Who Owns The Customer?


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Earlier this week, I attended Selling Power’s Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. It’s a great conference, Gerhard, his team, and the speakers did a fantastic job! During one of the breaks i had a conversation that left me a little confused. I thought I’d bring the conversation to the blog and get your views on the issue.

The issue is in today’s Sales 2.0 world, who owns the customer? By this, I mean, who has ultimate responsibility for managing the customer relationship, growing and supporting it.

While, many would say “the company” owns it, or propose the CEO or the board, pragmatically speaking, if you took Customer X, who in the organization is accountable for that relationship and everything that happens with it?

In other functions within the organization, it’s pretty clear to understand accountabilities. Product managers own the product line road map and P&L. Development managers own the execution of the product development plan. Manufacturing managers own the responsibility for building and shipping products. But increasingly, the ownership of the customer seems to be unclear.

Because customers are buying in profoundly new ways, we need to engage customers differently. In the old roles of marketing primarily focusing on visibility, awareness, and demand generation; and sales focused on taking leads, qualifying them, and managing them through closure; the accountability for the customer was pretty clear–it rested with sales. In some organizations, where there was ongoing service delivery, implementation, and other things, this could get fuzzy–did sales still have accountability or did that pass to customer service.

In the new world of customer engagement, where sales, marketing, service and support work together through the customer buying and fulfillment process, it strikes me the issue of “who owns the customer,” can become very cloudy. As we nurture and develop customers through their life cycle, many parts of the organization are involved, but there has to be clear accountability for owning the customer relationship.

It’s an important issue, if it’s not clearly defined, we can make lots of missteps—we may think someone else in the organization is accountable, each function, sales, marketing, customer service, others thinking another function is accountable–in the end no one owns it. As a result, we have no strategy for growing the customer, even worse, the customer doesn’t know who they need to go to when they really need something to happen. Usually, in these cases, they go somewhere else.

The opposite can happen, each function thinks they own the relationship. Each one drives a different strategy, each one communicates in subtly different ways to the customer. The customer ends up either confused, or “shopping” issues within the organization until they find the answer they want. But like the other extreme, without clear identification of the ownership of the customer, we have no consistent strategy for growing and managing the customer relationship, and the customer is confused about who to go to.

Gaining clarity on who owns the customer relationship is critical to maximizing their satisfaction and our ability to develop and execute a growth strategy with the customer. While many people in an organization are involved in working with the customer, only one can “own the customer.” That person must be accountable for developing and directing the strategy for engaging and managing that customer over their life cycle with the organization. That person must orchestrate all the resources involved in working with the customer over their life cycle.

I used to think that was sales—but in today’s world, it’s not clear to me. What do you think?

Additionally, this new role, seems to require very different skills than were required in the past. Developing and managing the total customer experience, managing how the customer is engaged and developed–not only for a specific deal, but through their entire life cycle requires new capabilities. Understanding what resources to invest, when, and how to maximize our opportunities within each customer creates new challenges and requires new skills. What are they, do those who are accountable for owning the customer relationship have them?

I used to think the answer was crystal clear. Now, I’m not so sure. What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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