Customer Centricity: Vs. Product Centric, Why It Matters, And How To Lead The Charge

Customer centricity is a concept that, on the surface, can seem silly. What company doesn’t revolve around its customers and the revenue they generate?

The answer, of course, is many aren’t. They’re product-centric, instead focusing on what products they can get to market that customers may appreciate. 

So, how do you nail down your focus on customer centricity … and lead its inception? Click a link to jump to a section:

What Is Customer Centricity?

It’s a company focus that asks the question “how does this serve our customer(s)?” at the heart of everything, from product development to customer service to marketing.

You need two key documents to fuel this growth: Buyer Personas / an Ideal Customer Profile, and a customer journey.

Buyer persona documents provide the details that drive customer centricity. When the content you produce delivers insights into the actual person you’re targeting, that is when you have truly put your customer first. You then increase the potential for not only achieving higher engagement, but having your persona see you and your brand as a trusted thought leader.

Building out the stages for your customer’s buying journey is critical to understanding what your persona(s) need to know as they venture from becoming aware of your solution to eventual loyal customer advocates.

When you know what it takes to move your prospect from one stage to the next, everything you develop in marketing is done so with more confidence and opportunity for personalization. You can anticipate what your buyer needs before they need it, putting you top of mind as not only a brand, but as the ‘go-to’ resource in your industry.

Why is Customer Centricity Important?

The more you focus on the customer, the more likely they’ll be to buy from you!

It really is that simple in concept, but it’s difficult to do in practice. Many companies adopt a product-centric view instead because that’s more company-focused and easier to control.

Customer centric vs. product centric

Barriers / Accelerators

Simply put, after working with 1,500+ medium and large-sized companies, we’ve noticed some trends!

Barries:
  • Marketing credibility: There are still many companies that view marketing as the “make it pretty” department. Events, trade shows, brochues, pens, etc. Typically, these departments haven’t shown a key contribution to bottom-line revenue as well (and often there isn’t enough resources devoted to their digital space).
  • Who “owns” the customer: This often revolves around a sales-vs.-marketing alignment issue. We have worked with many organizations that had sales in charge throughout the process, limiting data access to other teams. This prevented marketing from being able to better understand how to get more leads!
  • One customer view: Do you have an ideal customer profile that’s agreed-upon by all teams? If not, the door opens for competing viewpoints / audiences to confuse the process and slow progress.
Accelerators:
  • Attach to company initiatives: Your leadership has aligned to particular commitments and priorities for the next few months and years. This will be a far easier sell if you can align it with a core company focus, as any executive will understand how it helps them drive the company’s strategy forward.
  • Marketing owns customer data: This works especially well if you have a marketing automation system because you already are tracking customer behavior online.
  • Passion: Simply put, any good marketer is passionate about better serving the customer!

Step 1: Determine Your Elevator Pitch

Building internal buy-in is key to success of anything, and it’s no different here. TO help, you’ll need an on-point pitch to communicate through your company – from leadership on down – the necessity (and value!) of being customer-centric.

Like so many things in marketing, if you can’t explain what you’re doing in 30 seconds, it really doesn’t exist. But even more, it needs to be a common definition that everyone in your organization understands. This creates better alignment and ensures you’re talking in the same language!

Here’s an example:

“Everything we do begins with the customer, not with us and our products. By re-framing our focus through the lens of the customer, we can now create the connected experience our customers expect. The net gain? We attract more new customers who stay longer, buy more, and make shareholders happy.”

And it makes marketing look like heroes 🙂

Sample “elevator pitch” for becoming more customer-centric

Any / all goals you set will flow from this, so take some time and get it right. -you’ll be reciting a version of it in meetings and. to key stakeholders for a while!

Now, it’s time to highlight who’s taking responsibility. If this initiatives come from the CEO and your leadership team in on-board, this will be far easier to accomplish and push through. (A RACI chart is handy for this, and you can find examples here)

Step 2: Develop the Internal Plan

The bigger your company, the more complex this will need to be. Here’s an example:

This is an example of an internal communications plan to help you message and align key stakeholders in your organization for better customer centricity

This is one of the most important campaigns you’ll ever create!

You’ll also need to budget for this, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do it:

The Wrong Way to Budget

The most important thing to know: Do not set customer centricity aside as a “line item” in your budget.

Line items are easily displaced, reallocated, and borrowed from. You want your customer centricity initiative to have power, not be an afterthought. Ultimately, this undermines the importance of customer centricity as an initiative. It will likely be seen as a pet project, and it won’t be integrated into the company culture.

The Right Way

Budgeting for customer centricity is all about how you allocate your budget. Funding customer centricity throughout your entire budget firmly affixes the customer centric mindset within your entire marketing organization.

