Prospective customers today know more about products than they have ever done. Many people tend to search for the solution to their problem on the Web and through Social Media before they buy a product or service, and many of them never even touch the product before buying it. This means the “marketing funnel” has changed into a loop. At different points in that customer journey loop, User Assistance can help people move from being prospects to be customers and advocates:
From the Cherryleaf Podcast: We ask, should marketing and technical communiations be unified?
Over recent years, we have seen many presentation on how marketing and technical communications content shouldn’t sit in separate “silos”, never to be shared between each department. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a case of getting both to agree to share content.
In the book Selling the wheel, Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens tell the story of a fictional technology start-up company inventing and marketing the wheel. Through this parable, they look at the lifecycle of a business, and how selling changes over that lifecycle.
The early stage
In the early years of a organisation’s life, it needs to have a sales person who is able to close one-off deals with as many “early adopters” as possible. At this stage, marketing and selling teams focus on selling the opportunity associated with the product, and selling the power and practicality of the product itself. At this stage, the organisation typically does not focus on customer support or service. Early adopters are often left to solve problems themselves.
The growth stage
In the growth stage, the organisation begins growing and taking on larger clients. These new customers want expert assistance both before, and after, the sale is made. Marketing and selling needs to be technically expert enough to deliver a solution tailored (and possibly customised) to a buyer’s need. This often involves instructing the users on how to use the product. This means providing demonstrations and training, as well as an installation service.
The organisation also needs to offer support. It also needs to test the products fully prior to release.
The mature stage
When the majority of the market is using the technology in the product, the organisation focuses on existing customers. They want customers to buy more, and pick up new business from competitors messing up.
The focus is now on maintaining relationships with customers and prospects. The organisation needs to manage complexity, pay attention to the details, and make sure the customers’ needs are understood within the organisation.
The commodity stage
As the market matures, and the market becomes saturated, the product moves towards becoming a commodity. The goal is to become the market leader with the most efficient supply chain.
The focus is on differentiating the product, where possible. This is typically done by offering superior service and by creating a positive customer experience. There is less need for requirement for customisation, but perhaps more opportunities for offering value-added products and services.
Because of the high competition, there are often mergers and acquisitions between competitors. Their products may need to be incorporated into the product portfolio.
The changing role of technical communications content over the business lifecycle
These different lifecycle stages mean the importance and role of technical and marketing communications content will change over time:
- 1st stage – The organisation needs content that demonstrates the power and practicality of the product/technology. It needs to be credible, and it needs to be consist with the marketing message.
- 2nd stage – The organisation needs content that enables installation, customisation and customer training. It also needs content that enables it to fix mistakes.
- 3rd stage – The organisation needs content that enables it to manage complexity – make things easy for existing customers. The technical content must help in avoiding the company from screwing up.
- 4th stage – The organisation needs content that enables it to provide great service. This might be enabling customers to solve problems easily themselves, or enabling the Support team to provide great service.
This means it’s not a simple case of co-creating or sharing content between the Marketing and Techcomm departments. Different approaches will be needed, depending on where the organisation currently sits in the lifecycle we’ve described above.
I thought I’d mention a conference I’ll be attending this month – The Customers as Advocates Conference.
“Customers as Advocates” focuses on the challenges of creating successful customer relationships that lead to reference and case study programmes.”
Although it is aimed at professionals that sell and market enterprise technology, I found it very informative, as a great deal of it relates to User Assistance and other forms of technical communication.
I attended this (free) conference last year, and I particularly enjoyed the presentations on developing and nurturing a thriving community of advocates.
“More than 70 percent of the buying journey is complete before a customer looks at your marketing or engages with sales. Who are your prospects and customers speaking to, and what are they sharing about the experience?” Ian Williams, Director, Jericho Consulting
The conference will be held on Thursday 26 May, in London.
