Real Customer-Centricity Starts with Product Development


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In launching our business in 2002 our hardest decision was agreeing on a name. We chose CustomerCentric Selling® and weren’t enamored with it. A few months later Dell used the term customer-centric in an advertising campaign, making our choice look much better.

Today I doubt you could get any CEO to admit his or her company wasn’t customer-centric. While it is a simple phrase, it’s difficult to achieve. As with sales enablement there isn’t a common definition that is used. My opinion is that it’s impossible for vendors to be customer-centric if their offerings don’t address buyer needs. I see many companies become so product focused they cast blind eyes to buyer needs; they spend most of their time looking inward at their offerings.

Rearranging the furniture won’t suffice. Efforts to become more customer-centric must go beyond appointing someone to be the tip of the spear. There are many components but I offer two questions for your consideration:

  1. Does the leader of the initiative report to an executive above both the CMO and CRO?
  2. What organizational changes have been made to allow your organization to become more customer-centric?

There’s a plenty of lip service paid to being customer-centric but not enough of the “ heavy lifting” needed to affect meaningful change. Buying has changed significantly over the last 20 years. Selling has lagged behind trying to align with buyers that already believe they know what they want and don’t want sellers trying to influence their visions.

Fail: Marketing and Sales Not Considered in Product Development

Most organizations look to sales and marketing to drive top-line revenue but it’s helpful and necessary to look further upstream. Organizations allow Product Development (PD), furthest from customers and prospects, to develop new offerings. When they’re ready to be launched they turn to sales, marketing and product marketing to see how new offerings will be positioned and revenue targets will be met. Metaphorically PD deals product marketing, marketing and sales a hand to play. If new offerings meet buyer/market needs, the challenge of achieving top line is easier as they get the benefit of market pull. If they don’t it will be difficult to make the numbers by resorting to traditional push strategies that may offend buyers who prefer to buy rather than be sold.

I hope you appreciate the folly of creating offerings before deciding how they’ll be marketed and sold. I wanted to introduce the concept of Enterprise Revenue Generation (ERG) to recognize that the silos of PD, product marketing, marketing, and sales share a common responsibility to bring offerings to market that address buyer needs and allow revenue targets to be met or exceeded.

Start-up companies face challenges but enjoy many advantages. Founders hopefully are visionaries with “big ideas” for new offerings. As staff is hired, ad hoc meetings over coffee or pizza are commonplace. If funding is needed startups seek angel investors, max out credit cards or approach venture capitalists. If they have to present slide decks most will be product-focused. The weakest slides are the ones that show the size of the potential market, assume they will close a few beachhead clients and then realize a growing revenue stream, as their slice of the revenue pie increases. New employees are “all in” and working hard with hopes their equity will be worth a substantial amount down the road.

Virtually all the money raised goes into the offering. When ready for beta sites the founders sell the first few clients. If successful they leverage early buyer results. At this point founders have belated epiphanies: it will be necessary to hire VP’s Sales that can figure out how revenue targets will be achieved. It seems ludicrous this realization comes so late in the process. The biggest exposure is introducing offerings in search of markets. Sometimes early market customers bail out startups by defining use cases for offerings.

There are different circumstances for established companies. Their existence doesn’t ride on new offerings but internal barriers can cause friction not seen in startups. As a company grows 4 separate and distinct silos emerge:

  1. PD creates new offerings despite being the silo farthest from buyers.
  2. Product Marketing identifies vertical segments for new offerings.
  3. Marketing creates campaigns to drive demand.
  4. Sales determines how to sell/position offerings and achieve revenue targets.

Silo Madness Undermines New Offerings

CEO’s assume the silos will play nicely in the sandbox and are oblivious to the reality that there can be significant headwinds. Silos heads are peers without clearly defined intersections. Over time the leaders and their staffs can develop silo blinders. Nobody appears willing or able to take an enterprise view of what’s best for the company. Silos often have conflicting agendas.

Customer-facing staff is closest to buyers but there is no common vocabulary with which to communicate buyer/market needs to PD. If revenue targets aren’t achieved, finger pointing and placing blame will be the order of the day. As you can imagine this can fuel adversarial relationships.

The silo structure is analogous to a crew team of four people that don’t use the same oars, aren’t rowing with the same cadence and have no coxswain steering the boat. Similar to startups how offerings will be sold is determined near the end rather than at the beginning of PD by the sales and marketing silos. Certainly, there must be a better way to get offerings to market.

All Together Now

My suggestion is that doing group sanity checks with participation from all four silos at the beginning of PD could improve coordination. It could also help if a senior executive designated by the CEO attends some or all of the meetings. I’d like to describe how the silos could collaborate more effectively:

  • When considering the creation of new offerings have all four silos identify and agree on the Key Players (titles likely to be members of buying committees for the offering).
  • For each title the group should define a menu of probable desired business outcomes that the offering can help the buyer achieve. This is the equivalent of answering the question: Why would this title buy our offering? It is an attempt to understand if there would be sufficient value for a buying committee to justify buying decisions.
  • Once the Targeted Conversation List™ has been agreed upon by the silos I suggest having customer-facing staff to validate the menus of goals by soliciting opinions from those titles within their customer base.

All members of silos should understand the vocabulary sales and support people use in discussing opportunities. A few examples:

  • Goal – a business outcome buyers would spend money to achieve
  • Latent need – business outcomes a buyer isn’t actively considering
  • Barrier – a reason a buyer can’t achieve a desired business outcome
  • Capability – a feature of an offering that addresses a barrier
  • Vision – Buyers know the capabilities they need to achieve their goals
  • Key Players – titles sellers must call on to sell, fund and implement offerings
  • Champion – a buyer that provides access to Key Players
  • Lead – a Key Player interested in achieving 1 or more goals
  • Champion letter – an email summarizing a buyer’s goals, barriers, and capabilities that requests access to other Key Players.

On an ongoing basis customer-facing staff would be expected to poll customers and prospects for new goals as well as the barriers to achieving them. Using common terms would allow organizations to provide inside-out views (toward buyers) for PD. The objective would be to understand new buyer goals and barriers to achieving them. This would more clearly define a large part of PD’s role: creating offerings that address buyer, prospect and market needs.

Sell What Buyers Want

This can provide a sustainable competitive advantage because for Product Marketing, Marketing and Sales it is much easier to promote and sell offerings people want to buy.

A few of my clients have taken this approach. Customer-facing staff attends the full workshop because they must be able to execute the selling steps in the process. That said non-customer facing staff views an on-demand series of narrated slides to provide a conceptual idea of the core concepts of CustomerCentric Selling® so they have a common vocabulary with which to exchange information. Oddly enough a major benefit is that the field is being heard and that customer issues are being identified and addressed.


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