By Karen McFarlane
AMA New York Chapter President
The genius Steve Jobs once said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research.” While I believe it’s fair to debate whether Jobs’ methodologies are replicable across industries and categories, the one thing he got insanely right was the concept of customer-centricity.
As a b2b marketing professional for the past 25+ years, I’ve been around long enough to remember when “the customer is always right” served as thinly veiled lip service to a lackluster customer service philosophy that mocked buyer intelligence behind closed doors. But as it turns out, customers are smart, problem-solving buyers that appreciate it when companies focus on their individualized needs rather than a wholesale offering with periphery benefits. We can argue all day about how to identify customer needs, but in the end, the customer has become an equal partner in deciding what will ultimately benefit their needs.
I attended my first SiriusDecisions Summit back in 2007. SiriusDecisions is a consulting firm that created the buyer’s cycle models that everyone uses today in b2b land. It is called the Demand Waterfall, and while it started as a tool for framing the sales and marketing processes that were always at odds, in the center was the customer persona. Essentially, the Demand Waterfall was the glue that brought sales, marketing, and ultimately product together moving organizations from product and feature-based marketing to solution-based marketing that helps customers solve their most pressing challenges. It was the start of what we today call customer-centricity.
SiriusDecisions launched the first Demand Waterfall in 2006, yet marketers are still struggling to perfect ways of centralizing the customer experience. Why? Because this is hard stuff! Digital transformation is intensifying and sharpening the competition, all while raising the level of expectations from buyers. And customers have changed the way they search, find, and engage brands. As a result, creating a customer-centric culture across your entire organization is now a 2020 imperative.
5 Insights to Consider for Creating True Customer-Centricity
To that end, AMA New York hosted an event on February 6, 2020, entitled Insights to Action: Creating True Customer Centricity. Moderated by Salesforce VP of Research and Insights Peter Coffee, a panel of experts whose background ranged from enterprise B2B to influencer marketing to experience-based marketing shared their insights on how their organizations put the customer first. Here are five key takeaways that you can bake into your marketing strategy starting today.
1. New technologies are creating new ways to filter content. How will you talk to potential customers when they don’t have to listen to you anymore?
The growth of new innovative ad technologies enables greater consumer personalization. Still, privacy concerns and clutter are compelling consumers to shift how they engage with brands, as evidenced by the AMA New York 2019 Future of Marketing report. While the ability to pinpoint consumer preferences doubles as a proxy for consumer choice, buyers can more easily opt-out of your brand messages by tuning in more closely to something that better suits their interests.
Using your expanding toolbox in ways that are meaningful and relevant to your consumers will help you break through. New York City VR/AR Association President Gordon Meyer dispelled the myth that virtual and augmented reality are best used for gaming. Walmart uses VR technology for employee training to help their associates get into the head of the customer. Non-profits use VR to create immersive experiences that put donors right in the middle of their story. Automobile companies use AR for testing, employee safety and to help build brand affinity.
2. Are you creating an ongoing conversation with your customers or sharing your monologue? The latter may not get where you want to be.
Cisco VP of Growth Marketing Michelle Chiantera shared how her team works hard to build meaningful relationships with their customers. “You have to spend time figuring out what people want and then find ways to pull on their heartstrings. Shiny new objects will only have limited value if it’s not connected to their ultimate desire. How deep you go will determine your success.”
Cisco’s Customer Advocacy Initiative, Gateway, is a prime example of how an enterprise B2B company can create powerful connections with their buyers. As customers become more engaged, they partner with Cisco to voluntarily share their experiences with potential buyers. This, in turn, leads to a deeper more dynamic relationship between Cisco and its customers. This quote ripped from their website sums it up:
“I must say that The Gateway has opened up Cisco for me in a totally new light. I have been working with Cisco products and with the Cisco team for many years and, finally, through The Gateway, I can say that I am involved with the vision and roadmap of what is coming. Thank you, Gateway.” – Jyrki Halonen, Lead Service Architect, Connectivity, Tieto, Finland
3. Are you asking your customers what they want? They will tell you, but you need to listen and prove that you were listening.
Don’t be afraid to converse with your buyers about their needs, challenges, and desires. If you have the right solution, they will gravitate towards you. And if not, they may even help you invent it. This goes for B2B, DTC, B2C and every acronym in between. However, if you ask, you must show that you are taking their opinion to heart – even if you can’t use all of their suggestions.
On the other side of the spectrum, pay close attention to the data to see where there is a drop off in the conversation. Both EX.CO VP of Marketing Shachar Orren and Michelle Chiantera agreed that it’s important to acknowledge what is not working. Once you discover the problem areas, change it quickly, so you don’t turn off the customer.
4. How will you tap into your customer’s creativity to market your products? They can teach you what matters most to your broader audience and what doesn’t.
CEO of SheSpeaks Aliza Freud spent years working at American Express before launching her influencer marketing company aimed at helping brands speak effectively to women. She advocates for user-generated content to build affinity but warns that marketers will have to level up. Content tools have grown in ease and sophistication, enabling the creation of high-quality user-generated content. Moreover, as platforms age, so do their audiences. Learn how to embrace newer platforms like TikTok to find younger audiences where creativity is the price of entry.
Shachar highlighted opportunities for marketers to personalize at scale by matching products with customers based on their inputs. Think Warby Parker quizzes or Netflix’s Black Mirror, which managed to devour your personal preferences while you created your own ending. With the right tools, coupled with the right data, you can create engaging experiences for your customers that map directly to your brand and customize an ongoing conversation over time.
5. How do you turn content into an experience that customers want to have AND want to share with other people?
Technology can help. However, it’s critical to make the customer experience core to your audience at every touchpoint within your entire organization. Although it starts at the top, it’s never just one person’s job. Startups are masters at this — launching with an MVP and iterating along the way based primarily on customer feedback. Take cues from your buyers, integrate a customer-first philosophy into your culture, then build an implementation strategy that speaks to your values and goals as a business. That’s how you create true customer-centricity.
Thank you to Salesforce for hosting this event and to our premier partner Cisco. Thank you to Peter Coffee, Michelle Chiantera, Aliza Freud, Gordon Meyer, and Shachar Orren for sharing your insights and experiences with the members of the AMA New York Community.