How B2B Companies Approach Customer Alignment

Despite the multitude of articles, books and webinars on how to deliver the experience customers will value, people are confused. The confusion is not about whether customer-alignment is a good idea but rather where to start, the approach to use, and how best to proceed.

Recently, I asked a group of B2B CMOs and VPs how they were approaching customer-alignment. They were confused by the multiple and often conflicting approaches and overwhelmed by the claims touted by consultants, software vendors, outsourcers, professional services providers and “thought leaders”. They were paralyzed by worry that picking the wrong approach would lead to dire consequences for the company and them personally.

So they sit on the sidelines.

To response to increasing pressure to drive better customer experience, they resort to tactical improvements that optimize campaigns, user generated content, relationship with sales, and spend more time visiting customers. But lead an organization-wide customer-alignment transformation; not much other than talk is happening there.

Not only are the various approaches confusing, these CMOs felt they couldn’t determine which ones deliver measurable and sustainable increases in customer loyalty and revenue. Demonstrable ROI is key since CEOs have no appetite to spend money on ‘leaps of faith’. Without the ability to point to tangible proof, CMOs choose lip service, low-risk/low-return approaches and department-level customer alignment initiatives that are within their sphere of control. While it feels like they are making progress, the lack of results speaks for themselves.

What B2B CMOs want is a decoder ring that guides them on which approach to use to achieve what types of results. One SaaS CMO asked me, “Tell when to use surveys or NPS or focus groups.” What that CMO and others are looking for is a simple and clear guide – if they want to improve campaign conversion use this approach; to improve sales productivity, apply this approach, etc.

This highlights how early the customer experience movement is. Marketing, as a whole, has yet to come to terms that customer-alignment operates on two levels: Customer lifecycle and interaction points. You cannot fix the latter without first understanding the former. Equally you cannot align your organization to the lifecycle expectations of your customers without understanding the elements (who, what, where, why, how) of each interaction (employee, system, reputation, message, etc.).

This disconnect between the understanding marketers have of the customer alignment transformation process and the various approaches explains why they gravitate to NPS, EFM, surveys or purported end-to-end CEM/CX platforms. In the search for the proverbial silver bullet, many are beginning to realize there is no one-size fits-all methodology for aligning employees, strategy, processes and technology to customer expectations.

Some methodologies, likeThunderhead Engagement 3.0,New Business Strategies’ Sellers’ Compass™, and ClearAction, are more comprehensive than others in spelling out how companies should go about transforming into customer-aligned organizations. What sets these methodologies apart is they incorporate different approaches based on the level of insight sought. While the core premise of these approaches is different none are perfect for every situation, customer segment, or company.

Robin Caputo , CMO of Datavail, a database management vendor, is a forward thinking marketer leading the company’s customer-alignment initiative. She and her team started by conducting qualitative interviews, many of them face-to-face on-site customer discussions, to develop journey maps. The scope of information and the level of detail captured enabled her identify the journey patterns that drove customer segmentation and campaign plans. But they also revealed a number of questions about what content customers valued at which stages. Caputo and team turned to surveys and incorporated additional questions to inside sales’ script to the get the answers. Caputo’s plan to become customer-alignment was rooted in first understanding the overall lifecycle journey and customer expectations while the rest of her team understood the details of specific interactions points and the data they needed to act.

Deep understanding of B2B customer behavior, expectations, emotions, etc. can only be discovered when in close proximity to customers. Once patterns have been identified, other methods further away from the customer can be used like those list in the below diagram.

There is a correlation in how actionable information is and how it was obtained. That’s why NPS does not tell you how to fix customer churn or big data analytics tell you why a customer made a certain decision.

Action-ability refers to the extent to which the data can be acted on by the organization to improve a specific touch point, customer situation or metric. Much of the data we collect informs us at a general level on what is happening but doesn’t give enough specifics to drive behavior, processes or systems change. For example, qualitative interviews, conducted correctly, can result in a very detailed journey map that drives business process, employee behavior or training changes. Win/loss interviews, on the other hand, can highlight behaviors or situations that contributed to the win or loss. If a specific behavior or situation comes up often enough and described clearly, the sales or marketing team can act on it.

The degree of action-ability depends on how customer information was gathered. As you move down the diagram, the information captured becomes increasingly more general and less actionable. That doesn’t mean all customer interaction and alignment data must come from face-to-face interviews. Rather companies need to plan out their information needs along with identifying the right approach.

Think of it as a stair step process. At the top of the stairs you need a detailed, comprehensive understanding of customer behavior and expectations – through their eyes. That is best accomplished with qualitative research which reveals areas where you have additional questions or need more clarity. Depending on the question you can either conduct a Customer Advisory Board session or, if the questions are very clear and defined, conduct a survey.

As you act on the information you’ll need to use different approaches to measure and gain insight into specific interactions. For example, Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) is a good at capturing specific details about a specific customer interaction in a way that employees can act on it.

The key in selecting a method to use is — can you act on the data?

“Marketers have so much data now; the challenge is to gain insight from that data that you can act on and translate to enhanced marketing performance,” said Caputo. “We know our buyers’ journey will never be finished, especially as we gain more Fortune 100 clients with multiple personas. But the initial data and insight we’ve gathered is pointing us in the right direction and delivering results.”

By understanding the many ways of becoming customer-aligned and knowing which method to use to capture actionable data, Datavail’s customer alignment initiative is a core part of Caputo’s strategy and is delivering measurable results.

First published in CustomerTHINK

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