In early March 2020, Substribe spoke with Victoria Mellor, Co-founder of Kademy about her focus on the customer within a newly launched membership offering. Then Covid happened. Having revisited this piece, we believe this article is more important than ever as businesses look to the membership phenomenon within the subscription economy. So here it is, enjoy!
Kademy is a membership-based training platform dedicated to corporate communications professionals. Providing coaching, courses and a member network to share experiences and ideas, it is a source of constant feedback – not just for trainees and their employers, but for Kademy too. Co-founder Victoria Mellor tells Substribe that growing a successful membership business model is less about selling subscriptions and more about starting a long-term relationship – one that requires continuous work from both sides.
Do you really know what your customers want? Victoria Mellor, co-founder of membership-based training provider, Kademy suspects some providers don’t understand their customers as well as they think they do.
“In a B2B subscriptions environment, customers pay you money to solve a problem for them but do you understand what that problem is? You may have chosen to send a newsletter, for example, but is that the best way to engage or deliver your service? There may be a more creative way.”
There is a tendency as a specialist provider to believe that you know the best way to deliver your product. This is the very opposite of customer-centric thinking. Victoria accepts that many may indeed have the best product for a customer’s problem, but fitting a square peg in a square hole is only the beginning:
“When you’re selling a subscription product, yes, you’re engaging the customer’s rational brain – the data or research tools for their job for example. But the reason they come back again and again is about accessing their emotional side too. This is a chance to appeal to customers’ ego. Improving their network and raising their social profile are things that keep people coming back. Targeting more personal values builds lifetime customer value,” she insists.
A little more conversation
Indeed, getting the first sale is the (relatively) easy part. Making sure customers come back for more takes skill and perseverance. things that Victoria thinks many subscriber-based businesses need to engage more deeply with: “Think about what you want your relationship with customers to look like. A classic business might be very transactional. How do you shift that to having a more ongoing conversation? A lot of people are quite reticent about phoning customers up and asking them what they want. You should do it all the time, and involve as many people in the business as possible.”
A lot of people are quite reticent about phoning customers up and asking them what they want. You should do it all the time, and involve as many people in the business as possible.
This, she says, is the start of the essential mindset shift that subscriber-based businesses need to take on board. It’s time to stop thinking about subscription products in tranches of 12, 24 or 36 months, but as a continuous service provision that involves a range of different interactions, all based on changing customer needs.
“When you’re serving large corporations with a high price point product, the product and service delivery has to be quite high. The customer has to come away feeling good about every conversation they have with you, even if you’re just taking their credit card number. If you start with that in mind, you can start thinking in a much more creative way,” Victoria insists.
Hand holding is encouraged
Taking for granted that the customer knows what they want from your product simply by dint of paying for it, for example, is a fundamental misstep that sets up the prospect of non-renewal right from the start.
“You need a customer onboarding process and user groups to illustrate how to get the best out your product early on in the subscription cycle. If you haven’t taught a team how to use a product successfully, the chances of rescuing them at six or nine months is going to be less easy. Assuming the lead buyer will share all this information with their teams is dangerous.”
You need a customer onboarding process and user groups to illustrate how to get the best out your product early on in the subscription cycle
Suppliers should be treating the whole membership period as one long customer research panel, Victoria insists, not just because it drives insight back into the business to allow for new product or campaign development, but because this in itself builds and cements long-term relationships.
“You start by mapping the opportunities: Meet them, have telephone conversations, how are those conversations structured and what will the outcome look like. Then, think about every job role. What is expected in terms of conversations with customers all the way from new product development to giving very good customer service. Whether that conversation is commercial, editorial or customer service – how will it be useful for the customer,” she proposes.
Victoria adds: “Challenge customers, ask why they buy products and come back, time after time. Customers only come back if they feel you’re adding value, if they feel you are thinking about their interests at all times and not just about how to boost subscriber revenues.”
Walk a mile in the customer’s shoes
Such high touch interactions deliver deeply personalised insights into the customer that could allow providers to tailor their campaigns and even products on a one-to-one basis. When there is only a small number of very high value clients, such as in Kademy’s case, this is a viable approach but Victoria agrees a similar high touch can’t always be applied in a high volume subscriber model. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to still be tailored, emotional and responsive though.
“It’s very different for subscriber bases in the multiple thousands, you have to involve technology in that process. But, there is more opportunity through smart CRM to have an elegant solution for onboarding and customer success management in an automated way.”
She adds: “Elaborate on the customer. For most people, they are just names and job titles but what if you could bring that to life and find out why they buy from you, what does their day to day look like? Put colour around that person. You don’t need to build thousands of personas, just one or two.”
Victoria acknowledges that many companies do indeed recognise the need to build the proposition round the customer, rather than simply find a way of selling it to them. But that in doing so, there is perhaps more work to be done than is currently evidenced.
“It’s about challenging everything from how you structure teams to the day-to-day conversations and how leaders prioritise things, challenging them to think: How are we putting subscribers at the heart of the business? Yes, there are customer officers and ‘champions’ but, unless the whole team is talking about this stuff all the time, nothing really changes.” We can consider the gauntlet well and truly thrown.