profiles (or personas) help sales teams identify and prioritize accounts. After all, there is little to be gained pursuing customers that do not have the problems that the product addresses or that are unable to provide a sufficient return. Buyer process maps help to chart the stages or types of product adoption. Who are the buyers, what do they care about, how are they measured and how do they make decisions – clear answers to all of these questions contribute to increasing sales win rates.
There is a wide range in the maturity of VoC programs across companies and top performers are those that have successfully aligned them with strategy execution. Most companies have set up listening posts: where many fall short is in connecting customer input to a specific purpose. Formulate your objectives, determine your strategy to achieve it, and then use the Voice of the Customer to direct your resource allocation to providing what is most important to customers.
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