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Beyond lead generation — marketing’s role as a strategic revenue partner across the customer lifecycle

The Dandelion Effect

Growing businesses often think new lead generation should be the primary — and sometimes only — objective of marketing. This mindset fails to recognize the strategic role marketing can play to generate revenue across the full customer lifecycle, particularly through nurturing and engaging existing customer accounts, and how important that is for driving growth. Marketing should be partnering with sales far beyond the closed win to ensure the company’s brand stays top-of-mind and shows up consistently for customers.

Leveraging marketing’s skills to identify and nurture growth opportunities within existing customer relationships not only helps businesses grow faster but costs a lot less than generating new leads. The cost of acquiring a new customer costs five to 25 times more than retaining an existing one. And, the success rate of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, compared to only 5-20% for new prospects. After seeing firsthand how these stats come true for numerous businesses, I often recommend that companies allocate at least half of their marketing budget to keep, retain, and grow customer relationships.

It’s time for businesses to shift their mindset from thinking of marketing solely for lead generation to one that enables them to create revenue across the customer lifecycle. 

Shifting the conversation about growth

Conversations about leveraging marketing for revenue growth usually begin the same way. I talk with a founder or CEO who’s starting to think more about marketing because they want to identify new channels for growth. The way they’ve traditionally grown, typically by word-of-mouth referrals and executive relationships, isn’t getting them the growth they need to reach their next-level goals. We often come to the table when leaders recognize the need to expand their pipeline — at which point their focus almost always turns to net-new lead generation and creating more “at bats” for sales reps.

It’s at the mention of “new leads” that I ask: 

  • Have you spent time identifying growth opportunities within your current customer base? (i.e., Have you done any Voice Of Customer research or listening to really understand their pains?)
  • Have you evaluated your ratio of customer acquisition to attrition? (i.e., Are you doing a good job keeping those customers that you worked hard to win?) 
  • What role, if any, does marketing play in engaging current customers?
  • Are your sales reps treating all accounts as equal, or is their energy prioritized to your highest value, highest opportunity customer relationships?
  • Do you invest in strategies to retain and grow existing customers, or do you hope or assume that they’ll re-sign your contract each year?
  • Have you put any systems in place to track key customer stakeholders (i.e., your advocates) when they leave your client account and take new roles elsewhere?

What I’ve found through these conversations is that many companies lack a clear, guiding strategy on how to nurture, retain, and expand current customer relationships. This is unfortunate because, for companies looking to grow, this is the smoothest, fastest, and least expensive path to building revenue. While new customer acquisition should be a key focus of any healthy business strategy, companies miss out on growth when they limit marketing to new lead creation. There is not a single point in the customer journey where marketing doesn’t play a critical role in driving growth. 

Aligning sales and marketing for effective customer growth

Nurturing and engaging customers is a responsibility traditionally reserved for account management and sales. Sales reps often believe that the customer is their customer. Many are nervous for the marketing team to play a role in the ongoing relationship for fear that it will interfere with their efforts. 

Overcoming these challenges starts with leadership creating a culture founded on the expectation that sales and marketing will work together to generate revenue and support customer relationships. Positioning marketing as a trusted partner who plays a critical role in nurturing and engaging customer accounts — and increasing sales’ bandwidth to canvas these important relationships — builds trust and accountability between the two teams.

Aligning sales and marketing to deepen existing customer engagement takes thoughtful coordination. As a first step, teams should analyze what’s happening within existing accounts to identify which high-value relationships should receive the most personalized, one-to-one attention from the sales team. They should also evaluate which accounts are strong candidates for a one-to-many approach from marketing, which requires less investment but still provides a high-quality customer experience.

With sales focused on the highest-value relationships, marketing can build broad engagement programs that keep the brand top of mind with customers, while showing them that they are valued. When the sales team knows that marketing’s role is to help them grow their accounts, and marketing knows sales trust them to engage and nurture customers, it creates a healthy revenue team.

How marketing can nurture and engage customers

Marketing can help the sales team nurture and engage customers by ensuring the brand is consistent at various touchpoints and creating a seamless customer experience. Marketing teams that effectively nurture and engage customers:

Present problems to customers they haven’t even faced yet

Marketers that stay on top of market trends can help existing customers consider how the world is changing, and how they will need to adapt to remain viable. By effectively anticipating market trends, marketing can develop storylines that show how the company can solve problems a client hasn’t even faced yet. This strategy future-proofs the company by keeping it top-of-mind as a solution for anticipated business needs.

Develop programs that nurture on a one-to-many basis

Marketers can alleviate the need for sales and account management to be responsible for all customer engagement by developing multi-channel programs that nurture customers on a one-to-many basis. Regardless of whether the business is selling directly to other companies, to customers, or via channel partners, marketing can develop email programs, webinars, and events that keep the brand top-of-mind for customers without sales having to distribute their time across all customers. Sales can then focus their energy and efforts on the strongest portion of their portfolio, while marketing provides ongoing coverage across other customer accounts.

Lift customers as champions of the brand

Marketing can also support sales by harvesting customer success stories out of their accounts. The benefits of telling customer stories are four-fold:

  1. They make featured customers feel like champions for choosing to work with the company
  2. Marketing and sales can use the stories to market back to existing customers, creating a sense of community and camaraderie among customers
  3. Marketing can weave the stories into external marketing efforts to support demand generation
  4. Sales can use the stories as a useful tool during prospecting and the sales process

Customer stories are compelling content that can not only fuel demand generation efforts but also help customers feel like they have the attention of the business and are being championed. Sharing these stories goes a long way toward nurturing and engaging customers.

Implement a “dandelion effect” strategy

When a business builds good customer relationships and offers a reliable product or service, one of its most significant growth opportunities comes when key decision-makers from customer accounts leave their organization to go to a new one. I call this the “dandelion effect.” When the seeds you’ve planted inside an organization scatter to new organizations, they can grow into net-new businesses opportunities. These decision-makers will be some of the best advocates for a brand in their new workplace.

Marketing is crucial to effectively implementing a dandelion effect strategy because they can structure and maintain customer data in a way that ensures the company is re-engaging these decision-makers as they start their new role. Without marketing’s support in this process, these new business opportunities are often forgotten about or not engaged until it’s much too late to make an impact. Marketing can also ensure that the brand stays top-of-mind for these decision-makers by distributing messages across various touchpoints, including LinkedIn and other social feeds and email.

There’s no point in the customer lifecycle where marketing isn’t essential as a strategic revenue partner to nurture, engage, and grow accounts. Companies that shift from the mindset of marketers as only lead generators will experience sustained growth that costs less and takes less time to earn. 

If your company is struggling to empower marketing as strategic partners through the full customer lifecycle, reach out to set up a conversation. At Authentic Brand, we match experienced senior marketers with businesses to help them achieve next-level growth. Our marketing leaders are skilled at identifying opportunities to better leverage marketing throughout the customer lifecycle. We’re ready to help you build growth strategies within your existing customer accounts.

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Jennifer Zick

Founder and CEO at Authentic Brand
Jennifer Zick is the Founder and CEO of Authentic Brand, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy that helps great businesses attain next-level growth through Marketing Traction™.
Jennifer Zick
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