In B2B, should Sales own the Customer Experience?


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Christine Crandell writes on Forbes that CX ownership is a hot potato between marketing, finance and sales:

It’s never been clear who should take a leadership role in this new sector of customer experience. Customer experience leads to revenue, but it’s intensely cross-departmental and crosses a wide spectrum of roles and responsibilities. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that increasingly Sales is taking a leadership role in the customer’s lifetime experience.

Not sure I agree that “increasingly” Sales is taking a leadership role. According to a recent Forrester report, “Chief Customer Officer” is the most popular term for the “executive leading customer experience (CX) efforts across a business unit or an entire company.” And just 21% of CCOs are from Sales backgrounds, a negligible increase from 20% in 2011.

In the past, I would have argued for Marketing to own the CX, because theoretically this should be the organization that understands strategic issues like what drives customer loyalty (CX being one driver of course) along with tactics like lead generation. As buyers self-educate, it increases the responsibility of marketing to engage earlier with the right content, and nurture prospects before turning over to sales.

But the reality is the Sales organization has more power in most B2B organizations. The VP of Sales or Chief Sales Officer is used to owning quota and revenue goals. Why not also own the CX?

In my comment on Christine’s post, I wrote (slightly edited):

There’s no question that CX is becoming more important to B2B organizations. On a recent CustomerThink webinar devoted to B2B CX (see, 79% of attendees said CX was critical or very important to their company leaders.

A recent Forrester report on Chief Customer Officers ( found that CCOs are most likely to come from prior jobs in operations/process/quality (31%), LOB management (29%) or marketing (26%). Less commonly, from sales (21%) and customer service (16%).

I’m starting to like the idea of Sales ownership a bit more for a couple of reasons:
1. It plays to the existing power structure of most B2B organizations. Less political in-fighting than if marketing or service owns the job.
2. It will force sales to take a more strategic view of the customer relationship. For this to happen, the CEO would need to set appropriate metrics and reward for more than achieving quota
3. It might even motivate sales to work more collaboratively with the rest of the organization (especially marketing and service) to fulfill the larger CX mission.

I like this better than Chief Revenue Officer because if the CCO really does his/her job, they’ll realize that maximizing revenue is not just about optimizing marketing/sales processes (which is how CRO proponents tend to position the job), but also includes delivering a great buying experience ( and providing outstanding service/support.

So what do you think? Is Sales the best owner of the Customer Experience in B2B organizations? And if not Sales, what function do you recommend?


  1. No one department can own the customer experience. The entire organization owns it. It would be easy to say that the customer-facing groups (sales, marketing, customer services, support) own it, but what about those who make or build the product and service? They may not talk directly to the customer on a regular basis, but they have a huge impact on their experience.

    Unfortunately, there’s no easy or clean answer to this one. It’s everyone’s job. The organizations that do this best know that, and engrain a “customer first” culture throughout.

  2. Ideally the Customer Experience function would report directly into the CEO for three reasons:

    1. The CEO is independent
    2. The CEO is the only person that spans the organization and the Customer Experience spans every function
    3. By putting it under the CEO it shows it is importance.

    Having said this the reality is in my 11 years of experience I rarely see this happen. Customer Experience is normally within Market, Customer Service or Sales. Which of these is best? To me the choice then should not be made on functional lines but instead the way that function is seen by the rest of the organization. If there leaders are seen as power crazed, siloed thinkers, it's a bad place for it. If they are seen and collaborators who are looking out for what's good for the customer and the company, it's a good place for it. So for me it's not about the 'where' to put it, but 'how' would it be operated in the functional area it ends up in.

  3. Having responsibility for customer experience, but not the authority to ensure that the right outcomes are achieved is just one issue that would crop up if Sales ‘owned’ customer experience. Give Sales the authority, and you’ll have goal conflict: what’s right for customer experience, might not ‘optimize’ sales. If you address the goal conflict, you’ll inevitably trade off short-term revenue for achieving longer-term objectives. It’s like strategic Wap-a-mole.

