Rethinking the Role of Marketing in B2B Customer Engagement
Customer engagement is a cycle that starts the instant a prospect first finds out about your brand and continues on through the acquisition, conversion, retention, and expansion stages of the customer lifecycle. Optimizing this cycle helps you to maximize the revenue you’ll receive from each individual customer.
But if no part of your company is stepping up to take ownership of the cycle, then many growth opportunities are likely slipping through the cracks.
Together with Gleanster Research we surveyed 750 mid-size B2B companies to investigate how the most successful organizations approach CRM and customer engagement throughout the customer lifecycle.
In order to understand how marketing perceives and supports customer relationship management (CRM), we grouped customer engagement into a series of activities and outcomes. Marketers indicated they were responsible for awareness, acquisition, and supporting sales. But they didn’t necessarily feel like they “own” retention and expansion activities ― even though marketing plays a very active role in customer engagement at those stages:
- Attract: Brand awareness – Owned by marketing
- Capture: Top-of-funnel inquiries, driving interest, qualifying opportunities, acquisition of leads – Owned by marketing
- Nurture: Top and middle-of-funnel activities, educating/engaging prospects, relationship building
- Convert: Closing the sale and beginning implementation – Owned by sales
- Expand: Retaining profitable customers, repeat purchases, loyalty – Owned by customer success, up-selling, cross-selling, loyalty – Owned by sales
Management of the customer lifecycle is largely fragmented and broken at many companies ― and no single department is generally accountable for the stewardship of the entire customer relationship. Our research confirms that too many B2B organizations still treat the customer lifecycle as a series of handoffs among marketing, sales, and customer success teams instead of a comprehensive thing owned by one group within an organization.
According to respondents, alignment with sales is a common challenge. Notable problems include: Marketers don’t get access to necessary customer data, metrics are not shared between marketing and sales, and fragmented marketing systems complicate the optimal delivery of communications along the customer lifecycle. This type of disharmony breeds inefficiency and poor customer relations.
Mid-size B2B marketers report that their overall top challenges that cause them to struggle with marketing objectives are:
- Access to existing customer data – 95%
- Marketing alignment with sales – 90%
- Fragmented marketing systems – 83%
- Limitations with current technologies – 80%
- Internal skills and expertise – 73%
- We don’t collect the right customer data – 60%
- Our processes are inefficient – 58%
Our study found that average-performing marketing departments spend over two-thirds of time and budget on acquisition – that’s an incredible amount of time and money for only one portion of the customer lifecycle! When marketing objectives are exclusively tied to lead volume, that’s where marketers apply their effort. To maximize the customer lifecycle, however, customer satisfaction metrics should be the dominating metric.
The Customer Lifecycle Needs a Leader
“Customer lifecycle engagement” could actually be referred to as “marketing lifecycle engagement,” given that marketing is the only function to consistently be involved in and allocate budget to all stages of the customer journey. What’s more, marketing is the only function with the technology infrastructure to transform the concept of CRM into actionable customer engagement. This sparks a fundamental question: Should marketers be the new managers of the customer relationship?
The short answer is: yes. The customer lifecycle will always involve multiple teams, and that’s not going to change any time soon. The notion of leadership does not dismiss or invalidate ownership by others, but someone has to take the lead. The data suggests marketers don’t necessarily view themselves as the leaders of end-to-end engagement ― but the tactics leveraged along the customer lifecycle tell a much different story.
Marketers are in an ideal position to lead, but many don’t want the responsibility of overseeing CRM, especially if compensation and objectives aren’t in line with expectations. Today, there are emerging roles for executives responsible for overseeing customer success and the customer experience. We believe these roles should reside under marketing.
Organizations must align CRM efforts with measurable objectives. Because marketing can measure qualitative and quantitative efforts across the entire customer lifecycle, it is the ideal overseer of the entire customer experience from brand recognition, demand generation and lead nurturing, to customer retention and expansion.
A look at the marketing results of B2B Top Performers vs. Average Performers shows great differences in the approaches they take to CRM and customer engagement.
Focus on retention and expansion:
The Average B2B marketer considers their current marketing efforts to be effective and sufficient. Although the majority of firms did meet revenue objectives, Average marketers also acknowledge challenges in customer satisfaction. For example, only 68% of their customers are happy, and only 30% of the revenue Average marketers drive comes from existing customers. In contrast, Top Performers drive 50% of revenue from existing customers (1.6 times more than Average firms). That means later-stage marketing spend and effort are translating to top-line growth for Top Performers.
Top Performing companies also allocate more time and effort to customer retention and expansion where revenue is more profitable. Retention activities don’t require significant budget, but they do take time. The Average B2B marketer throws money at retention but doesn’t take the time to personalize efforts.
Focus on the entire customer lifecycle:
Top Performers spend more time, effort, and budget on customer retention, up-selling, and cross-selling. For superior-performing B2B organizations, holistic customer engagement by the marketing department results in higher customer lifetime value. Simply put, this means more revenue and happier customers.
Measurement has a lot to do with this success; Top Performers are more likely to use metrics that have a direct correlation with revenue. And that’s not surprising, is it? Marketers are increasingly being asked to tie their marketing efforts directly back to revenue. Gone are the days where marketing KPIs were strictly airy and loose, like impressions and reach.
Use centralized marketing technology:
Top Performers are 20% more likely than the average organization to currently use marketing automation technology. Marketing automation tools centralize social, web analytics, landing page hosting, and email capabilities so marketers can apply business rules to prospect engagement across any channel.
This is nearly impossible to do with fragmented marketing technologies that are not integrated ― which is usually the case for some of the most common technologies such as CRM, social media, web analytics, and email marketing.
Critically, marketing automation integrates with CRM so leads can flow seamlessly across the customer lifecycle. The most common metrics Top Performers use to measure success include Sales Accepted Leads and Sales Qualified Leads, and these metrics are among those tracked by marketing automation tools.
Track message relevance:
Top Performers tend to invest more time and effort personalizing campaigns and addressing customer preferences where budget is being allocated (unlike Average firms). Top Performers were twice as likely as all other firms to trigger personalized messages by stage, based on prospect behavior. This suggests they maintain an innate understanding of the customer lifecycle and produce marketing communications specifically designed for prospects in different phases of the customer lifecycle.
Up-sell and cross-sell opportunities for customer retention efforts are undoubtedly finite, but Top Performers just take the time and effort to capitalize on these benefits with available data ― such as purchase histories ― and existing technologies like marketing automation.
Marketing automation solutions help you to personalize your communications by adjusting messaging based on stage, persona, or online behaviors.
Seizing an Opportunity
As we’ve seen, customer lifecycle engagement is fundamentally broken for many B2B organizations because it’s still a series of handoffs between siloed departments – marketing to sales to customer success. For the customer, a great deal is lost in translation. And for mid-size B2B organizations, revenue is left on the table.
Technology integration and customer data management can help. But the problem remains that in many companies nobody is really responsible for holistic customer lifecycle engagement. We think the CMO is in the best position to solve this challenge if goals, metrics, accountability, and compensation are revisited to reward marketers for their contributions.
Someone has to own the customer lifecycle or it will continue to be a fragmented and cobbled-together mess of technologies and processes. B2B firms must align efforts around the customer instead of the sales pipeline, and the CMO is in an ideal position to make this a reality. Taking such actions makes it more likely a B2B firm will move into the “Top Performer” category and maximize revenue over the entire customer lifecycle.
Having the right tools at your disposal can help not only build your brand, but drive demand and expand your customer relationships, making a significantly positive difference to your company’s bottom line.