How CMOs Can Make Sure Their Companies Are Customer-Obsessed

Strategies for Winning the Head, the Heart and the Feet of Marketing Organizations

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CMOs are charged with making their companies customer-obsessed -- so they can win in an age where customers are highly empowered. But the irony is that many marketing shops themselves are not customer-obsessed.

And therein lies the first strategic priority for CMOs in both b-to-c and b-to-b markets: reorienting marketing as a prerequisite for making their companies customer-obsessed.

Marketers: It's not all about you

Marketers are predisposed to think about the market first. So why are marketers not naturally predisposed to be customer-obsessed? The answer lies in gravity -- the gravity of the P&L and the associated product, solution or service performance.

To drive product performance, marketers rightly consider the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in the product to understand how best to place, price, position and promote it. Customer analytics focus on metrics like lifetime value -- metrics that answer the question, "How do my customers provide value to us?" And over time, this all adds up to marketers knowing more about the product than their customers, and performance gravity creates an increasingly inward-looking team.

The language of marketing follows suit. Our digital assets, print collateral and advertising start to come off like a bad date: It's all about me. My product, my price, my packaging. It leaves the customer feeling like a prop -- not the valued power player they have become.

The head, the heart and the feet

I have spoken with many CMOs -- across industries and geographies -- and this common theme has emerged: Marketing's relevance and performance is now predicated on putting the customer at the center of the universe. This is neither elective nor minor surgery. Most believe an overhaul -- not a simple refinement -- is needed to make marketing customer-obsessed and truly able to drive growth.

To get there, CMOs need to work on the basics of change management -- what I call "the head, the heart and the feet."

Getting people to intellectually agree -- with their heads -- that the marketing team needs to be customer-obsessed is relatively straightforward. The market evidence is overwhelming, and on a more personal level, each person acts as the empowered customer when he or she leaves work.

Winning over the heart is more difficult. It goes to the classic change management comment: "You mean me?" A schism appears when individuals are for change until they realize they must actually change. CMOs I have spoken with have taken different paths. But common among them is the need to define a more far-reaching vision for marketing -- a vision built on the reality that marketing needs to prioritize capabilities that deliver superior customer experience (CX) and drive revenue.

At the individual level, CMOs are developing their teams' skills -- from customer analytics to content marketing, where the customer is the protagonist -- and focusing on advancement for those who are ready and willing to take this journey. The need to build high-performance marketing teams is the strategic imperative; building highly relevant marketing skills is the carrot.

The reality is that getting our teams to buy in and build the needed skills is merely a step in becoming a customer-obsessed operation. To truly realize change -- to get the feet moving -- CMOs need to overhaul their marketing operating model. For many CMOs, this means killing the old organizational structure that was siloed, hierarchical and insular, and replacing it with an operating model that puts the customer -- his journey, touchpoints, and experiences -- at the center of the universe.

This customer-obsessed operating model has several prominent characteristics: a company-wide CX program that is led by the CMO; analytics that evaluate the varied and dynamic experiences of different customer groups (cohorts) at a granular level; and customer-centric content designed to the cohorts' different journeys.

These changes are relevant to b-to-c and b-to-b CMOs; but b-to-b companies have a slightly different consideration. In the past, the customer could be defined as an entire company or division; but that does not account for the more recent consumerization of the worker. B-to-b prospects, buyers, users -- meaning b-to-b individuals – now carry similar expectations for the customer experience as they do when shopping at b-to-c stores or outlets.

The customer has become the North Star of company strategy and operational design. And CMOs across industries and geographies are making hard changes to ensure that their own teams and their own operations are customer-obsessed. This transition is hard -- but it is the winning hand in thriving in the Age of the Customer.

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