    Colin’s idea that ultimate responsibility for customer experience resides with the CEO (or COO) is a good one. It’s hard to reach the right results when there are conflicting measurements. If Sales had full responsibility for customer experience, many of the commonly-used metrics for sales effectiveness would change–for example, revenue and profit margin. How would a sales VP reconcile a decision that decidedly enhanced customer satisfaction, but delayed a purchase or lowered margins because extra support was provided?

    A similar organizational issue occurs with safety. A large US grocery chain I worked with grappled with customer food safety. But rather than placing safety into the domain of store managers as other chains did, they made the function independent, reporting to the CEO. They reasoned that a P&L-driven store manager would be conflicted about the costs of replacing aging refrigeration equipment, etc. Their solution was to implement a policy that safety-related investments never counted against a store’s P&L. The company appointed a VP of Safety, who had a separate operating budget.

    The company’s focus on safety and quality was as uncompromising as any that I’ve seen. I don’t see why the same can’t be done for Customer Experience. That, as Lynn points out, requires defining exactly what customer experience is, creating guidelines, and adhering to them without penalizing people internally for doing so.

  4. This is a difficult question, I like the answers. I’d like to take this a different direction.

    Where does customer experience ownership, responsibility stop? For example, a customer service rep, servicing a critical customer request, may need help from product management, who in turn needs help from engineering, and so on.

    Everyone contributes to the customer experience (we all, in fact have customers). Everyone has a responsibility to execute the organization’s customer experience strategy on through to the ultimate end customer.

    The more we try to slice and dice who is responsible, and who isn’t, the more we will fail in our customer experience initiatives. Organizations are “systems” of interdependent functions. All have to work together to achieve the goals.

    All this requires commitment and leadership from the top, and consistent demonstration by setting the example.

    There’s the old story, for loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost.

    Perhaps we need to update it, for loss of a “horseshoe” a customer was lost.

  5. CX is a cross-org responsibility. At least, it should be.

    So I’m not talking about Sales owning the sales experience. Whether they know it or not, they already do.

    As Colin implied, ideally an org would have a chief customer/experience officer. But this is still a rare job for all but a few companies.

    By “owning” I mean leading the effort to measure and improve the entire CX, which spans many functions. I have to say, I have a hard time visualizing B2B Sales leaders taking this on. Perhaps more likely in B2C?

    I suppose until someone is anointed, the CEO owns the CX. Good start, but it seems to me that until a key operational executive get the job (or a CCO is appointed), not much will happen.

    Has anyone heard of a B2B sales executive leading a cross-org CX effort?

  6. Your question at the end of the article is: Is Sales the best owner of the customer experience?

    I believe the best owner of the customer experience is anyone who at anytime is either engaged with the customer or doing something that impacts the customer’s experience.

    Sales may spend the most time with a customer – at least on the front end. The idea of “closing a sale” always bothered me because once the sale has been made, the real work begins, which is to deliver on the promise. That’s everyone’s job!

  7. Hello Bob

    As I understand it Wittgenstein said that it is our language and the thinking that it encourages that creates philosophical problems that we struggle to solve.

    It occurs to me that when we post the question “Who owns the customer experience?” we are doing exactly that creating problems through our sloppy thinking encourage by our language.

    Ownership is a concept and a practice that is linked to property. An experience is that which a specific human being experiences: thinking-feeling-physiology. Clearly, one cannot own the experience. Nobody owns the experience.

    It occurs to me that a range of people do stuff, or do not do stuff, that results in the customer experience that customers’ experience. That includes marketing, sales, service, finance…. And I am clearly that nobody owns it.

    I also say that when one department “owns” the customer experience then nobody owns it. Which is the opposite of you stand. I will share my reasoning in a post. It occurs to me that this is a great topic for a post.

    All the best

  8. Maz and all, I asked the question not rhetorically, but to stimulate some debate. Because I hear this question all the time.

    Another dumb question might be: who (or what department) owns the customer?