Creating a budget centered on customer centricity will create a proof point that the entire company is behind the customer centricity initiative. It drives it down to the very tactics that enable it and assigns ownership throughout the journey to erase all doubts that customer centricity is a critical organizational initiative.

Use these questions as a guide:

  1. Is there alignment to the 3-5 year plan?
  2. What is your operating context? Growing market? Heavily regulated?
  3. Where will revenues come from? New customers or existing?
  4. Which customer lifecycle stages or initiatives reflect the highest marginal return?
  5. How can we engage with customers that give us a unique competitive advantage?

It also fends off potential budget clawbacks, as so many orgs do as the latter half of the fiscal year hits!

Step 3: Build

There’s six key areas to focus on: Strategy, People, Process, Tech / Data, Customer Understanding, and Results. Here’s a few things to know about each.

Related: Get your MarTech stack in order with our help.

Strategy

This still focused internally, and requires some frank assessments by you. Some key questions to answer:

  • How willing / ready is your company and leadership?
  • Do sales and marketing work seamlessly together? Or is it a fractured relationship?
  • Is your marketing team “in the know” on what product teams are doing, and is there a strong working relationship between teams with good, proactive communication?

People

This pertains to anyone in marketing, who’s aligned with marketing, and the organizational structure around marketing.

  • What skills does your team need – and what needs to be done to get them (through new talent or training existing talent)?
  • For every group that interacts with the customer (at any point!), who’s the stakeholder(s) in each you need to work with to build greater alignment?
  • How can / should marketing lead your focus on customer experience?

Process

This is typically the first area that can be addressed, as marketing has more influence in this area.

  • Are campaigns / programs well-oriented to what you see in the market? To what product managers, etc. see in the market?
  • How confident are you in your data? What about as it flows between systems, such as a marketing automation platform and your CRM? Who controls what data is deemed “best” in your organization … and how does this impact you?
  • Is your lead management process excellent? Or does marketing feel there is significant lead leakage in the pipeline?
  • Who governs processes and enforces agreed-upon standards? (This is very important!)

Technology

If you don’t have the right technology, you cannot fully embrace a true customer-focused approach! In our Revenue Marketing Index, we found 82% of CMOs it’s important to be fluent in understanding tech from a strategic perspective to fully enhance demand generation efforts to better impact revenue.

  • Does your current technology allow you to provide personal, targeted experiences for customers both now and two years from now?
  • What does marketing own? This impacts your ability to lead in this area, and may tie in with “people” above.
  • Are you fully leveraging what your current tech is capable of? Do you know how to find out?
  • Do you have regular meetings to review your tech stack and ensure it’s updated, data is flowing in / out, and processes are being enforced?

Customer

This really gets to the heart of your customer journey from initial engagement to post-purchase nurturing. Really, it gets to the core of the sales / marketing relationship and how well each works with the other on the entire customer lifecycle.

Our video on who owns the customer journey may be helpful for those struggling in this area.

Results

None of your marketing matters with measurable impact – and none of the impact matters unless you can trace it to revenue for the business. Focusing on repeatable, scalable, and predictable processes and outcomes only strengthens this area.

What is the one customer metric that equates to financial value?

This allows you to anchor reporting efforts around a central theme that will resonate with key stakeholders (and build more marketing credibility within your organization).

Take 15 minutes and get insights into all six areas!

Our Revenue Marketing Assessment gives exactly that: Actionable insights into improving + comparisons with leading marketers to see how you can improve your focus on customer centricity.

The Revenue Marketing Assessment provides key insights into 6 areas of customer-centric thinking that drive greater revenue for your business

Customer Centricity Example: Good vs. Bad

Let’s take a look at two manufacturers, Knoll and Herman Miller. Both firms must possess a customer-centric culture to produce furniture that is still desirable half a century after being built. How they approach describing that centricity in these two videos (and the impact their content has) is quite different!

Knoll

Throughout this video, Knoll misses opportunity after opportunity to forge a deep connection with its audience. Right from the start, it’s clear this video is centered on Knoll. Twenty-four seconds of black and white, wordless video centered on machines and manufacturing is promptly followed with the company-standard of trotting out long-tenured employees to brag about their time with the firm. From there, we get into the list of manufacturing facilities and how large an operation Knoll has. Knoll is clearly proud of what it is.

1m24s: The first mention of the customer, the user comes in the form of a single, generic sentence about the product being “incredibly focused on the individual user.”

1m29s: Right back into back-patting about the quality of the manufacturing process. This goes on in various forms for almost 90 seconds.

