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TrustRadius Trust Talks: Cisco’s Strategy to Attract the Self-Serve Buyer

August 9th, 2022 26 min read
In this TrustTalk, TrustRadius’ Founder and CEO, Vinay Bhagat, sat down with Rebecca Stone to discuss how Cisco uses a customer-centric marketing strategy to attract today’s self-serve buyers.

It’s no secret that Cisco makes listening to their customers a priority, but did you know that they also champion the customer perspective in their marketing? They truly believe activating the voice of the customer in their marketing is the best way to attract, retain, and expand customers.  They maintain an active and orchestrated presence on the major review platforms and they syndicate quotes from customer reviews extensively to their website and other owned channels. In fact, they calculated that prospective buyers spent over 40,000 hours reading their TrustRadius reviews per year.

Rebecca Stone serves as both SVP, Cisco Customer Solutions Marketing for the broader Cisco organization as well as CMO for Cisco Meraki. Rebecca currently uses customer voice and advocacy programs as an integral part of her overall marketing strategy to shape the narrative for a broader unified story across the entire Cisco organization.

TrustRadius’ Trust Talks series highlights B2B executives’ approach to building a culture of listening to customers, activating the customer voice, and creating a customer-driven company.

In this TrustTalk, TrustRadius’ Founder and CEO, Vinay Bhagat, sat down with Rebecca to discuss how Cisco uses the voice of the customer in their marketing to attract, retain, and expand today’s self-serve buyer.

“Build a marketing plan that allows them to come [to you] at their pace … Meet them on their own terms with the type of content they want.” 

—Rebecca Stone

rebecca stone

Rebecca Stone

SVP, Cisco Customer Solutions Marketing & CMO, Cisco Meraki

Rebecca Stone is the Senior Vice President of Customer Solutions Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer of Cisco Meraki. In this dual role, she is responsible for messaging, positioning and product marketing activity across Cisco’s portfolio and she oversees the global marketing team at Cisco Meraki.

With more than 20 years of marketing expertise, Rebecca is intently focused on demonstrating the value and return of marketing programs on sales. She has consistently demonstrated 5-10x growth in marketing-generated pipeline using strategies grounded in solid marketing fundamentals.

Prior to joining Cisco Meraki, Rebecca held marketing leadership roles for SaaS technology start-ups. Most recently, Rebecca was the Vice President of Marketing at LiveRamp, where she was responsible for product marketing, lead generation, sales development and marketing communications programs.

Rebecca holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lives in Marin County with her husband and daughters.

Macro-level factors influencing marketing strategies today

In this Trust Talk, Rebecca explains macro-level factors influencing marketing strategies today:

  • The return of in-person events
  • Adapting to the self-serve buyer while remaining customer-centric
  • How the cookieless future creates more walled gardens—intent data becomes crucial
  • User reviews are more powerful than vendor materials

Dive deep with us to see how your marketing team can respond to the challenges that lie ahead. 

Events are making a comeback!

As we all know, the major phenomenons over the last two years have impacted companies’ go-to-market strategies. Rebecca explains how, like most companies, Cisco, had to take a mostly digital approach in reaching their customers. However, over the past 6-9 months, Rebecca and team have focused on creating hybrid events that allow people to be in-person while also keeping access open to those who enjoy the convenience of digital participation. They recently wrapped up their Cisco Live! event in Las Vegas, NV, this past June, where they had over 17,000 attendees gather. For some, it was the first time in two years.

Marketers are having to figure out how to operate in a world where you can’t access people where you used to, where people are much more reluctant to engage digitally than they once were, and where the majority of people aren’t quite ready to meet in-person.

However, the pent-up demand for that in-person connection is proving fruitful for Cisco. “Cisco Live was phenomenal. Everybody was really engaged and it felt like a reunion coming back and seeing people and getting so much joy out of that in-person connection,” said Rebecca. 

Adapting to the self-serve buyer while remaining customer-centric

TrustRadius’ annual research report, the 2022 B2B Buying Disconnect report revealed buyers are using sales reps less than ever before, with 100% of buyers wanting to self-serve all or part of their buying journey—up 13% from just a year ago. We also know that 41% of Gen Z and 29% of millennials named “check review sites” as their first step in the buying journey. 

As a millennial herself, Rebecca knows her generation is in positions of authority. In fact, they are the largest managerial generation in the workforce today. She reflects on her own buying habits as being someone who is “skeptical about talking to someone very early in the buying process.” She wants to understand as much as she can by first researching on her own.

