Challenge of Building Customer Centricity

“If you are focused on customer centricity then why are you still pitching?” … This is a good question, posed by a Chief Data Officer last week at a Board meeting. The point being that the client already bought the product and wanted to build out an experiential model, however he felt he was being sold the next thing rather than receiving help from the company he bought from.

This made me wonder if the biggest challenge for marketing and sales teams isn’t the pure marketing and selling, but the transition from prospect to client and building a clear set of principles around what that means.

Sales people are clear on how to sell. Marketers know how to market. But do we spend enough time helping those individuals to develop tools, techniques and most importantly, metrics to support customer centricity? What are the incentives that equate to the commission check that will keep those people supportive of customer centricity and not falling into overt selling?

As we assessed these questions it was clear that incentives did not exist for customer centricity. The company that sold to the Chief Data Officer, didn’t have a clear plan to support its statement of becoming client centric. We use the phrase ‘customer centricity’ and expect organizations to know what that means and for people to behave accordingly, but when was the last time you behaved in a way that ran directly against the way you are measured and paid? Never seems about right.

Building customer centricity is not simple. It requires a plan to realign the organization to the customer point of view. In the case above, the company realized that it was not only incenting its people to sell constantly, it was organized according to stovepipe P&Ls that did not align to how the customer wanted to engage. The simple answer – reorganize to align with the customer experience. But that simple answer can come at great financial cost to companies trying to optimize revenue to meet Wall Street targets. Not so simple.

Here are some tips on how to get started on customer centricity without sacrificing the P&L goals of your company:

Research, Prepare, Repeat.

Success requires taking the time to do the homework to understand customers and the connection points within your organization; preparing in advance for the conversation; and moving beyond the canned storyline to an authentic dialog based on the preparation. Help your teams that work with customers to show up with a clear understanding of what the customer is trying to achieve and how they can help… not what they can sell.

Create Environments for Non-selling Discussions.

One of the most important roles for marketing to help overcome the “pitch” is to provide sales-free, value-added forums for marketing and sales teams and business leaders to interact with clients. We find that customer advisory boards—with their strategic perspective and their focus on value exchange—are particularly powerful to serve in this this role.

If you are not ready for an advisory board, or are looking to broaden the points of connection, consider creating peer forums, networks, or other engagement platforms using the same principles that make boards so powerful.

Be the conduit to learn about your clients.

Marketing should take the lead in learning more about clients: extracting their stories, their interests, their priorities and synthesizing and packaging them up for the rest of the company to use.

Many marketing organizations are already doing this to some degree in the course of the client programs, but formalizing this and owning those conversations provides a powerful tool in driving change and ultimately increasing revenue and relationships.

Share your clients’ stories internally.

An important role for marketing is to spread the word about your clients’ stories, and help the sales teams understand how clients view their challenges and how they describe success. Start each discussion with your sales teams by sharing a client story. Force them to do the same and to do so from the perspective of the client journey versus the sales journey.

Make client stories part of the corporate lexicon, which will in turn bring more stories out of the woodwork and into the hands of client-facing teams.

Developing a customer-centric culture is not as easy as making the statement. It requires a commitment to shifting the focus of the organization and behavior of people. The above tips are a starting place, but in time, incentives need to change.

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Like any good relationship, customer engagement is a long-term, reciprocal effort. When done well, meaningful engagement leads to better business results, faster.

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