Customer Engagement Strategies Changing To Meet New Challenges

‘We are in definitely a hybrid place today of kind of a mix of digital and traditional. And that actually isn’t going away. And expectations of customers are absolutely going to continue to remain in that space, and they’re going to want to interact in that fashion,’ says Jade Surrette, chief marketing officer for The Channel Company.


The landscape of how to manage customer engagement has changed dramatically in large part because of the impact from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and other factors, but solution providers can find new ways to prosper in what has become known as the “new normal.”

That’s the word from Jade Surrette, chief marketing officer for The Channel Company, who Monday told solution provider attendees of this week’s Best of Breed conference in Atlanta that while it may have been over-said during the last 18 months, it is true that the whole IT landscape has changed dramatically.

“And it’s changed in so many different ways for technology organizations big and small,” Surrette said. “And we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned that we had to be very nimble with how we react, flexible, understanding, things of that nature. And really, when it comes to engaging customers, we’ve had to change how we approach them in a far more digital way than we have ever had to before.”

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The 2021 Best of Breed conference is hosted by The Channel Company, the parent company of CRN.

While solution providers have over the past year and a half moved to replace face-to-face interactions with customers with digital interactions to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, they now have to pivot back to more face-to-face customer engagement practices while taking into account changes in the customer landscape, Surrette said.

“How does that now start to shift?” she said. “Do I go back to what I was doing before? And the answer is no. We are in definitely a hybrid place today of kind of a mix of digital and traditional. And that actually isn’t going away. And expectations of customers are absolutely going to continue to remain in that space, and they’re going to want to interact in that fashion.”

Solution providers are typically trying to get the entire message to customers up front, whether it be via marketing, sales engagement or face-to face meetings, Surrette said.

“But it’s actually really important now that we’re in a very services-oriented place versus products and transactional to actually tell a story and take [customers] on a journey because those selling cycles are actually much longer than they’ve been before,” she said.

To do so, Surrette said the first step is to help customers define their problem.

“This is where it’s going through the customer’s lens versus yours,” she said. “This is really where [you can provide] that education, that thought leadership. This is really where you can help identify and align to that problem statement.”

The second step is to drive the conversation toward business outcomes, meaning what the solution provider can do solve the customer’s problem, Surrette said.

“Because that’s what they’re looking for,” she said. “So this is really where solution evaluation, different products and services, and starting that positioning starts to move them down that path.”

Finally, it’s making sure the customer knows who is the right provider for them, Surrette said.

“That’s where your key differentiation can really shine through in terms of your value statement,” she said. ”And this brings it all together and really moves [customers] further down that path and locks them in with you to make that buying decision.”

It is essential to identify how solution providers move customers through that journey, Surrette said.

“Each thing that you do, and every step of the way, should move them further down that path to purchase with intent. ... It’s really important to go through the journey and have intent in every step of the way in all that you do,” she said.

A big part of the customer experience has been live events, an area where some people are now comfortable while others are not, Surrette said.

“It’s really important that you evaluate getting back to live events for your own respective organizations,” she said. “Thinking through things around a virtual component, how would that work? How do you want people to consume content before and even long after the event and create a little stickiness versus just having the event and having it stop?”

The key is to have respect for individual preferences, Surrette said.

“So offering some hybrid event and/or continuing with digital is certainly still important as you’re finding that right mix of hybrid or face-to-face for your respective organizations,” she said.

A big part of events is understanding what a business wants to get out of them, Surrette said.

“What is it that you want your customers to get out of this event?” she said. “This is a tremendous opportunity, especially if you’re getting a small group of folks together, to really showcase high value. Identify why someone would even be interested in what you’re talking about. Why would they want to spend time with you. ... People are really going to pause right now and go, ‘Is this a good use of my time? Am I actually going to get what I need out of here that’s going to propel my business forward?”

Finally, it is important to make an event fun and engaging, Surrette said.

“Make sure you keep [customers] interactive, and an active participant in your event,” she said. “That’s a tremendous opportunity to, again, get in front of someone, whether it’s face-to-face or digital, and take advantage of it. And make sure you have some differentiating value there, and find an engaging way [to hold the event].”

Mark Galyardt, president of XIOSS, an Atlanta-based solution provider with a focus on the Fortune 500 market, said customer engagement strategies are built on embracing digital strategies to be front and center with customers.

“Otherwise, they’re going to pick up the phone and call you [and say], ‘Hey, how come you haven’t called me up?’” Galyardt told CRN. ”I didn’t go kicking and screaming away from using the phone. It’s I spent many years doing what I had to do, and it had to change.”

Surrette had some very relevant points about customer engagement and the need to change with the times, Galyardt said.

“It used to be, email, email, email,” he said. “Nobody did texts unless it was personal. Now it’s more texting for business because it’s quicker and shorter, and fewer emails. And with COVID--the universal reason for everything changing, due to COVID--it’s Zoom calls after Zoom calls. It’s different for a guy like me who gets on airplanes and goes to see people face-to-face. Eighteen months ago, I didn’t do Zoom calls. All of us do now.”