Mapping and operationalizing the customer journey are critical activities for today’s B2B marketer. As more companies turn away from product-centric strategies and embrace customer-centric strategies, the pressure mounts for marketing to lead the transition. Yet, how ready is marketing to step up to the plate and what prepares marketing for this challenge? Based on my work with hundreds of marketing organizations, when marketing has a strategic Marketing Operations (MO) department, marketing successfully leads the transition to being a customer-centric organization.
Also Read: How to Stop Your MO Group from Regressing
Right Place, Right Time
One of our clients recently decided they needed to become customer-centric. It was a company-wide initiative spearheaded by the CEO. The MO group in this company had been in place for seven years and had brought to marketing a data orientation supported by a connected MarTech stack. They had helped all of marketing adopt a true data orientation and had institutionalized a strong office of project management. The MO team had helped re-engineer key marketing processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness. They worked as the right-hand person to help the CMO put credible numbers on the board and be credible with the executive team. They already knew the customer through their digital body language. This group also had been trying to help marketing and by extension, the rest of the company adopt customer-centricity, but with no results.
As the CEO of this company looked to pivot towards a customer-centric strategy, the marketing ops team was ready to step up and play a key leadership role and indeed they did. Transforming a product-centric organization to a customer-centric organization was made easier by having in place a strategic marketing operations organization. The CMO was able to lead this transformation across the entire organization and the time to transformation was greatly reduced as was the friction of change. Why? Because the MO team was a strategic MO team and they were ready.
As a strategic MO group, three attributes allowed for the ease of this transformation:
- A Data Orientation
- Connecting the MarTech Stack
- Cross-Functional Collaboration
A Data Orientation
Saying MO has a data orientation is like saying the sky is blue. After all, a key responsibility of the MO team is to collect, interpret and share data to improve results. The difference with a strategic MO is that the MO group infuses this data orientation across all parts of marketing. The MO group doesn’t act like a bunch of mad scientists working in a code protected room. They don’t harbor data, in fact, just the opposite. They work with the entire marketing team to help them embrace, use and take responsibility for the quality and analysis of the data available to the marketing team. They work to democratize data by helping the marketing team see the power and the possibilities derived from making data-driven decisions.
Chief among all kinds of data is customer data. This includes the digital body language and the demographic data that informs our working knowledge of the customer. How we create personas, how we segment, how we communicate, what we communicate, actions we take, etc. Once the MO group has reformed marketing around the truth in the customer data, the CMO and entire marketing department gain a unique understanding of and relationship with the company’s customers. This is part of the foundation that eased the transformation in the company I described.
Connecting the MarTech Stack
Connecting the MarTech stack in a customer-centric world is vastly different from connecting MarTech in a product-centric world. Most MO organizations mature in a product-centric world. As a result, the MarTech stack and what it connects with is limited. In a product-centric world, marketing is typically tasked with marketing the product to prospects or non-customers. In other words, marketing owns a piece of the funnel and has no view or responsibility to a holistic customer journey. As a result, most systems are used and kept within marketing except for the connection to CRM.
Once a company begins to transition to customer-intimacy, marketing now takes on a much larger role that includes creating experiences at every part of the customer lifecycle. Marketing now works with prospects and customers. Assuming this larger responsibility requires the creation of a broader technical environment that connects no matter where the customer is on their journey. In this sense, connecting MarTech means connecting outside of marketing and means trying to envision and optimize a technology ecosystem that supports, enables and optimizes the customer journey from initial purchase to advocacy. In the example above, this MO group was ready to make the connections both from a leadership and a technical perspective.
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In a product-centric world, marketing struggles to work with other parts of the organization due to a lack of credibility, lack of understanding, or lack of systems. A huge benefit to marketing of having a strategic MO group is the strategic MO group is very collaborative and is often more credible than other parts of the marketing organization. I’ve seen this dynamic in action and I recently asked a VP of Marketing Operations why they seemed to have this kind of credibility and could drive unprecedented cross-functional collaboration. His response was they did not have a history to overcome and they spoke in the language of data, not gut feeling.
This was the environment already in place in the example above. As a result of already having credibility through data, the MO group had established working relationships with many parts of the company. When the CMO stepped up to help lead this company transformation, MO leadership was also ready to lead and to operationalize across the company.
I don’t have scientific evidence to support my hypothesis that having a strategic MO group in place accelerates and eases the transition from being a product-centric to a customer-centric organization. What I do have are qualitative observations and common sense. Once the CEO and other leaders decide to make this transition, marketing is often tapped to help lead this initiative. When this happens, if the MO group is strategic i.e. has democratized data, created a technical foundation that can extend to other parts of the company and has well-established cross-functional working relationships, the transformation is destined for success.