Here we are at the Loyalty phase of our Journey of Unreciprocated Love. This is the Unreciprocated Love part.

Last week we talked about why we need to focus on the very end of the race, lest we be dazzled by the finish line and pipped by a competitor. Let’s imagine we managed to get that bit right and we’ve crossed the line.

There are sales gongs to ring, high-fives to accept, vacations to book and all the stuff that goes with landing a big, fat deal. But while we wrap ourselves up in a flag and go off for our victory lap, other things are set in motion. Some of them are bad things.

In our little diagram of selling cycles, we end with the one where we’re living happily ever-after in a gingerbread house with candy cane door frames with a customer who is now a loyal promoter and endless source of references, testimonials and recurring revenue. Friends, border collies are loyal. Customers are satisfied. We need to work on that whole satisfaction thing.

CNE Go Station

I once heard (but can’t source) a stat that 20 percent of all business deals are cancelled in the first 90 days. Now I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know from experience that a good number of these big fish end up being tossed back into the sea rather sooner than anyone had hoped.

Very often, it’s the nitty gritty little details that foul things up. This is where the technical teams sit down with the customer and discover that the thing the Squirrel said the product would do is not really what it can do. Or this is where the pricing that got the signature on the sales order turns out to not to have included a few things it really ought to have included. Or the customer is acquired by another big fish and, what with all the swallowing, your deal gets the push. Most of these are things we can’t control, and there is bound to be attrition of this type no matter how tight a ship we run.

But there are many, many more places it can all go horribly wrong, and this is where I think marketing can and should play a role. Indeed, I believe marketing needs to own the customer experience, and that starts with the first 90 days.

Depending on what you sell, you may or may not have the hideous process known as customer onboarding. This sounds like it should involve pirates, but sadly it does not. It’s a tedious process and one most companies rush through. This is the place where the customer experience map starts. This is where the lawyers and P-cubers fade into the background and the poor schmucks who have to deal with you day in and day out come to the party.

This is where training happens, this is where invoices are explained, this is where your Customer Abuse team introduces itself to your end users. We have talked before about the vast distance that can exist between the person who decides to buy from us and the person who actually has to deal with our products. The bigger that gap, the more work we need to do in the first part of the relationship to make sure everyone is satisfied. It’s worth bearing in mind that the problem the decision-maker wanted us to solve, may not actually be the same problem as the end user is facing. In fact, sometimes the problem we are sent to solve is the end user. If you have ever implemented an ERP, you will recall the Resent-o-Rama that attends most of these projects.

The first 90 days is also when the conversation shifts from being about us to being about the customer. In too many deals, the conversation marketing began long ago simply stops. We’ve got their money, we’ve stuck their logo on the Our Customers page and we’re on to the next seduction.

Gentle friends, this is where the conversation needs to step up to grown-up topics such as how we work with our new customer, how we communicate when things are going well and also when they are not. The tone we establish at the outset needs to be the one we want for the balance of our relationship, and also the one our customers use when they talk about us behind our backs on LinkedIn and Twitter.

I would also argue this is the point where you and your customer need to agree on the definition of “Satisfaction”. Forget delighted and effortless and loyal. These things are, at best, symptoms – what we want is a satisfied customer. Yet I’m not sure we always have a shared definition of satisfaction. Marketers measure it in Net Promoter Scores, retained revenue and churn, but our customers measure it in far different terms. If we don’t understand and accept their metrics as KPIs then I’m not sure the journey will ever be worth it.