What is a customer?
It's a word I've typed so often in my job here at Gainsight I find myself accidentally typing it on autopilot half the time I type any word that starts with the letter "c." It's probably the most used noun on our website and blog, ahead of "outcomes" and "success."
But everyone knows what a customer is, obviously. I mean, we do, right?
It's a person who buys a product or service, right? Except it might not be a person, though. It could be a group of people—a company. Companies can be customers in B2B. And in B2B, it might not even be someone who literally "buys" your product. It could just be someone who uses your product, even though they weren't involved in the buying process and they didn't pay for it. In fact, some of your customers might not have paid for your product or service! After all, there are thousands of business models—if you buy something from a third party on Amazon, whose customer are you? The seller's? Amazon's? And in B2B, if you sell in the channel, who's your customer—the partner or the buyer?
Prospect Relationship Management
But it's alright, because even though we have complicated and infinitely variable relationships with customers, we have software to help us keep track of them. Like Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms.
Except when most people are talking about CDP or CRM, they're not really talking about people or companies who have bought or who use their product or service. They're really talking about people or companies they want to buy their product. Even customer experience (CX) is often owned by Marketing, who see it as a way to optimize the pre-sale journey.
Customer experience. Customer relationship management. Customer data platform. They're not about customers, they're about prospects.
It's a hard truth—not everyone who interacts with your company is or will be a customer. Names matter. And if you claim to be customer-centric because you have CDP or CRM, you're probably actually customer acquisition-centric. And the danger is you start to "drink your own kool-aid." You lull yourself into a false sense of complacency with your customers. You think you're close to your customers, but all the signals you value are purchasing signals.
3 criteria for a customer-centric company
So how do you go from being a prospect-centric company to a customer-centric company?
Like any fundamental culture shift, you can't just send a company-wide email—you need to think operationally. One person working ad hoc to put customer outcomes first isn't going to cut it. So here are three simple operational criteria to help you figure out whether you're prospect-centric or customer-centric and provide a blueprint to getting there.
- All customer data lives in a single source of truth.
- That data forms an accurate, insightful customer profile.
- All teams have visibility into that profile and can take effective, coordinated action based on it.
1. The single source of truth
Your customers are complicated, and as you scale, your systems that track signals from your customers get proportionally complicated. Just like you have organizational silos, you have data silos as well. Unlike your organizational silos, you can't fix data silos by scheduling more meetings. You have customer data that's duplicative but formatted differently. You have data with varying degrees of privacy and security. Some of it is esoteric, some of it is meaningless.
Unfortunately, it's all part of a bigger picture. You should accept that this will always be an iterative process, but you should also realize you need to start organizing your data in a way that creates the most comprehensive and insightful picture possible: the single source of truth.
Underlying this call to action is a premise that your product would benefit from greater insight into financial data. Your CSMs would benefit from closer visibility into product analytics. Your Sales teams really need to understand the outcomes they're promising customers and how the team is delivering them. And your executives need big-picture insights at a glance from the body of data. It's more than just about switching tabs or manually correlating data from siloed systems. It's about achieving true customer-centricity.
2. An accurate, insightful profile
The biggest barrier to the single source of truth has everything to do with complexity. Your relationships are too complex for most single-threaded systems to handle. Your CRM is optimized for correlating Sales & Marketing actions to bookings. It's not optimized to correlate Professional Services actions to overall customer health, and so on. The problem is nuance. An individual contact may be influential in multiple cohorts to varying degrees. A Sales interaction could be meaningful in the context of an ongoing Support interaction to varying degrees. The accuracy of your profile degrades as long as complexity increases.
Your single source of truth needs to have a framework for deriving meaning from complexity, organizing data points hierarchically, and ultimately surfacing insights where they'd otherwise be missed.
3. Actionable across functions
We'll end on this last point. This is all a means to an end: becoming truly customer-centric across the company. Your single source of truth may be actionable and insightful, but if it doesn't enable you to take action—or (critically) it can't synchronize your actions—it's ultimately unhelpful.
If your product is generating data that could help your Renewals team beat their number, that data needs to trigger an action. If your ticketing system is generating data that can help your Product team plan their roadmap, it needs to trigger an action. But point processes that don't account for the bigger picture are counterproductive. Actions you take independently of the whole can have adverse effects, like the EBR that doesn't have insight into the product roadmap. Or the renewals call that doesn't know about unresolved support issues.
Overcoming these silos is a gargantuan task if you approach it through a lens of meeting more and sharing spreadsheets. At Gainsight, we purpose-built the architecture that enables B2B companies to meet these criteria for customer-centricity.