Traveling the Winding Path of the Customer Journey

“You have to wrap yourself around the customer journey,” GE SVP & CMO Beth Comstock stated. Speaking on a panel at Salesforce.com’s ExactTarget Connections conference, Comstock added, “Customers do their homework; they expect you to do yours: ‘What do you know about me?’”

The point is that marketers need to understand their customers and the paths they take to make a purchase. No excuses. “We need to understand the customer journey and how we can add value,” Nick Besbeas, VP of marketing at LinkedIn said during the panel. “We also have to understand customers’ needs.”

That understanding is what creates the opportunities for relevant interactions with customers—interactions that lead to advocacy, engagement, and sales. “The intersection of company and customer needs is what’s powerful,” Besbeas said.

One powerful company/customer intersection is collaboration. It’s also an opportunity for marketers to put customer input into action. “The expectation is that we collaborate with customers,” Comstock said. “Customers say, ‘I expect you to help me; to take my feedbackand put it back in a product.’ That’s exciting because peope will want what you have because they helped invent it.”

Those engaged customers will also help spread the word. “The ability to tap into communities to evangalize brands has never been greater or more powerful,” Twitter Chief Customer Officer Gabriel Sticker added, noting that every customer interaction is also an opportunity to build loyaly. “It’s the intersection of real time and long term; the series of incrementally compounding interactions that build up to the long-term relationship.”

All of this focus on advocacy, collaboration, and understanding points to one thing: customer centricity. “Marketers need to put customers at the center,” Comstock said. “Customers are expecting a unique experience. They’re also all dealing with exponential grow in technology. [In B2B] you have to understand the business nuances beyond their bottom line. What’s their business about?”

“Some of the best work in marketing focuses on putting customers at the center and telling their story,” Besbeas added.

Putting the focus on customers also helps to cultivate innovation, the panelists said—noting that marketers can take a leadership position in embedding attention to both across an organization. “We say marketing is about innovation. Marketers have to be the force for the company that know where’s the world’s going,” Comstock said. Sticker added, “Innovation needs to be baked into all teams, and competitive spirit should be part of that, too.”

As should marketing leadership. “Someone needs to be the integrator in the company, to take the company by the hand and pull them along the customer journey—and who better than the marketers.” Comstock said. “You have to be an agent of change; show people, don’t just tell them.”

If that sounds like a great deal of responsibility, it is. But it’s also an amazing opportunity. As Besbeas asserted: “It’s an awesome time to be a marketer.”

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