Embracing the Age of the Customer: How to Become Customer Obsessed

Lifecycle Marketing


The term “customer obsession” is in danger of becoming a buzzword – it’s easy to claim that you’re customer obsessed, but it’s difficult to actually be. Caring about your customers, thinking about your customers, even dreaming about your customers doesn’t make your company customer obsessed.

So what is true customer obsession, and how can organizations embrace it? At a recent webinar with Cory Munchbach, analyst at Forrester Research, and Jon Miller, Marketo’s co-founder and VP of Marketing, the two speakers clarified exactly that. The webinar, The Age of the Customer: Automating and Optimizing Audience Engagement, explained once and for all:

  • The qualities of customer obsessed marketers
  • The challenges facing these marketers
  • The keys to implementing this approach

What is “Customer Obsession”?

To understand customer obsession, marketers first have to understand how buying has changed. According to Munchbach and Miller, we’ve now entered “The Age of the Customer” – simply put, customers have elevated access to information about your product. They also now have elevated expectations of what your products can do.

When customers make purchases today, they no longer take linear, predictable, easily influenced paths. Instead, they build relationships with companies and products in a non-linear, difficult to predict way – they conduct independent research, they talk to a friend, they do more research, they see an advertisement online, they research on Facebook, they change their minds entirely, and then – seemingly at random – they buy.

But to customer obsessed organizations, there’s nothing “random” about this new buying cycle. Customer obsessed companies know their customers so well that they can not only predict, but also truly influence these non-linear paths. Being customer obsessed doesn’t just mean that you value and appreciate your customers. It means knowing your customers as well as, if not better than, they know themselves.

What Challenges Face Marketers in Becoming “Customer Obsessed”?

Gaining this much knowledge about your customers, however, is no easy task. Here are the main challenges facing today’s marketers:

Limited Data
When marketers don’t have access to both behavioral and demographic data, they can’t truly know their customers. We call this the “narrow aperture of customer context” – if you don’t understand the full context your customer exists in, you won’t know how to market to them. Marketers can’t understand their customers without a dynamic base of data, including behavioral, transactional, and demographic data. Think beyond location – what kind of devices do your customers use? How active are they on social networks? What are their motivations, and what problems are they trying to solve?

Siloed Marketing Channels
Traditionally, every type of marketing activity operated independently from the rest. To reach your audience in the Age of the Customer, it’s not enough to be multi-channel in your marketing. Your marketing programs should incorporate as many channels as possible, so that each individual activity multiplies the ROI of the rest. You might promote a webinar on social networks and through an email campaign, for example, or incorporate relevant content assets into your latest webinar.

A “Transaction-Driven” Approach
Stop treating campaigns as transaction drivers. They should be driving revenue, of course, but use them primarily as mechanisms to sustain a dialog with consumers. This is how you create campaigns that become part of your long-term objectives, rather than one-off activities.

Technology Complexity and Redundancy
In today’s dynamic technology environment, new products hit the market every day. How can you make sure your product is the most frequently (and profitably) adopted?

How to Become Customer Obsessed

For today’s marketers, your only source of competitive advantage is your relationship with your customers. In the Age of the Customer, successful enterprises are those that have powerful relationships with powerful customers. Here’s how you can develop those relationships:

A Database of Record
The first thing your marketing department needs is their own database of record, which needs to be synced with your CRM tool. To get a wider aperture of customer context, you need to gather that rich behavioral data – your customers’ web activities, the links they click, the keywords they use, the content that they read and share, and the campaigns they respond to.

Building the Brain
Once you have that core database, you need the “brain” to sift through that data. You need to map your data to the customer experience – that’s how you make the seemingly random buying process make sense. Decide which content should be sent to each segment, and which content should be sent right after that. At Marketo, we do this with our Customer Engagement engine, which places each potential (or current) customer on a suitable track.

Execute Across All Channels
The third piece is multi-channel execution. Systems like Marketo have historically been about outbound marketing – marketing automation allows you to send emails, or integrate with direct mail. Marketing automation now helps you to automate and measure inbound marketing as well – think social marketing and content marketing. Outbound marketing and inbound marketing, combined with rich data and mapping, brings customers the most relevant information, and fosters the most valuable relationships.

Make it Measurable
The last piece, of course, is analytics. How do your customers move through the buyer’s journey? Which programs are driving the most revenue? This final step is about moving marketing from being a cost center to a profit center, and it’s also about continuing to nurture your customer relationships. When the marketing department can justify spend, you can justify asking for continued investments in your customer relationships.

So, How Do We Get Started?

This can sound daunting. When you have millions of contacts, how can you be “customer obsessed” with every one of them? The classic “I Love Lucy” scene in the candy factory comes to mind – the more you have coming down the conveyor belt, the more impossible it becomes to do everything yourself. To scale, you’ve got to apply the right technology and processes to your system.

If you haven’t done any of this before, start with an internal audit. What information about your customer do you have already? Operationally, how are you arranging your marketing today? How integrated are you today? Are you siloed, or are you breaking some of those silos down?

Once you know where you are, you can improve. How can you move closer to marketing that’s responsive in real-time? How can you create profiles of your customers with the data that you already have? It’s all about identifying white spaces, and then filling them in.

If you have no sense of your customer life cycle, start by asking existing customers – start small, with less than five customers, but be incredibly thorough. Do market research on the purchasing path of your most valuable customers, and you’ll get an idea of the path you want to create. How do your customers tend to hear about you? What kind of exploration do they tend to do? Which channels do they research your product on? What’s the timing of their path to purchase – is it all in one fell swoop, or over a long period of time? Once you have a high-level view, you can get more granular.

Finally, keep in mind that if customer-obsession is your goal, there are four things that your organization must be able to do:

  1. Run lots of campaigns, and do it fast. Your prospects and customers won’t all be influenced on the same channel, so your marketing needs to be on as many channels as possible.
  2. Forget batch and blast. Segment your leads, and market to each segment with relevant content.
  3. Understand your customer base. Who is ready to buy? In B2B, that entails lead scoring; in the B2C world, it means other kinds of scoring – who is a valuable, lifetime customer?
  4. Be able to measure and optimize the whole thing. This is a left-brained, quantitative world.

Want to find out more about customer obsession? You can watch the full webinar here. Have questions about customer obsession, or lifecycle marketing? Leave them in the comments section below!