“If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else.” -- Yogi Berra
This pretty much sums up the customer-alignment journey of most companies. Companies know their survival depends on aligning strategy, culture, partners and processes to their customers’ lifecycle expectations, but the end state is often fuzzy. And fuzzy mean the path to get there is equally unclear.
What Customer Alignment Looks Like for Your Company
Define the end-state through the eyes of your customer. They, more than you, know what a meaningful relationship looks like. Invite your high-value customers in to jointly define that end-state. They'll appreciate being included and it’ll take the fuzziness out.
The path to that end-state is a transformation. Customer experience maturity models typically fall into one of two categories. The first category describes the end state of each maturity stage. The second outlines the sophistication levels an organization must grow through to become customer-aligned.
The first category typically resonates with companies that have a narrower definition of customer-alignment. Their objective is to improve marketing’s ROI, reduce churn, etc. The second category resonates with companies who view customer-alignment as a strategic differentiator. Their objective is rooted in competitive advantage, innovation, sustainable growth, etc.
This isn't an ‘either/or’ choice but an "and" -- both maturity model types are needed to effectively guide companies in achieving the desired end-state.
Most maturity models lack granularity. They assume an organization that has achieved a certain maturity level has done so consistently across the entire organization. That is never the case in reality. Different parts of an organization will customer-align faster than others based on factors that are unique to that organization.
Five Levels of Customer Alignment Maturity
The five stage Sellers’ Compass™ maturity model blends both categories together:
Companies at the first level -- emerging -- still do business from an inside-out perspective but realize they could be doing better. Old habits, organizational structure and siloed information are a few obstacles holding them back. At the other end of the spectrum are leading companies which have fully aligned how they think, talk, act, manage and innovate outward to the customer. The line between the organization and the customer is often blurred and the company is motivated to keep it that way based on significant financial and market rewards realized.
One difference between the Sellers’ Compass maturity model and others lies in what is measured within each level. There are two dimensions of the Sellers’ Compass -- Customer Understanding and Business Impact -- each with four categories:
|Customer Understanding||Business Impact|
The result is a clearer, more actionable picture of an organization’s maturity. This is important because the whole purpose of a maturity model is to provide a guide on how to achieve the next level.
A composite approach to maturity delivers the transparency and actionability that organizations need and seek in their quest to become customer aligned. The key to achieving actionability lies in the model’s assessment which should enable companies to routinely measure, at a holistic and detailed level, the progress they are making and identify where additional focus is needed. That makes the maturity model tangible, realistic and understandable by everyone in company.
We're Making Progress
In working with B2B companies of all sizes over the past four years and conducted numerous maturity assessments, below are the aggregated results for the two dimensions:
What do the results tell us? The good news is we’re making progress.
Increasingly companies are embracing journey mapping, pre- and post-purchase, as a framework for understanding customer expectations and determining how and where they can do a better job. The focus and investment in content marketing has led marketing, sales and customer success organizations to continually improve content to meet customers’ needs.
On the business impact dimension, technology vendors have introduced significant innovation in capturing, analyzing and presenting actionable customer insights to enable the culture and business process change needed to become customer aligned. While technology is not a cure-all, it has motivated many companies to take the first step.
Companies that have invested in becoming customer-aligned are reaping financial rewards early in the process. More predictable revenue streams, 20 percent or more growth in revenue, more repeat purchases, greater employee satisfaction and lower customer churn are but a few of the rewards cited. These are the fly-wheel of the customer-alignment movement -- higher levels of revenue fuel motivation to achieve the next maturity level.
The bad news is there's a lot of work to do. Customer alignment is not about tactical fixes but a holistic transformation of the organization. Companies need to grow into their maturity levels along the two dimensions outlines above. One best practice lesson is that the path for each company to become Level 5 (Leading) is unique to them based on their core competencies, customer expectations, business strategy and market dynamics.
Maturity assessments should deliver a blueprint for companies to follow. By sequencing which categories to focus on based on the company’s unique characteristics, set to a pace that is realistic for the organization, and defining metrics and milestones so progress can be measured defines a realistic and achievable plan to reap the rewards of customer centricity.
Maturity models and their underlying assessments should be widely shared within organizations. Restricting access to only a few executives or only one department hurts an organization’s ability to become and stay customer-aligned. Employees want and need to know where the organization is strong in customer-alignment and where improvement is needed.