CX ROI: Making the Case to Improve the Buying Experience

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Sure, marketing and sales leaders want satisfied customers. But they won’t fund a CX initiative if that’s the main benefit. CX pros must show they are a valued contributor to the “revenue team.”


Marketing and sales organizations want the same thing: Growth.

Marketing wants credit for building the brand and driving prospect engagement that ultimately results in new orders closed by Sales professionals. Granted, there are differences between B2B and B2C, but in the main, marketing and sales are joined at the hip with a mission to grow revenue.

Enter the Customer Experience (CX) team, which also wants to grow revenue. How? Make experiences better to increase satisfaction and loyalty (measured by CSAT, NPS, etc.) and over time loyal customers will buy more and refer others.

Why, then, are CX teams having such a hard time getting support to improve the buying experience?

In a CustomerThink study of 200+ CX initiatives, you can see that especially in the earlier stages of maturity (starting, developing) that the buying experience (research, evaluate, purchase) gets much less attention than solution usage or service/support. Even for “winning” CX initiatives (those able to quantify business value or achieve competitive edge), the buying experience gets much less attention.

Source: CustomerThink Report “Customer Experience at a Crossroads: What Drives CX Success?” January 2019

Based on numerous interviews with marketing and sales thought leaders, I think there are two big reasons.

First, CX is more closely associated with customer service. In large part because that’s where problems get reported, so it seems like a good place to start. Many service/support experts have jumped on the CX bandwagon, posting a torrent of content with a service slant. My interviews with marketing and sales experts find a fairly common, although not universal, view that customer experience is what happens after a sale.

Second, CX is all about improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. For example, Gartner defines CEM as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”

I’m going to explore that second point in more detail in this article, because based on recent research I’m convinced that Marketing and Sales management does not see customer satisfaction as a key driver for their success.

Read on to learn about some of the underlying issues preventing CX from being embraced by marketing/sales leaders. And, for advice on how CX professionals can make a more convincing case for buying experience improvements.

Worldlynx Wireless Drives Growth with CX In-Store Experiences

While most executives claim CX is the key to differentiation, I’m finding sales-related case studies rare indeed. Let’s start with an eye-opening case study to illustrate the value of improving the buying experience.

The Worldlynx Way: Q&A with Matt De Iuliis

How would you describe the new experience you were trying to create in the stores?

We started with the general principle of cause and effect. If we focused on the cause – in this case customer request/concern then we could offer the proper solution or effect. By taking this cause and effect approach we were trying to create an atmosphere that focused on exceptional customer experience – an attitude that employees would go above and beyond what the customer expects, that they would take that extra step to make the customer feel that you understood what they were looking for and you wanted this to be the best experience they ever had.

How did you want customers to feel after an interaction with store employees?

The perfect customer experience is one in which the customer feels like they had a “wow experience” that exceeded their needs and expectations and resulted in the customer becoming an ambassador for the company, socializing the great experience they encountered and creating referral and retention opportunities for the company.

What were the key differences/improvements from the previous experience?

We moved the organization from sales focus to customer experience focus: We put the customer first and the sale second. Employees were trained to listen, ask questions, and truly understand the customer request before offering a product or solution. The goal really was to focus on the customer experience which in turn led to providing the proper solution or sale in the end. Ensuring the customer was truly satisfied resulted in dramatically improving our overall sales, customer satisfaction scores, and customer retention.

Worldlynx Wireless was formed in 2009 to acquire 10 Bell Mobility independent wireless dealers across Canada. The new firm initially operated via 53 independent retail locations and an SMB-focused sales force.

Each dealer had its own culture and operating practices. More troubling, however, was a lack of differentiation, according to then-CEO Matt De Iuliis. Bell controlled the product and pricing, leaving dealers to decide how else to win business. In 2014, De Iuliis made a big bet to differentiate on the in-store experience. This strategy was based on his prior experience at Virgin Mobile where he learned the Richard Branson ethos of a customer-centric culture driven by engaged employees.

