By Maria Geokezas, VP of Client Services at Heinz Marketing

Too often in the B2B marketing world, we forget an important truth:

Our customers are people, not companies! Behind every brand interaction is an actual person on a deadline, with a budget, goals to meet, and stress to manage. If our customers feel like another cog in the wheel of a sales cycle, their experience with us will feel cold and distant, inducing more anxiety in their search for solutions.

Perhaps this is why 59% of B2B buyers avoid sales reps by doing their own online research — there’s too much noise and not enough human interaction!

As we’ve mentioned before, the foundation of a successful customer experience starts with being useful, easy to work with, and fun. In this way, you not only become indispensable to your customers, but they seek out your guidance eagerly because you’ve removed all friction and provided a personal & enjoyable working relationship.

But building up to this level of rapport doesn’t come overnight, and it doesn’t occur haphazardly or through generic, automated interactions. As your business scales, retaining current clients, improving client satisfaction, and continuing to provide new services requires a thoughtful plan to gain, keep, and grow your client’s trust.

In order to do this, you must have a well-defined customer lifecycle in place — a style guide for your customer interactions, if you will — to ensure your customers have a consistent experience with your company regardless of who they’re working with. Each phase of your lifecycle should clearly identify the checkpoints, stakeholders, and objectives that will drive that phase to success.

  • Checkpoints. What defines the beginning and end of this phase? What actions or behaviors trigger review or next steps? What is the frequency and method of communicating updates and project status?
  • Stakeholders. Who is involved in this phase and what role do they play? For example, who is the final decision maker, who is the daily contact or coordinator, and who is the content expert? Who needs to participate in meetings, and who can be informed through meeting summaries?
  • Protocol. How do we work together with our client and communicate during this phase? What is the nature of our rapport? How do we define expectations and agree on deliverables?

As an example of how a customer lifecycle can be put together, I’ll share the four stages of a customer’s journey with Heinz Marketing, drawn from our company values and the strengths each team member brings to these relationships. If you find this helpful, use it as a framework for how your team puts together its own customer lifecycle.

Phase One: Identify the opportunities

Phase one checkpoint begins with an inquiry of some kind, whether it’s an email, completed web form, phone call, or engagement with our sales team. Regular and personalized communication is established throughout the customer journey until phase one ends with a proposal and signed Statement of Work.

Our protocol during phase one is to establish a rapport with the client who is, as a reminder, a person. We’re curious, we listen, and we ask questions to help identify pain points, objectives, and concerns.

At this point, our stakeholders are primarily from our sales team with support from client services, and we’re prepared to address the concerns of client stakeholders at all leadership levels.

Phase Two: Provide solutions

Phase two checkpoint begins with a kick-off meeting in which a communication rhythm is set, stakeholder roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and expectations are agreed upon.

Additionally, there is a clear hand-off made from sales to client services, and the client is introduced to their main contacts.

Phase two ends when there is a clear understanding of the potential solutions, which vary depending on the SOW.

The protocol for this phase is to dig in to the background information of the project, establish trust, and reassure the client they are in good hands.

Phase Three: Lead the way forward

The phase three checkpoint begins with a charge forward into the solutions agreed upon in phase two, and a regular cadence of work and review is established. It ends when the client agrees that the goals of the engagement have been met.

During phase three, our stakeholders are 100% from the client services team, working with client stakeholders who are content experts, coordinators, and decision makers.

The protocol of phase three is to unleash the full expertise of the client services team in order to deepen the relationship, further build trust, and of course, deliver a stellar body of work according to the SOW.

By the end of phase three, we want the client to feel proud, confident, and smarter for what they’ve learned throughout this experience.

Phase Four: Provide ongoing support

The phase four checkpoint begins with transitioning the client into autonomy, setting them up for success to continue building on what they’ve learned by engaging with our team. It ends with 100% client satisfaction and/or a new engagement on a different set of objectives.

Our client services team handles the training and documentation to make this hand-off to the client successful. If we’ve done our job right, the client should feel confident, grateful, and empowered.  And we’ve developed an ongoing relationship that lives beyond the confines any formal engagement.

Hopefully you see that the customer experience doesn’t have to be a nebulous concept. Though it can be defined in many different ways, the important thing is to know what your customer lifecycle is so your clients feel engaged as human beings with real problems, and that their experience is consistent throughout all your organization’s touch points.

Now it’s your turn: Where do you see the greatest opportunity for improving your customer lifecycle? Share your thoughts in the comments!