Sales was once the clear-cut “owner” of customer relationships within the organization. These days the argument for marketing is strong. Then again, given widespread acknowledgement that customers are now in control, perhaps it's a fallacy to think any internal department is in charge.
For this week’s CMO.com Wants To Know, we reached out to the industry to see what they thought. Read on.
Bruce Milne, EVP, Socialware, told CMO.com:
Particularly over the last five years or so, social media has had an interesting impact on the question of customer ownership. Previously, depending on the stage of the customer in the life cycle, different departments would claim responsibility and establish lines of communication with them: marketing for the demand generation phase, sales for the prospect phase, and perhaps customer care for the post-sale phase.
With the rise of social media, however, the customer can now determine how they want to communicate with companies, who they engage with (it could be anyone in any department who has a social presence), and whether to do so in a very public forum. All departments need to be coordinated and communicating about who is managing the social presence for the firm, and who will act on the customer situations that come up. Because these networks are such public forums, the margin for error is small. With social, you build positive brand perception over time, but you can destroy that with a single tweet or post. Social provides a tremendous opportunity for customer relationships, but comes with its own (manageable) risks.
Kerry Bianchi, COO, Collective, told CMO.com
In the not-too-distant past, the head of CRM was typically the keeper of the customer relationship. The lanes were quite tidy in those old siloes–the “acquisition” team spent their time focusing on paid media channels to bring customers to the front door, and then it was up to the “CRM" team to keep them inside the house, typically using owned channels, like customer email and logged-in areas of websites, to communicate to them.
More recently, we’ve seen marketers become more savvy about this–not viewing the customer relationship as a single baton hand-off between the acquisition and CRM team but, instead, a much more fluid dialogue weaving between paid, earned, and owned channels, and leveraging first-party data, retargeting tools, and savvy analytics and segmentation to find and keep the right customers. This more savvy dialogue includes things such as:
- Better retargeting messages based on specific ads, content engaged with, or steps completed along an online engagement funnel.
- Leveraging actions seen during a customer's acquisition journey to customize their new customer welcome and product/service pitches.
- Using first-party data to create customer segments usable in paid media for follow up and upsell messages or to model lookalike audiences to find more of the right customer.
- Excluding known customers from paid acquisition messages to avoid “wasted” advertising, and potential annoyance, to existing customers.
This new end-to-end view of client engagement is typically housed under a CMO who now has a much broader purview–including paid media, acquisition, CRM, and decision science–and who is executing their marketing campaigns through ever more targeted, data-driven, programmatic partners who can make use of these richer data sources and insights.
Tony D’Anna, CEO, PostUp, told CMO.com:
Everyone in the organization owns the customer. That’s the way we all have to think now. Customers today are better informed, they’ve done more research, they’re asking smarter questions, and, like it or not, they’ve got more options to choose from. If your whole organization isn’t focused on helping your customers solve problems, they won’t be your customers for very long. It’s very easy for customers to take their business elsewhere in today’s crowded marketplace; your only chance of keeping them is by focusing your entire company around producing a stellar customer experience.
Tyler Lessard, CMO, Vidyard, told CMO.com:
It may be cliché to say it these days, but the reality is that everyone at Vidyard owns the customer. For most companies, it used to be that sales reps were the only people who really owned customer relationships. They interacted with buyers and reported back what they heard. Marketers did their best to give sales the materials they needed to close deals. Today, everyone from developers and engineers to the CEO has to put themselves in the customer’s head when making a decision.
We’ve torn down the figurative wall between sales and marketing to make sure everyone is thinking about customers first, regardless of where they are on the customer journey. That’s mandatory because buyers have so many different resources to learn about a vendor before making a decision and so many different entry points into a company. We can’t just presume that they will start at the top of the funnel. They’re just as likely to jump to the middle, or come in near the bottom, or just start a conversation with your Twitter account. We have to be ready to give them what they need regardless of where they are.
Ray Kingman, Founder and CEO, Semcasting, told CMO.com:
Who owns the customer in an organization is rarely an open question. Maybe it is a function of personality type or perhaps a function of the compensation scheme in most organizations; sales usually owns the customer. The type of product or services offering can, however, define what a sale looks like.
A typical B2B process with a defined sales funnel involves lead generation, follow-up, qualification, and conversion. Sales usually takes and maintains the lead role. In the case of consumer goods, however, the decision maker can be an instinctive buyer with little or no engagement, qualification, or conversion effort. In these cases, the lines blur between what is sales and what is marketing. Product introduction, evaluation, and qualification will continue to live or die as a marketing function, but sales ownership is highly sensitive to the existence or complexity of the sales funnel.
Role changes may come as a result of the sales funnel collapsing for some B2B processes. For example, in an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled world, where your devices monitor and report on such things as routine maintenance, end-of-life, or max-out capacity event, the device themselves may soon have the capability to analyze and prescribe the necessary fix to an anticipated problem.
Chris Wayman, Chief Client Officer, HelloWorld, told CMO.com:
We believe everyone owns the customer relationship. From our CEO to each individual on the client account team, we all own the customer relationship. By thinking like our clients, we were led to one simple conclusion–we have to deliver integrated solutions, not a fragmented client experience. We recently moved from a sales-centric organization to a client relationship-focused organization. This has resulted in a profound effect on our client work, driving more accountabilitywhile energizing the entire HelloWorld team. We are all client advocates responsible for client satisfaction.
Michael Collins, SVP of Marketing, JW Player, told CMO.com:
Over the last five years, customer “ownership” has evolved as social media has taken hold. Now, companies understand that there are many touch points within an organization for customer ownership. When a prospective new customer is in the sales cycle, the answer is pretty straightforward–sales owns the customer. However, once a new company becomes a customer, that answer is no longer so easy. Onboarding teams own the customer during the early days of implementation. Sales may own the customer for a period of time and then transfer ownership to the account management or account services team to stay in touch, upsell, and cross-sell them. Marketing owns maintaining an on-going dialogue via outbound marketing communications and promotions. Overall, I believe the question should be, “Who owns the customer database and coordinates and facilitates the myriad of customer touch points?” The answer to that, in my estimation, is marketing.