August 23, 2004
Do you ever ask customers and prospects what they don't like about your marketing campaigns? Find out how GE Energy gathers insights to improve campaigns, including:
- Customer Discovery Process
- Field Marketing Staff
- Collecting Six Data Points on All Efforts
GE's grown by collecting customer insights and then sharing them with its marketers globally. Here's more on how:
What are the best practices in gathering marketing feedback from customers and prospects?
GE Energy's Voice of the Customer (VOC) program uses three specific tactics to ensure the company maximizes relations with the organizations it serves globally. We talked with Mark Dudzinski, General Manager of Marketing, to learn how the program works:
-> Tool #1. Customer Discovery Process
Customer Discovery involves an in-depth exchange of data between a customer company and GE Energy. "We meet with a customer with a prepared agenda," Dudzinski says. "It's a high level meeting with our customers to speak to them about their concerns about the direction the markets are going, their concerns about optimizing their specific performance."
Dudzinski invites VP level members from each company: people from the corporate office, from headquarters field marketing, from engineering, from sales and/or from corporate research and development. "It's the people who can commit resources to get something done," he says.
The meetings last about six hours plus lunch, with agenda topics that include productivity, sales coverage, products, technology, and communication. Each of the two companies presents their points of view on the topics.
"You get feedback which provides a very good understanding of their needs," he says. "And they get a broader view, too."
Each company winds up with a set of action items. "Usually it's driven around productivity," Dudzinski says, "but sometimes it's around customer needs that drive our product development or sales coverage or how we communicate with that customer."
Dudzinski's team breaks into sub-teams to drive the action items that will improve the relationship with the customer.
This process takes place only with certain customers. "Not all customers want that kind of relationship," he says.
-> Tool #2. Field Marketing (Not Just Sales)
"If you look at 99% of companies, marketing is centralized and sales is distributed," says Dudzinski.
But GE Energy, in addition to centralized marketing, has field marketing members who collect data from customers all over the world. "It's a continual process. We do it by industry, geography, country; it depends what problem we're trying to solve," Dudzinski says.
These marketers strive to answer specific questions posed to them by different areas of the business. "As a marketing leader for one of our businesses, if I wanted to put together a strategy for Romania, I could launch a field marketing person who's already located near there to talk to people, to understand if there's a market for a specific offering."
For example, Dudzinski recently wanted to understand the company's ability to penetrate with transmission-based products in Eastern Europe. "We gave [field marketers] a form with 10 questions to ask VP-level people at companies running the grid for specific countries," he explained.
Other projects allow field marketers to collect data without a structure. "I could say, 'Tell me if there is a market for this particular product in Poland,'" he explains. In that case, field marketers have a specific problem in which they have to use their creativity and contacts to solve it.
Feedback helps not only with product development and distribution, but with messaging. "We were getting feedback from customers telling us the breadth of our product line was not broad enough," he says. That prompted new messaging to the European market that was different from the messaging in North America.
-> Tool #3. Collecting Six Data Points on All Sales Efforts (Both Winners & Losers)
"Every time we win or lose a job, we collect data," Dudzinski says.
Sales reps who collect the data focus on six points: the three things that contributed to winning or losing the job, and the three obstacles they overcame (or didn't overcome) to win or lose the job.
While Dudzinski recognizes that salespeople aren't always the best people to collect data -- "he [might not] say to us, 'Hey, I lost the job because I have a bad relationship with the customer,'" -- he says that overall they're pretty frank, because they know that honest evaluation of each win and loss will help improve his sales.
Sales reps fill out a form on their portable PCs that includes an extensive list of drop-down items, so that all selections are based on the same criteria.
With lost sales, the sales rep generally fills out the form on his own, based on his assessment on what went wrong with the sale. But occasionally, with bigger, more strategic sales, Dudzinski's team asks for a meeting with the customer to explain what went wrong.
"Even when we lose a job we [often] still have a relationship with them in a different product line. In general, they want you to improve," he says, so they're open to talking about the lost sale.
However, remember two things:
a. Don't be defensive. "If you're not defensive, they'll tell you very honestly," he says. "It's great feedback on how your high level value sell wasn't quite right or your references didn't work out or your product offering wasn't right. Customers don't want one supplier -- they want multiple viable suppliers that can all do a good job."
b. Never use the meeting as another sell.
If you want another chance at selling the product or service, you can always ask upfront for another opportunity. Disguising a sales call as a follow-up meeting would (understandably) irritate the customer. You're looking for honest feedback.