Channel Development: Connect Better With Customers

There are few elements of your business more important than how you reach your customers. Whether it’s with existing customers who have already bought from you and are looking to buy again or potential customers you haven’t connected with yet, effective outreach is a foolproof way to maintain relevance. The question then becomes what moves you can make as an organization to foster this type of effective outreach. 

The answer is to develop multiple channels on which you can connect with your customers. By setting up channels your customers are likely to use with messaging that’s likely to appeal to them, you increase your odds of winning and retaining their business. You’ll disseminate the persuasive information you need your customers to hear. If your message is effective, your customers will leave the experience convinced that it was a message they needed to hear as well, and that will be evident when they choose to do business with you. 

How do you develop channels to connect you with your customers? You do so by:

  • Having an intimate understanding of how your customers think, act, and behave
  • Experimenting with different platforms to communicate your message
  • Taking an “all hands” approach to channel development by engaging all your various partners

Every step of this process involves forethought and research. It involves learning about your customer and the digital platforms available to you and understanding how both work. Let’s take a closer look at the three best practices you can engage to promote stronger channel development and help connect with customers more effectively.

Study how your customers consume products/services

If you’ve done your research on your customer base, you probably understand the core demographic you’re pursuing. You’ve made attempts to understand their thoughts and desires. You want to anticipate their actions. Knowing what your customer is most likely to do when it comes to their buying power is critical before connecting with them. When you understand how they consume products or services, you can then develop an outreach strategy more likely to connect with them. You have to make sure the channels you use and how you use them, aligns with the typical behavior of your target audience.

This is where you apply customer behavior insights to get the most out of your channel development. Study your customers and how they consume products or services. That way, you’ll know the best way to speak with them. Once you understand how they act, you can begin to shape your various channels so that you’re meeting your customers where they are and giving them information in the ways they most frequently consume it.

Also, take note of how your customer’s consumption habits may be adapting or evolving.  This has never been truer than now, when every company worldwide is responding to the current pandemic. Here’s an example of an industry shifting its goalposts to better meet the needs of its customers: the Wall Street Journal reported about COVID-19’s impact on opera. Seeing as how opera is primarily built around live performance, extended shutdowns across the nation and world presented quite the challenge for its survival. In order to preserve the industry, the art form itself would have to shift the paradigm of how it interacts with its customers. Because of this radical change in its customers’ viewing capability, more opera companies than ever are launching partnerships with streaming companies to move their industry into the digital age. It may not be the same as before, but they’re working to give opera fans what they want differently.

The same spirit of innovation can be seen in how Disney, essentially the largest entertainment company in the world, pivoted in the face of COVID-19 as well. With the theater and theme park experience nearly phased out of existence, they’ve reorganized their internal structure to focus on streaming businesses and content. This makes all the sense in the world; with people staying at home due to ongoing lockdowns, home entertainment has never had a larger market share. Rather than using the old business models, Disney has regrouped based on how their customers are currently consuming their content.

By knowing how your customers consume your product or service, you’ll be well-suited to deliver it to them the way they prefer. Rather than trying to bring customers to your platform, you can adopt a platform that more of your customers already respond to and utilize. That way you’re more likely to be seen by the right audience and you’re also more likely to move forward into the next stage of the sales process.

Test out new channels and distribution options

While it’s important to understand your customer’s habits, it’s equally important to understand that your customer base is not a monolith. They may have changing interests and preferences. The way they consume information will adapt based on current trends, and you’ll want to try to stay ahead of this rather than reacting to it when it happens.

The best way to stay ahead is by doing your research and always testing out new channels and distribution options. What worked last year may not work this year, just as what works six months from now may not function as effectively in the future. To remain proactive, it’s critical to be aware of your customers and also of new innovations, trends, and technologies being made available.

Once you’re aware of these, you can conduct A/B testing to determine what approach is most successful with your customers. A/B testing happens when you test new channels or distribution options at the same time — showing one option to some members of your audience and the other version to another audience. That way you can evaluate in real-time which is more engaging and ultimately successful. There’s no shortage of ways you can apply A/B testing to tweak your outreach strategy, including:

  • Experimenting with the same messaging on different channels
  • Using different distribution options
  • Sending content with adjusted messaging on the same platform to different audiences

It helps to look at your channel development strategy as an evolving ecosystem rather than as a static resource.  You can’t apply one strategy or set of tactics and then let them stagnate. You must constantly measure, test, and adjust based on the data. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as the alternative of sticking with the same strategy you’ve always opted for may leave you falling behind your competition.

Engage externals such as partners, suppliers, and customers in your innovation process

Finally, you’ll want to have an innovation process in place meant to cultivate great ideas. This will certainly happen at the company level. You’ll likely have at least one department, or possibly multiple departments, providing input on how to better engage your customers. What you may not realize, however, is that your group of collaborators doesn’t need to be confined to your internal staff. You have another option that you can (and should) exercise when coming up with ideas: look outward for inspiration.

Reach out to your vendors, partners, suppliers, and customers to gauge their feedback on what you’re doing with your channels. Ask them what works for them and what doesn’t. By tapping into your external knowledge base of stakeholders, you’ll get valuable data on your actions that have more integrity than if your organization is the only one performing the evaluation.

Keying your customers into this part of the process is probably the most crucial element of getting it to work. By using your customers as both a sounding board and what essentially amounts to a focus group, you’re now engaging in customer co-creation. The outreach strategy for your channels is developed not just with your customer in mind, but with their actual feedback helping to guide your direction. You’re much more likely to develop solutions your customers will respond to if you can draw on actual customer-provided information.

Once you’ve gathered feedback from your stakeholders, you can now use that input to create innovative environments and networks. These areas will have content your users will respond to, and in turn, you will be much more effective at growing your brand and customer base.

The bottom line on channel development

A critical point to remember when developing your channels meant for outreach: always value flexibility and adaptability. If you become too confined to a specific strategy, you run the risk of your customers leaving you behind. Listen to your customers. Use the platforms and strategies they respond to the most. Additionally, test out different strategies and tactics. What might work today may not work tomorrow, so always monitor your metrics to ensure you’re getting the response you want and adjust accordingly if you aren’t.

Finally, remember to look for creative solutions from a wide base of people. Don’t just look internally for solutions, but look to your external partners who can provide valuable insight into what’s going to be the most effective way to build and maintain your channels. Following the practices outlined above will help you develop the best channels that connect with your customers on a consistent basis.

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