Rebecca states, that this is a good example. It affirms that we’re definitely in the age of the self-serve buyer and how targeting and outbound are still important, but those signals of interest across third-party sites like TrustRadius where buyers are spending time become even more important. 

The key to remaining customer-centric in this new world is learning how to stitch together different signals from different channels, ideally across digital and in-person. In doing so, marketers will be able to understand which customers—or potential customers—are engaged and how to engage them more (in the ways they want).

Adapting to the age of the self-serve buyer while maintaining a customer-centric model means having a presence wherever your customers want you to be—not where you think you should be. “Build a marketing plan that allows them to come at their pace,” said Rebecca. “Meet them on their own terms with the type of content they want.”

The cookieless future creates more walled gardens, making buyer intent data crucial

“I have skepticism that the cookie is going to go completely away. There is so much money that is put into digital advertising, that it’s going to be really hard to do away with it for all companies.” —Rebecca Stone

When talking about the cookieless future, the hair on marketers’ necks stands up—but it doesn’t have to. Rebecca thinks third-party cookies aren’t completely going away. However, expanded privacy policies will still make it exponentially harder for companies to capture more of their customer’s information and ultimately run their business. 

Rebecca states that doing away with third-party cookies was designed and built out with privacy in mind, but also to minimize the power of the larger paid walls and “walled gardens” in the ad ecosystem. Drawing from her six years of adtech ecosystem experience at LiveRamp, Rebecca thinks that these limitations will actually have the reverse effect. “Walled gardens” or pay-to-play platforms, will be the ones to have the most first-party data to work with, thus creating more paid walls, more walled gardens, and more silos—making it even harder for marketers. 

“That is why intent signals become so important and being able to capture those intent signals.” Rebecca states. It’s all about “building up those [third-party] locations so you can capture those intent signals and pull them in, rather than having to go out and reach them, because that’s only going to get harder and harder.”

User reviews are more powerful than vendor materials

Rebecca and her team at Cisco source customer reviews using a multifaceted strategy, including in their online community, at events like Cisco Live!, and through campaigns. Through these strategies, they have built a strong presence on TrustRadius and Gartner Peer Insights.

Some groups at Cisco, including the Enterprise Networking team, view customer reviews as a valuable source of customer insight to augment net promoter score (NPS) surveys and customer advisory boards. The feedback is often much richer than NPS surveys, but still statistically significant and representative of their entire customer population.

Rebecca explains the driving factors behind this acute focus on customer reviews:

  • Prospective customers are less likely to engage directly until they are ready to make a purchase. It feels more trusting to hear from a customer giving a well-balanced review than a case study that only emphasizes positives. Buyers would rather have details about hands-on experiences with the product, e.g. how easy was implementation so they don’t buy something they’re not ready for.
  • Reviews are a way to scale customer advocacy programs. Marketers are becoming less able to identify hand-raisers or customers they don’t already have in their system.

“I firmly believe customer reviews and customer advocacy overall, and that includes review sites, are really important to [building trust],” says Rebecca. “Trusting your customers enough to provide balanced feedback gives your brand credibility and authenticity, and also builds an ecosystem of trust with potential customers.”

How Cisco incorporates user reviews 

Cisco incorporates user reviews and other voice-of-customer content in all of their marketing channels: in sales materials, on landing pages within their website, in sales’ outreach templates, email signatures, in outbound marketing materials, etc. They truly believe user reviews are an impactful way to build on existing and potential customer relationships. 

In fact, Cisco and TrustRadius did a study a little over a year ago and found that customers spent a total of 40,000 hours reading TrustRadius reviews per year. The appetite for this raw customer voice content is why they pull quotes into their own channels, wherever possible. They currently manage a presence on three review sites, including TrustRadius. 

“You have to be where your customers are and your customers aren’t going to go to just one review site. They’re going to trust and test multiple sites,” says Rebecca. It’s important to be where your customers are and not where you think you should be.

Third-party review sites are important—here’s how to be selective 

To determine if your customers are more likely to visit site A over site B, you’ll need in-depth data about the site’s visitors, states Rebecca. Understand the quality of the audience, not just the volume. When selecting a review site make sure your target audience is there, you have traffic to your category, and quality content, which is key, especially if you want to use that content in your own channels.