    Maybe a better way to ask the question is: Who should LEAD efforts to improve the CX? I think that’s really what Christine meant in her Forbes post, which prompted this one.

    As I said, in the ideal world the CEO is ultimately responsible for the CX and really anything that requires enterprise-wide coordinate and cooperation. But we’re seeing CCOs appear because the CX leadership needs some extra attention.

    My view is that companies that attain the highest maturity of customer-centricity don’t need a special position like the CCO, because it’s an integral part of how the company does business. But what should the other 95% of companies do?

    So allow me to modify my question to this:
    Should the Sales executive lead efforts to improve the CX?
    (And I don’t mean just the sales/buying experience, but the complete/end-to-end CX.)

    Or, do you all recommend that the CEO take charge? Or create a CCO position reporting to the CCO?

    Again, we’re discussing B2B organizations.


  9. Bob: from the sales perspective, one of the most irritating things that occurs in business is when everyone on the vendor’s side seems to have his hand in the customer communication mix, but nobody is really in charge.

    This especially occurs with large accounts. It’s not unusual for Customer Service, Product Engineering, Accounting, Warranty Support, and Legal to have direct conversations with client representatives. When there’s not a mechanism for collaboration and sharing information, vendors can–and do–appear very disjointed, uncoordinated, and weak in the customer’s eyes.

    Beyond collaboration, it takes an ethos within the organization to have a “point person” who has overall responsibility for an account. I have worked in companies where that responsibility lies squarely with the Sales Account Executive (SAE), who must ensure that his company’s resources are aligned (don’t like the word, but here I am using it) toward satisfying a customer’s needs–not only short-term, but long-term, too.

    When internal communications and workflows are informal, the SAE must have the backbone to say “all communication with XYZ must include me, and I have to be kept in the loop.” Not every SAE carries that clout, but I’ve worked with those who do, and from my anecdotal experience, customer satisfaction is far better than when nobody is steering the ship.

  10. A careful read of the source article “Should Sales Own Customer Experience?” @Forbes reveals that the reason for this question was not about who could ensure the best customer experience results, but rather, how can a company grow revenue — here’s a link to my comments on the article itself: with suggestions for revenue growth through innovation and by aligning the company (not just Sales) to customers.

    When I was Customer Satisfaction Improvement Manager and then Head of Quality at Applied Materials (leading semiconductor equipment mfr), I reported to the Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction (est. 1992) who reported jointly to the CEO and COO. The SVP-Customer Satisfaction was responsible for all of the corporate functional areas except Finance, HR, and Marketing. All of the usually excused functional areas (Quality, Safety, Facilities, Information Technology) came to see their roles as contributing to customer satisfaction (enablers to the P&Ls’ capability to deliver the brand promise). Service there is a P&L like all of the product divisions. A matrix organizational structure crisscrossed the product lines and account managers and functional areas, encouraging frequent cross-functional communication and collaboration.

    The thrust of our initiative was to listen to our customers (managing a portfolio of VoC) and to engage every product line, sales office, and functional area across the company in learning and improving how their roles were impacting customers’ well-being (streaming relevant VoC to each). The company has a strong results-oriented culture, and I was charged with ensuring accountability for improved customer experiences. This role used a great deal of stakeholder management, quality/6-sigma tools (e.g. Pareto, root cause analysis, failures-modes-and-effects analysis), knowledge management, and facilitation.

    The name of the game was cross-functional engagement in living our corporate values (e.g. “Close to the Customer”) and our super-ordinate goal: “Customers business results come first”. As such we were able to coordinate strongly with Sales, Support, Marketing, Finance and HR in a variety of ways, to keep on the same page and move forward collectively. We managed the customer satisfaction improvement component of the executive incentive pay formula and a team recognition program that rewarded concerted efforts to prevent customer dissatisfaction (shifting from a hero-saves-the-day culture to a proactive culture). Our massive, ongoing internal branding campaign helped employees see how to ‘live the brand promise’.