That’s a great philosophy, but the business case for making this transformation was not based on happy customers or employees. Rather, the rationale to the board was about reducing churn, a key metric for the wireless industry. Ultimately, De Iuliis says the required investments (training, coaches, technology) were 30-35% of returns gained after cutting WorldLynx churn from 1.2% per month to .83% per month.

In other words, improving CX in the stores had an approximately 200% ROI.

To get that payoff required a relentless focus by top management, driven by the CEO. A pilot store was used to prove out the concept and prepare for a national rollout, with the support of The Belding Group which was engaged to help create a “Worldlynx Way” culture. (See sidebar.)

Shaun Belding, author of The Journey to WOW, says too often companies are obsessed with chasing metrics and become “disconnected from the human beings we’re serving.” So, while technology is important for efficiency, caring people are what makes experiences memorable and builds the kind of loyalty where customers ask “Why would I go anyplace else?”

Transforming the Worldlynx culture wasn’t easy. Coaches were embedded in each store for a month to help the staff. Management was heavily involved to communicate the new way of treating customers, recognize employees, and deal with performance issues.

What about customer satisfaction? Sure, surveys were helpful to find common customer issues that needed attention. And yes, they ultimately did confirm that customer satisfaction was inversely related to churn. But the core business case to get approval for CX investments was based on churn reduction; something the board could easily understand was directly connected to better financial performance.

Marketing/Sales vs. CX: One Mission Separated by Different KPIs

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should reflect the top business priorities of an organization, be it the corporation or a functional department. CX proponents believe CSAT, NPS or some other measure of experience quality are KPIs. However, if you conduct interviews with key managers in marketing/sales jobs, I’ll wager you’ll find that other metrics play a much greater role in business (and personal) success.

According to KPI.org (emphasis mine): “Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the critical (key) indicators of progress toward an intended result. KPIs provides a focus for strategic and operational improvement, create an analytical basis for decision making and help focus attention on what matters most.”

Unfortunately, for many organization KPIs have devolved into a laundry list of metrics that seem somewhat useful. Customer satisfaction may be listed as a “key” metric, but doesn’t drive strategy or impact the success or failure of key executives.

Here’s a quick checklist from OnStrategy to assess whether KPIs are strategic:

  • They provide a way to see if your strategy is working.
  • They focus our staff’s attention on what matters most for success.
  • They provide a common language and understanding for communicating our performance.
  • They are valid and realistic, helping ensure we’re measuring the right things.
  • They are verifiable and ensure accurate data.
  • Bonus: They’ve moved from outputs to outcomes.

CX pros must do their own research to uncover the “success metrics” that drive behavior. These are the real KPIs. Find out which metrics are used to judge management performance – driving bonuses, promotions, etc. –because this reveals the true strategy of the organization.

Although they share the same goal – revenue growth – marketing/sales leaders and CX professionals see different paths to that outcome. Not one of the marketing/sales experts interviewed for this article – that’s nada, zero, zilch – mentioned customer satisfaction or loyalty as a key performance driver, or said that “customer experience” was crucial to success.

  • Several marketers said something to the effect that: “Customer experience is what happens after the sale” in service/support or “customer success” activities.
  • One sales expert told me bluntly he never hears sales managers talk about the customer experience.

This is, of course, at odds with what most surveys say. Gartner famously found in a 2014 survey of marketing leaders that “Customer Experience Is the new battlefield.” Since then, numerous surveys (including CustomerThink’s) have confirmed the same thing – CX is becoming the way to differentiate and compete!

That CX future still appears to be in the, um, future. Because on the ground where marketing/sales work is getting done, old habits die hard. Marketing is still mostly about driving prospect engagement that might turn into revenue. And Sales is still mostly about closing deals and making quota. Metrics naturally focus on those goals, not the quality of the customer experience. To those ends, companies are investing in an array of martech and sales enablement solutions to optimize revenue productivity, sometimes under the trendy new name of Revenue Operations.

