Who Owns the Customer Journey?

I recently spoke at the The CRM Evolution Conference in Washington, D.C. A big focus of the conference was on the customer and customer journey mapping, but as I listened to industry experts, it occurred to me that we are regurgitating what we were saying 10 years ago. (One presenter admitted that the deck he used was more than six years old with a few updated charts.)

Why haven’t more B-to-B CMOs recognized customer journey mapping and ongoing optimization as a core strategic capability in marketing in 2018?

What Is a Strategic Capability?

B-to-B CMOs need to develop and own the strategic capability of mapping, auditing and optimizing the customer journey. A strategic capability is a set of capacities, resources and skills that create a long-term competitive advantage for an organization. These capabilities are created as a response to new strategic directions or big changes in the market. One such market-breaking change and new strategic direction is today’s digital customer — not the customer who buys online, but rather how customers behave in a digital and mobile world. Digital customers are in firm control of their own journeys with your company.

Defining the Customer Journey as the Customer Life Cycle

A customer journey is all the touch points a customer makes with your company throughout the full customer life cycle. Each connection a customer makes with anyone in your company and externally presents an opportunity to create an optimal customer experience leading to a customer relationship. This set of touch points is core to the map. Additional elements on the map include roles and responsibilities for each function at each touch point, the technology utilized at each point, the data collected and the messaging communicated.

Who Owns the Customer?

The biggest barrier to customer journey mapping development as a strategic capability is the age-old battle of who owns the customer, which continues to rage between sales and marketing. Some organizations acknowledge the sales team as the expert on the customer. In such firms, marketing goes to sales to gather their tribal knowledge about the customer and takes this information as gospel.

In today’s technology-infused marketing environment, this approach is lopsided and woefully incomplete. While the sales team can share their valuable experiences, thoughts and perceptions about the client, this qualitative data set is no match for the and rich quantitative data set available through martech commonly used in organizations. Beginning with data in the marketing automation system and the website, the CMO actually has the most truthful and actionable data set of anyone in the organization. Yet, we see a reluctance to mine, analyze and produce action-oriented insights from this data.

For the bold CMO who has decided to break down this barrier using hard data, I see a dramatic shift in the battle. It moves from sales protecting their turf at all costs to sales working with marketing as an ally. Making this shift requires a good sense of what sales needs and how marketing-controlled data can meet those needs.

A few years ago I worked with a technology company in which sales owned the customer. A new marketing operations leader with a highly quantitative and analytical background was hired, and her first focus was to improve MQL conversion. She began by examining lead scoring in the marketing automation system. She found the algorithm was based on “tribal information.”

Using data already at hand and some quick analysis, she was able to rescore leads to MQLs based on behavior. When she showed the sales team that things they thought were predictive of a an MQL were not, the sales team was doubtful. However, after a short pilot that demonstrated leads to MQLs scored with the new data-based algorithm converted at a 19% higher rate, the sales team was convinced. From that point on, shared customer ownership became the norm.

Begin by Talking with the Customer

Many B-to-B marketers make the fundamental mistake of not talking with customers in a substantive and ongoing way. I often counsel new marketing executives to spend the first three months talking with as many customers as possible. This is the fastest way to take the pulse of your customers. In addition, marketing needs to participate in sales calls, customer success calls and customer support calls. A qualitative understanding of the customer across all the key stages of the customer life cycle is essential to developing the customer journey capability.

The Customer Journey Is a Team Sport

As the CMO initiates a customer journey map process, one of the biggest mistakes he or she can make is to make it an exclusive process. An exclusive process occurs when one part of the organization decides to map the customer journey and does it in a vacuum. I’ve seen sales do customer journey maps as the baseline for how to sell to prospects and clients and never share this with marketing. I’ve seen marketing map the customer journey based on what they think they know about the customer and not involve sales. And, in both cases, neither actually talked with the customer. How can a company be customer-focused if the customer journey is guarded in a vault?

The Customer Journey Breaks Down Functional Silos

Legacy organizational structures based on siloed functions can complicate a complete picture of the customer. Customer data lives all over your company — in the marketing automation system and website; in CRM in terms of demographic information, sales relationships, pricing and contracts; in customer service systems; in the customer contract including terms, standing pricing and what they bought. It is all over your company, and each function acts as a fiefdom running their part of the kingdom with as much efficiency as possible.

The task of the B-to-B CMO who wants to own the customer journey capability is to break down these siloes, find a way to create one line of sight to the customer that is shared and coordinated across all parts of the organization. The hand-offs between functions can create costly errors in the customer experience.

Customers are calling all the shots. Smart organizations recognize the need to pivot to a customer-centric market strategy. Smart CMOs recognize they can lead this pivot by developing and owning the customer journey as a strategic capability. The goal is to gain one view of the customer and make data-driven decisions based on that shared customer understanding. This is the single best opportunity the B-to-B CMO has had in years to earn both a seat and a voice at the table.


About the Author | Debbie Qaqish

Debbie Qaqish is principal partner and chief strategy officer of The Pedowitz Group. She manages global client relationships and leads the firm’s thought leadership initiatives. She has been helping B-to-B companies drive revenue growth for over 35 years.