What is customer lifecycle optimization and how does it work?
4 min read
For nearly every B2C company, revenue is linked to the customer lifecycle. Customer acquisition, engagement, and retention initiatives directly or indirectly impact revenue growth and sustainability by either reducing customer acquisition costs, increasing customer lifetime value (LTV), or ideally, both.
Effective marketing strategies revolve around the customer lifecycle; understanding key lifecycle stages, identifying events that are likely to trigger transitions between stages, and finding ways to optimize interactions across the lifecycle.
Naturally, the more you know about your customers and how to influence them to transition into a desired stage, the more efficiently you can grow and sustain revenue with the resources at your disposal.
Simply put, that's what customer lifecycle optimization is all about: leveraging rich customer data and predictive analytics techniques to generate insights and make predictions that measurably improve outcomes at each stage of the customer lifecycle.
How customer lifecycle optimization works
Customer lifecycle optimization (CLO) is a practice. As with other practices, CLO involves a series of prescribed steps to be done effectively. While specific lifecycle stage names, data sources, and analytics techniques will vary depending on your industry, company, and objectives, the canonical CLO process comprises four steps: lifecycle mapping; data discovery; predictive groundwork; and implementation and action.
Customer lifecycle mapping
The first step in any CLO initiative is always identifying and defining key lifecycle stages and transitions between stages. Mapping these stages and transitions to a uniform customer lifecycle is crucial to uncovering rich, predictive data.
The uniform B2C customer lifecycle stages are:
- Lead generation
- Lead conversion
- Retention and expansion
While terminology will change from business to business, we found that this formulation is rich enough to capture important boundaries, yet simple enough to avoid stages with ambiguous transitions.
Think about your customer lifecycle. How are stages defined? Which attributes qualify individuals to be placed in those stages? What events trigger transitions between stages?
Customer data discovery
At each stage, prospects, leads, and customers will complete certain events that will individually or collectively trigger a transition in or out of that stage. Individuals will also have different attributes, which help determine whether or not they belong in any given stage.
Go through each cell of your customer lifecycle map and think about which events or attributes in your data could be used to trigger a transition or pass the litmus test. Then, think about where you can find that data. Is it in your ESP, CRM, or a custom data warehouse?
Customer prediction groundwork
Once you've formalized your lifecycle and its representation in data, you can start recognizing patterns and eventually predict outcomes. Imagine loading up your converted leads (customers in "retention and expansion") alongside your stale leads that never converted. What differences can you find?
This comparison analysis is especially effective when you've added depth and breadth to your existing data.
As you experiment with this type of pattern recognition, you'll quickly realize that it's the kind of thing that computers do very well. That's where machine learning comes in handy.
Whether you want to increase conversion rates from lead generation campaigns or reduce churn from existing customers, properly targeted outreach is essential to engaging and motivating the right leads and customers to take a desired action.
Outbound communication is the strongest and most versatile intervention at an organization's disposal to compel progress and therefore expand revenue. This includes individually targeted digital advertising, a form of direct outreach.
Having identified a stage transition you'd like to motivate with an outreach intervention, the question becomes, "Who do I reach?" Regardless of the desired transition, the general technique is called audience expansion, also known as "lookalike" audiences.
To apply the audience expansion technique, we must always identify the audience and a set of candidates with similar characteristics and attributes.
With these groups defined, the next step is to apply your predictive groundwork. This could involve using patterns you identified in your data to look for similar opportunities among your candidates, or in more advanced cases, using artificial intelligence to build a predictive model trained to discriminate between likely and unlikely transitioners.
Finally, you will be left with a well-defined group of candidates likely to transition into a desired lifecycle stage when reached with relevant content.
Putting it all together
To summarize the CLO practice, it's useful to recall the original motivation: leveraging rich data and statistical predictions to optimize revenue-building initiatives throughout the customer lifecycle. This means motivating transitions from one stage to the next.