In other words, while top management claims to be customer-focused and “all in” on CX, in most organizations the goals, metrics, rewards, and investments related to the buying experience remain focused on the existing inside-out paradigm. Customers are targets to be acquired or deals to be closed.

So, my CX friends, consider this a wake-up call. If you want real support and funding for buying experience initiatives, you need to show how it can directly help potential sponsors solve today’s problems using today’s metrics. As the Worldlynx case study illustrates, the key is showing how CX will drive business metrics that the organization believes are directly related to business performance.

Understand the Success Drivers of Your Internal Customers

CX pros are evangelists for the customer. I get it. CustomerThink.com was established for the same reason two decades ago. But as I’ve said many times, customer-centricity is not a business goal, it’s one means of achieving business success.

The first step to getting funding is to understand your internal customers – the sponsors and stakeholders needed to enthusiastically support a buying CX initiative. What does “success” look like for those held accountable for revenue?

Marketing

Let’s take marketers, a good place to start since presumably they “own” the early part of a customer journey. One key question to answer: Does your organization have “upstream” or “downstream” marketers?

Laura Patterson, founder of VisionEdge Marketing and author of a new book Fast-Track Your Business: A Customer-Centric Approach to Accelerate Market Growth, believes marketers should seek insights about customers and competitors, and use that information to develop strategies and execute plans to market effectively to segments. In many cases, marketers are in a more tactical or “downstream” role to execute on marketing goals given by top management.

But some marketers operate in a more “upstream” leadership role, because they are driving strategy:

If upstream, marketing should be leading the charge — these are the customer we should keep and how (service, product, channels) and these are the companies we should go after. Basically, own the customer strategy and how it matches with the product strategy.

Patterson says CX professionals could add value to marketers in several ways:

  • Provide information and tools to provide insight about specific customers
  • Develop journey maps to help marketers better understand how buyers research options and what leads them to connect with a brand
  • Build out better personas and frame messages that would help prospect engage in a business call

Both B2C and B2B marketers want to see an impact on revenue. Consider the perspective of Nicole Amsler, VP Marketing at Formation. I spoke with her after getting a pitch that “marketers are facing pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness and ROI of their promotions and customer experience investments.” Formation aims to help with AI-based technology to personalize offers. The Starbucks app, for example, uses Formation to personalize offers based on consumers’ interests – some want deals, others are responsive to cross-sells. The goal is to increase customer engagement that leads to more loyalty and revenue, says Amsler.

I highlight “revenue” because my take is that no B2C marketer will invest in personalization just to make customers “happier.” (If you find one, please let me know.)

B2B marketers are no different. To be sure, Amsler has a lot of the typical job responsibilities, but she acknowledged that her key role is “creating demand and a pipeline for sales.” Not just total lead volume, but those more likely to ultimately become a customer – sometimes called Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL).

Customer satisfaction isn’t really a factor. And CX? That’s not the term used by marketers for pre-conversion activities. CX or “customer success” is about post-sale activities designed to increase usage and loyalty.

That said, as we talked it became apparent that terminology may be getting in the way of marketing/CX teamwork. Because good marketers know that it’s important to create a journey for individual customers, tailored based on experience. While they may not use the term “CX,” marketers are receptive to help understanding how personalized content can drive customer lifetime value. In the end, however, the value that marketers want to show is increased incremental revenue.

Sales

B2B sales organizations are typically measured on quota attainment and revenue closed. However, according to CSO Insights research, top-performing “Level 3” sales organizations:

  • were much more like to say their culture was customer-centric (versus sales, service or process-centric)
  • had a high level of alignment between sales process and customer’s path
  • were much more confident in their sellers’ ability to provide insights and perspective to customers as a critical element of their sales approach.

