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Time’s Up! The (Zero) Moment of Truth Arrives

A year ago I asked readers to imagine stepping into a new company as CMO and taking 30 days to produce a plan to transform the organization’s marketing function.

Today, after 12 months of updating readers on the realities of our progress on this transformational journey, I’m imagining what it will take to leapfrog over the competition in the not-so-distant future.

When I took this position last year I understood that the journey would require a phased approach. It was my intent to go through three phases. Phase one involves cleaning up and rightsizing while implementing the right focus and strategy. Phase two is catching up with the market and the competition, and phase three is leapfrogging the competition. Most of my previous 11 entries detail our progress (which remains a work in progress) cleaning up and catching up.

In this final entry I want to jump ahead to leapfrogging after I report on our most recent progress competing at the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

Winning at the Zero Moment of Truth

A current marketing initiative that we’ve been focused on in the past month centers on winning at the ZMOT.

This phrase, coined by Google VP, U.S. Sales and Service Jim Lecinski in his e-books on the topic, translates to being visible when customers begin their buying journey by seeking knowledge.

That sounds straightforward enough, but this concept subtly flips conventional marketing thinking on its head. Why? Because competing and winning at this point in the customer’s journey requires—gasp!—non-branded marketing (and non-branded thinking, too). That’s exactly what pulled me to Lecinski’s approach, which aligns closely with the outside-in thinking we’ve worked hard to adopt as a prevailing mindset in our marketing function and throughout Mitel.

This represents a sea change in the way most marketing professionals think, a perspective best described as inside-out thinking: We will call our product X and then educate potential buyers on its value, in our own language. Winning at the ZMOT requires outside-in thinking—stepping into the mind of potential buyers and seeing the world and their challenges through their eyes. Executing this shift in perspective requires knowledge of the key words and phrases customers use—and I can assure you that they don’t think or speak in industry, product, or company jargon.

We know this because we conducted detailed voice-of-the-customer (VOC) research to understand the specific words and phrases that our customers use at the onset of their buying journey. This research showed us that we were using many inside-out words and phrases that rarely appeared in online search requests.

Our research taught us what key words and phrases customers actually use at different stages of their buying journey. That knowledge has enabled Mitel to speak to and address specific needs depending on where buyers are in their purchase process. Moreover, it’s helping us to not only appear at the ZMOT, but also begin to win at those moments.

We now use a lexicon of key customer terms and phrases to more effectively target our investments in both organic and paid search. We also pepper these terms in our sales and marketing content to improve our placement in organic searches. So far we’ve enjoyed a 30% increase in organic search performance in terms of the amount of our content that is selected, evaluated, and ranked by search engines.

That said, winning at ZMOT will be short-lived if we don’t develop relevant content to support the direction we’ve laid out for these knowledge-seeking buyers.

Our customers enter a phrase or term into a search engine with the anticipation that it will take them to content to do one thing: make them smarter. To that end, we’ve invested significant time, effort, and money in content development and in the selection and use of syndicated content. In the past few months we’ve produced 20 pieces of new, customer- driven content as part of our strategic initiatives to accelerate the growth of our cloud business. Not only have we made sure that this content is relevant, we’re also investing in making sure that it’s visible.

Content is king in the world of digital. Although we’re nowhere near assuming the throne in this area just yet, we’re no longer paupers either; and more progress will be made in the next six months.

Clean up, catch up, and leap frog

When I joined Mitel, one of my roles as CMO was to transform the marketing function. I had to assess the current situation, set a clear path, and begin the journey of transformation. The first step was to clean up.

Clean up translates to getting the right functional structure, processes, people, and technology in place. We focused heavily on these cleanup activities in the past year by eliminating waste and dynamically allocating resources to focus on growth.

One of my top objectives was to get the right people in the right positions with clear roles and responsibilities. We’ve made strong headway on this count, although there’s still room for improvement. I’d grade us a “C” in this area at the moment; we still have a number of positions that we need to fill, and we want to do a better job ensuring that all of the key internal constituents understand their roles and responsibilities.

Improving our clean-up grades will enable us to catch up to larger competitors. Winning the ZMOT is a prime example of how we intend to catch up. Leapfrogging—surpassing the rest of the field to become the undisputed market champion—ultimately will happen when we focus on our customers, culture, and people.

Although we’re not finished cleaning or catching up, we’ve already started to improve in a couple of areas.

Forward momentum

The first is providing a better and more holistic customer experience across the complete buyer’s journey. This journey begins with “find” and “learn,” and continues to the purchase and use of Mitel products and services. Enabling the customer experience in this way requires a cultural shift to the outside-in thinking (i.e. the customer perspective) that we continue to cultivate.

One way we’re doing so is by taking insights from the voice of the customer to develop customer personas and map the buyer’s journey, which is becoming our selling process. This requires us to shift our mind-set from “Let me send you to…” to “I can help you with that.” We also have invested considerable time expanding our user group, whose membership has increased 350% in the past nine months. And this group is now integral to our innovation strategy and VOC testing in many areas.

The second way we intend to leapfrog is by ensuring that everyone in the company adopts a growth mind-set. This is complex but valuable work; it involves making sure that our team demonstrates beliefs and behaviors that encourage growth thinking.

A growth mind-set inspires people to view and manage their skills and abilities as malleable; they can strengthen, adapt, and augment their skills according to different and changing strategic needs. People with growth mind-sets tend to view life and work as a journey of learning; this perspective helps them embrace uncertainty as they seek new experiences and broaden their repertoire.

Growth-minded employees also seek to understand customers and succeed more often in new situations, mainly because they understand the value of placing small bets quickly and the learning benefits of “failing fast.”

At this point in my Mitel tenure I’m proud to report that we’re well on the way to success thanks in large part to our willingness to fail fast—and learn from those actions. My biggest concern remains the same as ever: people.

I’m constantly asking whether we have the right talent in place (and if not, why?), whether my top talent is being overtaxed or stretched too thin, and, finally, are they delivering the right results and growth.

A year-plus into my CMO tenure at Mitel the answers are affirmative, according to the most important measures, like growth and value. Our share price has roughly doubled in the past 12 months. And when, five years down the road, we leap to new levels of success—by, say, micro-segmentation that enables us to deliver relevant and personalized content as part of a holistic brand experience that allows customers to buy where they want, how they want, and when they want—I expect that our value will be even higher according to those who we’ve placed at the center of our business: customers.

Moving on

Before I close this final entry, I would like to thank readers for their feedback, which was empathetic and, occasionally, wisely inquired, “What the heck were you thinking?” When Ginger Conlon asked me if I would consider writing a monthly diary, I was intrigued and decided to take a leap of faith. It would be either one of my best or most naïve decisions; there would certainly be no middle ground.

I can assure you that the past 12 months of diary entries have been an accurate record of our journey into the unknown; it has been an authentic record, warts and all, of one year in the life of a CMO. I trust that you took away something from one of my entries that’s helped you make your marketing more relevant.

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