3 ways CMOs can win the hearts of customers — and CEOs

Columnist Mike Sands says that if CMOs want to thrive in the year ahead, they'll need to lead the charge in building customer obsession across the enterprise.

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heart-ss-1920This year, at least 30 percent of CEOs will fire their CMOs for not having the right skill set to successfully lead digital transformation.

Now, that’s harsh.

But let’s face it, digital has rocked our world. Technology has not only changed the buying power of consumers; it’s changed what they want, think and expect. Customers value significant, in-the-moment brand experiences as much as, if not more than, products or services.

This requires CMOs to think beyond traditional marketing functions and consider the broader business’s role in creating genuine, relevant interactions at pivotal moments throughout the entire customer relationship. If they don’t, they risk losing customers and brand revenue. Each year, companies lose $41 billion due to bad customer experiences. And that puts CMOs at risk for losing their jobs as well.

As digital disruption has taken hold over the past few years, business leaders have tasked CMOs with strategizing plans and processes to drive better customer experiences — and better outcomes — using digital data and insights. Now, the C-suite wants to see results.

In 2017, the challenge for CMOs will be not just how to survive, but how to thrive. Here are three things senior marketing leaders must do to win the hearts of customers — and their CEOs.

1. Lead customer obsession across the enterprise

For all the talk about creating seamless, connected 1:1 brand engagements, it’s ironic that the primary focus of these efforts — the customer — often gets overlooked amid shiny new tech tools and organizational silos. It’s time CMOs step out of the marcom box and onto their soap box to drive a customer-centric mindset across the enterprise.

CMOs are already well-positioned to do so. As the gatekeepers to the consumer data that fuels strategic insights, CMOs serve as the voice of the customer. And with the ear of the CEO and their C-suite peers, they can encourage upper-management support to nurture a culture that is ready to change and innovate.

While brands face a number of challenges in delivering impactful customer experiences, functional silos tops the list for 52 percent of companies worldwide, followed by cultural resistance, as cited by 45 percent. It’s crucial that CMOs break down organizational barriers and foster collaboration across teams to ensure all business units — from finance to R&D to sales — are aligned on customer-centric goals.

By determining where and how each business function intersects with the buyer journey, CMOs can define how each contributes to superior end-to-end customer engagements.

2. Lay a strong foundation with a strategic approach to data and identity

Of course, CMOs can’t build customer obsession if they don’t know everything about their customers. No matter how much data is collected, it means nothing without the ability to tie it back to the individual customer as they move from smartphone to store to contact center, and more.

Resolving customer identity is a strategic imperative — and that makes a data-driven CMO indispensable.

Being able to always identify an individual at every touch point, every time, and connect that data to a customer profile is what provides the insights needed to engage that person with more positive interactions in the right moment and context. Obviously, the right technology is key, and today identity solutions exist that integrate and sync streaming data with offline data. But equally important is what a CMO does with the data.

Each new data point adds another layer to customer identity. CMOs need to know what data they have and how to make the most of it to fuel actionable, data-driven insights to optimize customer interactions, increase loyalty and drive business growth.

CRM data, point-of-sale data, desktop and mobile activity, and call center data all contain different perspectives. Together, they paint a detailed and accurate picture of customers, their behaviors and the media mix needed to reach them with the right brand engagements.

Beyond marketing, the insights gleaned from customer data can inspire new product offerings, account for business investments and inform the technology, systems and processes needed to win, serve and retain customers. With continuous, cross-channel identity resolution, CMOs can lay the groundwork for a customer data asset that can be used across the enterprise.

3. Build great customer experiences

With a company rallied around its customers and an identity strategy that allows the brand to truly know them, CMOs can finally start to make wonderful things happen for their customers — and the brand’s bottom line.

The majority of marketers already have developing richer, deeper customer experience on their to-do list: Nearly 60 percent of CMOs claim it’s their top marketing priority this year. The question is, how will they do so?

Certainly, proficiency in customer experience technologies and tools is required — as are superior analytical skills. But equally important is the art of storytelling.

CMOs are central in determining what defines the right brand engagement. Today’s leaders must know how to marry creative instinct with data analytics to strategize personal and meaningful interactions at critical moments across all human, physical and digital touch points.

More than two-thirds of US consumers claim the best brands are the ones that make their lives easier and that exceed their expectations across the entire customer journey. Brands like Nike, Amazon, Apple and Starbucks that are strategically using their customer data to create useful, convenient, intimate experiences consistently draw consumers back, turning repeat customers into lifelong loyalists.

And delighted customers lead to delightful profit margins. For every dollar invested in improving the customer experience, businesses see a threefold return, some industries even more. Which means when CMOs start talking in acronyms — ROAS, NPS, CLV — they will delight their CEOs.

To succeed in the year ahead, CMOs will establish themselves as business leaders, not just marketing experts. Customer experience will be their domain, and they will lead the charge for customer obsession from the C-suite to the back office. Customer data and identity will be the tools of their trade, and they will build a companywide data asset that powers engaging, personalized moments that make customers feel valued and, as a result, bring more value to the brand.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Mike Sands
Mike Sands is CEO of Signal. Prior to joining the company, he was part of the original Orbitz management team and held the positions of CMO and COO. While at Orbitz, Mike helped take the business from start-up to IPO, then through two acquisitions (Cendant and Blackstone). After Orbitz, Mike joined The Pritzker Group as a partner on their private equity team. Mike also has held management roles at General Motors Corporation and Leo Burnett. His work at General Motors led him to be named a “Marketer of the Next Generation” by Brandweek magazine. Mike holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University and a Masters in Management degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management.

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