The State of B2B Customer-Alignment Maturity

Yogi Berra’s quote sums up the customer-alignment journey of most companies. While companies realize their very survival depends on aligning their strategy, culture, partners, and processes to their customers’ lifecycle expectations, what the end state looks like is often fuzzy. And fuzzy mean the path to get there is equally unclear.

What does a customer-aligned organization look like for your company?

Define the end-state through the eyes of your customer. They, more than you, know what a meaningful relationship looks like. Invite your high-value customers in to jointly define that end-state. Not only will they appreciate being included and it’ll take the fuzziness out.

The path to that end-state is actually a transformation. There are many customer experience maturity models that typically fall into one of two categories. The first category describes the end state of each maturity stage. The second category outlines the sophistication levels an organization must grow through to become customer-aligned.

The first category typically resonates with companies that have a narrower definition of customer-alignment. Their objective is to improve marketing’s ROI, reduce churn, etc. The second category resonates with companies who view customer-alignment as a strategic differentiator. Their objective is rooted in competitive advantage, innovation, sustainable growth, etc. Ironically, it’s not an ‘either/or’ choice but an ‘and’. Both types are needed in a maturity model to effectively guide companies in achieving their desired end-state.

What most maturity models lack, however, is granularity. They assume an organization that has achieved a certain maturity level has done so consistently across the entire organization. In reality, that is never the case. Different parts of an organization will customer-align faster than others based on factors that are unique to that organization.

Companies at the first level, Emerging, still do business from an inside-out perspective but realize they could be doing better. Old habits, organization structure, and siloed information are a few obstacles holding them back. At the other end of the spectrum are Leading companies which have fully aligned how they think, talk, act, manage, and innovate outward to the customer. Often the line between the organization and the customer is blurred and the company is motivated to keep it that way based on significant financial and market rewards realized.

One difference between the Sellers’ Compass maturity model and others lies in what is measured within each level. There are two dimensions of the Sellers’ Compass – Customer Understanding and Business Impact – each with four categories:
Customer Understanding Business Impact
1. Journey Understanding
2. Trusted Content
3. Buyer Enablement
4. Competitive Advantage

Business Impact
1. Revenue Acceleration
2. Experience Innovation
3. Technology Ecosystem
4. Customer-Centric Culture

The result is a clearer, more actionable picture of the organization’s maturity. This is important because the whole purpose of a maturity model is to provide a guide on how to achieve the next level.
A composite approach to maturity delivers the transparency and action-ability that organizations need and seek in their quest to become customer aligned. The key to achieving action-ability lies in the model’s assessment which should enable companies to routinely measure, at a holistic and detailed level, the progress they are making and identify where additional focus is needed. That makes the maturity model tangible, realistic and understandable by everyone in company.
In working with B2B companies of all sizes over the past four years and conducted numerous maturity assessments, we have a clear picture of where companies are on each dimension.

What do the results tell us? Good news is we’re making progress.
Increasingly companies are embracing journey mapping, pre- and post-purchase, as a framework for understanding customer expectations and determining how and where they can do a better job. The focus and investment in content marketing has led marketing, sales and customer success organizations to continual improve content to meet customers’ needs.
On the Business Impact dimension, technology vendors have introduced significant innovation in capturing, analyzing and presenting actionable customer insights to enable the culture and business process change needed to become customer aligned. While technology is not a cure-all, it has motivated many companies to take the first step.
Companies that invested in becoming customer-aligned are reaping financial rewards early in the process. More predictable revenue streams, 20 percent or more growth in revenue, more repeat purchases, greater employee satisfaction and lower customer churn are but a few of the rewards cited. These are the fly-wheel of the customer-alignment movement; higher levels of revenue fuel motivation to achieve the next maturity level.

The bad news is we have a lot of work to do. Customer alignment is not about tactical fixes but a holistic transformation of the organization. Companies need to grow into their maturity levels along the two dimensions outlines above. One best practice lesson is that the path for each company to become Level 5 (Leading) is unique to them based on their core competencies, customer expectations, business strategy and market dynamics.

Maturity assessments should deliver a blueprint for companies to follow. By sequencing which categories to focus on based on the company’s unique characteristics, set to a pace that is realistic for the organization, and defining metrics and milestones so progress can be measured defines a realistic and achievable plan to reap the rewards of customer centricity.

Maturity models and their underlying assessments should be widely shared within organizations. Restricting access to only a few executives or only one department actually hurts an organization’s ability to become and stay customer-aligned. Employees want and need to know where the organization is strong in customer-alignment and where improvement is needed.

What is your maturity stage and blueprint to customer alignment? Drop me a note to take the assessment.


This article was first published in CMSWire.

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