Content marketing is not enough — The fulfillment gap

Community Week Post by Natasha Gabriel

Sigh … yes … BIG sigh.

I have had quite an interesting experience with a vendor — [note I am being generous by using the adjective interesting]. Despite the fact that we live in this hyper-service economy, this FAIL made pause and realize how far we have to go as marketers!  An article from the Temkin Group indicated that “the engagement phase is a critical phase in the customer lifecycle that very often gets missed.”   I’m inclined to agree. Here is what happened:

A few weeks ago I called XYZ Corporation to see if their service offerings could meet my needs. Their content marketing effort had hooked me with precision — I was an “inbound lead” and had already received a lot of good information from their website, newsletter and podcast that had turned me into a hot sales lead — and now I needed to make that personal call.

The sales representative was knowledgeable and even suggested an additional product as part of the package.  I bought into the up-selll — good for him! For about two weeks we went back and forth on details as I had a lot of questions and needed to pull other individuals into the decision process.  And most important, we needed a specific product change which he assured us was very simple and would be done promptly.  Assured that we were getting an excellent deal we signed the contract.  This seemed like a the perfect, seamless marketing and sales effort. But then nothing happened.  There was silence: crickets, crickets, crickets…

The ultimate sales FAIL

“What you do to get me, you need to do to keep me,” is that too much to ask?  I had to chase these people down to find out when our solution would be complete and the go live date. They were completely unresponsive. To add insult to injury, we were told that the changes we were promised would not happen, as service was pushing back on sales. Huh?

Unfortunately many buyers have this same experience. Too many companies focus on the on the point of sale as the key milestone, doing everything they can to close a sale. This is a flawed mindset. Instead of just trying to get money from customers, companies need to focus on getting customers satisfied with their purchase.  A big part of this is the disconnect between sales and fulfillment. Account information and key sales notes stay with the sales representative. Many times too, sales representatives make decisions and promises with limited or incomplete information.

Unfortunately our account information had not traveled from sales to fulfillment.  Development informed Mr. Salesman that the change he thought was so easy, now involved more moving pieces and he would have to renege on his deal!  Why did he not have this information before we signed the contract? It’s not enough for sales and customer service agents to provide the right information at the the right steps in the sales process — they also need to have quick access to knowledge experts to RESPOND to those pesky curve balls that customers like myself come up with.

Damage control is costly

Once an experience is damaged “It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience” and all the work the sales team placed in winning the account is lost.  Mr. Salesman offered me an additional discount, and even as a last resort offered it to me FREE!  Can you see how a great content marketing achievement without excellent fulfillment is actually COSTING them money!  Regrettably, “free” without the requested changes still does nothing for me.

I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the entire experience as I wait, hoping for a resolution.  How are you connecting content marketing to the fulfillment process to make sure something like this never happens to your customers?

Natasha Gabriel was probably one of the first 10 readers of {grow} and is a professional marketer with an unmatched energy, initiative & tenacity balanced with creativity and attention to detail.

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  • Congratulations Natasha with closing out the grow community blogging week with a fabulous “real life” experience post. My favorite kind. Unfortunately I have had several similar recent experiences … but if time permits I force the company to make the connect….. hoping in some way to get the idea across…..Yes, its a freebee but as a customer I am the beneficiary if they get it. I want the product they have sold me, I want it promptly and exactly as I ordered it!

  • Great blog post Mark. So many business owners just don’t follow up enough. Something I’ve been shouting about for years. Keep-in-touch with your clients, otherwise they’ll forget you. Typical example as you put is they get you for the ‘sale’ then leave you after it. If they kept on providing how much more of a loyal customer would you be.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Wow Natasha, what a terrific post (but unfortunate situation)! But, it happens all the time.  I’m not sure what kind of service this was, but many companies now force sales people to have the agreements approved internally before passing them on to the customer (especially if there are changes to product standards). It seems like this kind of process is needed with this vendor.

  • He did indicate that he needed to get the changes approved prior to committing. My guess is that never happened. You’re absolutely right with regards to an internal approval process being needed prior to customer signature!

  • You’re so right Simon. They forget to nurture the lifetime value of the customer. Research shows that it costs more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing customer. Seems simple enough yes? Sometimes we take customer loyalty for granted.

  • Yes indeed customers are not like dogs. You can’t feed them once, give them a pat and then they’ll love you forever.

  • Thanks Caroline! You’re a woman after my own heart as “I want it promptly and exactly as I ordered it” as well. Left up to me alone I would have walked away and never done business with them again.  Awesome of you to try and make them connect.

  • I’m fortunate in that the connection between my marketing department and fulfillment is non-existant – it’s the same person, me! If I as a service provider do not deliver on what I say my reputation goes straight down, and so will my business. When I need to bring other members on my team for development, design, copy writing or whatever else I need to get a job done, I’ll talk with them first before telling a client “yes” or giving a price. Either way it’s up to me to deliver per the agreement.

    It’s great to hear that the company’s inbound efforts worked, and sad that they couldn’t deliver on the promise they gave you. Sounds like a classic disconnect between sales and development. Having been in software for more than 7 years this is a not too uncommon issue as sales and development rarely get along. The results are what you experienced.

    Organizations still have many silos, and while everyone doesn’t necessarily need to know everything going on with their company, if you have a chain of responsibility everyone needs to know their part.

    One part of the chain breaks and customers are lost. Hopefully the next vendor you encounter has a stronger chain in place.

  • Uncanny that one tiny link could hold so much power isn’t it?.  In this information age organizations need to start chipping away at the silos or take steps to allow for visibility. Yes everyone needs to know their part — they also need to share that knowledge when relevant. Great comment and kudos to your organization Robert!

