One of the high-priority initiatives I am seeing B2B companies adopt as we look into 2019 is transforming from being product-centric to customer-centric. From my vantage point, I see this type of transformation as one of the three BIG CMO challenges. The other two are adopting financial accountability and leading wider digital transformation.
In regards to customer-centricity, I am also observing a disturbing phenomenon – the chasm between “the talk” and “the walk.” Nowhere is this more apparent than when I look at how the marketing operations function is or is not playing a key role in this specific transformation.
Four places to look for signs it’s just talk
While there are many places in a marketing operations organization to look for signs that customer-centricity is just talk, four stand out as immediate indicators:
How your martech stack is configured is a highly visible indicator of your company’s true intentions about becoming a customer-centric organization. Here is a simple test to see if your martech stack is aligned to support and enhance the customer journey. This exercise is also a great tool to use in an executive meeting to help non-technical executives understand the consequences of a legacy martech configuration.
Take a blank sheet of paper (you can also whiteboard this activity if in a meeting). In the middle of the sheet, draw a picture of your customer’s journey from being a prospect to a repeat buyer. Around this customer journey, list your various technologies and explain how they support, connect to and enhance the stages of the customer journey.
If you can’t list the stages of your customer journey, nor list all your technologies around the customer journey and tell the story of how your martech stack supports and enhances your customer’s journey on a single sheet of paper, customer-centricity is all talk in your organization.
A similar exercise can be conducted with data. Take a sheet of paper and draw the customer journey from prospect to repeat buyer. Around this customer journey, list the customer data sources and the type of data generated.
For example, while in the prospect phase, a customer data source might be your website or your marketing automation system, and the type of data generated might be digital body language data.
Next, list how each data source and data type is used to enhance the customer journey, including where and how data sources connect. Include who uses the data and how they use the data.
If you can’t paint the picture of your customer’s journey through the data flow, customer-centricity is all talk in your organization.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) for the marketing operations organization is also a visible indicator of your company’s degree of commitment to customer centricity.
Let’s do another quick exercise. Take a blank sheet of paper and list the key metrics the marketing operations team tracks and reports.
Now, stand back and look at your list. Do you have any KPIs around customer centricity? What gets measured gets done and if your KPI list is missing this critical set of KPIs, customer-centricity is all talk in your organization.
The final indicator of your company’s degree of intent to pivot to customer-centricity lies in your budget. Nothing is more telling than following the money trail to see where investments are being made.
According to Gartner, 50% of companies are redirecting money to invest in the customer experience.
Marketing operations is the backbone of operationalizing customer-centricity, so if your budget isn’t growing or being re-directed to support customer centricity, your company is all talk.
Leading the walk
I talk a lot about the rise of the strategic marketing operations organization. The hallmarks of such an operation are that they are strategic and proactive. I believe that the marketing operations team has an incredible opportunity to lead the pivot to customer centricity by virtue of their view into the market and the organization.
The marketing operations organization is in the best position to showcase current and future state through systems and data and tell the story of how to improve the business with a pivot to customer centricity.
Here are three strategic and proactive steps the marketing ops organization can take to begin leading the walk:
1. Conduct a gap analysis
We all know that customer experience pays. Just conduct a Google search and you will be inundated with stats and case studies of how pivoting to customer centricity pays in terms of customer retention, lifetime customer value and revenue growth. With this market reality firmly in hand, begin your gap analysis.
First, create a picture(s) of your current state of systems, data and KPIs. Next, layer into the picture how your current state supports and enhances the customer experience. If you don’t have a customer journey map created by your organization, create one to use as a stand-in.
Now, create a future state of systems, data and KPIs and how they fully enhance the customer journey. Compare the two pictures and identify all the gaps — big and small.
With the identified gaps in hand, it is now time to quantify the impact of these gaps on the business. This may be a challenging step, but it is essential in order to get the executive attention required for a customer-centric initiative to be successful.
This step is where marketing operations leadership rises to become strategic and proactive. You must be able to create a financial picture of how the company will benefit by becoming customer-centric. And you must be able to paint the picture of how to operationalize the initiative through marketing operations.
2. Communicate with executives
Without executive-level sponsorship, a pivot to customer centricity will not be sustainable in a company. As a strategic marketing operations organization, your ability to “speak execu-ease” is critical. This might begin with the CMO and certainly extends to the entire executive team because becoming a customer-centric organization affects everyone.
Think about how you communicate and who you communicate with. The exercises I outline in this article may sound amazingly basic but there is a reason for simplicity. That reason is marketing operations frequently doesn’t understand the basics of communication beginning with who is the receiver of the information and what is the best way the receiver can understand what you are communicating.
This is why I am a big proponent of multiple views of a martech stack including one built just for executives. Tailor your communications to your various stakeholders — think about what’s in it for them and how they would benefit.
3. Run labs
Even with the market and gap analyses and excellent communication with executives, you may need to provide proof that is closer to home. Running labs or small experiments is an excellent way to provide that proof.
Find one area of focus where you can show the impact of an applied customer-focused strategy. This might be a pilot with a new technology or a new way to use something you already have. The point is that you don’t need to boil the ocean — just show the wave direction to provide a set of proof points.
We live in a time where technology and data must be effectively applied to align with and enhance the customer journey. We also live in a time where the customer is firmly in control and many companies view this shift and responding to this shift as critical to business survival. It’s in this environment that the marketing operations team has the opportunity to lead the walk. Hopefully, the information I’ve provided here will help you start down that path.
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