Furthermore, content is everything, and having that valuable customer feedback is crucial to the product teams and future development. For example, Cisco focuses on the IT buyer—both the decision-maker and operations manager. As such, they’ve started to engage beyond review sites, like Reddit, a forum where product feedback and customer opinions are voiced among other content. They’ve also found contextual product feedback in places like GitHub, where users learn and contribute their opinions on more technical subjects.

How does listening to customers drive strategy?

 

Cisco has a reputation for having its ear to the ground and listening for customer feedback. But how does active listening drive strategy? Rebecca goes on to explain qualitative and quantitative ways Cisco uses voice of the customer (VoC) to foster customer centricity throughout the organization.

“The #1 way to understand how to market a product is by listening to your customers. Your customers tell the story the best.” —Rebecca Stone

Qualitative ways Cisco fosters customer centricity

Rebecca explains how Cisco has a 100-person company advisory board that meets regularly to review customer feedback. They have a customer advisory board as well, and not just general but specific—one specific to large enterprises and service-provider accounts. It’s important that leadership takes the time to activate the customer voice so it can inform future business decisions and outcomes.

Quantitative ways Cisco fosters customer centricity

  • Monthly NPS scores 
  • Feedback sessions for net new customers
  • Consistently collecting information from call centers (product requests, troubleshooting requests, etc.) 

Rebecca provides an example of their call center seeing a spike in tickets for troubleshooting while setting up a VPN. In response, they created documentation for their customer forums and marketed the content out. Within weeks, they saw a 60-70% reduction in tickets and enabled their customers to self-serve—a win-win. “I truly believe we serve as the tool that allows the customer to accomplish the goals and tasks they want to do,” says Rebecca.

Customer data strategy

Marketers can also drive customer centricity in their organization by having a customer data strategy, fitting buyer intent data into a data lake strategy.

Balancing the need for strong data while remaining customer-centric is a fine balancing act.

“Data is foundational to good marketing today. If you don’t have a data strategy, all of the marketing planning in the world doesn’t matter. I believe that’s because of relevancy.” —Rebecca Stone

There are so many different types of data—within the product itself, marketing channels, sales data, sales buying behavior data, and the list goes on. Successful marketers should focus on building a journey map rather than the metrics of a specific channel. The ability to see trends, make decisions, and tailor messaging at various stages of the buying journey comes from having an aggregated view of purchasing intent. 

Cisco built a privacy-compliant data lake that is based on intent signals and has anonymous info and zero personal identifiable information (PII). They use this information to have a 360-degree view of what their customers are doing—from early buying signals to retention/renewal to identifying upsell opportunities.

Fitting buyer intent data into a data lake strategy

Buyer intent data is one of the key components of triggering a marketing event of some kind, says Rebecca. You have to have intent data, whether it’s first-party or something more sophisticated (someone from a review site coming to your site and then converting at an event you’re attending) in order to remain competitive.

Buyer intent data also provides an understanding of how they’re engaging with you versus your competitors. Rebecca says it’s all about balance between what we want to know about an individual versus what we want to know about people like them. There’s a very fine line between information to give them what they need, when they want it, and respecting their privacy.

Customer advocacy programs built for all company sizes

Rebecca states the top customer advocacy thought leaders right now are focusing on how to create customer marketing advocacy programs that engage everyone from high-touch enterprise customers down to small and midsize businesses (how Meraki got its start). 

How do you build a customer advocacy program that allows customers of all sizes to be advocates?

Rebecca explains through a pyramid-type model with engagement steps at every level. She thinks TrustRadius can be a major part of providing that:

“Having engagement steps at every single level, and how a company like TrustRadius can be a part of that overall strategy, is so incredibly important for the future.”

The fact of the matter is, enterprise case studies take a long time and are hard to get approved. Reviews give an opportunity to build an authentic relationship with companies of all sizes.

Watch the whole interview to get even more insights into Cisco’s customer-centric marketing strategies. 

In this month’s TrustRadius Trust Talks: Cisco’s Strategy to Attract the Self-Serve Buyer, we learned macro-level factors influencing marketing strategies today and how vendors can adapt by using customer reviews to drive strategy. Rebecca Stone shares Cisco Meraki’s own strategies for driving customer centricity and provides practical tips marketers can use to share in their success.  Get in touch with us to learn how you can put the customer voice to work for you!

Additional Resources:

About Cisco

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