Passionate About Customers

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As illustrated in our 2013 series “Diary of a CMO,” Mitel Chief Marketing Officer Martyn Etherington is all about the customer. Over the course of his first year as CMO of Mitel, he completely reorganized the marketing operations to take an outside-in approach and put the customer at the center of its strategy. In our inaugural “CMO Confidential” Q&A, Etherington delves deeper into his passion for customers, how he strives to manifest it in practice, and what challenges and successes he encounters as a result.

Describe your marketing passion.

I can describe it in three words: customer, customer, and customer.

Why are customers so meaningful to you?

As the late, great Peter Drucker put it, “The purpose of business is to create and keep customers.” One could make that statement more contemporary by inserting the word “profitably” before “create and keep.”

When did you become aware of your passion for customer centricity?

It occurred when I was in college, while reading two of Peter Drucker's books: The Practice of Management and The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Drucker writes that business has only two functions: “marketing and innovation.” Drucker distilled complex notions into simple statements that hit you like a lightning bolt. I coupled Drucker's thinking with the great marketer David Ogilvy, who was a pioneer in running his entire business centered on the customer. I still love to study the fathers of modern business thinking. Although the technologies and mediums have changed, underlying business and marketing principles really have not. We can gain so much knowledge about today and the future by learning from these past masters.

How does your desire for customer centricity influence your daily routine?

Throughout any given day I constantly think, “Would our customers value this? What am I, and what is my team, doing to help create and keep customers? Do we know who our customers are? Do we know what they value? Do we know where they are, and how they're influenced? In search-engine terms do we know the words and phrases our customers use?” Putting the customer at the center of our business provides me with a daily agenda and it helps me create my to-do lists, as well as my not-to-do lists. To borrow from Ogilvy, “There is one answer to every marketing problem: run a test with your customers.” The voice of the customer, in the form of data or fact, trumps our internal points of view every time.

How do you spread the gospel of customer centricity?

It takes a sustained and varied communications effort, but one that ultimately has to succeed beyond the CMO's rhetoric. For example, the theme of our mid-2013 flagship Business Partner Conference was centered on a book by Forrester Research's Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning called Outside-In: The Power of Putting the Customer at the Center of Your Business. We wove the book's theme throughout an event that attracted more than 1,100 business partners, industry analysts, media people, and, of course, customers. Our marketing function subsequently used that event as a launch our business.

What other forms has your drumming taken in that time?

We've taken dozens of concrete actions, including working with our customer user group to help us validate product innovations at the front end of the innovation process. This makes it easier for customers to contact us by condensing six contact centers to one, reducing our toll-free numbers from more than 100 down to a handful, and redesigning our website based entirely on VoC input. We've developed three distinct customer personas to help us develop and target more relevant content, and much more. In the past month alone we sustained our customer-centricity drum-banging by signing up more than 400 employees and 500 sales partners to attend webinars titled “Outside-In: Putting the Customer at the Center of Our Business.”

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