B2B Beat: CMOs Find Customer Centricity Difficult to Implement

August 28, 2016

To be more influential in the C-suite, B2B marketing executives know they need to be more customer-centric; the problem is they’re not always good at it — yet. That’s the conclusion of a recent report, “When B-to-B Marketers Lead, Growth Follows,” conducted by the Association of National Advertisers and GfK.

Only about four in 10 (42 percent) of B2B marketers say they “have a seat at the table” and thereby influence top management, according to the survey. To wield more power among top management at their companies, B2B marketers participating in the survey said they had two critical tasks:

  • Bringing expert marketing competencies to the table
  • Ensuring that the voice of the customer informs the business strategy

But it turns out none of that is as easy as it sounds, particularly the part about representing the “voice of the customer.” Additionally, 58 percent of marketers said developing marketing ROI metrics would go a long way toward gaining more influence with top management. The B2B Beat believes that customer-centricity and generating ROI go hand-in-hand. 

The survey found that B2B marketers have many responsibilities, both long-term and short-term, which at times can be at odds with each other. For example, the ANA/GfK survey found that there was room for conflicting goals within what marketers defined as their top objectives. Eighty percent of marketers said a key priority was driving sales, leads, or both — tasks which tend to have a short-term outlook. At the same time, 55 percent said a top priority was increasing customer loyalty or retention — which is often measured by customer lifetime value and tends to take a longer view.

The survey found that effective marketers focused on branding and developing a consistent voice for consumers and not simply on selling product. Companies with higher revenue compared with their competition looked beyond product marketing and were more likely to:

  • Focus on boosting brand awareness (66 percent to 51 percent)
  • Drive a consistent brand identity across all consumer touch points (59 percent to 33 percent)
  • Strengthen strategic brand imagery (44 percent to 24 percent)

Yet even though B2B marketers understand that knowing their prospects and customers is a key to gaining more influence in their companies, many are finding it difficult to put customer-centricity into practice. The necessity of investing in sometimes expensive software to gain insight into customers may be a key factor in preventing many B2B marketers from being as customer-centric as they’d like (and from having access to the ROI metrics they crave).

The ANA/GfK survey found that while 71 percent of B2B marketers said new digital and technological skillsets will be required in the next three to five years, few respondents said they were using what digital and technological skillsets they have now very effectively to do what’s necessary to understand their customers.  In fact, just 7 percent of B2B marketers said they “very effective” in “capturing data on buyer behavior, attitudes, and engagement and feeding it back into the marketing program.”

Regarding customer centricity and proof of ROI, B2B marketers appear to be in a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. To gain more influence with top management, they must be customer-centric and they must prove ROI. To accomplish both of these tasks in many cases requires marketing automation, analytics, and other software that can analyze complex data and deliver otherwise unavailable insights into the cusotmer mindset. But getting the go-ahead to invest in that software may first require being customer-centric and proving ROI. 

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