The Customer Data Battle is Heating Up: What are You Doing to Capitalize?

Last week I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for the Strategic Account Management Association’s annual conference on Who Owns the Customer — Capitalizing on the New World Order of Big Data.  We created the panel for SAMA – which was comprised of a unique cross section of leaders in sales, marketing and technology – to further the conversation we are hearing from executives across the C-suite about the battle for customer ownership and the need to find a way to capitalize on big data and find opportunities to leverage the possibilities for growth.

I was joined by Matt Preschern, Vice President, GBS North America Marketing, IBM; Ian Levine, Senior Vice President, Sales Strategy and Operations, Iron Mountain; and Darren Briggs, Vice President, Technology Innovation at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).

Here are some highlights of the discussion.

Framing the discussion: the emerging battle

In today’s hyper-competitive climate, the battle for share of mind and wallet is fierce.  Making the shift to a customer-centric business to win this battle is now an imperative that many CEOs are prioritizing, and the pressure is on across the C-suite to know the customer better and act on that knowledge.

Historically, information on customers and their behavior has resided in pockets throughout the enterprise. In this big data era, the explosion of marketing technology, analytics capabilities and mushrooming sources of data on customers – internal and external – makes a company-wide understanding of the customer much more accessible.  But this also requires the involvement of many throughout the enterprise.  Functional leaders in marketing, sales and technology are all involved in touching the customer and are wrestling with questions of ownership of customer data, customer relationships, content and connections.  As one CMO I spoke with recently put it, “I am engaged in a battle for the customer and the data is the gold!”

The conversation: getting to value through customer data

The panelists shared a range of views on the topic, but across their three functions they are all very focused on moving the needle with customer data, and the need for collaboration to make this happen.  They shared what they are doing to take advantage of the opportunities emerging from new and expanding information on customer behaviors and activities.

Big data is about new possibilities to understand the customer, and predict future behaviors

All three of the panelists are leading efforts to move beyond traditional transactional information to understand and predict how customers might behave.  Several examples they shared:

  • Extending knowledge of the customer through social listening, tracking and analyzing the chatter in social media to provide sales teams with new insights.
  • Developing a predictive model to understand 6 months in advance which customers are going to be unhappy and leverage that knowledge to change the approach to managing those customer interactions.
  • Leveraging customer data to build a tracking platform for better reporting and revenue collection, benefiting both the company and the customers.

It’s not about data, it’s about insight

The panelists all emphasized that the value doesn’t come from the data, it comes from the insights generated, that in turn can drive action.  Being able to track and predict behaviors in new ways allows sales leaders, marketers, and account managers to intercede, change direction, and improve the customer experience along all of the touch points, rather than chasing problems and lost sales after the fact.

Insight also opens up the opportunity to help customers with their own businesses.  One panelist is packaging and leveraging the broad array of customer information into dashboards and tracking tools to improve service and enable their customers to make better decisions about their own behavior and activity.

There is no single answer to “who owns the customer” – the key is in collaboration to use the data to take action 

The panelists had differing views on the question of “who owns the customer” in their own enterprise, but agreed that collaboration across functions is imperative, and it is the only way to get to value through customer data.  Each function within a company shares in the responsibilities for creating the right customer experience, regardless of organizational structure and approach to data governance, creating a common need for sharing and integration to be able to take action on the information.  Taking advantage of big data also requires new and different skills sets, and partnering across functions is key to finding the right talent to advance efforts to create customer insights and drive them out through the relevant functions across the business.

Understanding and leveraging the new data and insights made possible by big data is an imperative for future growth

The panelists all provided similar advice to the sales and account leaders in the audience – if they cannot find a way to get the customer information and take action on it in their accounts, they will lose ground.  The audience was particularly struck by the examples the panelists shared of social listening or sentiment analysis, which gives access to a new world of insights from customers’ conversations and activity on social media and on the web, one that many of them had not considered.  The panelists offered several pieces of advice for the account leaders in the audience.

  • Seek out the skills and expertise in the organization to help you move beyond backward looking transactional information to leverage customer data to begin to predict future behaviors.
  • Ask marketing to help you understand your customers better, including providing a digital profile or view into their digital presence.
  • Remember that the technology team is an important partner for resources and tools.
  • Don’t be swayed by naysayers who dismiss the power of customer data in favor of intuition; use small wins to persuade others, and focus on seeking support from those in the enterprise who are using customer data in valuable new ways.

Where do you end up in the debate on ownership of the customer?

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