Nearly every organization we speak with believes they’re customer-centric. Work by MarketCulture Strategies, found that “a strong customer-obsessed culture is the single most important driver of future business performance.” Their research found that companies that are more customer-centric achieve higher profitability. While many companies aspire to have a customer focus, the Hotjar’s State of Customer Experience report revealed that only 12% of the responding companies identified themselves as being extremely customer focused.

Are you among them? Here’s a quick way to self-check. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and imagine how they would answer the following questions. Use a 1-10 scale, with 10 being strongly agree and 1 being strongly disagree.

  1. As a supplier or partner you are able to mobilize your company on our behalf better than your competitors.
  2. As a supplier or partner you play a leading role in shaping the supply chain in which we operate.
  3. As a supplier or partner you are an integral and essential part of our supply chain.
  4. As a supplier or partner you understand how we purchase and decide to buy.
  5. As a supplier or partner you go out of your way to understand what value means to us more than your competitors.
  6. As a supplier or partner you carefully develop new products/services with what we value as your driving factors.
  7. We prefer your products and services over your competitors because they meet our needs or solve our problems better.
  8. As a supplier or partner we can count on you to know which of your products/services we buy and whether the current portfolio is still appropriate.
  9. As a supplier or partner you’ve done a good job integrating your processes with ours.
  10. As a supplier or partner you understand our business well enough to create solutions that will give us a competitive advantage.

Did you ace it? If you scored less than 8 on any question, it might be time to make some changes. Need to make more substantial improvements?

Customer Focus

Finding a Customer Focus

We have found that when our customers follow six steps, they improve both internal alignment and customer-centricity. Here’s a quick review of what they do.

  1. Let go of the outdated sales funnel. The sales funnel model is a 112-year-old tool used by Sales organizations to understand the flow of business opportunities and the culprit behind misalignment. It permits and even encourages the Marketing and Sales teams to operate as independent, unrelated silos of business activities. Yes, we know a lot of people now use the word pipeline, but conceptually it is still a sales-centric, inside-out approach. What do we change? Change your focus to the customer. Work to understand how customers move through THEIR journey to purchase.
  2. Define clear stages of the journey. Use these as the markers and vocabulary for how customers pass through investigating their problem to identifying and buying their solution. This is not a reinvention of the funnel where we relabel steps that we ascertain as a suspect, prospect, lead, MQL (marketing qualified lead), SAL (sales accepted lead), SQL (sales qualified lead), or whatever nomenclature you prefer. No customer wants to be thought of as a lead. Define your language around what the customer is doing – their actions – as they make their way from investigation to purchase. It is both Marketing’s and Sales’ job to help customers move through these stages. While segmentation, targeting, and qualification are important, it is crucial to understand how this approach is different from the funnel before we go to the next step.

If it’s not clear to you yet, here is a way to think about it: When we use a sales-centric funnel, we are focused on what WE do – identifying buyers, calling a meeting, assessing a need, determining the budget, submitting a quote, delivering a presentation, submitting a proposal. When we change to a customer-journey pipeline, we focus on what THEY do – visit the website, download a document, read an analyst report, request a call, schedule a meeting, or create some other opportunity to have a conversation. This isn’t just about semantics; it’s about perspective. When you change your perspective, it impacts your internal processes.

  1. Determine which observable behaviors indicate greater engagement. Avoid terms like MQL, SQL, and SAL which reflect an internal perspective. No customer wants to be labeled a qualified lead. Configure your internal processes around the degree of engagement by the customer and make this engagement the basis for your process. For this step, which is often very iterative, the key to really understanding the customer buying process is in each incremental behavioral commitment along the way. This will take some research and data provided by your Marketing and Sales systems, but also data derived from primary research. Start with the data, not your process.
  2. Create a buying climate. This is one of the primary responsibilities of Marketing. To create the buying climate, Marketing must understand the needs and future potential of the market, identify customers, and assess your organization’s competitive potential. A customer focus will aid this process.
  3. Match your downstream activities to the customer buying journey. Market- and industry-specific content, influencer marketing, SEO (search engine optimization), advertising, and events are all elements in the downstream. The key is to be clear about which downstream elements work best at each stage.

For example, in the investigation stage it is critical to be discoverable. Tactics such as organic and paid search, social media, leveraging credible influencers and subject matter experts, and participating in online communities are essential to being discoverable. Engaging customers, once they have moved into the mode of identifying solutions, requires an approach using blogs, published articles, ebooks, newsletters, educational webinars, how-to videos/podcasts, and expert guides. The point is, different stages require different downstream elements.

  1. Create a method to identify your best opportunities. You guessed it, we’re talking about opportunity scoring. Opportunity scoring enables you to decide which opportunities are worthy of nurturing and which are sales-ready. There are various ways to score. We prefer an approach that includes both fit and behavior.

Organic Growth

Drive Organic Growth with Customer Centricity

We started this post with providing some questions to help you determine your degree of customer-centricity. Customer-centric companies realize that growth depends on how they are going to make a difference in the market and create value for customers. When you’re customer-centric, every decision starts with the answers to these five questions:

  1. What are the customer’s needs, pains, and passions?
  2. How are they addressing these today?
  3. How can we help them solve or realize these?
  4. How can we do it better than the alternative?
  5. How will we communicate this value?

With the answers to these questions you can derive a solid grasp of what your customer looks like, their needs, and how you help them solve a compelling, relevant, important, or urgent problem. Armed with this information and the process above you can develop an approach that enables you to create better alignment internally and with your customers. Whether you use this approach or another, create one that allows you to better understand your customers and define where a customer is in their process so you can serve them better.