  • Pingback: The Fulfillment Gap – The “Engagement Phase” Concept | OPTing In()

  • Exactly Steve! Really starts with the internal processes a company establishes. They must have processes in place for company wide information sharing. Marketing, support, services, sales …everyone needs to be in sync.

  • I liked this post very much Natasha, precisely because it is one of the things I have often felt needed to be corrected. Why do people make promises they cannot keep just because they want to close a deal?

    From experience, I have noticed that it is better to preserve the relationship and initial perception formed of your company than on just closing the deal. Sales people as well as companies must shift their focus from just selling to customers to actually retaining customers.

    When the emphasis is on retention much care will be given to customers’ satisfaction during the sales and even after the sales. Companies have to learn that it always cost much more to impress a dissatisfied customer.


  • Natasha, thank-you so much for sharing your experience and you know you are certainly not alone!

    I have been a brand/product guy my whole career but unlike many who hold the product dear, not to be tarnished in it’s purest sense, I understand that without customers, it is an art project. My mantra has always been – and this is for public sector, private sector, not-for-profit, packaged goods, services, B2B or B2C, we are all building a full service sales team and a full service product/service team. Get your internal customer service in order before you start sending inexperienced “sales” people on the street to meet clients and prospects. Everyone has met that over promise don’t really know the product sales person. That is inexcusable and accepted behavior by their organization.

    Second, YOU may be the only person someone ever meets from your organization so the lame “that’s not my department” or “I don’t deal with that” plea is unacceptable. Internal customer service is paramount. or external customer service will be a constant struggle. And the first step is to remember who is the customer in either case.

  • In previous agencies where I’ve worked, it seemed there was always the token ‘yes man’ biz dev guy who would promise the moon and stars to any potential client. Then, when it came time for the folks behind the scenes to actually follow through on his promises, it seemed we were always having similar conversations as you described above. “Yes, we know that’s what you were told, but see, it doesn’t really work that way…” I think the lesson here is so important. Internally, there must be a process that is clearly defined for selling, and a process of checks and balances any time there is a need to deviate from it. Excellent post, Natasha.

  • That’s a really interesting story to illustrate an important point, thanks Natasha. It does amaze that in an age where customers need to be valued and nurtured that this situation still arises (time and time again!). The point of sale may be a pivotal moment in the relationship between company and customer but that could be the moment to increase communication. After all you have finally got the customer to say YES! You’ve done the hard work, and building a good relationship is a cost effective way of keeping a valuable customer. There seems to be flaws in the chain as you described and one that in an age of CRM and communication basically shouldn’t be there.

  • I wish I could hit the like button a million times Thomas! Such a d’oh moment for any organization – helllooooo I said YES!  It’s as if they’re saying – “She said yes, instead of a ring please put a bag tie around her finger, surely she’ll still marry me”

  • Absolutely H.E. – If only we could all grab hold of the lesson and remember it. It’s one thing to learn the lesson. The real victory however, comes from applying it.

  • I’ve always said >customer service is an inside job< – so yes I'm an advocate for "get your internal customer service in order…" I was so disheartened. Now when I start a conversation with a vendor I tell them give me an exact date, add cushion for yourself if you need to, but please do not miss deadlines. Sad that in this age where competitive advantages are so fleeting I have to do that. Thanks Kneale!

  • So much focus on customer experience yet with cases like this I can’t help but wonder if it’s all just lip service. Or perhaps just engagement experience – one and done. Thank you Tito!

  • I was just thinking the same thing as I read the post and comments, Simon. As a very small business (i.e. me), this is yet another reminder that I need to stay in contact with those who have bought my product so that there is an on-going positive relationship. Seems like it’s a way of building up an account of positive experiences so that if someone DOES have a negative experience with me (inadvertently, of course), there is already a good level of trust built, and it won’t take twelve more positive experiences to win them back. Good reminder – thank you, Natasha and Simon!

  • Good luck Kathy

  • Natasha, it’s too bad you had to have that experience. But you told the story clearly and gave a running account of both your and the vendor’s best interests at each step. And at no time were your requirements unreasonable! Unfortunately, your experience–or at least portions of it–is not that uncommon. In my view often this is a failure of top management. They allow departments to operate in silos and avoid accountability to each other, which then prevents them from being accountable to the customer. Someone in the C suite should be knocking heads together, and it’s not happening. As your story makes so clear, a good reputation is never sustainable if you don’t deliver the goods and satisfy customers.

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of something I’m seeing a lot of lately: It’s more costly to gain new customers, than to keep the ones you have. 

  • Richard Shapiro

    Natasha Gabriel’s post is a great awareness piece and wake-up call for so many companies. Organizations seem to fail to understand that your customers can become your greatest source of new business. I know in our business, when a company hears about our services through a friend or associate, the sales cycle is almost completely effortless. It’s amazing how much money is lost every year because too many companies “drop the ball” after the contract is signed. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention 

  • Natasha- After reading your post, I added the line “What you do to get me, you need to do to keep me” to page one of my company’s training manual. The implications of such a logical (albeit grossly neglected) concept echo far beyond the call of customer service. It is the basic ideas of courtesy and respect at its core. Whether we blame it on a culture of vapid buzz, flash in the pan marketing tactics, poor training, or uninspired business models, it is clear that shiny advertising has in many cases become a substitute for rather than a complement to excellent customer service.  I only wish Senators, Time Warner Cable executives, and the majority of gym franchise owners would read this.

  • Rowland John

    This was a great post.

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