1m50s: A great opportunity to position their testing procedures as a mechanism for delivering customer satisfaction, Knoll instead chooses to let their testing cycle numbers stand alone and standing a little bit too proud at that.

2m56s: Even when discussing the Customer Resources department, arguably the place where the customer should be front and center, it becomes a statistical ego trip about how many orders the team is processing. And you think there’s a light in the darkness when you hear “We get very intimate with those” only to find the next word to be “orders”. That’s right, it’s intimate about the order specs.

3m22s: The lead in by Carl Hohmann, SVP, Customer Resources shows promise – “We really try to work with design firms, architectural firms, to get exactly what that firm wants”. Unfortunately, this statement is immediately followed by a product plug for the Rep Profiles product.

Herman Miller

Really, this is three little vignettes rolled into a single video. And admittedly, the title “About Herman Miller” signals you’re about to go on a company-centric joyride. So, when you first push play, it’s not surprising that it feels like a standard corporate awards video. Quickly, though, Herman Miller humbles itself with the self-deflating graphic depicting it as the smallest company to be honored with all three awards. In fact, they make their logo so small that most brand standard bearers would never have allowed it. Their logo acts almost as a period to the five other firms. And it’s at this point that you know the video isn’t really about Herman Miller, but instead what Herman Miller does for those it cares about.

The following narrative is all about Herman Miller, but not its manufacturing or its size. The narrative is about the culture and is posed as a question from the third-person perspective. This approach distances Herman Miller from the self-serving “we” language so prevalent in these corporate propaganda videos. And it makes the audience open to discovery, eager to explore what’s coming next.

1m 29s: Though it takes Herman Miller a minute and a half to mention the customer – a full five seconds longer than Knoll – it never feels like that. The footage leading up to that customer reference is filled with people and products in use, with narrative about solving real problems (interpreted as your problems).

From here on out, the video is laced with specific references to “you” and how that impacts Herman Miller’s approach to its work. There are self-deprecating references to making mistakes and being told they’re wrong by their designers. Heck, at around 2:10, they even show a customer map that places the customer dead in the center while a voiceover says “we do them for a better world around you”.

That first vignette closes just before 2:30 and the video immediately launches into a unique story in which the company introduces honey bees to eradicate paper wasps from their new production facility. As a result, these bees pollinated fields of beautiful flowers and produced enough honey that Herman Miller bottles it and gives the honey to guests. While this has nothing to do with furniture, so presumably isn’t really customer-centric, it’s in fact a beautiful sleight of hand. This kind of innovative, empathetic thinking is exactly why customers seek out a company like Herman Miller. It’s a clear demonstration of walking the talk.

The unlikely bee and honey story follows with a segment on Herman Miller’s production system. Contrasted to Knoll’s, this segment frames all of Herman Miller’s manufacturing process in terms of the customer. Namely, that their work with Toyota gives customers greater flexibility and agility with their orders without sacrificing on-time delivery. Ken Goodson, EVP of Operations, states with conviction, that “ we modify our work plans to fit you.”

This 6m 16s video concludes with a quick recap that Herman Miller exists to “ build and design a better world around you.” They even replace the Herman Miller logo in the iconic red circle with the word “you.”

Again, I’m sure the brand watchdogs weren’t quite as thrilled about that, but I’m sure it plays well with customers!

A Tale of Two Icons

Considering the enduring products both have firms created, Knoll and Herman Miller are manufacturers that both have customer-centricity within their organizations. But these videos do not tell that story. The Knoll piece is a company-centric video that has, unfortunately, become the standard in manufacturing, with way too much emphasis on production. Herman Miller’s illustrates a firm that takes on the perspective of their customers and cares so much about that perspective that they made a video with that perspective in mind.

Ultimately, though, when it comes down to it, the biggest difference is that the Knoll video screams at the customer “LOOK AT ME” while the Herman Miller story confidently states “We see YOU.”

Want more? Our lessons in customer experience and customer journey mapping webinar may be right for you!

What good looks like in Marketing Operations

Our Chief Strategy Officer, Dr. Debbie Qaqish, compiled a case study on what a next-generation company focused on the customer looks like:

When I evaluate a marketing operation, I begin with their charter, a set of guiding principles or the reason they come to work every day. For the company in this example, the team charter and company charter are well-aligned:

  • The company charter is to reimagine their industry through innovation.
  • The MO charter is to enable customer-facing employees with the tools they need to be efficient and effective in their day-to-day jobs and to create the “golden thread” between all customer journey decision points and paths.