Here is a diagram that shows the different types of User Assistance that can help users as they progress through the customer journey:
Supporting the user through the customer journey has become more important, partly because the subscription, “try before you buy”, sales model means users can stop being a paying customer at a moment’s notice. Today, all of the information you provide, both pre- and post- sales, needs to provide the same consistent, high quality, experience to the user.
Have we missed anything out? Let us know if you think the image should be changed in any way.
I attended the Customers as Advocates conference yesterday, at the invitation of the hosts Strand Writing and Design. Strand is a copywriting company, and their conference focused on the challenges of creating relationships with customers that will lead onto them providing customer references and case studies.
Although the conference was focused on case studies and advocacy, I was struck by the implications for the user assistance and technical content that organisations produce.
Below are my summaries of two of the presentations.
Ian Williams – Customer Experience and the disappearing sales process
Ian Williams, of Jericho Consulting, looked at what he called “the disappearing sales process”. He quoted research from Google, IDG and Forrester showing how important content and customer recommendations are in the buying process today:
- 57-70% of the buying journey is complete before a potential customer looks at marketing content or engages with anyone in the sales team (source: CEB/Google).
- 21% of buying cycle is spent by business buyers in conversations with peers and colleagues (source: IDG).
- 56% of the buying cycles is spent by business buyers searching for and engaging with content (source: IDG).
He also stated that Customer Experience, and an organisation’s brand, is about “keeping your promise” – that the customer’s expectations must be matched by what they actually get.
Implications for technical communication
This is more evidence that the content Technical Authors create (user guides, FAQs, Help, getting started guides, troubleshooting information etc.) can be an important factor in the buying process. Prospects will do their research, and they seek out trustworthy content about a product.
It also highlights the importance of a consistent message and experience throughout the customer journey. The “promise” must be consistent in the marketing and the user assistance. You also need to deliver on that promise; poor quality post-sales content just won’t do any more.
Mark Gallagher – How Formula 1 will affect your business
Mark Gallagher has been a senior F1 executive of over 20 years. He talked about how the business of Formula 1 is changing, and how those developments are likely to affect the wider business world.
He explained that the Formula 1 constructors were now the world’s experts in capturing data, analysing data, and providing information on performance improvement to the end user. Constructors, such as McLaren, were now applying this expertise to a wide range of industry sectors.
Mark predicted that this expertise could be applied to the “Internet of Things”, where devices capture data and provide advice and information to the end user.
IMPLICATIONS FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
If these capabilities were applied to mainstream software, perhaps we could see applications such as Word and Excel capturing data on how you use the software, and then providing advice on how you could have completed that task in a better way.
In fact, some applications are providing this type of feedback already. Here’s a screenshot from an Android app called Steno Keyboard. It analyses your keystrokes and tells you if there was a better way:
The type of development would change user documentation into performance support, and move more of the user content into the application itself.
This post represents just a few notes from the conference. It’s clear that content, in all its forms, is becoming a key factor in the buying cycle. User Assistance is not just for customers, it’s for prospective customers as well.
We’ve noticed a few slidedecks and blogs recently that have been looking at the value of technical communication in marketing a product successfully. With the trend towards earning revenues over a lifetime (rather than in a single upfront payment), the marketing strategies employed by organisations is changing.
Scott Abel has posted a slidedeck called “The Future of Technical Communication is Marketing”, which you can see below:
Acrolinx has also been posting blog posts on a similar theme, such as How Technical Communicators Help Build Customer Relationships and Building Customer Relationships: Why Content’s in the Driver’s Seat.
Marketing is becoming, particularly on the Web, about designing User Interfaces for prospects and for customers.
Technical Authors will need to understand how marketing is changing in order to understand and explain how they can add value to that activity.
I’ve had some time in the last few days to initiate some the ideas mentioned in my post Marketing the technical communication profession. This relates to improving the marketing of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators. Most of the work we do for clients is confidential, so it’s a pleasant change to be able to talk about a project as it’s progressing.