Friday, June 30, 2017

Who’s Your Customer?

Anyone that has worked with me for any length of time or whom I have managed knows that, at some point, I will ask them, “Who’s your customer?” Anybody that does work has a customer, but few people really think about who their customer really is, or even think in terms of having customers.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about your company’s customer, the business or individual to whom your company sells goods or services. I’m talking about your customer, as an individual employee, as a team member, or as a manager.

I’ll use myself as an example. At SolidFire, I ran the demand generation function. The role of demand gen is to develop leads for sales to pursue. As such, we had two primary customers: inside sales, who would receive and pursue our leads; and the campaigns team, for whom we managed several (mostly) digital channels through which to execute their campaigns. We had secondary customers, like field marketing, who would generate leads through field events that we would upload, process, and deliver to sales. As a manager, the members of my team were also my customers, and there are also other customer relationships that I maintained in that role.

What’s the value of considering those teams, campaigns and inside sales, as customers, rather than simple collaborative teams or stakeholders in our activities? Because the concept of a customer carries with it a set of expectations that are richer, deeper, and more meaningful than a mere collaborative relationship, and those expectations lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

Here’s an example. At one point, we started hearing rumors that sales was dissatisfied with some types of leads we were providing, even though we believed these were quality leads. The tension between marketing and sales is a common situation, so it wasn’t surprising to hear this. But if we could break down this barrier, both teams could be much more successful in their efforts.

There are a lot of ways I could have handled this problem, but I decided to view the problem through the lens of a customer-supplier relationship. If we were a supplier to sales as a customer, a common role in that relationship is the customer success manager (CSM), whose job is to ensure that the customer is successful in using the supplier’s product or services. The CSM role is bilateral: she represents the supplier’s product to the customer, helping them use it properly and fully; and she is the voice of the customer to the supplier, helping guide product development to better serve the needs of the customer.

We needed the equivalent function between demand gen and inside sales, so we created a CSM type of role and, in fact, we hired an inside salesperson to staff it. In this role, our CSM (I think we called him a marketing sales coordinator) had a bilateral role: he represented marketing to the inside sales team, explaining different types of leads, why they received them, and how they should pursue them; and represented the sales environment to marketing, describing which types of leads were working best or worst, and why, enabling marketing to optimize their campaign efforts.

The result of this change was dramatic. Inside sales came to view demand gen, and the broader marketing team, as partners in their success. Sales acceptance rates of marketing leads increased, and sales qualification rates of accepted leads improved. Would we have achieved the same result by having a more traditional approach of trying to collaborate between these two teams? Maybe, but I doubt it. In the same way that customers and suppliers generally don’t achieve a truly collaborative relationship, marketing and sales frequently struggle to truly collaborate. By establishing a role whose entire job is to ensure sales’ success, that changes the relationship measurably.

So, have you started to ask yourself who your customers are in your job? Does it change how you think about your interworking relationships? Try it. It can be powerful.