Customer Intimacy: The New Normal’s Missing Ingredient

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Humans are adaptable and resilient creatures. Despite the unsettling state of our world, we have all done our best to adjust and move forward in our day to day lives. Dare I say, the new normal is starting to feel like just plain normal.

When looking back on the past few months, there have been some silver linings – both personally and professionally. In addition to more time connecting virtually with friends and family, we have experienced major shifts when it comes to the B2B SaaS buying cycle. Virtual event registrations and content downloads are through the roof, click and open rates are hovering above normal, and participation is stronger than ever. Top of the funnel engagement is in its heyday.  

Despite strong top of funnel engagement, I still cannot help but feel that something is missing. It is that je ne sais quoi that makes mid and bottom of the funnel flop and conversion rates decline. Prospects are more engaged than ever, but deals are not closing. You can certainly argue that this is due to declining revenue and spending cutbacks, but I had a hunch there is something more. After careful reflection, I figured it out. That missing go-to-market ingredient… intimacy. More specifically, customer intimacy. 

You may think, what does intimacy have to do with SaaS marketing and selling? The truth is quite a bit. 

What is customer intimacy?

While the term may sound a bit improper, the reality is that it is at the core of customer engagement and relationships. Customer intimacy is a reciprocal understanding of, emotional connection to, and compassion for the pain points and needs of the buyer.  

Why does customer intimacy matter?

IRL (in real life) interaction makes customer intimacy a natural occurrence. In today’s virtual world where most work is remote, sure, you can connect with buyers, but that doesn’t mean you’ve created intimacy. When we meet face-to-face in live settings (remember conferences and field marketing events?), we are naturally building intimacy. We are living, breathing people after all, not Zoom Brady Bunch faces. As humans, we are pre-wired for person-to-person bonding. Without it, we are missing the connection that gives us the impetus to take actions driven by emotional connections. In short, the personal component of business has been removed. Leads get stuck, selling cycles are elongated, and sellers begin wondering what is missing.

Intimacy drives momentum and reason. It makes a customer want to make a purchase (versus simply needing to). These moments of personal experience strengthen bonds throughout the customer journey, leading to sustainable business growth. So, how can you create intimacy when face-to-face is no longer an option?

