Should B2B marketing ‘own’ CX?

22nd January 2017

As if we don’t already have enough to distract us, the latest bandwagon to roll through our B2B marketing universe is customer experience (CX). Driven by the attention that CX is garnering in the B2C marketing world, B2B marketers are enthusiastically signing up to ‘own’ CX within our organizations.

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But I’m concerned that we’re too quick to ‘own’ the end-to-end customer experience across our organisations, without getting the engagement piece right first. And if we want to engage our customers in any meaningful way, we have to know them.

At the end of last year, The 2016 High Performance B2B Marketing Benchmarking Report, from B2B Marketing in association with Circle Research, illustrated that we don’t know our customers very well at all in B2B. Fully 45% of high performers and a shocking 80% of the rest of the survey respondents did not think their marketing departments understood their customers.

This is a stark message for us in B2B marketing and goes a long way towards explaining why so much of our marketing activity is not making any kind of impact with our customers.

We’ve tried to take a page from the consumer world and make the customer king; we’ve heard and spoken a lot about customer-first, customer-focus and customer-centricity. These are important concepts for our organizations as we continue to adjust to the social era and change our perspective from inside-out to outside-in. So why don’t we know our customers better?

What’s the difference between customer experience and customer engagement?

Like so many other words in marketing, ‘engagement’ has become over-used and misinterpreted. Lately it’s used most often to define a metric, one that’s exclusively digital, and intended to discover if we are holding our customers’ attention on our websites.  Bounce rate, time on site, social shares, click-throughs, comments and sign-ups are just some of the metrics that supposedly measure ‘engagement’.

But customer engagement is really quite different than this narrow view; thinking holistically, it’s about how we build and maintain relationships with our customers, no matter where they are or what channels and platforms they use. It’s about deeply connecting with our customers as people, as individuals, not in a single instance, but over time. And make no mistake, relationships are critical in B2B.

At last year’s CXcellence conference in London, Joel Harrison cited The Harvard Business Review’s definition of customer experience:

‘The sum totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just as a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer’.

But I found this definition difficult to get my head around so I did some further research.

In 2010, Harley Manning,  a Forrester analyst, defined customer experience as “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

This perspective, among others, prompted Paul Greenburg, author and president of a customer strategy consulting company in the US, to explain the difference between customer experience and customer engagement in an article on the ZDnet website (10 August 2015):

  • Customer experience is ‘How a customer feels about a company over time
  • Customer engagement is ‘The ongoing interactions between company and customer offered by the company, chosen by the customer.’

These definitions by Greenburg made a lot of sense to me; not just in the sense of what we do to engage our customers, but in how they choose to engage with us. And ‘choice’ is vitally important in this context, because our customers can all too easily ignore us.

Customer experience therefore is the intangible perception that our customers have of our companies and customer engagement is the tangible interaction between customer and company.

Another way of thinking about this is that customer experience is the accumulation of these on-going interactions (the customer engagement). This accumulation is a total outcome that is measured by customer satisfaction scores. While the engagement itself has different metrics.

This should resonate with B2B marketers. These interactions are what marketing is all about.

Another research report, ‘CXcellence: how to achieve CX success in B2B 2016-17’, by B2B Marketing in association with Circle Research, found that 70% of B2B marketers say creating an excellent customer experience is a top priority and fully 84% say they’ll be placing more emphasis on CX over the next 12 months. But I’m not convinced that the report identified exactly how to do so.

Because isn’t CX just another way of talking about the integration of marketing tactics across all marketing channels to ensure that this activity in its entirety is focused on the customer? And has anyone actually asked the question whether the user journey as opposed to the customer journey should fall within marketing?

Because, in practice in B2B marketing, the focus appears to be predominantly on the customer satisfaction portion of CX. Customer satisfaction has historically fallen under the domain of customer service teams within the domain of Operations and the COO. Yet, according to the Salesforce 2016 State of Marketing research, for the second year running, customer satisfaction is the number one success metric for marketers across both B2C and B2B organizations today.

B2B marketing is eager to take on this responsibility for customer satisfaction and include it under the banner of customer experience. Customer satisfaction – whether positive or negative – is, after all, the natural outcome of the ‘sum totality’ of how our customers feel about every aspect of engagement with our organisations. But I’m concerned that marketing is so interested in CX only because customer satisfaction is not just measurable, but our C-suite understands and highly values these metrics. So, in our continuing quest to ‘prove’ marketing value within our B2B organizations, we want to ‘own’ this and thus every part of the customer experience.

But should we? Is CX merely another example of marketing focusing on the wrong things? Because there are two elements in the ‘sum totality’ of CX that no one’s talking about: firstly, the role that marketing must play in engaging the customer before their buyer journey even begins; and secondly, the continuing engagement that marketing should have with the customer once they are a user, engagement that contributes to customer satisfaction but is about retention and loyalty, not necessarily about customer satisfaction scores.

Because the reality is that people buy products and services from us, not experiences. And we’re trying too hard to ‘own’ a part of the customer lifecycle that isn’t actually a part of marketing, but which the business values, instead of doing the hard work of creating our own value within our organisations.

Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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