Building on Customer Centricity

As I navigate through the work and challenges of being a Customer Success (CS) Leader in a function that continues to evolve, I have begun to notice more and more intersections. Intersections are places where two things meet each other, and they are also where two or more things overlap each other, like a mathematical “set” or Venn diagram. Because CS has a focus on bringing about value realization for our customers, we end up intersecting with the many different areas of a company that touch customers. Sometimes, these intersections can create friction, and sometimes, they can create collaboration. Recently, I sat down with Robert Chatwani, the CMO of Atlassian, in a fireside chat sponsored by Strikedeck, and discussed in detail the intersection between Marketing and Customer Success.

It is clear that there are many things to learn by looking at what happens in this intersection. The lessons differ depending on how companies are structured, their size, and their approach to doing business. One key area we explored is what techniques and approaches are applied to customer interactions and customer communication depending on the type of company. It is different for Business to Business (B2B) or Consumer focused (B2C) business models. By looking at the approaches of these two business models, you can have a positive impact on both sides of the intersection. It’s all about how we communicate with and about how we manage customers, and the data and information we leverage to formulate those messages. In the end, it is all about customer centricity.

Functional Differences and Similarities

Let’s start with the basic functional intersection of Marketing and CS. Marketing is focused on building a brand and acquiring leads that turn into engaged and successful customers. That is the first half of a customer journey – acquiring the customer. This includes activities like sharing information, educating the market, creating interest among prospective customers, and helping to qualify prospects to prove that there is value in the products in order to drive customers to purchase them. The customer acquisition phase of the customer journey includes communication, content, and nurturing that is targeted to build a relationship, generate interest, and create quality leads that eventually turn into customers and revenue.

CS is dedicated to ensuring that customers realize value from the purchases that they have made. This is the second half of a customer journey – managing the customer. Some of the same kinds of activities occur such as sharing information, educating customers, creating connections, and providing assistance to ensure value realization. For CS, the target is customers, instead of prospects. This second half of the customer journey sometimes includes customer education, deployment assistance, support, professional services, renewals, retention and building customer advocacy. In this half of the journey, the objectives and content are about improving speed to business value so that customers will become “sticky” and renew their relationship or possibly expand it.

The intersection between these two distinct functions is the content and the communication. Both sides of the journey, and both Marketing and CS need to interact with prospects/customers and provide consistent information. Marketing has built great models for nurturing, and identifying the right personas to target with specific content. CS has great models for educating and supporting the product to ensure value is realized. Both of these functions need to leverage customer communication and both have the opportunity to provide good input to the product team about how things are received in the prospect/customer world. When you think about navigating an intersection, you want a smooth path of consistent communication, not a sharp right or left turn once the customer has purchased your product. This requires CS and Marketing to be well aligned around the approach, content, and communication models they use.

Lessons from Different Business Models

Robert came from a B2C background into a B2B company. He observed that B2B Marketing is 10+ years behind the consumer experience in many ways. This is driven partly because B2B is more complex, there are multiple personalities that make up an account, not just a single consumer, and it’s also impacted by customer expectations. This is another intersection where there are lessons to be learned from both sides. Businesses today are filled with decision makers who have grown up with consumer level capabilities, and they now demand that same experience in their business interactions.

Business software is now expected to be as intuitive and easy to use as our consumer technology products. We have all had the experience of needing to use some antiquated system at work, and wondering why it can’t be easier to use. Why can’t it be like our consumer applications on our phones? This creates friction. While today, there is no room for a lack of usability, it’s important to note that many consumer products lack the complexity required to manage in a multifaceted B2B environment. There are usually legacy reasons why B2B applications tend to be more complicated and less user friendly. However, to be successful, they need to strive for the simplicity of the B2C experience. This is hard, and is impacted by many different functions within companies. Both Marketing and CS have the opportunity to be the voice of the customer and provide feedback to product teams so that they better understand customer and prospect expectations. Working together in the intersection, they can help to guide product designs and deployments in the right direction, and much more.

What B2C Can Teach B2B

One area where B2C approaches can be applied in B2B is in segmenting customers and focusing on the right targets. While B2C companies have been doing this for a number of years, B2B Marketing and CS teams are only recently beginning to segment prospects and customers. Sometimes, they do this based on an internal reference framework. Learnings from traditional B2C segmentation, which are naturally customer-focused, can be leveraged by B2B companies. This is a great opportunity for alignment in the intersection of Marketing and CS. By drawing on personalization, using experimentation, and optimizing communication to create tailored individualized experiences for a groups of prospects or customers, B2B companies can leverage more information and improve focus. If they are able to draw the segmentation from an externally focused customer viewpoint, and understand the “personality” of their complex B2B accounts, these companies can make use of the same methods as B2C companies. They can begin to experiment and optimize the communication and interactions that will eventually drive to good fit business, and strong retention and advocacy.

