Andy Jordan, Managing Director at Marketing Team Direct
Forget the question ‘who owns the customer now?’ In today’s world, it is the customer who owns you. Buyers are now much more in control of their own purchasing decisions because they can more completely conduct their own research and comparisons, searching for brands or products that directly meet their own personal or professional needs. Although they prefer to make their own minds up, the influences still need to be there but in a much more subtle and personalised way. This means brands need to know their buyers much more intimately and communicate much more subtly, offering advice and values rather than sales led features and benefit.
This also means the divisional attitude between sales and marketing is becoming detrimental to business and has to stop. It’s ruining forward motion, creating complexity, reinforcing business belief that both are ineffective and riddled with costly inefficiencies. But most importantly, it’s preventing the only people of any consequence in all this – the buyers – wanting to move to your brand at all.
Amongst the thousands of discussions about the difference between sales and marketing and what defines these two entities are – the words BUYER or CUSTOMER are barely mentioned at all. In order to stop these endless discussions, here is an alternative view – get rid of the traditional divisions and ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ in their historic and current forms and move to a new organisational structure.
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And so I ask, if a company was to restart and set up again in today’s world, how would they design themselves differently? What if businesses could reorganise themselves – or start from scratch to create an infrastructure fit for today’s (and tomorrow’s) radically changed world? How would they change to become more effective, ensure better customer service, better go-to-market strategy and tactics, and a smoother sales process?
I know where I’d start. I’d create a new environment, a strong, structured, ultimately liberating focal point and a driving force for the entire business to be more effective in the way it engages its buyers. I’d call it the ‘Buyer Enablement Community’.
The Buyer Enablement Community would be populated by what used to be called the marketing team, the sales team, the customer services team and the innovation team – amongst others. It would be full of people that had exciting job titles, none of which included the words marketing or sales. All these experts would work together – rather than in silos, or against each other, as they often do now.
The Buyer Enablement community’s cohesive, driving focus would be to enable buyers. By that I mean it would single-mindedly understand how buyers, their influencers and consumers should be engaged with – and do it. However long that cycle is. Whatever it requires. Constantly working to the Buyers’ needs.
This may all sound like pipe dreaming. Everyone’s talking about how we can remove barriers between sales and marketing, stop the conflict that often emerges between them, and create a more truly customer-centric business. But few are doing it. Instead, they work around the edges – because it’s hard to change the core. So why not just pay lip service to the problem?
I’d argue that it’s easier to change that sort of orientation than to continue to absorb the hidden costs of lack of alignment internally – loss of time, opportunity, brand value and eventually, sales and growth. In one stroke you could revolutionise the relationship of the business with the customer. And you’d focus attention in the right way on the big questions we all face: Who owns the customer? What does success look like? It would focus with greater clarity and better strategic insight on strategic messaging, customer needs, customer service, sales support, user interface and user experience design, through to distribution networks, point of sale etc.
And just think: it would remove 80% of the current inane questions being debated on sales, marketing and leadership forums. Things like ‘At what point in the buying cycle does a buyer engage with sales?’ or ‘What is the difference between lead, demand, sales… generation? Or ‘What part does technology play in the marketing mix?’ Most of these questions are self-serving nonsense and have had their day in a truly customer-centric business where differences between marketing and sales don’t exist.
Once created, the Buyer Enablement Community could be flexed and focused. It would be easy to create regional Buyer Enablement Communities with a focus on local buyer landscapes and enabling regional buyers most effectively, creating new clarity and efficiency in areas with smaller budgets.
The Buyer Enablement Community’s cohesion and strategy-to-tactics focus would deliver greater measurable effect to the business: profitability, shareholder value, reputation, growth. This would inform the way the entire business and the entire brand operates and supports itself, its message, ideas, and communications: what we like to call Brand Conduct – looking horizontally across the whole business rather than vertically at silted functions.
Maybe no-one has yet created compelling alternatives to current business operating procedure. Ones that support the need to grow and increase relevance but that also reduces complexity, cost and inefficiency. But I think a buyer enablement community could achieve all this and reshape the customer experience of the business – the buyer experience of the brand – with minimum fuss, maximum simplicity and speed. If only the will is there.
So who’s going to get there first?