The report concluded that

Looking at all three of these characteristics together shows that Level 3 organizations are embracing “customer experience” as a broad concept, of which sales process and salespeople are just one piece.

I think it’s fair to say that if this describes your sales organization, they will be receptive to CX thinking… and help! However, 71% of sales organizations are not at Level 3, and thus are focused more inwardly on sales process and productivity metrics.

Still, my take is that top sales performers understand that satisfied customers make it much easier to sell the next deal – especially in named accounts where there is a long-term relationship at stake. But in the end, the job is to sell and meet revenue goals.

Put another way, no sales rep will be lauded for high levels of customer satisfaction unless customers are also buying!

One strategy that has gained strength in the past decade is “sales enablement” – generally meaning the information, training, and tools that help salespeople engage with their customers more effectively. Paul Saleme, with an extensive background in sales enablement, nets it out as “Enabling sellers to sell the way customers want to buy.” He says that at Showpad, a company that provides sales training and coaching integrated with content management, the goal is to help marketing and sales deliver the best buyer experience. One common problem: marketing creates content for sales that isn’t useful.

However, convincing the marketing and/or sales organizations to foot the bill for sales enablement tools or programs is not based on improving customer satisfaction. Rather, Saleme says the rationale is based on helping marketers understand what content is being used, and helping sales professional increase their effectiveness using content that will “inspire their customers.” Justification is based on scaling sales training and onboarding more effectively, so managers can spend more time coaching.

Still, he agrees that CX help would be welcome if it could help the sales enablement organization prioritize their efforts. One idea: bring stories of where customers are getting value from their solutions. That’s the kind of content that might inspire other customers and help close more deals.

Nigel Cullington, Head of Marketing for the Enterprise Sales & Marketing Cloud at Upland Software, is focused on helping sales teams grow revenue faster in key accounts. Upland’s Altify application is an implementation of Target Account Selling, a sales effectiveness methodology initially developed about 20 years ago. Now it’s available as a Salesforce.com application.

The goal of the Altify platform is: “Unlocking revenue growth by providing a better customer experience.” But CX seems to used mostly a marketing message, a tactic I’ve observed widely in the tech industry. Cullington says that NPS is measured a couple of times per year, but it’s not what revenue teams pay attention to, day-to-day. Software investments are justified based on ability to improve “sales velocity” by pulling one or more of the following levers:

  • Active Opportunities
  • Average Deal Size
  • Win Rate Percentage
  • Average Sales Cycle

To state the obvious, customer satisfaction is not part of this equation. However, the shift to subscriptions has increased the relevance of CX for renewals. That’s an opportunity for CX pros to engage and add value in the “customer success” organization.

Customer Success

CX is often thought of as collecting feedback or managing interactions — especially touchpoints that customers use after the sale. Sure, customers want a pleasing and/or effortless experience. But what they really value is getting a desired outcome.

Customer Success Management (CSM) is growing in popularity in B2B tech and other industries where subscription-based solutions becoming the norm. The rationale is simple: if customer don’t use and get value from a solution, they will cancel!

Nick Mehta, CEO of CSM technology provider Gainsight says “Customer success is the combination of getting customer outcomes with the experiences they want.” But CX experts see it differently. Generally, Customer Success is viewed as just one part of the overall experience, concerned with whether customers are getting value after the sale.

To this I say, who cares? If you’re in a CX role and Customer Success is the term marketers and salespeople prefer at your company, go with it and see how you can help. Adam Waid, as VP of Global Customer Success at Salesloft, oversees a global team responsible for helping their customers achieve their goals. He says the platform is used to help drive more revenue by helping reps engage more effectively with customers to follow-up, move deals through the pipeline, and most importantly, ensure adoption.

Adoption is what fuels growth. Using Salesloft, a company can monitor whether basic functions are being used at the start. Later on, more sophisticated analysis can help flag accounts that are falling short on metrics that suggest a “healthy” relationship. CSM staff can reach out and offer to help.

