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PHOTO: ÁLVARO MENDOZA

Over the last decade, we’ve breathlessly celebrated the primacy of customer experience as the new battleground for competitive differentiation. And for good reason. In competitive markets, product and pricing advantages quickly erode, and customer expectations — for both consumers and business buyers — are now shaped by the most progressive B2C brands that heavily invest in experiences that soar.

But new research from Salesforce, “Customer Experience Redefined: Insights From Chief Customer Officers on the Frontlines,” finds that outcomes — not experiences — have become the new north star for progressive companies.

Unpacking Outcomes vs. Experiences

There’s an important nuance to understand in the vast and various research studies over the years that have heralded the primacy of customer experience. According to this Salesforce research, when customers tell us that they expect a great customer experience, it’s the outcome — not the experience itself — they have in mind. So while experience is the method, the outcomes are the actual goal.

But how do you organize to systematically deliver the right outcomes for your customers? How do you ensure that the outcomes you promise come true? And how do you prove that these outcomes have been achieved?

Related Article: Want to Improve Your Selling Performance? Focus on Outcomes

5 Steps to Outcome-Based Success

Outcome-based selling and success is a journey. But an inch over time yields miles, and every ambition needs a plan, and every plan needs a stepwise path for making progress.

This progression follows five steps:

Step 1: Alignment

The first step en route to achieving measurable outcomes for customers is ensuring that the supplier and buyer are aligned around a shared definition of success. Every purchase begins with one or more outcomes in mind. Step one on the journey focuses on documenting and validating these target outcomes with the buyer as a foundational first step toward both closing a deal and creating the conditions for a lasting and profitable partnership.

Step 2: Delivery

Too often, the goodwill and momentum created in the sales cycle doesn’t convert downstream into the implementation and onboarding phases because of a fumbled handoff. Step two of the journey focuses on coordinating this handoff to ensure all of the stakeholders are oriented to the same set of target outcomes and organized to get the solution deployed, delivered to the customer, and getting them using it as efficiently as possible.

Related Article: Bridging the Marketing-Sales Gap With Content Marketing Strategies

Step 3: Adoption

The obvious but sometimes overlooked reality is that your customers can’t get value from your product unless they use it — and use it in the right ways. Step three focuses on measuring adoption and understanding usage patterns to ensure your customers are taking advantage of the capabilities that help them unlock value.

Step 4: Impact

En route to demonstrating attributable ROI are various leading indicators that show positive impact in the right directions. Step four is where you start measuring impact for your customers by looking at the metrics that signal positive trends directionally aligned to attributable ROI.

Related Article: How Customer Expectations Are Driving Product Thinking in Some Surprising Places

Step 5: Performance

Finally, Step five focuses on the attributable ROI that your customer cares about most. These are generally expressed as some combination of increased revenue, reduced costs or mitigated risks. Since these are lagging indicators, measurement of these things often requires data from your customer — either directly from their systems or manually provided to complete the picture.

So next time you consider your company’s customer experience strategy, pause for a moment and think about whether you’re conflating the method with the goal. After all, the outcome is the destination your customer has in mind. The experience is just how you get them there.