Both Marketing and CS can learn from what B2C companies have done in terms of measuring and instrumentation. B2C optimizes clicks on websites, and many B2B products are now delivered through the cloud and are effectively websites. There is a need to track and monitor traffic on the site, evaluate clicks on critical content, track conversions between different models of usage, and understand what clicks occur for critical “sticky” product features that will help drive usage and expansion. B2C has been applying pattern recognition for years to understand the customer. B2B companies have a big opportunity to improve results by providing personalized / customized nurturing content. They can also benefit from using data derived through instrumentation in the product to evaluate usage patterns since the products are mostly deployed in the cloud or on mobile platforms.

What B2B Can Teach B2C

There are also things that B2C companies can learn from B2B companies. For example, dealing with the diversity of a complex marketplace, B2B businesses have matured and developed good mechanisms for alignment across the different functions inside the company. Leaders work very closely together and share data in order to help understand and evaluate what is going on with the customer. This has been a necessity because of business complexity. When there are product issues and problems, B2B companies are inclined to put a cross-functional team together to solve the issues. This is a practice that could benefit B2C companies.

With some B2C products, there is a lack of communication and understanding about what happens after the consumer purchases the product. This is especially true when it is not a subscription based consumer product or sold through retail channels. It is also true when B2C companies are small, and don’t have the labs and resources to do extensive user testing in advance of product releases. B2B companies often make larger investments to ensure that things are well documented so that the deployment experience is good and customers understand how to get started with the product. Their relationship with the customer must continue through the deployment phase. Because of the diversity and complexity of products, processes are usually well defined and executed for product launches and deployments, and there are partner ecosystems that are built to support this. B2C companies can learn from this.

There are also some areas where B2B has a more institutional understanding of how the overall metrics are trending. This can be important to be able to take action to drive long term results. In particular, B2B companies put a big focus on managing their revenue and top line metrics around growth, and they often align renewal and churn rates with sales goals. B2C companies often sell through channels and focus on more of the consumer level details. Consumer behavior doesn’t lend itself to making it easy to manage the big picture and see trends. B2B companies have an advantage in this area, but it can be offset by the complexity of their business overall.

Finally, B2B companies have taken time to document customer journeys, and measure customer interactions with NPS and CSAT. They often have mature practices around these areas and while some B2C companies may do this, many do not. This is another opportunity for B2C companies to be able to leverage more value in their business from this kind of investment and activity.

Building the Relationships

We discussed the intersections of what can be learned in both directions for B2B and B2C as a way to improve business and customer relationships. Maybe there is an opportunity to make business relationships more humanized. Is there a blending going on in this intersection, and are we becoming H2H (Human to Human)? In most companies today, especially in software, features and functionality are table stakes – everyone has them. In order to really add value and grow, companies will want to differentiate and have a stronger ‘human’ relationship with their customers and help them realize the impact that the product can have on their business. This starts with customer centricity, and both CS and Marketing play a role.

While Marketing and CS are different departments with different goals and objectives, there is a need to make sure this intersection is navigated smoothly. Companies can align and blend the departments around a common customer focus. There is a need to create trust, openness and transparency in the business culture and as the backdrop for this, both Marketing and CS together can bring the voice of the customer to other departments in important ways.

Of course, how companies organize is powerful and there will be differences based on market focus, products, and the size of the company. Regardless, there is a need to ensure communication channels are not getting clogged, no matter the company size. This is partly about building a customer centric culture across departments, so both Marketing and CS can help to foster this and help ensure that all the other intersections that impact customers are smoothly navigated.

Profiting from the Intersection

How do we leverage what happens in the intersection? Whether it is the intersection of CS and Marketing or of B2B and B2C, one way is to keep a common theme – customer centricity. This is an ongoing exercise because customer communication, interaction, and customer journeys are a work in process even for those companies that invest in them.

As companies grow, so do their challenges, and it can be very difficult to take a big picture/systems view and to think about the end to end relationship with customers when there are natural silos that form over time. These silos occur both with organizational goals, and with the data that is needed to better manage the business. Spending some time thinking about how to optimize the overlaps in the intersections and applying them to team goals and metrics is beneficial. Everything we do in business is in the service of creating a customer and keeping them. Handoffs happen in intersections; products impact what happens in the intersection; how we sell and go to market impacts what happens in the intersection, and how we service and manage our customers affects what happens in the intersections.

Take a few minutes and think about who you intersect with at your company and in your market space. You might find some things that you can do to create more collaboration and less friction!

Irene conveys the voice of the customer when setting strategy from go to market planning through maximizing customers for life. She creates effective post-sale teams in startups by hiring and mentoring customer focused staff and applying scalable processes that are dependent on business objectives and target markets. With 20+ years of experience, Irene has successfully built and operated multiple global services, support, and customer success teams in the US, Europe and Asia. Most recently she was VP of Customer Success for Cloud Cruiser, a global venture backed start-up providing consumption analytics across hybrid cloud environments. She is currently writing a book titled, Who Speaks for the Customer?

Irene Lefton

VP of Customer Success, LastLine