“'It’s great to meet customers. I can get their insights and understand what they’re looking for. What I don’t want to do is sit back and be in an ivory tower and say ‘this is what I think it’s going to be’ – it’s understanding what the customer is asking for and then delivering against that.” — Paul Walsh, Former Chief Information Officer, Dell, Inc.
What companies come to mind when you hear “customer-centric?”
Amazon. Zappos. Nordstrom. L.L. Bean. Apple. Notice these are all consumer companies. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you have probably read numerous articles about the CEOs of these companies, and their obsession with the customer experience and customer satisfaction.
But customer-centricity isn’t just for consumer companies anymore.
In the B2B space there is a growing realization that behind that second “B” in “B2B,” there are people. People who make big ticket buying decisions. People who have personal aspirations and crave meaningful relationships with the organizations with which they do business, just as they do in their consumer lives. These people know what a great customer experience looks like—they’ve had it on Amazon. But then they go to work and their vendors—with which they might do millions in business—fail to meet their expectations and seldom show them them any love.
As a result, B2B companies are putting more focus on authentic customer engagement, particularly at the C-level. Executive-to-executive relationship building has been identified as one of the activities that can help a company gain a competitive edge and succeed. Close customer relationships at the executive level accelerate B2B deals and also ensure that a company is developing products and services that closely align with customer needs.
In the tech space, companies such as Salesforce.com and Box spend millions on customer events designed to drive closer customer relationships. Both of these companies also celebrate their customers by featuring them in their own marketing campaigns. At Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce event, CEO Marc Benioff shares the keynote stage with a parade of customer CXOs. Likewise, Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, spends much of his time at industry events networking with customers and industry peers.
Who do you think is more likely to lead their organization to success? The “ivory tower” CEO whose layers of management shield him from his customers? Or the CEO who prioritizes customer engagement and listening as a regular part of his job?
The 21st century CEO knows that “customer engagement” is part of her job description. Besides the intrinsic value of hearing direct customer feedback and helping to close business, these CEOs also know that their customers need to be shown the love.
Get Out of the C-Suite Bubble
There are hundreds of demands on a CXO’s time, so it can be hard to make time for customers. Some companies leverage industry events to increase visibility for their CEOs, but you should not mistake a CEO “fly by” for real customer engagement. We’re talking about when a CXO flies in, delivers a speech and them immediately heads back to the airport. While the visibility might be good for your company, there is no customer engagement happening. See if your CXO will actually spend some time at the event, talking with customers and taking one-on-one meetings with some of your key accounts. This is a great--and convenient--way to show some of your most important customers the love, and a little goes a long, long way.
Since your CXOs only have so much time, this kind of thing can be hard to scale. This is why B2B companies are building programs designed to regularly connect their C-suite with customers. These include Executive Briefing Center experiences, executive sponsorship programs, account-based marketing (ABM) programs, CXO engagement programs, customer advisory boards, and other customer listening events.
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