B-to-B CMOs: It's Time to Own the Customer Experience

CMOs Must Integrate Brand and Customer Experience Across the Company

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The world your b-to-b customers live in is complex -- a maze of engagement channels, devices, conversations and interactions. Making a connection between your customers and your brand requires new ways to not just stand out to the right audience with the right message at the right time, but also building on that connection to create a strong and trusted relationship. As the CMO of a b-to-b enterprise, you must facilitate this complex engagement with a consistent customer experience across the entire path to purchase, from customers initially identifying a need, to researching their options, to making a purchase and using the product.

However, today's b-to-b CMOs must go beyond just customer acquisition to unite all customer interactions into a common consistent experience. Why now? Because b-to-b customers are increasingly wearing their b-to-c hats to the office, expecting to find Amazon-like experiences that will make or break how they view your brand. In fact, customer experience (CX) is playing an increasingly powerful role at each phase of the customer lifecycle, blurring the lines between the brand and CX.

In the new post-digital world, your brand is now defined as much by what your customers say about their relationship with you as what you say about yourself. Every touchpoint across the organization matters -- not just the marketing-led digital touchpoints. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise then that improving the customer experience is now the number one strategic priority for business leaders worldwide.

So what's a savvy b-to-b CMO to do? While in a recent Forrester survey only 43% of CMOs told us that they owned customer experience in their organization, it's time for b-to-b CMOs to step up and accept responsibility for defining the customer experience across the enterprise. To keep customer engagement high throughout the entire relationship with the firm, CMOs must implement strategies that extend the brand promise across all touchpoints with a consistent and exceptional customer experience. Success will require CMOs to use customer experience methodology and tools -- as well as customer understanding -- to merge brand, marketing, and companywide functional interactions into a unified customer experience strategy.

The intersection of brand and CX

What does this look like in practice? The brand strategy marketing develops must contain guidance on how to implement the brand promise in each function across the enterprise. As the keeper of the brand, CMOs must outline what the experience of the brand should be for customers -- and how to achieve it.

Leading b-to-b CMOs have learned that building a strong b-to-b brand requires them to lead their organization down a path to customer obsession. You must bring to life how employees should behave in their interactions with customers -- from how customer service reps should answer the phone, to service-level agreements (SLAs) on customer responsiveness, to how you handle complaints.

Delta Airlines learned the power and impact of customer experience misalignment with its brand promise when it endured a painful dip on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, as well as Forrester's Customer Experience Index. Not coincidentally, that dip corresponded to a four-year gap when the airline lost its status as the winner of J.D Power Customer Satisfaction Awards. The root of the issue? Delta's customer experience was not matching up to its brand promise: "Keep Climbing," the company's commitment to make flying better.

After a careful diagnosis of its biggest pain points, the airline was able to institute a program of systematic customer experience improvements across all of the key touchpoints that mattered most to customers: comfortable and productive pre-flight boarding areas; on-time arrivals and departures; and empowering customers to handle travel issues from missed connections to lost baggage. The result has been an increase in customers' willingness to recommend the airline, as seen in its improved ranking on the Customer Experience Index.

While Delta's core business is b-to-c, there are important lessons b-to-b CMOs can learn: 1) listen to your customers; 2) identify the key customer experiences that are negatively impacting your brand; and 3) prioritize understanding and improving those experiences to bring them back in line with your brand promise.

Adapting your brand and customer experience to the dramatic changes in b-to-b buyer expectations won't happen overnight. Success will hinge on an aligned organization that can pivot toward customer obsession, where value is built around the customer, rather than a singular channel or product. As the CMO, it's up to you to lead that charge. The time is now. Your customers demand it and your business prosperity depends on it.