Marketers have paid lip service to customer-centric marketing for a long time. But consumers and business buyers have flipped the conversation from "Oh, they think they know me" to "They better know me, or I'll find someone who does." For brands to be truly competitive in the Age of the Customer, companies must become customer obsessed – or risk losing market share to the competition. 

At Forrester’s Forum For Marketing Leaders next week, Forrester analysts and industry speakers will address why marketers must go 'beyond the campaign', to deliver real-time customer value. We'll hear from Jeannine Rossignol, Vice President of Marketing Services at Xerox, who will discuss Xerox’s Get Optimistic initiative. Designed to engage buyers by talking about what they care about (hint: it’s not your brand!), the initiative feeds self-interest with highly relevant, customer-centric content.

In the run-up to Forum, I posed a few questions to Jeannine. Here's a sneak peak of what's to come next week.

Q: B2B marketers aren't typically known for being customer-centric. What was the biggest barrier you faced as you attempted to pivot?

Barriers are just opportunities in disguise (I am an optimist, after all). How you view them can make all the difference in whether you can overcome them or not. Businesses today face unprecedented choice on a daily basis – and to stand out among their options, we can’t just say we’re customer-centric; we have to make them believe it. And for most of us that requires a complete mindset change.

That change is largely driven by the fact that our interactions with customers and prospects are rapidly changing as they become more social, digital, and more informed before they even enter a sales conversation. You need to have a much deeper understanding of your customer’s business goals and the path to achieving them. But to compel them to action, you have to be more proactive – by bringing value and solutions to challenges and problems your prospects don’t even know they have.

And at the end of the day, people make decisions and surrender long-term loyalty based on interactions with people. Personal interactions with sales reps remain the most influential factor—across touch points, industries, and regions—for B2B customers. So perhaps the biggest change in mindset happens when you accept that you are no longer “marketing” or “selling” to a company; you are starting a conversation with a person.   

And that conversation takes more work in an era when decision makers can instantly research, vet, and social network the information and/or credibility behind anything we’re putting out there. We have to do some extra work to earn our voice and authority. The key for us (notice I said key, not barrier) was to ensure we had a partnership with sales that would continue the conversation. Fortunately, at the same time Xerox marketing was embarking on the change, our US sales force was evolving to use The Challenger Model, developed by Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon. You are likely familiar with this “insight selling” approach – bringing such compelling, even provocative insights and points of view, that you upend a customer’s current practices and “challenge” them to embrace new opportunities. It’s a distinct methodology that prepares you to coach your customer through the sale vs. the customer coaching you. 

That investment from sales, combined with our new focus on tailoring information to customer’s specific needs and objectives, made for a powerful partnership that revolved around a customer-centric focus.

Q. The program you're going to share with us at the Forum largely hinges on content marketing. Was it harder for your team to develop the content or to distribute it?

We are fortunate to have an abundance of great content developed by the team and/or curated through strong partnerships. Where we’ve had to work harder is atomizing the content for new and different channels. When you change your thinking about your customers and your content, every day marketing tools like white papers, industry-relevant articles, and customer case studies can be powerfully repurposed for exponentially greater impact. Sure you can tweet about it and point to the full article, but you can also pull apart key ideas to make them short blog posts, conversation starters in LinkedIn, or visual prompts in SlideShare. We’ve also changed how we capture interviews with subject-matter experts – leveraging Skype so we can use short clips as a multimedia preview to the content on YouTube.  

But while the distribution strategy tends to take more strategic effort, it’s important to remember that blogs, tweets, and other social outlets are just that – outlets. It’s what you put into those outlets, or channels, that makes the difference. At the heart of content marketing is storytelling – it’s interesting, it’s useful, and it’s relevant…but it’s not about you, your brand, or your products. Once you evolve the way you think about content and you think about reaching customers where they want to be reached…you instantly expand your influence and credibility in the market. 

And bringing your insights to social media is hugely important – because let’s face it, by the time a customer reaches out, they’ve already made approximately 60% of their decision. Social media gets to them where they’re learning…on the Internet. Our marketing team and sales teams are collaborating to embrace LinkedIn and other social media platforms to boost the role social media plays in our selling practice. 

Q. As you think about the future, how much of a role do you expect content marketing to play in B2B marketers' strategies?

Content marketing will be, if it already isn’t, the cornerstone for B2B marketing. With that said, we already face content overload. Effective content marketing isn’t about flooding the market with content; it’s about providing customers with the most insightful, relevant, valuable information needed to make great business decisions. B2B marketers aren’t just competing with other B2B companies for mindshare. In today’s always-on, always-connected world, work is no longer neatly constrained to the hours of 9 to 5. That means you are competing against B2C companies, friends, and family for mindshare. In order to get that mindshare, and keep it, you have stop selling and start engaging.

Hear more from Jeannine next week at Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders, April 10-11 in San Francisco.