Customer questions every CMO should be ready to answer in 2017

Your clients and prospects are going to have questions about data and technology. Are you prepared to answer them? Columnist Scott Vaughan has some food for thought.


“The customer is in charge.” “Everything revolves around your customer.”

These are not just clichés. They are principles that are core to competing and thriving in business today, especially for CMOs who are taking increasing responsibility for all things customer.

The good news is that CMOs have never been in a better position to deliver value to the business, to their customers and to their customers’ customers(in the case of B2B companies).

But it isn’t going to happen with positioning, programs and high-performing demand centers alone. Real customer impact starts with actively listening and bringing new ideas to your best customers and prospects. This effort could be your biggest difference-maker to crush your goals in 2017 and beyond.

After organizing our company’s Customer Advisory Board, prepping our 2017 Customer Conference and fresh off an active listening tour, I’ve gathered five important questions all marketing executives need to be ready to answer and to proactively share the answers with their customers in the year ahead.

How can you help us develop new and expand existing customer relationships?

In many progressive organizations, the Chief Marketing Officer role is becoming synonymous with the Chief Customer Officer. It’s NOT about simply serving your customers or just delivering a great experience (though that is important). Rather, in this collaborative business environment, it’s how you help your customers add unique value to their customers. If you can show how your solution drives more value to your customer’s end customer, you create a valued differentiation — and one that is very hard to displace.

For example, let’s take FedEx. This stalwart company is incredible at managing time and logistics — predictable and precise delivery, essentially. Many customers rely on FedEx to get their package, freight and/or inventory to the right customer at the right time.

To do this, FedEx wants to be highly intertwined with their customers and a part of their value chain. So if you are selling and marketing to FedEx, you must address how your solution helps FedEx accomplish this customer-driven mandate smarter and faster.

If you’re marketing for FedEx, your value proposition to e-commerce retailers, for example, would be that you’ll ensure their customers — the package recipients — will be thrilled with the reliable delivery of their orders.

What is your artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning strategy and point of view?

AI (and all its siblings, such as machine learning, cognitive learning and more) is being discussed in every board room and product planning session, across virtually every industry. Billions are being poured into research and development to embed and offer AI and machine learning into their products and capabilities.

This doesn’t just apply if you’re Netflix, Google or Amazon, or if you’re a pure play AI company. Mainstream organizations, many of whom are likely your customers and best prospects, are looking to tap into your AI and big data capabilities and features to offer better, more advanced products and solutions.

Major brands are looking for solutions with embedded AI and machine learning that can improve customer insights and user experience, while increasing a product’s value and stickiness over time. They are pondering how they can partner with you, embed your solutions and capitalize on all the big data intelligence that is being generated.

You had better have your AI point of view and strategy formulated and into your sales and execs’ hands, proactively sharing this with key customers and prospects.

What kind of data, and how much data, can I get with your solution?

Customers increasingly want to know what data you have available to utilize or share that will make your solution — and theirs — more intelligent and more competitive.

While nearly every company is amassing petabytes of big data, customers are looking to their providers (you!) to figure out ways to tap into intelligent and actionable data. This can be performance data, analytics, market data and/or individual or aggregate customer data.

The win for you is that data can potentially be a new, rapidly growing revenue stream, at minimum. In the best case, it will differentiate your solution and make you an essential partner in growing and operating their business.

How does your solution integrate with my current technology/infrastructure (and data) investments?

Companies have started to make choices as they build out and continue to invest in the technology and infrastructure that run their business and connect with their customers.

For most companies, it comes down to developing around a few critical platforms, and then building and integrating tech, processes and data around them. Your solution will be on the outside looking in — or worse, it may get axed if you are not able to integrate with your customers’ and their customers’ key technology and processes.

The need for integration is very prevalent in the marketing technology world today. Marketing organizations are building their tech infrastructure around CRM and marketing automation. If your solution, tool set and data don’t easily integrate and add value to these core systems and the data and processes that feed them, your odds of success will be significantly diminished.

In this tech-enabled, networked business environment, make sure you know the most important customer systems your solution must integrate with, support and/or run on. And now is the time to get these imperatives into your product road map and go-to-market strategy ASAP.

How are you better, cheaper, faster than competitor X or alternative Y?

Yes, this is a traditional function of (product) marketing, and many of us have our competitive landscape up to speed. The big difference is that with cloud, open source and the speed of software development, the market barrier to entry can be very low.

It’s getting easier (and faster) for competitors to come to market with new, progressive solutions. Your customers could be exploring an alternative solution before you realize what hit you, and your profitable business and market share.

You must constantly be engaging with customers and your best prospects to ask forward-looking questions such as, “Which companies or solutions make you excited or thinking about new things in the year ahead?” or “If you were the CEO of our company, who would you be looking at to acquire and join forces with?”  This is the proactive listening that shapes the go-forward strategy and helps your business thrive.

It’s time for action

Customers are our lifeblood, and the pace of change is only getting faster with more data to sort through. As marketing leaders and CMOs, we must stay out in front to know what our best customers and prospects are thinking.

Take these questions, add your own, and head out on a proactive listening tour. Bring all that intelligence back to your board and your team, and put it into action. Let’s make 2017 a breakout year!



[Article on MarTech Today.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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