Becoming More Customer-centric
For business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, customer-centric thinking is the norm. Because B2C companies know that impulse and brand drive consumer buying decisions in their markets, they view focusing on the buyer as critically important to achieving superior performance and driving value. Meanwhile, business-to-business (B2B) companies typically face a sales process characterized by a longer evaluation period and greater technical complexity, with various influencers, buyers, and users down the customer chain. Those characteristics mean B2B companies are historically more product, engineering, scientific, operations and/or sales centric. We believe that dynamic is changing.
B2B companies across diverse industries are increasingly seeing the benefits of being more customer-centric as a way to drive customer loyalty, and many have goals to do exactly that. However, actually becoming more customer-centric is not an easy or quick process. The journey involves a significant shift in mindset, not just in the sales and marketing functions, but across all facets of an organization, including areas such as operations, supply chain, R&D, finance, IT and human resources.
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In short, becoming more customer-centric is a massive organizational change and requires a structured approach to effectively and successfully implement.
Customer Centricity: Two Sides of the Same Coin
At its core, a customer-centric organization is built on a deep understanding of customers, their buying experience, and how that experience is evolving. But it goes beyond simply conducting voice of customer research; it involves understanding the customer’s experience and interaction with the organization at a deeper, broader level. We believe how the customer experiences its interaction with a supplier, and how the supplier organizes its go-to-market promise and its delivery on that promise are two sides of the same coin (Figure 1).
- Create the Promise/What is your Promise?: The first part of the customer experience (product discovery, evaluation, and purchase) revolves around the promise the supplier makes to customers. This promise is created by the organization’s go-to-market approach, which involves how to position, promote, and sell its products, services, and solutions. The most successful customer-centric organizations understand that creating the promise must be closely connected to how a customer might discover, evaluate, and ultimately buy. For example, we have observed suppliers shift their traditional go-to-market investments from industry trade shows and other in-person demonstrations to on-line platforms to accommodate customers who seek to discover and evaluate their options via product selector websites, YouTube videos, and other medium.
- Deliver the Promise/Receiving the Promise: The second part of the customer experience (product access, use, and support) is focused on how a B2B supplier delivers its promise to the customer, which is created by the organization’s production, inventory, logistics and after-sales support processes. Our research indicates for example, that customers who are under tight deadlines expect delivery times to compress from one week to two days, which suggests that the supplier re-think its inventory and logistics approaches. Additionally, we have seen the emergence of supplier on-line chat-rooms to augment call center and in-person support.
A shift in the mindset of the entire organization, not just any one function, is critical to becoming truly customer-centric as multiple functions are involved in and interact with the customer over the course of the customer experience. It’s not only sales and marketing functions, for example, who help create the promise for the customer. Rather, in many cases support functions, such as legal, IT, and finance can help resolves issues quickly so that customers in turn recognize the supplier as a customer-centric organization.