Customer journeys – Defining B2B marketing success
Typically it's the marketing function that's responsible for the customer experience. But as that experience has become fundamental to the success of the business, it is also stretching beyond the boundaries of the of the traditional marketing department. Paul Smith discusses what this means for B2B marketers
In the age of the customer, ‘the customer journey’ is something that’s talked about a lot – but it’s sometimes difficult to pin down what it actually means. I like to think of it as resembling the physical journeys we all make every day – to work, to the gym, to collect the kids from school. Do we travel by car, by bus or on foot? Do we go straight there, or via the post office? Usually, we opt for what works best for us on that particular day.
The customer journey is the same – our objective is always to get to the end destination in a way that best fits our current preferences. And that is exactly what marketers need to be focused on, even if much of the journey seems to be outside the traditional scope of the marketing department.
As a result “how do you improve the overall customer journey?” is fast becoming the billion dollar business question for CMOs around the world.
For me the answer comprises four key elements: data, consistency, collaboration and technology.
A single customer journey usually takes in a range of different channels: email, social media, push notifications, blogs, banner ads, even face-to-face meetings and direct mail – with information exchanged in all of them.
The way that marketers use this information is essential to delivering an improved experience. The data can be used to tailor individual journeys and to ensure consistency of experience across all channels. For example, an insurance underwriter will sell a multitude of products to a range of niche, consumer-facing insurance providers. It could aggregate data from within each of these niches to offer tailored packages, most relevant to the end customers. This reduces the time spent by insurance providers tailoring specific details themselves, and ensures that their customers are having a smoother experience.
Another example might be a car manufacturer looking at its sales data across the UK and identifying the models, or specifications, that sell best in each region. This insight allows it to market directly to the dealerships and demonstrate a clear understanding of what a car buyer is likely to be looking for at a particular time or place. This also allows the dealerships to focus on what they do best – selling!
Industry analysis has shown that ninety percent of customers use five different channels or touchpoints before actually making a purchase. Being able to move seamlessly between them, with each one having the same knowledge of their history, personal preferences and needs, is of paramount importance to them.
Research from Salesforce conducted last year shows that most senior-level marketers (86%) understand that it’s very important to create a cohesive customer journey across all channels. Where many fall down, however is on the ‘how’. Fortunately technology is here to help and has evolved to offer businesses a single platform view where customer interactions across all channels can be viewed in a single app - an app that also combines intelligent data analysis, providing a consistent and more genuine view of each customer. The key to success here lies in an open-standards approach, where different types and forms of data, captured in different solutions from different suppliers can easily be integrated into the platform.
Quintessentially, a luxury lifestyle service, does just this, capturing information about their customers – for example, recent purchases, offers used and personal details – from a range of touchpoints and then ensuring it is incorporated in any further communications with the client, regardless of channel.
Creating a single customer experience across different channels also relies on close collaboration between departments that may have traditionally been responsible for different touchpoints. Not only do different teams have to work together, they also all have to feel some ownership of the customer experience. In fact, improving the customer journey is every employee’s responsibility, and while efforts might be led by marketing, it should be the remit of everyone in the company, from receptionists responding to tweets about parking spaces to the agents in the call centre and the marketers creating digital campaigns, right up to and including the C-level executives in a company.
Connecting interactions from any channel or device, and analysing and combining customer data and behaviour to improve the customer journey relies on the underlying technology platform. Ensuring this platform is optimised for your needs involves working closely with your IT teams. Salesforce’s research indicated that only just over half (56%) of senior marketers view their relationship with the CIO, or other technology team leaders as very important. I find this statistic worrying: improvements in marketing continue to require improvements in technology and so that relationship – whether strong or weak – will deeply affect the success of the overall customer journey.
With more ways to connect with brands than ever before and with more CEOs driving digital transformation, a personal and cohesive customer journey is a big vision that every marketer should strive for. It’s a vision that cuts right across the company and for this reason I believe that the successful marketers of tomorrow will be those that embrace the customer journey beyond the realms of what is considered ‘marketing’ today.