And it’s not just consumer markets (the primary focus of McKinsey’s research) that are affected. Repeated studies have shown that B2B buyers are influenced far more strongly by their interactions with vendor staff than they are by the traditional marketing channels of advertising or direct marketing.
Dialogue is Replacing Broadcast
Broadcast has given way to dialogue, with every touch-point contributing to the customer’s perception of a vendor. Reputations and brand images that have been steadily built over years can be ruined through one thoughtless or careless interaction. And in today’s socially networked world, bad experiences are not confined to a few acquaintances - they can be shared in real time with millions.
In a very real sense, every company employee is now responsible for the quality of customer experience. But - as McKinsey point out - in a world where everyone is responsible, who is to be held accountable?
A Broader Role for Marketing
In my opinion, the only practical answer to that question is marketing - but this implies a reinvention of the marketing function, and a recognition that traditional marketing techniques and skill sets may prove to be inadequate to the task in hand. Marketing needs to emerge as the company-wide orchestrator of the quality of the customer experience through every available touch point.
Patterns and Voices
Voice of the Customer interviews and win-loss analyses can help to understand what’s important to today’s customers and prospects, and to understand how and why they choose to buy. But this research needs to be complemented by studies that analyse and interpret patterns of customer behaviour throughout their buying decision journey.
Facilitating the Buying Process
One way of thinking about the new realities is to organise around the buying decision process rather than internal sales or marketing processes. Every marketing and sales action and interaction needs to serve the purpose of facilitating the buying process. Every new sales tool or collateral piece must be thoughtfully designed to address the prospect’s motivations or concerns.
Just as important, organisations must recognise that the buying process does not end when the prospect places their order - it continues throughout the life of their use of the product or service. Every interaction with the vendor will either serve to reinforce their decision to select them or cause them to regret it.
Coordinating the Customer Experience
As McKinsey point out, no function is better placed to coordinate the customer experience than marketing. But I believe it’s going to require some critically important new skills:
Marketing going to have to change its relationship with customer and prospects from traditional broadcast tactics to socially networked dialogue
Marketing is going to have to learn to interact more effectively with other departments, and to coordinate their customer-facing activities
Marketing is going to have to collect better information about customer behaviour and share it more effectively throughout the organisation
Marketing is going to have to equip employees to articulate the company’s core values whilst listening carefully and sensitively to customer feedback
Marketing is going to have to establish measures and metrics that enable the organisation to determine how they are doing and where they need to improve
It may well require a new level of leadership for the marketing organisation - one that someone versed primarily in the traditional disciplines of marketing communications may be unable to transcend
Are all of YOUR Employees in Marketing?
It’s an interesting challenge, but I believe an essential one for any B2B organisation. How far has your company gone in making the transition? How far are you prepared to go in order to realise the potential for your own organisation?
Is your current marketing leadership up to the challenge? And do all of your employees recognise the vital role that they are going to have to play?