    We weren’t perfect, and it wasn’t easy, but we achieved our stretch goals every one of the eight years that I was in charge of it. We considered moving my role to the Marketing or Service organizations, but we were leery of the fox-guarding-the-henhouse and potential narrowing of our charter. We believed that the entire company needed to be constantly engaged in moving the needle. Everyone played a role in customer experience and we knew we needed to behave like a team and help lagging areas in the company learn from leading areas.

    Every company is a bit unique. Every company is in a different spot on their journey toward customer experience excellence (which is an infinite quest). Every company needs to decide what’s right for them right now. Given that, I strongly recommend that customer experience management be approached holistically, as a determinant of corporate strategy, with all hands on deck. Anything less is short-changing themselves in revenue growth, as well as their customers’ well-being.

  11. Lynn, I guess we are reading different articles.

    Quoting from Christine’s post:

    More and more of sales management is ready to make the transformation, take the leap and reinvent themselves, and lead their entire organization to become a customer-aligned business that can better attract and retain customers.

    Although it’s unclear what she means by “their entire organization.”

    Later she concludes:

    So it falls to you Sales. Whether you like it or not, to deliver on the revenue targets you're beholden to. You'll need to lead the entire organization to a customer-centric approach; sponsor research on the buyer's journey, use your customer relationships to understand how the definition of value evolves over time, get the rest of your peers to change their ways to consistently deliver that value, and transform your own cold-callers into relationship stewards.

    This reads like an argument for Sales to take a lead role for the *entire* organization, not just Sales.

    However, I’m skeptical this will work due to the “fox-guarding-the-henhouse” concern you mentioned in your experience. But that’s still what Christine appears to be advocating.

    Most of the commentary here suggests two things to me:
    1. The cross-org CX responsibility needs a central group like the one you ran, if not a CCO.
    2. Leadership should work to ensure that everyone owns the CX mission, as part of their jobs.

    Practically speaking, I still don’t see how a CX transformation can occur in most B2B companies if you ask an existing VP of Sales (or marketing, or service) to take on the job in addition to their functional responsibilities.

  12. I believe ownership co-exists between the customer and the person/people interacting with them. If they have a problem, they enlist support. It is the same as a line worker pulling an Andon. The role of leadership is to provide the clarity at that point of contact for the front line staff. The customer experience varies so much that we must have decentralized control to achieve our objectives.

    Most of the discussion is about which silo owns the problem. If an organization is organized by value streams, the value stream will self-organized to deliver the experience needed. It is a matter of developing a structure of overlapping and shared responsibilities. There is still a hierarchy, but it looks more like a Venn diagram versus a tree.

    Case in point, when a request is made at a Ritz-Carlton the person taking the request owns the problem and the experience. They deliver. If you do it any other way, the customer experience becomes suspect.

  13. If you’re defining customer experience as the sales process specifically, then it makes sense for the Sales organization to own it.

    As a customer myself, I think this is far too narrow. My experience with your brand depends largely on the product/service I’m buying working right the first time and every time, and usually to a lesser extent on how knowledgeable and friendly my Sales rep is, or Service, for that matter.

    I think Sales taking ownership of the *customer interface* makes perfect sense. But to orchestrate an excellent experience for me as a customer, whoever is overseeing CX in your company better have a lot of clout plus a lot of facilitation skills for getting the entire company to deliver the value proposition as promised to me.

    The 2010 ClearAction B2B CEM Best Practices Study explored which functional areas are driving the myriad activities that collectively comprise CEM, and found that Sales plays important roles, but other groups in the company also play instrumental roles. Jeanne Bliss in her book Chief Customer Officer suggests that you explore your company’s power core to determine who can best facilitate the entire company to deliver the value proposition as promised to customers.

    For more information about success factors identified in the 2011 ClearAction B2B CEM Best Practices Study, see the resources and hear my recent 15-minute webinar recording at

  14. Thanks, Bob. We are reading the same article. She’s jumping to a conclusion that because of pressure to grow revenue, perhaps Sales should be managing CX for the enterprise. I disagree with that logic. I find that the implied definition of CX from that standpoint is ill-formed; hence my inclusion of definitions in my reply to her original post, and my description of holistic CX management in my comment above.