Notice that the language used here is not about customer satisfaction, although it is often measured and used by the product team, says Waid. Rather, metrics associated with usage and activity are tracked because they are proven to link to a critical outcome: growth in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR). CX pros could help achieve this goal by bringing analytical skills to uncover reasons for poor adoption or cancellations, based on customer feedback and systems activity.

Is CX on the Revenue Team?

Marketing/sales alignment has been a long-time problem, especially in B2B. The classic story: Marketing gets paid to generate leads that Sales throws away because they are aren’t ready to buy.

Some companies are attacking the alignment issue with organization changes. Instead of VPs of Marketing and Sales working independently, a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) is installed to keep everyone focused as one team to increase revenue. In addition to marketers and sales professionals, customer success teams are sometimes included in B2B companies.

It’s critical to understand the priority of goals at different levels of the organization. Depending on where a CX initiative is aimed, that can dramatically affect how ROI is viewed. The key is deciding whether sponsors are open to new ideas, or are only willing to optimize the existing approach.

According to Dan McDade, savvy B2B marketer and founder of the Prospect-Experience consultancy, CEOs care about revenue, not leads. But he acknowledges that most marketers are still held accountable for tactical metrics like lead volume and cost per lead.

To get support for a B2B marketing initiative, the path of least resistance is to work within the existing paradigm. But if that’s not feasible, McDade says consider going outside of marketing to “force them out of the system they’re in.” Getting Sales leaders engaged might reveal, for example, that Marketing’s lead volume incentives are driving crappy leads that Sales either wastes time on or ignores entirely. Reducing waste/cost is the low-hanging fruit of CX justification.

I would expand on that to say a Chief Revenue Officer that owns marketing, sales, and customer success could make a strong CX sponsor, provided a solid link can be shown between CX improvement and revenue. Journey mapping could be used envision a new buying experience where the marketing and sales work more collaboratively and productively to achieve revenue goals, while aligned with the customer’s needs. That’s a more complicated undertaking and may require a pilot program to test it out.

Another factor to consider: What kind of revenue? The buying experience for a new customer is not the same as a renewal or expanded relationship, according to Tim Reisterer, Chief Strategy Officer of Corporate Visions. His new book The Expansion Sale: Four Must-Win Conversations to Keep and Grow Your Customers makes the case for two different “funnels” – marketing speak for the processes and content designed to engage prospects.

For new “logos” it can help to be more provocative to advocate innovation and change. But Corporate Visions research found that wasn’t the right approach for renewals. For example, a “why stay” message was found to be more effective because it reinforced the status quo.

To me, this points out the need for deep customer insight where CX pros could add value. Reisterer says help would be welcome in the following areas:

  • Support advocacy and reference program (some call this “activating promoters”)
  • Identify ideal client profiles to better focus marketing
  • Build a customer data base with info on the current relationship status
  • Partner with the customer success organization, which is more closely aligned with revenue generation or protection

To be sure, some marketing organizations are thinking more strategically, says Vince Jeffs, Senior Director of Product Strategy and Marketing at Pega. In the B2C world, marketers are being asked to move beyond activity metrics like clicks and opens to metrics more closely associated with revenue, like conversions and sales. New customers should be acquired that are more likely to develop into long-term profitable relationships.

At the same time, like most everyone else in modern businesses, marketers are being asked to do more with less. That’s one reason for the vast array of martech solutions: drive revenue more efficiently via e-commerce, automated campaign personalization, and more.

CX pros could help by bringing fresh customer research and helping marketers to develop personas tied to actual data, so that campaign treatments are more effective. As said many times in the article, it’s all about showing results. NPS is not of much interest, says Jeffs, unless it can be connected to key metrics: “You still have your numbers to make.”

