How B2B Companies Can Become Truly Customer-Obsessed
Featuring Janet Rubio, CMO, True Influence
Let’s be honest. Marketing and Sales used to think that we were in control, that the brand was in control, as we steered potential customers through carefully mapped out, linear nurturing funnels.
But increasingly, we understand that the customer is in control.
B2B decision-makers research key purchases at their own pace, and they make highly informed decisions about the features and benefits they demand from business solutions. They don’t want to be sold; they just want you to explain how you are going to help grow their business.
So how do we in B2B Marketing fully embrace the importance of listening to what the customer wants, instead of trying to tell the customer what they need? It requires an organization-wide commitment to Customer Obsession, and it’s a critical issue facing every B2B company — including us here at True Influence.
What “Customer Obsession” Really Means
Everybody knows that happy customers are the key to building a successful business. Just ask any small business and they will tell you that losing just one customer can be a major blow.
The same is true for B2B companies, where a single contract can make or break your quarterly numbers. And healthy customer relationships not only drive booked revenue — they also provide compelling insights that should guide product development and strategic planning.
The challenge — and it’s a big one — is placing customer-driven insights and innovation at the center of every big decision your business makes.
That’s the essence of Customer Obsession. It’s a cultural shift that implements the tools and systems to ensure that customers are always the focus. And as with any major cultural shift, Customer Obsession requires an internal champion, someone who owns the process and pushes for the customer to be central in every key decision.
I believe businesses are ready for this change. I know we are at True Influence. During a recent company offsite, we presented “the Customer” as a pillar of our company’s obsessions, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We had team members taking photos of slides on their smartphones, even though they knew we were going to pass out the presentation later.
B2B companies know they need to be customer-obsessed. Team members are excited about it. Industry analysts have been buzzing about customer obsession for a while.
Now it’s just a question of how to make it happen.
The Habits of Customer-Obsessed Companies
Amy Buckner Chowdhry, the CEO of AnswerLab, has a great run-down of the habits of customer-obsessed companies at Inc.com.
I agree with most of Chowdry’s points, but if I were going to boil down Customer Obsession to three key tactics, they would be:
Base your decisions on the data
Modern marketing tech is about data. You can (and should be) measuring customer and prospect response to every activity, at all points of their relationship with your company. Facetime with your best clients (as Chowdry advocates) is essential, but actions speak louder than words. Careful analysis of the first-party data you collect on customers, as well a third-party Intent Data provided by monitoring services like our InsightBASE, paints a tangible picture of how a broad spectrum of customers view your company.
Make sure product development is driven by customer feedback
Often, Product teams and Marketing and Sales don’t connect on what customers say they actually need. Product may have its own focus groups or limited research that says green widgets are the future; Sales may have a couple of disgruntled clients asking about purple widgets; and Marketing has some really exciting response rates to a test campaign it ran for red widgets. As I said, this is a case where everybody wants to listen to the customer — the message just gets fragmented without a culture and process obsessed with listening to customers and distilling that feedback into a clear vision.
Be ready to change course if customers tell you to
This is where the rubber hits the road in the culture shift to Customer Obsession. Remember, the customer is in control. Obviously, you can’t rewrite your strategic plan after one unsuccessful email blast, but if the data tells you customers want something different, you have to be ready and willing to react, no matter how many brake cords you have to pull.
Who Should be the Champion of Customer Obsession?
In most companies Marketing is probably the best candidate to assume the role of Customer Obsession champion. Afterall, we are the ones who are charged with constantly collecting and analyzing customer data. This opinion is shared by many analysts, including Michael Barnes at Forrester, who writes extensively about the topic.
Note that I said in “most’ companies. Some Sales teams conduct extensive customer research, and other companies have dedicated Customer Success teams that are highly data-driven and are in a great position to lead the effort.
Remember, the most important task for a Customer Obsession champion is to get everyone in the company fully onboard, and to lay out the processes that make sure the customer is always front and center. Whoever can best accomplish that in your organization should be point on your Customer Obsession efforts.
What Changes Need to Happen to Build a Customer-Obsessed Culture?
OK, so everybody wants to obsess about customers, but somehow that passion gets diluted as your teams go about their daily business. What best practices does your business need to implement to make a culture of Customer Obsession a reality?
Clearly Define User Purchase Journeys
As I said earlier, B2B decision-makers no longer follow simple, linear paths to their spend decisions. To understand the data you are gathering, you must develop models for user purchase journeys that provide context for all that data you are gathering. When the CTO responded to that mail blast about red widgets, was she in the early stages of her purchase research, when everything seems possible, or was she close to a decision, when you should infer a higher level of significance to her actions?
Building meaningful purchase journey models in B2B can be a daunting task. (In fact, I’ll discuss some ways to tackle this problem in my next post.) But it’s a worthwhile investment in understanding what customers are telling you.
Map All Your Activities to the Bottom Line
Happy customers are great because they help your company make money. As our Sales VP Ken Stout says with regularity, all Marketing and Sales activity needs to be mapped directly to revenue and Return on Investment (ROI). This level of analysis will allow you to not only demonstrate what customers want, but how meeting those needs results in new and expanded business for you.
Let me stress here – this does not mean that every campaign needs to be a transactional home run. A campaign that builds a relationship with a customer and provides meaningful feedback is a win, too. You just have to display how this learning is shaping decisions and helping your business grow. (Maggie Jones of Marketo has an interesting post on this topic, as well as the challenges of siloed data in building a comprehensive picture of your customers.)
Build Consensus Across the Company
Whoever assumes the mantle of Customer Obsession champion in your organization must be able to effectively communicate, and even push, C-level leadership to actively embrace the initiative. In larger companies, this can be a real challenge — everyone is busy, and vice presidents can tend to be a little territorial.
Forrester’s Barnes and other analysts suggest that pushing hard for Customer Obsession may be a particular challenge for Marketing, which is often viewed as a service unit for the overall business. Regardless, whoever accepts this challenge must be able to build buy-in from every division of the company.
Knowing Your Customer Is Always Right
Every B2B company aspires to build strong customer relationships. To be truly obsessed with customers, your entire company needs to constantly listen to what they are telling you and be willing to let that feedback drive every aspect of your business.