I’m ex-Forrester Research, during my time there I was in Online Community Management in the Marketing department. My time overlapped Charlene Li leaving to found The Altimeter Group, and Jeremiah Owyang was at Forrester before also joining The Altimeter Group.
The market research industry has changed a lot since those times because social media became so ubiquitous, companies like the Altimeter Group provide their research for free, and instead of selling syndicated research sell consulting services.
As the arbiter of thought leadership, Google needs open content to get rankings, free research is a very effective way to build a name for yourself quickly. If you don’t provide some open research you’ll probably not grow as quickly as a market research company.
Which leads me to the interview I conducted for this blog post with Jeff Ernst from SlapFive. Jeff is also ex-Forrester Research. He was first an analyst serving B2B marketers at the market research company. Then Jeff took a role in marketing, VP of Marketing, to help increase growth at the company.
Forrester was growing at about 2-3 percent a year. Forrester marketing was doing a great job running field events, webinars, email campaigns, etc. Prospects were consuming free content, but they just weren’t converting to sales opportunities at a high enough rate. The approach Jeff took to help grow Forrester was to embark on a customer voice program at the company. He started by interviewing buyers and asking them detailed questions about their buying process to determine why they were not purchasing.
Forrester had developed a role-based strategy many years earlier, all marketing and research efforts were directed at the 7 IT based and 6 marketing based roles. Jeff wanted to take a step back and really understand if those roles reflected their buyer personas. They didn’t and so Jeff developed four personas for marketing and messaging purposes:
- The IT leader
The marketing leader
The corporate librarian/market research person.
Vendor analyst relations person
The goal of the buyer journey research was to determine the key objections and perceptions that kept these personas from buying. Interestingly the number one objection from the IT leaders was “if I’m already buying Gartner why should I buy Forrester?”
Sales reps would try to address this question by talking about Forrester's unique focus on research topics for customer-facing departments, but Gartner would make the same claims. So Jeff asked current customers who bought from both Forrester and Gartner to describe, in their own voice, the incremental value they get from Forrester above and beyond what they got from Gartner. And he turned that into a sales tool. Forrester sales responded, one even describing it as the most useful tool they had ever gotten from marketing.
This proved to Jeff's believe that the customer voice could better address the specific questions and doubts that buyers raise much better than any marketing or sales-generated messages. He threw out the traditional customer proof points such as case studies and testimonials. These old tools have become ineffective in conveying answers to customers specific questions. Instead Jeff used the findings of his buyer research to create a customer voice program.
He would determine the objections each buyer persona experienced. He would ask successful customers how they overcame the issues behind the objections. For example, an objection from marketing leaders to purchasing Forrester's research was that the marketing leaders expected their marketing staff to know all of the marketing best practices already, or spend time on their own time to stay current on marketing trends. So Jeff found out how current marketing leader customers described the knowledge gaps they filled by working with Forrester and how they used Forrester's resources and advice to improve the effectiveness of their teams.
Jeff built individual landing pages, showing the questions asked of the customer, a short bio of the customer, and their answers in the form of audio or text snippets. Questions would address the experiences of the customer with the buying, what problems they experienced, and why did they eventually purchase? In this way, the customer's responses addressed the real questions buyers have about the typical Forrester buying process.
Forrester then deployed this content via account-based marketing programs with major account, or by setting up events and webinars where the customer would share their experiences on how they work with Forrester on specific initiatives. Perhaps lunch and learns on research from Forrester.
The landing pages developed by Jeff would be all about customers sharing stories about their customer journey. And Forrester could use these pages to share with other people in the same organization or in other organization. Jeff also asked customers if their stories could be shared publicly, if not, it was restricted to internal company colleagues. But what’s important is that even though the content was customer-generated, the customer didn't have to go up the chain of command to ask for permission, because the stories contributed by customers focused on them sharing their feedback, knowledge, and experience working with Forrester, instead of asking for a promotional case study, endorsement, or testimonial.
Jeff produced great results, in some cases getting 100% growth in an account for Forrester from this type of customer voice marketing. Jeff is such a believer that this is the future of marketing that his company, SlapFive, is providing expertise and building a technology platform to enable and scale the concept.