5 Customer-Alignment Myths That 2015 Will Bust

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2014 has been a transformative year for customer experience. Companies moved from talking about how they value the customer to launching programs that enable them to understand, at an actionable level, customer expectations. Executives are also getting smarter about technology by seeing software as enabling engagement instead of a silver bullet solution.

One of the more interesting developments in 2014 was the market’s realization that the customer is owned by everyone in an organization; not just marketing or the call center. To that end, more CEOs accept that if they want their companies to be truly customer-aligned they had better lead the way with actions of their own. 97 percent of B2B executives believe that customer experience is critical to their success and 93% say that improving that experience is one of their top three things to do by 2015.

We haven’t hit the tipping point yet but we’re getting closer.

Gartner cited that this year marketers spend almost as much to keep customers (45%) as they do to win new ones (55%). The dots are connecting in the board room that being customer-aligned is goodness all the way around – for the top and bottom-line, margin, growth, and morale. According to Forrester, companies that adopt customer-centric practices saw performance improvement gains of 43% compared to those who didn’t. They experienced a 33.9% decline in performance.

If customer-alignment is the lynchpin of success, why aren’t more companies doing something about it?

In New Business Strategies’ work with B2B Fortune 500 and 5,000 C-level executives across a wide range of industries, we keep running into five myths that have executives taking the foot off the gas when it comes to customer alignment.

1. It’s only for big companies.

There’s a belief that CX/CEM is only for big companies that have manpower and budget to dedicate to retool how they engage customers. The myth is that small companies are too busy building products, closing sales and keeping their heads above water and can’t risk getting distracted.

The size of the company has nothing to do with becoming customer aligned. There are countless companies of all sizes from The Gordian Group to PayScale and your local towing service that deliver ‘WOW’ customer experiences on a limited budget. They achieve this by focusing on the customer’s desired outcome, enabling them to achieve it and constantly listening to customer feedback and needs. They often know their customers by their first names and know that walking in their shoes is where their biggest competitive advantage lies. The power of customer-alignment lies not in size or technology but in the mindset of your employees.

2. We need more leads not better experiences.

There is a long held belief that Sales ‘at-bats’ depend on the volume of leads marketing delivers, not on how happy customers are or on how consistent their experience is over the lifecycle of the relationship. The reality is that by the time a prospect raises their hand and becomes a “marketing lead”, they’ve already thoroughly checked out all vendor options and conducted a short-list. You’re being contacted because you’re on the short-list not because of a marketing campaign.

We need to let go of the belief that we create demand by sending emails, offering webinars or paying for Super Bowl ads. These create awareness if you reach the right persona with the right message at the right time in the right channel. Your biggest lead generator is word-of-mouth and referrals. A customer evangelizing how you solved their problem, helped make them an internal hero, got their ‘back’ and was easy to do business with will drive higher levels of quality prospects for a longer period of time than sinking millions into a Super Bowl ad or a Salesforce Dreamforce Platinum booth. What drives leads and ‘at-bats’ is enabling the buyer, on their terms, to achieve their outcome and then consistently deliver on your promises.

3. We know our customers’ journey.

Sales discovers the purchase process as part of the qualification process, right? Product marketing is supposed to know the customers’ journey and isn’t it Customer Support’s job to understand how to keep them loyal?

The myth is that companies know their customers’ journey; internal cross-functional resources coupled with data form programs like VOC, VOE, CAB, CAC and NPS have it covered. The reality is these programs provide glimpses into the journey from an ‘inside-out’ perspective. Internally generated maps miss 70% of what buyers do, the decisions they make, what cues trigger certain behaviors, and how their definition of value and expectations change over time.

Companies choose to internally generate journeys because they believe customers won’t participate in interviews or that is a sign of weakness by the vendor. That is a euphemism for “I’m afraid of what my customers will tell me”. The myth is that customers are not interested in participating in initiatives that benefit vendors. And if they do participate they will extract a ‘price’ for that involvement in terms of a deeper discount on the next purchase or free stuff like training. The reality is that customers want to be more intimately involved in their vendors’ business.

Customers want a voice in the vendor’s strategy, product roadmap, culture and innovation. 54 percent of outperforming companies, according to an IBM study earlier this year, collaborate extensively with their customers and involve them in strategic decision-making about the business. The only way to really understand the customers’ journey is through ‘the lens of the persona-buyer’ with ethnographic research – in other words, you have to talk to your customers, face-to-face.

4. We just need a better content strategy

Content is the new panacea. A recent study found that over 50 percent of B2B marketing budgets are spent on content and that number is forecasted to go higher in 2015.

The myth is that if you create a wide range of content and make it available across multiple channels, the right customer will find the right piece at the right time. Proponents of content-centric marketing point to HubSpot and Marketo as best practice. However, both firms used content to educate an emerging market when content was not a prevalent strategy.

Yes, content is key to buyer enablement but a tsunami of irrelevant content will chase off prospects. Buyers look for, on average, between nine and twelve different pieces of content in their purchase journey. Post-purchase, depending on the complexity of business problem and lifecycle length, customers look for between five and seven pieces of content.

What makes or breaks a content strategy is know exactly what customers look for, when, where they look, who trusted sources are, and how they intend to use the asset. It’s all about matching the right content to the buyer’s actions and intentions at each step in the journey. The operative word is precision, not general-purpose.

Content strategies that convert are balanced between vendor and user generated content with specific assets created for each buyer-persona’s decision point (we call them tollgates) in their tone and vocabulary. Contextually relevant content enables buyers while building brand credibility and preference. Less is more.

5. Technology gives us a 360 view of the customer.

The amount of data organizations collect on their customers is staggering yet few have a holistic picture. Bits and pieces of interaction data reside in different systems that are often siloed. These systems can provide clues but not the whole picture or the buyer’s context, intent, and expectations at each journey step. In short, the data is out-of-context.

The myth is that technology can short cut the customer-alignment transformation. Reality couldn’t be further from this point for two reasons: Technology is an enabler, not a silver bullet and it isn’t sufficiently mature. Unified real-time customer profiles based on internal and external data sources are coming with Adobe and Selligent leading the front but it’s early.

True customer-alignment is deeply rooted in your culture and supported by the company’s strategy and processes. Technology institutionalizes new ways of doing business; focus on the people part first.

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