The responsibilities of marketing leaders have continued to expand as the function has evolved from cost-center to an accountable deliverer of results. But the latest corporate imperative—customer experience (CX)—has put even more responsibilities on the shoulders of marketing leaders than ever before.
According to Gartner, 81% of marketing leaders believe that their companies will mostly or completely compete on the basis of their customer experience within two years. This CX priority is not just a marketing priority but is the decisive factor for the entire business. And marketing leaders are charged with orchestrating the entire CX, both within their department and across the business.
But, how are most marketing leaders faring with this imperative? The same Gartner study states that “only 22% [of leaders] say their CX efforts have exceeded customer expectations.” Over four in five say CX is the basis of competition, but less than a quarter is where they want to be. That is a huge gap around this immense responsibility for marketing leaders.
Why Is This Gap so Large?
To understand how we have encountered this challenge as marketing leaders, it’s helpful to look back at where we came from. Forrester publishes a set of trend predictions of B2B Marketing every year, and there’s a tremendous contrast between those of today and of those from half a dozen years ago.
In 2012, their headline was, “New Technologies Go from Cool to Critical.” The article discussed soaring purchasing and implementation of new digital marketing tools, whether it be marketing automation, mobile, social, and so forth. Further along, came a sub-section on content entitled, “Marketers Will Find Creative Ways to Meet Demand For Thought Leadership and Content.” It explained that the “explosive adoption of mobile and social, along with the expanded use of marketing automation, will greatly increase the volume and variety of content that marketing teams must create.”
Such has been the story for marketing leaders over the last decade. We have encountered the digital revolution and we’ve made enormous investments of time and money into technologies to manage the new digital interaction we must have with customers. And correspondingly we have “greatly increase[d] the volume and variety of content that marketing teams must create” to feed these new technologies and power the engagement in all of these new channels.
There’s no doubt we have made tremendous progress in the intervening years. We have stood up innumerable new digital channels, supplied them with plentiful content, and driven high levels of interaction (views, likes, opens, etc.) at these new touch points.
But for how far we’ve come—the gap between how critical CX is and how effective it is remains wide. How so? Could it be that in our zeal to respond to the digital revolution we have created a new set of problems that are holding us back?
Customer Expectations Must Define the Experience
Let’s see where Forrester says we are today. Their 2019 B2B marketing predictions article has quite a different title: “B2B Marketing Leaders Embrace Omnichannel Design and Execution.” The article defines “omnichannel” as the “coordination of traditional channels (marketing, selling, fulfillment) and supporting systems to create a seamless and consistent customer experience.” Forrester’s B2B Sales & Marketing conference in October 2018 focused on this issue in one of its three themes, “From Solos to a Chorus of Coordinated Content.” Forrester explained here:
The business consumer does not tolerate inconsistent messaging and disconnected content. In this theme, we’ll help attendees grapple with the challenges of operationalizing compelling messaging in content across both sales and marketing.
What a contrast to where we were in 2012! No longer is the focus on standing up new digital marketing tools and channels, feeding them volumes of content, and driving engagement. Instead, the focus now is on the coordination of not just marketing but also sales and fulfillment on consistency in message, in content, and in customer experience.
Unlearning Bad Marketing Habits
The priorities we had in 2012 had unintended consequences that created these new challenges we face in 2019. As marketing embraced digital, it greatly increased the complexity of the marketing organizations. New functions—such as demand generation and social marketing—were created to manage a plethora of new channels (web, blog, social, email, video, etc.) all with their new tools. Thus, the already complex B2B framework of different product lines, business units, regions, sales, and fulfillment became even more siloed and internally fragmented.
Faced with goals of driving engagement for their tool, with their channel, in their region, and their business unit, each silo created their own content more often than not with their own take on the message. Marketers understood the importance of collaborating across silos, but the complexity of doing so in yesterday’s paradigm was overwhelming. And as a result of this internal fragmentation, externally our customers increasingly encounter disconnected interactions with an inconsistent storyline.
In our eagerness to maximize engagement at every interaction across all of our new channels, we lost touch with the end objective: guiding customers across their entire journey and driving revenue. The whole had become less than the sum of its parts.
While we drive high interaction across our different channels, the core story we’re trying to communicate is being lost. And our customers are buying our full story; views, likes, and opens are not ends in themselves. Like the individual instruments all playing their own tune during the orchestra warm up, our customer experience can arrive discordant and ineffective with our customer.
Rather than maximizing the volume of each musician, marketing leaders must prioritize the coordination of the various instruments playing the full piece together.
So, while the pendulum swung far towards maximizing digital interaction and content volume over the last decade, we now see in Forrester’s call for a chorus instead of solos, how the pendulum is starting to swing back towards managing the entire journey. Not towards content volume but to content alignment and consistency. We need to prioritize the forest of the entire customer journey, not just the trees of every interaction.
Who Will Win CX?
And in this understanding is how we close the gap on CX, the greatest challenge facing marketing. To date, we have built out our digital infrastructure and driven engagement across these new channels. That is great progress. But now we must have our new channels—as well as our sales and post-sale experience—all work together in telling a consistent story in one voice across the entire customer journey.
Who then will win the CX race? Which marketing leaders will be able to orchestrate the CX that is pivotal to their company’s success or failure? And who will fall behind?
The winners will be the leaders who are quickest to recognize and respond to the new swing of the pendulum. These leaders will no longer try to squeeze results by optimizing engagement and interaction channel by channel, silo by silo. They will recognize that the infrastructure is now in place but then choose to prioritize the work of having the various teams and the various touch points all work together—speaking in one voice.
They know that a customer experience that provides a consistent story across the entire journey is the one that wins the CX race.