Matt Heinz, founder of B2B sales and marketing firm Heinz Marketing also sees a trend away from activity metrics to looking at an account as a whole. He writes:

It has been heartening in our CMO breakfasts these past few weeks to hear more and more CMOs focused less on lead capture and more on managing (and measuring) account intent and experience. The very best, highest performing organizations do this with a combined revenue team (sales, marketing, often customer success as well) that minimizes politics and defensiveness about who’s “doing the most work”, and instead focuses on winning together.

Unfortunately, less than 20% of B2B marketers are focused on accounts. These are the early adopters probably most receptive to CX thinking, with CMOs taking the long view on creating customer value.

Still, new customer acquisition remains a budget priority. CX pros could help get more of the right customers by analyzing success stories and figuring out the content and offers that work, or not. While the terminology varies, marketers do get it that a low effort, personalized experience is what prospects want, and expect it to pay off in more effective and productive new customer acquisition.

Prove the Value of CX with Cost/Benefit Analysis and Other Benefits

Repeat after me: ROI is not optional. It’s stunning how few CX programs can show how their efforts directly contribute to business success.

Sometimes it’s because management said or implied: “Don’t worry about ROI because CX is a strategic investment.” In other cases, CX pros don’t know how to go about creating a good business case and selling it internally.

Whatever the reason, it’s a recipe for disaster. An executive supporter that didn’t insist on a formal business case won’t be in that position forever. When the new boss arrives, hard questions will get asked about the value of that “CX program.” This is not uncommon, based on my research and the experience of CX journey mapping expert Jim Tincher.

A new executive comes in. This executive has always focused on driving revenue and reducing cost. Their KPIs are new sales, service calls, repeat customers. But that business data is totally alien to the CX program. So the CX program has no answer when the executive says, “You have insights. So what? What business outcomes are you driving?” Soon after, the CX program is either gone, or greatly reduced.

Let me suggest the following actions for CX pros to build a business case for buying experience improvements.

1. Spend time with your marketing and sales colleagues to learn about their jobs, key objectives, pressures, and KPIs.

Instead of preaching the value of CX or customer satisfaction, listen and learn about the jobs they have to do, and how they measure success. This is a critical step because without this understanding, you can’t build a good ROI strategy.

2. Assess the likely source of benefits / ROI, including how they’ll be received by those with budget authority.

Find out how marketing and sales investments are justified. Are they mainly based on “doing more with less” or is longer-term customer value an important goal? If a Customer Success organization exists, could that make a good partner for an initial CX effort focused on retention?

3. Build a case based on hard numbers, strategic impact, and intangibles.

While this article doesn’t get into how ROI should be calculated, there are many spreadsheets available (including this one from Forrester) that can help. Better yet, use one that has already been accepted within your company and adapt. Then add other less tangible forms of value, such as supporting strategic priorities, improved employee engagement, or even improving customer satisfaction/experience!

Hopefully this article will help those struggling to gain support for buying experience improvements. Good luck!

Further Reading:

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Bob, this article packs quite a punch! and is totally relatable. Tying CX initiatives to ROI is one problem area I know alot of CX Practitioners face, especially when the results are mostly revealed in the long-term. Taking away some key tips on how to get support in the ways that matter the most to your stakeholders. Awesome article!

  2. Very timely! Our CX North America virtual event that starts tomorrow is all about CX and Marketing working together towards a common end. This article reads like an outline for the event. Yes, marketers seem to be largely disconnected from the power of CX to positively impact customer acquisition, retention, and cross-sell even though they will say that they are quite dialed into CX. A lot of that is at least partially the fault of CX professionals who fail to relentlessly prove that what they do drives growth and profitability, and is a win-win way to slash costs by removing problems that customers don’t want to have anyway. Well done, Bob!

  3. This is one great article with the payoff being the three suggestions Bob makes to help CX pros to build a business case for buying experience improvements.

  4. Hi Bob, this article clearly explains the current state of marketing and sales departments’ indifference to the customer experience. In fact, I’d like to move forward with a project that demonstrates how marketing and sales departments can help improve revenue by focusing on CX. Thank you.

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