Forbes: What Enterprise Software Companies Can Learn From Consumer Brands

Written by Preethy Vaidyanathan, originally posted on Forbes

There’s no denying the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. After all, these companies have created a competitive advantage in today’s retail space. A lot of it boils down to how well DTC brands have focused on building meaningful relationships with their customers, and more importantly, maintaining them.

According to a recent study, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. That’s why building a product or service for consumers today is all about customization — creating something that’s both unique and establishes a connection with a brand. On the other hand, enterprise software companies have often taken a technology-first approach when creating products and services. So what could they gain by adopting a more consumer-first model?

Customization Is Key To Getting Customers

According to the IAB, two-thirds of consumers expect the ability to connect directly with brands, and DTC companies leverage their ability to do this well when it comes to customer acquisition efforts. Through discovery and feedback, successful DTC brands focus on knowing their customers and determining what shoppers care about to ensure a relevant product offering.

Glossier, a popular skincare and beauty brand, has acquired millions of customers by building personal relationships. Through ongoing engagement via social channels, influencer networks and customer reviews, it has successfully leveraged customer feedback to inform product development. Online pet food and supplies store Chewy acquired customers by building a brand that understands the strong connection between people and their pets. Across a variety of engagement channels, including agents who can help them decide what food or toy options may be best for their pet, the company is able to understand and determine customers' needs to provide a more bespoke engagement experience.

Enterprise software companies can benefit greatly from a similar approach. By making an investment in gathering user feedback and understanding key business needs, companies are better equipped to inform product development and deliver solutions that are aligned to solving customer challenges.

The value of customer feedback doesn’t stop there; it should be pervasive throughout the entire process. In addition to product strategy and development, it should influence how companies position, message, train and enable customer-facing teams to market products externally. Whether customers are talking to the technical support team or to an account representative, reading an update on their mobile device or receiving a product offer, enterprise software companies should ensure all levels of customer feedback are integrated into the entire product life cycle and experience.

For example, customers typically know the price of business-to-consumer (B2C) products upfront but it’s not always common practice to inform prospects how much products cost with business-to-business (B2B) companies. If customers have asked for more transparency on pricing for products or services sold, offering customized pricing to prospects who are at different budget levels will not only solve for this challenge; it will also inform how software companies develop and market their products in a more relevant way.

Build A Community To Retain Customers

Getting new customers is hard enough, but building customer loyalty and retention is much harder. DTC brands have effectively managed to establish brand loyalty by building influencer communities. They do this by creating effective 1:1 relationships online to spread the word and evangelize their products.

Consumer brands such as prescription eyewear brand Warby Parker, among others, have tapped into social channels and an influencer community to generate brand buzz, whether through user-generated content, sponsored posts or Instagram live chats. DTC brands understand the value of having influencers and gaining loyal users through word-of-mouth and brand advocacy. So what can enterprise software companies gain by building user affinity through peer-to-peer conversations?

Case in point: Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, may be bought by the head of finance, but the everyday user is the customer’s account and sales teams. Leveraging the user community to drive product stickiness can make them champions of the product and, in turn, influence other companies to use it.

As a software enterprise company, pay close attention to the day-to-day users who are actively vocal and participate in online forums, customer advisory boards and peer-supported communities. This way, companies can take user feedback in real time and integrate it into product strategies and development, as well as customer positioning and messaging to increase user relevancy.

By investing in both buyers and users, and configuring both into product offerings, enterprise companies can be more effective in solving customer needs and business challenges. As a result, companies gain increased brand advocacy and loyalty, while building a community of influencers.

Beyond forums and customer advisory boards, invest in social media to start building a more active online community by targeting channels that are more business-focused, like LinkedIn Groups, for instance. This way, software companies can develop stronger connections with their target audience.

Put The Customer At The Forefront Of Everything You Do

Overall, software enterprise companies can gain a lot by putting into practice a more consumer-centric approach to deliver products and solutions that align with the needs of their customers. Key takeaways include:

• Leverage feedback to improve product development, go-to-market strategy and product launch. Whether your customers are talking to technical support or to an account representative, ensure all levels of customer touch points are integrated across every facet of development and engagement.

• Nurture relationships and foster user networks to evangelize products and build an influencer community.

By taking on a new consumer-centric approach modeled so successfully by DTC brands, software enterprise companies can gain a competitive edge. By going beyond product capabilities and technology, companies can be more relevant and better informed in solving specific customer challenges, while gaining insights, communities and user affinity.

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