In a recent study we read, the role of marketing is changing to become the chief advocate for customers. In fact, the #1 priority of B2B marketers in 2016 will be “understanding buyers,” according to a recent survey from the IT Sales and Marketing Association. In today’s world of empowered buyers, the marketers who are getting it done are those who understand their buyers best. Customer-centricity is a competitive advantage!

We tapped into the growing Cintell community for perspective from the front lines of customer-centric marketing. Here’s one of their stories: 

 

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Julie Carey, Director of Product Marketing at ShapeUp

Julie is Director of Product Marketing at ShapeUp, a workplace wellbeing platform. She’s an experienced marketer and her previous work focused on SaaS go-to-market strategy, market analysis, customer acquisition and retention, and strategic client consulting at LogMeIn (LOGM) and TechTarget (TTGT).

When it comes to B2B marketing, her hidden talent is a combining blind optimism with sarcasm to get myself and team through the day, week, month quarter or year.

Julie’s Take on Customer-Centricity:

  • To me, the phrase “customer-centric” means:
    • shifting from a mindset of the “thing” you build or “stuff” you sell to align your culture with the needs of your best customers. Most businesses can’t meet the needs of any business size in any vertical. Aligning cross-functionally from product development to sales and marketing, to customer support allows you to solve the problems of your existing customers, evolve to meet their future needs, and acquire new customers as you, your prospective buyers, and technology all advance.
  • The role of buyer personas to me: 
    • are an opportunity to improve decision making across your organization. Market dynamics, buyers and technology have advanced and the B2B buying process is more complex than ever.   Research, buyer insights, and persona building allow us to figure out which buyers we can (and should) connect to and what will trigger them to take action. The development of personas can apply to more than just marketing content and storytelling. The most exciting part is, once developed, they offer opportunity to inform decisions on everything from product strategy to how customer support approaches a call.
  • Here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned from creating personas:
    1. If you’re new to personas start small. Unless you’re completely leading a market, pursue developing a few that matter to start. Think of the personas that matter as the ones that will become your best customers. Your personas are yours, you can always go back develop more categories later.
    2. It’s okay to be exclusive. You know your market, are developing who your best buyer is and will be, and know who just simply isn’t a fit. Create exclusionary personas and avoid them. Forever.
    3. Rework often.

Her Philosophy:

  • Some of the best marketing advice I received is decide and do. It’s certainly not a “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” advice, but you won’t learn anything if you aren’t putting ideas into action. Make decisions, make mistakes, and learn and grow from them.
  • If companies are struggling to put buyers first, I recommend remembering you’re a consumer. These days consumers and B2B buyers really aren’t that different. You live the “customer experience” every single day. Think about what makes you loyal to a particular product or brand. Do that.
  • Companies or marketers who are customer-centric are obsessed with their customers, plain and simple. Zappos, Amazon, REI – those are companies I think of as customer-centric. They listen, evolve, and provide top-flight customer service.
  • To help sales understand our buyers, we create materials, tools, and hold trainings. We also reinforce that our market and buyers are evolving, so revisit tools often and commit to continuous research and development.

The Good Stuff:

  • To understand our buyers, we keep a consistent feedback loop across internal departments (product, sales, support etc.) – but marry that up with research and interviews to remain unbiased.   Having an ear to the ground with your existing customer base is important– but it’s essential to go beyond your own employees.
  • My favorite ways of conducting interviews with buyers are not conducting interview with your buyers at all! Kidding aside, my favorite interviews go beyond the buyer to explore a product’s impact (or potential impact) on the broader business. Whether it’s business productivity software, or an employee wellness solution – your day-to-day user often has a very different, and important, set of needs than your buyer.

    I love one-on-one user interviews that combine questions with feature testing. This type of interview offers perspective your buyer or buying team can’t always capture for you. Buyers and users just have a different criteria and motivators.You might meet all of the check boxes for the buying team, but to sustain and cultivate a long-term relationship with your customer, teasing out how to make your product stick, and be widely adopted within an organization is critical. User interviewees are often brutally honest and can provide valuable insight into what might be a deal-breaker for them or how their needs may change over time.

  • We share personas, or information about our buyers, with the rest of our company by conducting in-person and virtual trainings, and layering detail into our enablement materials.
  • Here’s a story about a time we put customer-centric marketing in practice: At a previous company, we kicked off in-person customer and user feedback days. Outside of large, long-term feature enhancements, we uncovered items that seemed minor but would significantly improve the UX. Our development team worked these into the schedule for release over the course of a few weeks. Although they were as small as improvements to navigation etc. we never would have identified without these sessions.

    From a marketing perspective, we created in-product and e-mail messaging as enhancements became available. Customers really enjoyed being a part of the process and continue to provide ongoing feedback on their needs.

  • We know we’re customer-centric by looking at our churn rate. We’re a SaaS company – it’s a clear and visible indicator as to whether you’re putting your customers first or not.

The Bad Stuff:

  • I think it’s hard for marketers / companies to create and use personas effectively because it takes time and effort to understand your buyer. If you oversimplify the process, it will add little value. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up, do the research, and turn over every rock to provide strategic insights across every function within your business.
  • Here’s a horror story about a marketing campaign that didn’t go quite as planned: in Product Marketing, I’ve always headed up product and feature launches. I won’t get in to specifics, but I’ve had some serious flops. The importance of validating the market and specific customer and prospect targets for particular product-line or feature enhancement are check boxes that just can’t be glazed over in an effort to get to market.
  • I think the biggest challenge for marketers when understanding buyers and/or building buyer personas is across departments our business functions often think about the “thing” we’re building and the “stuff” we’re selling. It’s our job, as marketers, to flip that on its head and often lead a transition to become a customer-centric culture. It will take time to shift the mindset cross-functionally but once customer needs are driving decisions, results and growth will follow.

 

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Thank you to Julie for sharing your perspective!

Follow her on , and stay tuned for more  in our series, Habits of Customer-Centric Marketers.