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What does getting close to your customers really mean? You may be surprised.

B2B Marketing’s recent, excellent survey on the evolving role of the CMO, Evolution to revolution: How Covid-19 and behavioural trends will shape the role of the CMO, causing a seismic shift towards marketing-led organisations by 2030, confirms the primacy, the essentialness, of the CMO being (among a growing list of other things) customer-centric.

That CMOs and marketers generally need to “connect with customers on their own terms, in an authentic and empathetic way” is not news. We know this for years and it remains a curiosity that the CMO’s “customer-centricity” is not more of a robust reality. But what exactly does it mean to be “customer-centric”? How can the CMO “own” the customer relationship? What does being “close to your customers” actually look like, feel like, or result in?

We believe a lack of fully understanding what “getting close(r) to your customers” really means, and requires, is the primary barrier to marketers’ still not achieving or delivering “full-throttle customer-centricity”.

Customer-centricity: defined

Customer-centricity does not only mean that you know the products your customers buy, or the price points they prefer, or your sales force’s customer list (including birthdays); it does not only mean you know what they like and don’t like about your offering. These are price-of-entry facts, important, but table-stakes at best.  What “customer-centricity” does mean is what has more tellingly been called “customer-intimacy”: what drives customers to you, what is the source of their loyalty, why they prefer you and refer you. Customer intimacy means you know not only what motivates your customers and what it is about you that draws them to you. It means you know what they want before they know it. 

And believe it or not, this means you first understand how your offering, your brand, helps to make them better professionals: how you facilitate that they do a better job and gain greater pride and rewards, extrinsic and intrinsic, for their daily work. Because knowing this opens the door to understanding their motivations, and what would even bring them to you on their own, so long as you market to these insights and go far to support and anticipate them. This puts the holy grail of marketing at your command.

This is what translates into business growth and results. 

Here’s how it works:

In October’s blog we wrote of the value of interviewing customers.

We refer to this again.

As you begin to interview your customers, BEFORE you ask them anything about your product or brand, get to know them as people, as professionals. Explore with them what honestly makes them better professionals. Consider these three areas of discussion: In their daily jobs, what helps them achieve greater performance, competence or mastery? What gives them greater professional satisfaction—either individually and/or in their teams? What gives them a sense of professional excellence, of genuine pride in what they do: What truly fulfils them?  Remember, in this part of the exploratory, these are general questions to your customers as professional people only.

With these questions fully probed, however, you can then proceed to ask them, quite naturally, about what your brand or product offering does to enhance their daily professionalism. What does your brand do to facilitate their performance, competence or mastery? How do you demonstrate that you understand and empathize with them, and contribute to their satisfaction, their interconnections and interactions? What do you do to inspire them to perform? To choose and create new experiences and challenges? What could you do more of in each of these capacities? Finally, what are you doing now that works for them? What if anything, are you doing that does not work?

Underlying framework: the Values Ladder

Kudos goes out to those of you who understand this questioning to reflect the Values Ladder. 

The Value Ladder

This well-established messaging framework demonstrates the rich, hand-in-glove interconnections of user and provider at critical levels of functional and emotional benefits and values. It is a powerful tool to organise and prioritise customer responses and rank them, as much as possible, through existing data to ensure your qualitative findings. It offers a straightforward, compelling framework to present your findings to the C-Suite. It also sets you up to probe the end value with customers — when all is fulfilled, what is the big pay-off, the ultimate impact you have on their performance, mastery and professional fulfilment? This, of course, is the source of the key insight into their connection with your brand, and the basis for your differentiated brand positioning. It is your


, the driving force behind their motivations to choose you, prefer you, refer you and remain loyal: indeed, the holy grail of marketing. 

(Kudos also to those of you who see parallels with self-determination theory. Perhaps more on this later.)

Findings lead to powerful implications and recommendations:

Armed with this knowledge, understanding and, indeed, intimacy with your customers, you are set to draw implications and recommendations for what all this means for your brand, for your business. Implications are always far-ranging and reach to all aspects and touch points of your brand, your marketing, your communications and your business.

  • Consider that discussions of performance and competency will have direct implications on the design and content, current and future, of your products and services.
  • The empathy you demonstrate towards their professional satisfaction, whether individually or in groups or teams, speaks to everything from brand personality, advertising, events and communications to community groups, online or in the field.
  • Facilitating their self-fulfilment, admittedly a trickier dimension, speaks to how you inspire them, fire them up and keep them focused and excited. This speaks to everything from push-emails to providing forums for their sharing successes among peers.

There are no pat answers, no standard, off-the-shelf fixes. Everything is sui generis, bespoke to your brand and your marketing —and this is the beauty. Because this is the key to customer surprise and delight as you respond to their motivations, and provide them an empathetic brand with offerings that exactly suit their needs for professional fulfilment, personal achievement.    


It is not a big leap from the process and platform we provide for achieving customer-centricity to the CMO’s greater business contributions and their own professional successes. Tracking with findings from the B2B Marketing survey we cited at the outset, we are confident in saying that this platform is



  • to help you get the C-Suite’s attention
  • to promote cross-functionality and integration vs. silos
  • to provide a solid CRM platform and the martech stack that builds on it 
  • to provide ever more personalised connections
  • to help marketing make these big, seismic shifts:




  • tools & tactics to strategy 
  • customer service to customer experience
  • cost center to growth/business responsible
  • product promotion to customer intimacy & insights
  • ‘chop & change’ to ‘I actively choose you’
  • ‘make it pretty’ to Board Member  

B2B Marketing ABM Report 2020

This year’s ABM report reveals where most B2B marketers are at in their journey to ABM excellence, the challenges they’re facing, and what their ultimate goals are. Download to find out more!

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