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Why B2B Firms Need To be Customer Obsessed

Why B2B Firms Need To be Customer Obsessed

If you’re in B2B, you know how trendy phrases can catch-on and spread like wildfire. And if you’ve been in B2B for long enough, you’ve probably developed a healthy sense of restraint when it comes to embracing the buzz. Throw in the fact that the term ‘Obsession’ can be borderline cringeworthy in the real world, and you have some explaining to do. So, here goes: What’s driving the B2B obsession with being customer obsessed?

First off, I’d like to address one of the first questions that comes to every B2B marketer’s mind and mouth before Customer Obsessed has been fully clarified: We’ve spent years becoming customer centric, isn’t that the same? 

As a B2B marketer, I thought the same thing when I was first introduced to the concept of Customer Obsessed. Turns out, there are inherent differences but the two will always live happily together in any organization. 

Gartner defines Customer Centricity as: “The ability of people in an organization to understand customers’ situations, perceptions, and expectations.” 

More recently, Forrester defines a Customer Obsessed firm as one that: “…puts the customer at the center of your leadership, strategy, and operations.” 

I’ve been studying the difference for some time now and, to make a very long story short, the distinction is in 1) The depth of implementation; while customer centric companies may talk the talk, customer obsessed companies walk the walk. And it’s a long one. A walkathon in fact. 

And 2) The breadth of your impact; customer centric strategies focus on traditional marketing metrics like leads and NPS, while customer obsessed strategies are tightly tied to the business. This changes everything – but we’ll touch on that later. 

Customer centric probes for satisfaction; customer obsessed closes the loop on engagements to build trust and improve retention

Customer obsessed companies start with a mindset revamp and see it all the way through to adapting every aspect of the company’s operations to meeting real customer needs. So, for example, while both centric and obsessed companies are focused on listening to the customer, the obsessed will take the knowledge gleaned from the conversation and feed it into the service, the product, and the go-to-market. And the obsessed company’s infrastructure will be geared towards weaving that knowledge into gold delivered back to the customer. The concept of customer centric sparked a major overhaul to many customer-facing practices and even went so far as to prove its influence on acquisition, but it has never gone beyond knee deep when it comes to overhauling an enterprise’s operations or infrastructure. 

Another meaningful moment the B2B industry had with customer centric occurred (I’m actually not sure it’s over yet), when companies started to wave the customer centric flag as an expression of their forward-thinking culture. It was less than a decade ago, when customer centric companies started flaunting their customer centricity as a trendy means of attracting (you guessed it) ‘customer-centric employees’. Service organizations were overhauled with technologies that promised to make them as customer centric as possible and bots began to (literally) pop up on any and every interface as an expression of how great a listener the vendor was. 

But, although declaring customer centricity was a giant leap in the right direction, customer centric companies do not go so deep as to infuse the customer into their “…leadership, strategy, and operations.” It simply wasn’t part of the customer centricity brief. 

In Customer Obsessed the transformation is broader, and the outcomes are bigger and broader. Customer obsessed companies undertake a transformation that changes everything. Its bigger than being product-led, or sales-led because it redefines the way the teams work, the goals they pursue and their readiness to collaborate. Being customer obsessed is about aligning everyone in the company and every process across the organization around the shared goal of supporting your customer’s success. According to Forrester, customer obsessed B2B companies grow faster, retain more customers, and have more engaged employees than their peers. We’re seeing the same data come in from our own customer cases and through our community. 

Going from centric to ‘aligning around the customer’ is more than pretty imagery. When we observe the evolutionary step that B2B is taking now, from being “tuned in” to customer needs, to being focused on gearing the company to meet them, what stands out most notably for me is the change in the way teams will be compelled to work together. The discussion around the cultural transformation required to achieve more, reminds me of the transition to DevOps that software development leaders began evangelizing a few years back. A helpful developer friend once explained to me in layman’s terms that in a DeVops model, teams are being recomposed from a focus on full-stack engineers to one that gathers different types of programmers to work together on achieving shared goals. They went from working in vertical silos to working horizontally and the results (I hear) are remarkable; they move faster, deliver with less error, feel motivated because the “higher purpose” is tied to a bigger picture of success for the company. Of course, there are many other attributes of a DeVops model that will always be Greek to me, but the concept of different disciplines coming together to contribute of their specific expertise that work to address various aspects of the same issue stayed with me. As a marketer, it made me wonder what work would be like if we all collaborated on higher shared goals and even went so far as to “share the relationship”. 

What would it be like if Sales, Marketing, Support, Product, all came together to work on delivering more value to the customer? What would it entail? A recent LinkedIn post written by Scott Wilder, our own Global Head of Customer Engagement and Community (AKA Crowdvocate’s CARE Team), really hits home for me on the true meaning of being customer obsessed or customer led: 

“Every company I have worked with has used the word ‘Customer’ in various department names – Customer Success, Customer Marketing, Customer Service, Customer Education, Customer Experience, etc. Despite this well-intended (and exceedingly common) naming convention, and even though these groups all worked with the same customers, they rarely did so in concert or developed a cohesive and integrated approach toward working with customers. More often, they operated independently from one another, resulting in missed opportunities, disjointed messaging, and customer confusion. They also each share their findings with management as if they are each talking about a unique groups of customers. Each showcases their own engagement metrics, for example. The reality, however, is that they are often talking about the same audiences.

Your organization can’t truly be customer-led without addressing this issue. At one of the software companies I worked at, we had small, 6-person growth squads with representation from different ‘customer’ groups that met several times a week – to coordinate content, optimize communication, drive campaigns, etc. The team focused on ‘the first mile’ – onboarding. One of the key insights was to focus on the first 24 hours vs. the first week someone had the product. If we could get customers to do three specific things during their first day with our product, overall engagement and LTV increased dramatically.”

Wilder goes on to point out the painful fact that realistically, meetings in the tech world should be cut down to the absolute minimum, and that’s where facilitating technology steps in. Aligning around the customer requires leadership to commit to a customer-led strategy, and the operational changes will follow. The operational shift requires technology designed for the new un-siloed culture and work process. 

What happens when you set this customer obsessed/ customer-led transformation into motion? Amazing things, that’s what.

Forrester reports that the early adopters, or most maturely customer-led companies in this space, like HubSpot, Gong, and Similarweb are seeing astounding new data. But what’s more important to note is that the marketing data covers new areas of influence, like revenue, LTV and retention. Customer-led marketers are empowered to drive their company’s growth in a manner that goes far beyond acquisition and sales support – and here lies the true revolution. 

  • 41% of companies that are customer obsessed grew their revenue by 10% or more in the last fiscal year compared to companies that are not customer obsessed 
  • 97% of employees at customer obsessed companies believe that its highly likely that their firms products and services will be best in class in the next 5 years 

Customer-led marketing organizations are seeing a new scope of impact that is directly tied to their customer’s success and happiness. This means more revenue, eventually more budget, and a myriad of uncharted areas to make your career mark on. Employees committed to a customer’s-led strategy are reportedly more content and prouder of their brand for doing a good job. 

The cycle is nothing less than obsession worthy and we’re foreseeing a long and prosperous future for customer obsession, despite – and perhaps in light of – the rocky waters ahead.