Making the operational pivot to customer

Last week I introduced our three-stage roadmap for digital go to market transformation. In this post, I’ll briefly explore the first stage – Operationally Pivoting to the Customer – to give you a sense of what you need to consider when embarking on your transformation.

There’s no doubt that the big question on everyone’s lips at the moment is how to get customer-centric design right. The odds are that your organisation is already talking about customer transformation and you’re thinking about how to deliver it. Whilst once upon a time we would have aspired to being a customer-focused organisation, we no longer have the luxury to hope and try. To be future-fit and meet the needs of today’s customer, customer-centricity needs to be a genuine operational reality.

Let’s recap the reasons behind this change. People now buy differently. There’s a new and higher set of expectations for how customers engage with us. Delivering a highly relevant end-to-end experience is now a key source of differentiation and one of the critical drivers customers base decisions on. We’re all trying to deliver more relevance and personalisation, but the key challenge is that we need to deliver this across a broader mix of channels and a higher volume of interactions. The only way to do this will be to fundamentally break down our legacy ways of working and reconstitute the business around a new approach – one that places the customer at the centre of everything we do – the true ‘pivot to customer’.

So what does this actually look like? Across the marketing and sales transformation projects we’ve undertaken, there are typically six important steps organisations need to think about and work through:

  1. Secure executive sponsorship and educate the business
    Business leaders may already understand the need to become more customer-centric, knowing that this will be a key pillar of long-term profitability and growth. In the short-term however, customer-centricity and profitability can often seem at odds with each other. In particular, with near-term numbers looming, it can be hard for the transformation agenda to take priority over business-as-usual operations. In our experience, one of the best ways to expedite the process of change is by running short pilots with clearly defined business goals and commercial outcomes. This enables the business to test and evolve new ways of working into business-as-usual operations, effectively de-risking larger transformation decisions. Aligning the leadership team behind a commercially robust pilot is a much easier sell than a far-reaching and expensive business-wide transformation agenda.

    Educating people across the business and bringing them on board will also be a significant hurdle to overcome. This challenge is commonly most pronounced with traditionally sales-driven business lines. With most salespeople typically feeling a deep sense of ownership of the customer relationship, the introduction of digital marketing or service channels can often be perceived as threatening. Drawing out these concerns early, helping salespeople understand the change imperative and roadmap, as well as leveraging your pilot agenda to actually show them the value – will all be key to getting people behind the transformation agenda.
  2. Sharpen market segmentation
    A significant realisation that typically has to occur at this point is that you simply can’t be relevant to everyone. If your targeting is broad, you are far less likely to deliver the quality and relevance today’s customer expects. Consciously defining and prioritising your market ‘sweet spots’ – those customer segments where a significant market opportunity and your core differentiation intersect – is an important process to ensure you have clearly defined ‘where you will play’. Once clear on these priority segments, the next step is to align product, marketing and sales behind them. This cross-functional alignment will underpin the organisation’s ability to be relevant and deploy resources towards the most profitable opportunities.
  3. Map personas and buyer journeys
    To deliver the experience customers now demand, a deeper understanding of how they buy and what they want is key. A subtle, yet critical mind-set shift needs to take place across the business. It’s no longer about how you drive customers through the sales process, but about understanding how customers buy and then facilitating and supporting this process in a cohesive way. To make this shift, you need to have an intimate understanding of your key customer personas and each of their buying journeys. What drives their perception of value? What are their needs at each stage of the buyer’s journey? What are their content and channel preferences? Answers to these questions will form the foundation for all marketing and sales execution disciplines.
  4. Develop your content strategy
    Now that you understand your buyer journeys, you can map out what content is needed at each stage in order to ‘cut through’ and facilitate progression. You may be lucky enough to have legacy content that you can repurpose and adapt. However there will still most likely be a significant build required. Considering that you need to build content assets for each of your key segments, solution groups, buyer personas – each with a number of journey steps – adapted for different channels, this exponential equation can quickly add up to be an unfeasible build. This is where your specific market segmentation will really kick in to save you. Having taken a narrow approach with your market segments, this will help limit the scope of your content build. As such, you will now have the capacity to create content specific to each stage of the buyer’s journey and deliver more relevance to your key customers.
  5. Evolve your digital channel strategy
    It’s very likely that in order to distribute content to the right places where your customers are, you will need to launch new digital channels. These could include digital marketing channels, like online search, display ads or social media. However more broadly, these could also include digital purchase or service channels, such as online support or apps that facilitate ongoing customer engagement and repurchase. A clear plan is required to outline when these channels will be activated and how they will effectively integrate with each other and legacy channels, such as sales.

    It’s also important to figure out how you can ensure customers are sold to and serviced through the optimal channel mix. For example, you could migrate your low-value customers to new and more cost-effective digital channels, allowing your expensive sales channels to focus on high-value customers. Clearly defining this channel migration strategy and how you will incentivise any required channel shifts is critical.
  6. Validate technology and data foundations
    Evolving your technology ecosystem to enable the right staff to deliver relevant customer interactions in the right channel, at the right time, is the flag on the hill. Given the complexity to get there, it’s important to start laying the technology foundations and outlining what your required technology roadmap will look like. For many businesses, this process begins with uplifting data integrity. CRM disciplines and the quality of the customer database are commonly far from perfect in this early stage. If not resolved, the ability to deliver relevance will be greatly diminished.

    On the technology side, the first hurdle is often making sense of the range of solutions out there and identifying which are best suited to help you. For marketing leaders in particular, there’s an exploding array of very sophisticated tools available, so understanding what they can do is challenging. There’s also a need to educate both the leadership team and IT on the available technologies and why these are an important part of the picture. While the customer, people and process elements will ultimately form the foundation of your customer-centric design, it will be technology that brings scale to it and actually makes it work. So it’s important to carefully consider the technology foundations you need and work closely with IT on the roadmap for how you will prove, implement and evolve your technology ecosystem.

Slow down in order to speed up

With pressure to adapt to the new buying environment, it’s tempting to charge ahead with transformation before laying the critical foundations. To achieve long-term success, you need to achieve two broad objectives early on – get people behind your transformation agenda and understand the customer on a much deeper level.

With this ‘customer pivot’ complete, the business is positioned to begin the next stage of transformation, where the much more difficult process of functional integration takes place. In this second stage you will test, prove and evolve a whole new marketing and sales execution engine; redesign processes, evolve operating models and hardwire new and more automated ways of working through technology. If you haven’t first laid the foundations outlined in this post, you will inevitably need to address them at a later stage – leading to a stop-start transformation program.

Worded by Chris Horn

Adapting to the Digitally Empowered B2B Buyer
Adapting to the Digitally Empowered B2B Buyer

Digital has changed fundamentally how B2B customers buy, bringing both opportunity and unprecedented complexity for marketing and sales organisations.