Nope.  This post isn’t about rapper Vanilla Ice.  And it’s not about 80s pop music in general.  With apologies to fans of both, it’s about Initial Customer Experience, or ICE.

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Initial Customer Experience describes how our prospects first come to interact with our offerings.  I’m writing this post from the perspective of B2B software because that’s what I know best — but I’m certain the concepts apply more generally.

As marketers, we often spend our time and money trying to build awareness and generate product trial.  Through our thought leadership activities, we help educate our prospects about the problem we solve and our category of solutions. Our marketing communications materials, website, and blogs articulate our differentiation and core features.  Our outbound marketing activities drive engagement and product trial.

But what about the product itself?  What water does it carry for us?  In my experience, not nearly enough.

Too often (at least in B2B software), the ICE is frustrating for the prospect.  The installation process is clunky.  Supporting resources are hard to find.  It’s hard to unlock the cool features that were vividly described on the website.  And on and on.

What happens?  The prospect, unless he or she is incredibly determined, simply leaves.  If we’re keeping track (and many don’t), it shows up in our statistics as a trial “abandonment.”  He may move on and never come back.  She may go try a competitor’s product.  Whatever happens, it ain’t good.

As marketers, we need to reframe our perspective on our roles.  It’s not just building awareness and stimulating trial.  We need to work closely with our R&D and product teams to ensure that that the initial customer experience is a priority.  We should invest time and money to have external parties test the experience to find areas for improvement.  If it’s practical, we should instrument our products to actually measure prospect behavior and find points of abandonment so that we can fix them.

Let’s run the numbers.  Using a hypothetical $1,000 product, let’s see what happens if we can improve both the number of people who actually complete a trial of our product and have a great experience. Note that without changing the number of site visitors or the number of people who initiate a trial, we double revenue simply by improving the ICE.  Pretty cool.

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The prospect that makes it all the way to the trial stage of our customer acquisition funnel should be regarded as a dear resource.  We must do everything we can to ensure their experience delights.  As the saying goes — you never get a second chance to make a first impression.