A customer-focused culture is a business strategy
When people think about customer-focused companies, they tend to think about big, well-known B2C companies such as Zappos, Nordstrom, and JetBlue. It’s not a huge surprise as to why customer focus is a leading brand trait. Many operate in highly commoditized industries. They can’t fashion a winning strategy based solely on the products they offer or even on pricing, so they strive to differentiate by delivering a superior customer experience.
Yet, customer-obsessed isn’t a term that’s often heard in the context of the B2B world. Why? Likely because the ability to find alternatives and to switch vendors is a bigger headache in B2B, and it’s less likely that a customer will call out a B2B brand publicly on social media. This makes it so much easier for B2B companies to become complacent. But when considering the B2B space, with the average company having almost quadruple the number of competitors today than five years ago, it’s never been more risky to lose site of the customer.
It’s simply not just a nice to have, but a business strategy that B2B companies need to employ. Here’s how to achieve it:
Begin with culture, starting with the CEO
As a culture, all companies need to identify customer experience early as a primary goal because they exist to serve customers. Without customers, companies won’t be around for long. It’s obvious, but sadly, many lose sight of this and end up failing.
Being customer-obsessed starts with culture. The team must love what they do and be proud of their work. Companies must also be accountable, both internally and to the client. Guide rails must be in place to execute on the vision and employees must be both empowered and expected to work hard and deliver results. This may mean developing agile processes that allow employees to quickly respond to customer feedback as needed.
The C-suite must always recultivate and reiterate this culture. Cultures are driven by reflective people and ever-evolving ideas and must be ruthless in the examination of themselves, their work, and their failures and remember to fail-forward as a team.
Get engineers involved in the client relationship
Imagine building a custom, million dollar house and never getting to meet the architect. To build a customer-focused B2B company, engineering needs to be exposed to the customer. In companies where engineers are siloed–which is quite frankly too often the case–those engineers lose sight of the end user and the very real pain points they experience within their business and that the product is trying to solve. In a customer-focused B2B company, engineers and developers must constantly think about how code changes and new product features will impact a customer’s business and are responsible and accountable to that client.
From experience, engineers always want to build something of high value, both at the technical and pragmatic level. But, the most elegant solution is worthless if it does not solve real-world problems.
Focus on establishing a fair balance
Too much of anything is bad. If companies spend too much time building features without customer feedback, they will likely miss the market and disappoint existing customers. If they don’t invest in the core architecture, systems would not be reliable and secure. If they don’t have a strategic vision in their roadmap, they can’t continue to lead and delight customers with innovative features they didn’t even know were possible. It’s a careful balance and often comes in seasons.
Being so focused on prospects and customers takes time, meaning it can take time and resources away from doing other things. For example, companies need to make sure they are watching market trends, understanding new technologies, and driving innovation within the business. Taking the time to discuss priorities and proactively understand the trade-offs ensures a rebalance to other areas after customer-led initiatives are addressed.
For example, one quarter companies may pull together all the customer feedback and build general features to meet specific demands. The next quarter, more time may be spent reinvesting in core infrastructure. While this is certainly a delicate balance, the one that we always invest in is security. Protecting customers with a secure and reliable platform is the highest service a company can provide to customers, and trumps all other priorities.
Finally, remember that B2B customers are human beings. They establish loyalties and preferences just like consumers, and companies must keep them engaged. To achieve this, the customer-obsessed mindset must be pervasive or it won’t work. It’s everyone’s job to be customer-focused but the mandate must come down from the top.