The Importance of Life Cycle Management

Life cycle management—particularly in B2B sales and marketing—is not just a buzzphrase. In fact, more businesses are finding that it allows them to gain valuable insight into their customers' state of mind, not to mention the purchase decisions that might be on their radar. Life cycle management is a practice that can make or break your ability to upsell, cross-sell, and otherwise grow an existing customer relationship, and it helps companies cultivate brand loyalty by identifying opportunities for adding value to the customer equation at key points in time.

It's no secret that it's easier to expand your relationship with an existing customer than it is to land a new one. And savvy marketers know that, when communicating with customers, your message is more likely to be heard if it's in sync with their product and service needs. Conversely, customers tend to block out cookie-cutter sales and marketing messages that don't come close to addressing the points of pain they're facing. So why waste your time—and theirs—if you don't have any valuable information to convey in your emails and other customer communications?

As today's most successful marketing-driven companies have shown, the key to successful marketing is to take a more proactive and personalized approach to reaching out to your customers—at the right time, with the right message, and for the right reason. That's where product and service life cycle management come in, and that's why it's essential to take the time to analyze the various data sources that exist within your organization—from CRM platforms and order processing systems to ERP and other software—and discover what's top of mind for your customers.

During the data analysis process, train your data team to identify trends, keywords, and product or service life cycle milestones that represent a potential opportunity to build a stronger, more enduring relationship with your customers. Meet with them to discuss the nuggets of information that can lead to related sales.

Only after your data analysis is complete can you build a sales and marketing campaign that accurately addresses customers' needs, and only then can you craft an effective sales pitch or offer accordingly. With the rich information you gain, you can develop customized and even automated email campaigns and offers that are sure to resonate with your customers. In the end, you'll win their trust and respect, and gain more of their business, if your message is on target

Four Reasons to Communicate with Customers

With the above in mind, here are four important opportunities to communicate with your business customers to optimize brand loyalty and nurture sales across product and service life cycles:

1. Product End of Life: Look closely at your installed base data to determine which customers are reaching "end of life" with the products they've purchased from you, and make sure you're in a prime position to present a new offer at the right time—whether it's a big purchase decision that will require a sales cycle of six months or longer, or one that can be made in an instant.

2. Products Without Service Agreements: Otherwise known as unattached assets, products in this category put your customers in a vulnerable position. If the product fails or breaks, there is no service agreement in place to ease the pain and cost—and sometimes even the speed—of getting a replacement. That's why pointing out an unattached asset to your customer can make you a hero.

3. Expiring Warranties: Always important in the customer's eyes, warranties protect investments and can save businesses the hassle of dealing with damaged or faulty merchandise. If a warranty is close to expiring, it is a value-add for your sales team to reach out to that customer to offer a warranty extension.

4. Cross-Sell and Upsell: At some point, every customer is ready to scale up, scale down, or augment the way they use your products and services. Sift through your installed base data to identify those customers who may be interested in a new accessory product that you're now offering. Or reach out to them to offer a consumable item that relates to a recent purchase, or to suggest a new or more economical solution that might be more suited to their business.

The bottom line is remembering that you're in business to help your customers solve challenges, meet deadlines, and run their businesses in a better and smarter manner. By supporting your customers in achieving their goals at each stage in the product or service life cycle, you are providing value. And in an economy in which brand loyalty doesn't come easily, value is what holds the key to creating lasting customer relationships.

Kelly Crothers is vice president of marketing for MaintenanceNet, a provider of service annuity solutions. MaintenanceNet helps the world's leading manufacturers and their channel partners expand the scope and success of their service sales initiatives.

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