There’s been a lot of talk about businesses becoming ‘customer centric’ lately. I’ve just returned to the UK after spending the last 6 years living and working in the US where this has been especially clear. America – the land of the free and fancy, customer-related titles. Aside from these accolades, what does clearly putting the customer at the heart of a business actually mean?
In today’s market, where there is a newer and nimbler tech start-up around every corner primed to take your business or market share, smart companies are investing in putting someone in a position to act as that vital link between departments and ultimately representing the customer. It’s become a simple matter of competitive advantage. So often businesses fall behind the competition because they get wrapped up in their day-to-day operations and in their newer, more exciting product initiative that they forget to ask themselves who their customer is and if this will benefit them.
Cross department link to the customer
From my experience working with companies that are storming ahead of their competition and dominating the market, the Chief Customer Officer (or ‘CCO’) is a vital reminder of the customers point of view to all other teams. For quite some time Marketing has been emphasising the importance of customer journey mapping, product teams are profiling their customers, and sales organising themselves around customer verticals. However, in most of these organizations this learning is silo’ed into these disparate departments or teams. There has been no central person or team reasonable for pulling all of these pieces together. The CCO has become this important link to the customer between teams.
Putting the customer at the heart of any business begins with sales. Sales is unfortunately a bit of a dirty word here in the UK, which is why companies and individuals do their best to pretend they are doing something else such as undertaking ‘partnerships’, ‘customer growth’, ‘business development’ (all of which are titles I’ve had at one point in my career…). Going to the states was eye opening for me in how much more respected of a profession sales is and how businesses are more open to it culturally. This has enabled companies in America to storm ahead of their European counterparts, because they are not scared of sales. Sales people are regarded as senior leaders and are among the most highly compensated in the company. Processes are installed for product teams to use the insight that sales teams glean about the customer and market to innovate and get ahead. These processes need not be complex or a drain on time. There’s a lot of software companies out there who can help (I’m a huge fan of aha.io). Using this software, sales people can easily input feature requests and up vote or like to push certain areas of the roadmap development to the top. This coupled with a bi-weekly meeting between product & sales leaders to discuss these points and bring them to real life is what I’ve seen work really well to increase revenue and drive a company forward.
Decreased customer churn
Another trend that has been around for quite a while in America and is just starting to pick up speed in Europe is that of rethinking account management. Traditionally account management teams were incentivized to constantly be upselling to their customers. This was never going to work because sales people and account managers have different DNA. When you try to ask someone to do both, it results in unhappy customers and increased churn.
Sales people are natural hunters, they know the questions to ask and when to ask them (and when not to ask them) to sniff out opportunities. Account managers are farmers in the way that they are detail oriented. They get huge satisfaction out of tending to their customers’ needs and educating them in the best ways to achieve their goals. This results in happy customers who have a genuine love for your product or service. There’s been a lot of buzz on this subject lately, especially in b2b technology sector where every companies’ number one priority is decreasing churn.
The renaming and restructuring of account management to ‘Customer Success’ has been a direct result of this thinking. Those winning in this space understand the DNA of their people and do everything they can to structure teams around the customer, and not the other way around. Instead of compensating their sales people in a large lump sum after the initial sale they are spreading the incentives out across the lifecycle of a customer. Understanding that this creates different motivations in sellers, instead of ‘just getting the deal done’ they are now concerned with the long-term potential of that client as this will directly impact their own success.
Overall, I think we can expect to see a lot more customer orientated titles popping up, and we should pay attention. The organisations that will not only survive, but flourish in today’s review-driven economy will be the ones who put their relationship with their customers at the heart of their business. It will be interesting to see Talecco’s upcoming 2018 CCO report.
LinkedIn – Hannah Godfrey