This year I was able to attend INBOUND in Boston. INBOUND is a community that celebrates the human side of business. It’s a group of people who are passionate about marketing and delighting customers, and connecting with others who have that same ambition.
This year’s conference— which has been called the “biggest conference in marketing”—featured no shortage of inspiration and learning about how to grow your company…better.
A few of the highlights: Deepak Chopra, Chris O’Donnell, Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, Esther Perel, Alex Rodriguez, Lena Waithe, Shonda Rhimes, David Hooker, Antoine Dupont, Michaela Alexis, Janet Murray, Paul Roetzer…the list doesn’t end there.
Hands-down the best conference I’ve attended to date, #INBOUND18 was jam-packed with lessons, strategies, tactics, and things I can’t wait to test and apply.
Here is a glimpse at 3 of my top takeaways from #INBOUND18.
1. Failure Has to Be an Option For You to Grow
Beth Comstock is the kind of leader you want to work for. As the first woman Vice Chair at GE, she’s one of the leaders that helped GE begin to transform into a more adaptable, 21st century digital organization.
She herself is an agent of change, and today she helps other people become agents of change. “If you’re an agent of change, you must lead the way. Tell your story,” she said.
In Beth’s mind, to be competitive, you have to strive to have a new mindset: one that anticipates the future, spots trends early, and nurtures new ideas and methods for growth. To do so, we have to embrace some of the things that not all businesses necessarily hold in high regard: experimentation and imagination.
We can all get better at failing, better at dealing with ambiguity, and better at dealing with change. “It takes courage to act on instinct and not wait for data,” said Beth.
“If failure isn’t an option, then neither is success,” she added. It’s not a cliché the way Beth presents it; rather, this concept is actually a challenge we can all take on when it comes to getting ideas off the ground.
Some other pieces of advice related to this notion:
- Protect early ideas and the people who nurture them.
- Avoid hanging on to the way we’ve always done things
- Strive to avoid the imagination gap (where opportunities never have the chance to come to fruition).
- When you hear “no,” just realize it’s a “not yet.”
- The lessons we get from failures is what will open up the path to success.
- Get past the “gatekeeper”—the ones that are afraid of progress and fight against disruption and creativity.
2. It’s All About the Customer Experience
HubSpot CEO and Founder, Brian Halligan, knows that today, people simply don’t trust marketers, sellers, social media…and the list goes on and on.
So who do prospective customers trust then? “They trust your customers. That’s the only people they trust these days and that’s it,” said Brian. “Word of mouth is becoming a more powerful channel, whether I like it or not, than sales and marketing,” he explained.
That means we have to do better at creating a great customer experience. If we want customers to help us tell our story, we HAVE to have a great end-to-end customer experience. Customers aren’t just an output; customers are a part of our ecosystem and are integral to our growth.
“We’re in a big era shift, similar to the shift I saw when we first started HubSpot,” said Brian. “The Internet has really shifted under our feet. We’ve moved from an era where the best product always wins, to where the best customer experience always wins.”
So if we see our areas of focus as attracting, engaging, and delighting our customers (see the flywheel above)—where then should we put our emphasis? And, a closely related question, where is our best return?
The answer in the past might have been activities that fall under “attract.” “The sales rep and the prospect had the same information, at the same time, and so it behooved you as a marketer to create as much information as possible, and pull people in with that,” explained Brian.
Today, we see another shift, he explained. The most effective activities are those that fall under “delight,” and so that’s where the biggest return for us.
If you want to create that delightful experience, your experience has to be 10 times LIGHTER than the competition.
Here are just a few questions to get the conversation started when it comes to leveraging customers to feed your growth in this way:
- Are sales AND marketing in a position where they work towards customer delight (or are they just looking to close deals)?
- What can you do now to maximize delight and word of mouth with current customers?
- Is your pricing plan designed to close or to delight?
- Do customers pay you as they gain more value?
- What can you do to remove friction in the process prospects have with you? (“Friction is the enemy.”)
- What can you do to remove friction in the process customers have with you?
- What resources can you move towards investments in delighting customers? Consider making that move!
3. To Grow Better, You Need a Culture that Cares About the Customer
Dharmesh Shah, Cofounder and CTO of HubSpot, talked about an underlying theme of the conference: culture is what defines the destiny of a company. “To grow better, you need a culture that puts the customer first,” said Dharmesh.
And this can’t just be the trendy kind of version of this concept. “It’s the trendy versus truth problem. It’s trendy to say, ‘We’re customer obsessed.’ Truth is, companies are often self-obsessed,” he explained.
So what are some ways we can continue to improve our culture with our focus on the customer?
Here are just a few ways:
- Earn customer’s attention. Don’t steal it. Give people something of value, before you take something of value—like their time! Said another way, create a culture where you provide value before you extract value. When asked, 85 percent of people said they think less of a company that reaches out to them without getting permission, and that’s not all that surprising today.
- Don’t make your company’s process the customer’s problem. For example, what happens when a new customer comes onboard at your company? What if they want to skip a step when it comes to onboarding? Let them!Don’t add unnecessary friction to the process. “Solve for [the customer’s] success. Not your systems,” explained Dharmesh.After all, customer success is your success, so make sure people are able to make decisions accordingly. “They don’t care that you have a customer success team and an account management team and a customer support team and they all report to different people who may or may not like each other. Customers don’t care. They want their question answered and they want their problems solved,” he said.
- Own your mistakes. “Own your screw ups. We all make mistakes. Just say sorry,
be sorry, and make it better,” said Dharmesh.
- Make your pricing open, clear, and fair. If you just can’t imagine your pricing being available online, at least try to give some guidance. The data even shows that most people would leave if they believe the pricing is too confusing to figure out. “Unless you’re working at a monopoly where there are no alternatives, the absence of pricing information is friction…”
Think about Blockbuster. When the media and analysts looked into Blockbuster’s failure, the most commonly cited customer complaint was uncovered. That complaint: the extended viewing fee…also known as the late fee. But customers interpreted that as greediness and unfairness from Blockbuster.The point: think about your pricing (and even how you invoice), and think of how you’d react if you were the customer. Empathize with how they might be feeling.
- Don’t block the exit. You are making it easy to buy; make it easy to cancel, too. It may seem counter-intuitive, but think of the experiences you’ve had when you just couldn’t easily figure out how to cancel a subscription or a service. You want customers who WANT to stick around! If you make it easier to cancel, more people will buy. It’s less friction.
All, in all, how do you grow better? “The answer is simple…not easy, but simple. Do the right thing. Treat people with respect. Treat them like you’d want them to be treated…Do the right thing even when it’s hard,” said Dharmesh.
It may be hard to let a customer go, for example, but it’s doing right by the customer. “When you do the right thing for the customer, all those moments together is what creates delighted customers, and customer love is the most powerful force you can apply…”
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Kim Sykes is a marketer at Edoc Service, Inc.