Most B2B CMOs agree with the idea of putting customers at the center of their leadership, strategy, and operations — which we at Forrester define as customer obsession. But no matter how customer-focused you are, there’s often a deep-rooted tendency to think about the product or market category first and the customer second (evidenced in common questions such as Who will buy our product? or Who will this market category attract?).
That’s not so strange — companies exist because they sell things, after all. But at a time when buyers are harder than ever to please, organizations need to take an outside-in — or customer-driven — approach to succeed.
In case you need evidence that customer obsession pays off, decision-makers at customer-obsessed B2B companies are twice as likely as their non-customer-obsessed counterparts to report year-over-year revenue growth of 10% or more and twice as likely to have year-over-year profitability growth of 10% or more, as Forrester’s State Of Customer Obsession Survey, 2023, shows. Marketing leaders play a pivotal role in driving the shift toward customer obsession and setting the tone for their teams. While no organization becomes truly customer-obsessed overnight, taking the following actions can help you get there faster.
Get Face Time With Your Customers
Sounds obvious, but to center your strategy and operations around your customers, you need to get to know them. Go to — and send your team to — events where your customers and prospects will be. (Our B2B Summit may be one of these events if your audience includes B2B marketers, sellers, or product professionals). There truly is no substitute for listening to the presentations they give and the questions they ask, or having chats over lunch, in the elevator, or in the corridor between conference sessions. Even short conversations can help you internalize audience needs, learn the vocabulary they use (or avoid using, and why), and gain other insights.
Less intensive, but also very effective, is listening to your target audience on social media. Virtually every field has avid social media users who align with the buyer personas you’re trying to connect with. In a past role as CMO of a cybersecurity company, I advised a direct report who was struggling to get into our buyers’ mindset to follow relevant cybersecurity practitioners’ accounts and see what they were saying and commenting on. These sorts of insights will enrich your messaging and marketing to prospects.
Talk To Your Frontline People
Spend time with the people who talk to your customers most often — field marketers, salespeople, solution consultants, customer success managers, customer support representatives, etc. Ask a few simple questions: What’s going well? What isn’t going well? What should we be doing that we’re not? The questions are simple, but the answers may be surprising and lead to meaningful improvements. Proactively soliciting feedback also signals to your team that they should keep it coming.
Walk In Your Customers’ Shoes
Have you ever put yourself into your marketing organization’s prospect or post-sale nurture stream? How about filling out a contact form on your website? Customer-obsessed leaders strive to see their company through their customers’ eyes and experience interactions as their customers do.
Quick example: Another company where I led marketing had a form on its website to “contact sales.” Engagement with the form was lower than desired, so we tested and changed the message from “contact sales” to “get started.” What a difference that made! When visitors clicked the button, they were taken to a landing page where they could fill out a short form to schedule a demo, get a free trial, or engage with a product specialist. Offering these options as a next step, rather than pushing prospects solely toward talking to a salesperson, significantly improved engagement and increased the number of people who were willing to give us their contact information.
Align Around The Customer
Alignment between marketing, sales, and product teams goes hand-in-hand with customer obsession. Here, I’m not referring to alignment on processes and metrics (even though that’s critical). I mean aligning around customer experience.
We’ve probably all read marketing materials and wondered what the product or service actually does and where the plain-English version is. This typically happens when marketing lacks needed details from the product function (or doesn’t understand the buyer well enough). Another symptom of marketing-product misalignment is sweeping statements that aren’t credible to buyers (such as “We are the only company that can stop 100% of all security breaches”). Buyers will either be confused or, more likely, simply won’t believe you — and will move on to a competitor.
Incorporate Feedback And Invest The Resources Needed To Do So
You may (and should) be collecting customer feedback. But unless you take action on it, it’s almost better not to collect it at all.
A customer experience leader who reported to me at a previous company was frustrated because nothing was coming of the customer enhancement requests she was passing on to the product team. Our customer retention numbers were not meeting our goal, and a key reason was that customers felt that their product improvement requests were being ignored. Our product team hadn’t been acting on the feedback because their focus was on new functionality to go after new markets (itself an admirable activity, but not at the expense of underserving current customers).
It was only when we began investing a percentage of the research and development budget into customer enhancement requests that things started to turn around. Not only was it the right thing to do for our customers — it also made economic sense. It’s far more expensive to gain new customers than it is to keep existing ones, so losing customers was making it much harder for us to hit our growth target.
Celebrate Customer-Obsessed Behavior
Marketing leaders set the tone for customer obsession in their organizations. That includes acknowledging the behavior when you see it. If a team member provides great service or brings forth customer insights that help you make better decisions, highlight it to the team as an example. This is much more than just giving accolades to someone who stayed up all night or worked all weekend to help a client. In fact, if you find that kind of behavior necessary, that’s a sign you have not embraced customer obsession, but rather, unsustainable employee heroics. As your organization rolls out new processes and considers new offerings, also make it a habit to ask what they will mean for your customers and celebrate those team members who answer that question.
Customer obsession is a perpetual journey. You’ll never arrive “there” and get to rest. As your buyers’ needs and preferences evolve, your approaches should as well. Forrester clients can take our Customer Obsession Assessment to gauge their company’s current level of customer obsession maturity. Whether or not you’re a client, I encourage you to read our B2B customer-obsessed growth engine report and to reach out to us to help deepen your organization’s level of customer obsession.