8 tactics for building customer intimacy in a virtual world

  1. Ask (and create an open environment for asking) questions. Real-time feedback and discourse are critical ingredients for creating intimacy. Without the right inputs, it is impossible to create the right experience for your customers. Additionally, asking the right questions, at the right time, opens doors to additional layers of emotion and vulnerability. This key step enables you to understand what makes your customers tick, which ultimately builds intimacy. Likewise, ensure you are giving your customers and prospects permission to ask you questions. Create a two-way relationship based on information sharing. This step breeds trust and connection. 
  2. Leverage data. Data is king. And, sadly, the CRM, as we know it, is where all good customer information goes to die. BDRs may not capture the valuable feedback that sits in their heads when getting off prospect calls. Customer Success Managers forget to enter in the “why” behind a churn. Marketers don’t look at account records because often the data isn’t there, and therefore, blind campaigns are created once again. The good news is that we have several opportunities to collect and leverage data today to better know our customers. From intent (Bombora, 6Sense), to technographic (BuiltWith), firmographic (DiscoverOrg, Clearbit), and behavioral (Marketo) data sources, we have multiple opportunities to reduce friction across the buying cycle and build creative ways of connecting that feel less forced. Ensure you are creating systems that programmatically share data about your customers cross-functionally, up and down the funnel, which brings us to #3…
  3. Personalize everything. Don’t stop at variable tags in your MAP. Personalization is a prerequisite for intimacy. The goal is to make a prospect feel known, without crossing the line into creepiness. It is important to make the person on the other side of the screen feel heard and that you are connected to their challenges. This key step allows you to craft solutions that are catered to their objectives and right sized to their organization’s current needs. There are so many tools available to personalize every touchpoint across the buyer’s journey. Leverage the data you’ve collected, integrate conversational marketing (pro tip: use Drift to welcome ad click-throughs to have a personalized conversation instead of sending them straight to a landing page) early, implement website personalization (Optimizely), and never stop testing.
  4. Refresh your buyer personas and journeys. Your buyer personas and journeys have most likely evolved with COVID-19. With the absence of live events, an overflow of digital, and a lack of face-to-face, it has become harder to get to the consideration phase. Once you achieve awareness, there is an elongated internal education and a need to negotiate an organization’s capacity to purchase. Sellers must connect and create intimacy with their champions more than ever, so they can advocate for your solution. Your core decision making persona may even be different than it once was (e.g., we are seeing some companies shift all buying power to the CFO or CISO). You will need to provide your selling teams more and different tools, opportunities, and talking points to create connections and move sales forward.
  5. Lean into account based. Now, more than ever, surrounding your target accounts and engaging the entire buying committee via a basket of integrated tactics orchestrated across your Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams is going to be an important key to unlocking intimacy. You need to know and understand the account, create familiarity both across your own teams but also with their teams, and have some level of baseline connection to close the deal. Leveraging a personal gifting partner, like Alyce, early in your account based campaigns is a great way to break the ice and standout, or integrate it mid/bottom of the funnel to double down on the foundation you’ve already built and drive your connection a deeper level. Fun fact: After events (gone are the days…), personalized or integrated direct mail is considered the second most impactful channel for reaching target audiences (especially the C-suite). 
  6. Get creative with bespoke virtual events. When it comes to events, now is not the time for marketers to misplace their creative hat.  The best advice is to be human and have fun. Focus on live, virtual events that enable people to build a personal relationship with your brand (the people, the product, and the mission as a whole) that is in direct contrast to the business-as-usual webinar that feels like your college lectures. Try to avoid being overly scripted and produced. Here are some ideas to kickstart your creative juices:
    • Schedule a chef to teach a cooking class for a hot prospect account and discuss what they’re seeing in the market. Invite everyone on the prospect team to bring a friend or family member. 
    • Hold a wine tasting for a strategic customer’s extended team and discuss how things are going with your product. Don’t sell, just socialize. 
    • Hold a group fitness class (just because). 
    • Connect peers (people want to hear what likeminded individuals are doing) in an open forum to ask questions and share best practices.
    • Provide hard-to-get access to industry influencers or your organization’s leadership in more intimate events (<10 people).
    • Start up a weekly breakfast or happy hour series with an open-door policy. This serves as a way for customers to meet other customers and ask questions ranging from how to best leverage your product in a particular use case … or, how best to entertain a 5 year old during COVID-19. 
    • Leverage unique talents on your team and offer them up as classes (think MasterClass style). Maybe your CTO is a Kundalini breathwork guru; schedule a Zoom class and invite prospects.
    • Invest in regular office hours with rotating people across your organization so the customer gets to know new faces and feels even more integrated into your team.
    • Encourage your team to experiment. Start up a TV channel like Cloudflare to allow viewers to feel part of your community and ultimately replace the intimacy created at live user conferences.  
  7. Experiment with collaborative tools. If your idea of a virtual collaborative environment is a Zoom breakout room, you are missing the point. Collaboration drives intimacy and creates ways that people’s thinking aligns and connects. Take a testing mentality with virtual collaboration and iterate often. Try incorporating the below.
    • Start with a core issue or problem that is not easy to solve. Then bring together a bespoke group of “problem solvers” including a prospect, your customers, and experts to work on wrestling the problem to a viable winning solution.
    • Think about using a virtual platform like Miro or Mural for collaborative whiteboarding. You can also implement Google or Microsoft Teams Slides for joint brainstorming sessions. 
    • Leverage Slack or Microsoft Teams to connect customer cohorts. Start a customer channel for other customers to connect with each other (collect this data) and/or have an easy way to communicate with your team and share files. Play the role of the moderator.
  8. Implement a virtual or hybrid event tool. The virtual event software space has exploded over the past few months. There are several new and improved tools out there designed to drive deeper brand engagement, create a more personalized and interactive experience, and turbocharge your analytics layer. 
    • Use Swoogo to customize the look and feel, seamlessly integrate Zoom (for break outs) and Webinar.net or ON24 (for larger broadcast or 1:many sessions), and add more sophisticated analytics and tracking to your event strategy. 
    • Bizzabo is a true end-to-end platform that enables you to consolidate your tech stack, seamlessly integrate with your CRM and MAP, and ultimately produce small, intimate events to large conferences without feeling sterile or overly corporate.
    • Run The World powers meaningful, community-building experiences for your audiences. The platform provides built-in online templates (e.g., video handshake, cocktail party, or fireside chat), which enable you to get up and running quickly without sacrificing originality.  

Customer intimacy should not be a new concept for your organization. For many, you were already doing it before COVID hit. What is new, however, is that it has become harder and will demand additional strategies and tactics in this unprecedented time. It should never feel forced, but we all will need a natural way to connect, and be human, when we are finding fewer opportunities to be face-to-face. Add back that missing ingredient to the purchase decision…customer intimacy.

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  • Meg Fitzgerald

    Meg Fitzgerald, Vice President, Marketing COE

    Meg Fitzgerald is a Vice President on the Insight Onsite Team. She partners closely with portfolio company executives to accelerate growth and capture value, specifically through marketing and channel sales strategies. Meg also works closely with the investment team to drive operational due diligence. She specializes in lean user acquisition…