    If Christine’s challenge is actually how to deal with the pressure to grow revenue, then the root causes of that problem should be identified. I believe the root cause to that issue is primarily a lack of Value Creation by the company. If sufficient value is created, the Sales organization can typically do its job. Jumping to the conclusion (based on which research?) that Sales should solve its revenue growth pressures by taking on CEM for the company bugs me immensely.

    (By the way, Christine and I are good friends who regularly support one another, and we also appreciate one another’s candor.)

    I love-love-love the quote about “becoming a customer-aligned business” — yes, that is what every nook and cranny of an organization (B2B, B2C, NPO, gov’t) should do!

    By the way, referring to your comment above about customer-centric maturity, very few truly customer-centric companies actually exist today, whether B2B or B2C. A roundtable discussion with Jeanne Bliss, Jill Griffin, Dick Lee and myself explored this topic, as described in my post: Customer-Centricity Link to Customer Experience ROI. And as my example at Applied Materials points out, numerous B2B companies have been practicing the equivalent of CEM for a very long time, but their stories have not been sought out by writers and speakers. I believe it’s a misnomer that B2B is far behind B2C in CEM.

    Trust the commentary you’re seeing on your post here. They’re seasoned customer experience management experts who have been writing on CX for many years. CEM is absolutely more than what Marketing, Sales and Service can collectively do for customers. In fact, those three functional areas also run the risk of screwing up CX by pursuing self-serving objectives. The core of excellent customer experience is having the right product/service work the right way the first time and every time, supported by the right processes, policies, attitudes and decisions — that requires full engagement across the entire enterprise to prevent junk for customers as well as delight customers with dependable delivery of the brand promise.

  15. Maz has written a great post on his blog.

    Recapping his arguments on who should lead the CX in a B2B org:

    • Marketing? No, doesn’t have enough clout
    • Sales? No, just interested in the sale, and service is very important in CX
    • Service? No, not enough clout
    • Account manager? Not enough power to shape CX across the org

    What about the CEO? Maz thinks a CEO can personally lead CX in a small professional services org, and can lead the CX “indirectly” by setting priority, practices and being a role model.

    But otherwise he is skeptical that it will become a priority for CEOs given other things they must deal with – like revenue, costs, and politics. And, he says “I have yet to see a CEO that was into the Customer Experience.”

    Maz concludes that it’s best to “Bake the Customer Experience into the structure and relationships that drive the organisational behaviour and performance.”

    Well argued! What does everyone think about these points?

  16. I don’t have the answer on “Should”, but I’ve an observation on “Is” – i.e. who are in-charge of customer experience.

    Not from any official survey, just based on the number of attendees who joined the Global CEM Certification Program over the past seven years coming from six continents. The attendees of those B2B companies, despite quite some of them under the title “Customer Experience,” most are coming from Sales, Marketing, and Service; no sign for being dominated by one function.

  17. Right, that’s what Forrester’s research found. Executives in charge of CX are coming *from* Marketing, Sales and Service.

    Are these people who are CX leaders doing so while continuing in their job as marketing, sales or customer service managers/executives?

    Or, are these people who left their prior positions and now have a new job leading CX?

  18. Bob, my observation: for those who take up a new CX post they’re most likely coming from Service/CRM, not Marketing/Sales; for those who are from Marketing/Sales they extend their boundary to cover CX but still wearing the old hats.

  19. I used to work for B2B company. They had a Product Definition / Product Management Team that was responsible for owning the product. They work with Product Development Team, Sales, Marketing at different phases. In my opinion they may be the right ones to drive the CX.

    Yes – if you do not have a Product Management team and you are a single Product / Service company then CEO may be the right person to drive the CX.

  20. Its a post in itself. Linking it with something else not only dilutes the importance but dilutes the focus also.

    Its a full time , continues & critical job. Chief Customer Officer is the place to rest CX responsibility and adequate empowerment.


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