What’s interesting here is there actually isn’t a marketing operations team – here’s the org chart:

In this case study, the marketing team achieved greater customer centricity in part because of an org chart that broke down silos

Additionally, this structure reports into the acting COO. This is an ongoing trend I’m seeing: Once sales ops and marketing ops begin to combine and even include other parts of the organization, reporting into the COO starts to make sense.

This org structure was driven by the desire of the CEO to create a single view of the customer and to fully pivot away from a product focus and to a customer focus. Let’s look at each aspect of the org chart.

What’s In A Name?

Note the name of the team is not marketing operations; it’s Business Enablement (BE).

The purpose of the name is to denote more of an action orientation — toward enabling customer-facing employees with technology, process, and people. The role of the combined team is to create a horizontal view and align all functions for a cohesive customer experience.

The org chart can be viewed as a wheel with a center and a set of spokes. The Business Enablement team is the center spoke, and they work with all areas of the business to deliver the customer experience. A lot of crossover is managed by the BE team as it acts as the main communication vehicle around all things related to the customer journey.

Anything that might touch the customer — either a prospect moving to become a new customer or a current customer  — is managed by the BE team. Approvals, help, optimizations, and communications around any customer touch points are driven by the BE group.

Leader of the team: Senior director of business enablement

The leader of the BE team is charged with creating an optimal customer experience through the application of technology, process, data, and oversight. In order to most effectively mine and share relevant and objective customer insights, the Analyst role reports directly to the Director.

The Analyst is responsible for reviewing, analyzing and creating actionable insights for sales, for customer success and for marketing. These customer insights are also shared with the executive team with the goal of improving decision-making. Having the Analyst role live outside the vertical functions ensures data analysis objectivity that leads to better decisions for the business.

The verticals

Reporting to the head of BE are three managers, one for each vertical: sales ops, customer success ops, and marketing ops. These managers support sales, customer success, and marketing. Each vertical manager has a similar set of responsibilities: technology, training, messaging and support.

For technology, each manager is responsible for all aspects of the technology required to support the vertical from sourcing, implementing, optimizing, supporting to vendor management. Individual verticals aren’t responsible for data analysis as that function resides in the Analyst role. Analysts are responsible for the state of the data.

Managers do not make technology decisions in a silo. As much as possible, every technology is evaluated for use across all verticals. If marketing ops needs a particular kind of technology, there are considerations to make in the process.

Here are key questions to be answered:

  • First, is there a similar technology in use in the other two verticals?
  • Will this technology address pain points in the other two verticals?
  • Can it be effectively integrated into the current stack managed by BE?
  • Will it help improve the customer experience? Decision-making around the martech stack must support sales, marketing and customer success.

An interesting aside: BE in this company does not manage the data map; it’s managed by marketing! The BE team occasionally steps in to help optimize certain areas, and the BE team (the Analyst) is responsible for data analysis.

In addition, a key role in the technology and support functions is a dedicated tech support person who provides day-to-day assistance. Half the battle with mastering any technology is getting people to use it; the other half of the battle is to get them to use it effectively.

Having a dedicated person who can express empathy with the users ensures systems are optimally used and ROI is gained. This is a unique role, and one that I have not seen in many companies. As the MO capability continues to grow across functions and the number of technologies continues to grow, having a dedicated training and support person is key. Of course, training is fundamental to this process.

The odd function for each vertical is messaging. While it may seem strange at first, it makes sense in a customer-centric organization. Together, the verticals and marketing work to ensure messaging and content are optimized for the customer experience across all functions. They also work to ensure consistent use of messaging and content. This way, no matter what part of the company a customer interacts with, consistency and thought is given to optimizing each touch point both for the customer and for the company.

Summary

I’ve had the opportunity to work with this company over the last 18 months. They began with a desire to focus more on the customer, so their first org chart was a combination of marketing ops and sales ops.

This was a great first step, but to fully embrace a focus on the customer, they had to go further.

That step was adding customer support, setting up the BE team as the source of truth around the customer and adding the Analyst role as a direct report — not in a vertical, but to the head of the BE team. For many companies, breaking down traditional silos like this may be almost impossible. Yet, it guarantees a better customer experience and better business results.

The B2B customer is looking for the B2C experience in all interactions with your company. Someone has to call the shots to create a cohesive experience. In this company I worked with, it’s the Business Enablement team.

Conclusion + Next Steps

That’s a lot, and it can be hard to remember it all. So, here’s a few steps you can do right now to help your company move towards stronger customer-first focus:

  1. Take this assessment … in 15 minutes, you’ll see where you stand + get insights into what to do next
  2. If your lead management processes are lacking, our series on this very topic may be helpful – or our 7-question quiz can help you think through it
  3. Learn about our customer experience & marketing operations consulting services
  4. Have questions? Feel free to send us a note!

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