The B2B (business-to-business) buying and selling process is broken, outdated, and out of step with how companies and business technology leaders identify, fund, and execute against strategic initiatives. And it’s frustrating the buyer and the seller, equally.
From the customer or buyer view, the world is one big marathon where they must try to keep pace with rapid changes in the markets they serve. It’s a world where business and technology leaders concentrate on identifying the strategic initiatives to invest in to optimally compete, modernize, and accelerate growth. The company lens is focused on identifying the right strategies and the right mix of technology and services partners to meet its needs. This customer requirement is often missed by the technology providers in the purchase process as they over-emphasize their technology offerings.
From the vendor or seller view, the Software-as-a-Service financial model has perpetuated a formula of hiring more salespeople and focusing on their productivity (for every $1m in annual recurring revenue growth, we hire another sales pro) and cranking up the marketing machine to generate a boatload of leads. Adding to the inefficiency, the vendor lens is about the technology solution, not a customer’s strategic business initiatives, creating misalignment in the buyer-seller relationship.
You can feel the frustration on both sides.
Often, the answer to this challenge is to focus on “sales-marketing alignment.” This is analogous to using a band-aid to patch things up post-open-heart surgery. Today, the speed of business and customer requirements are complex and dynamic. To win, keep, and grow customers, vendors must bring forth and align the right resources to co-create, support, and deliver with and for their customers.
Beyond the Tired Sales-Marketing Alignment Focus.
Something must give. To gain more insight, I sat down with Kathleen Schaub, a strategist, CXO management advisor, and seasoned marketing leader. Straub has researched how organizations can evolve to better serve and drive more value with customers. At the root of her antidote for the buyer-seller ills are “customer value squads.” Watch Schaub make her case for the need to move to a more empowered, higher-value model that includes customer value squads in the video of our 15-minute conversation above.
To amplify the customer value squad approach, Schaub makes an analogy to how surgical teams work (or operate!). A surgeon, surgical nurse, anesthesiologist, anatomy expert, and a team of people (think sales, marketing, customer service, product engineer, etc.) come together to prepare the right strategy and collaborate closely to deliver on the patient’s (customer) health outcomes. This group is empowered to make real-time decisions and meet the patient’s health needs. The hospital’s (think, company) role is to provide the tools, facilities, supporting staff, etc. to empower the front-line team.
Empowering Front-Line Teams
“It is not reality to go to a manager or executive every time you need to make a decision. Markets and customers move way too fast,” states Schaub. “We need humans to make decisions, and we need to empower the ‘edge’ to achieve the customer’s mission. The smarter way is for multi-disciplinary squads to work together to deliver and co-create value with the customer.”
Schaub observes that we are starting to see movement toward the customer value squad approach in a few areas. For example, vendors are adopting account-based sales and marketing strategies where multi-disciplinary pods of experts focus resources on specific companies and buying teams to drive more customer value effectively. Other examples include the rise of “customer success” teams who are multi-skilled teams that work closely with customers, and the increased adoption of “agile marketing,” which are self-organizing cross-functional teams who do work with customers in frequent iterations with continuous feedback.
Breaking Silos to Deliver Greater Value Faster
We all know silos can disrupt our business and ability to serve customers. Sales and marketing teams struggle with this challenge. Worse, leaders often try to fix it by getting sales and marketing to align and work together. But this noble effort completely misses the real challenges: It takes a cross-function team across the organization, and silos abound even in each department.
“Just take a look at marketing. Silos are everywhere,” reports Schaub. “We have the advertising group, the events team, and digital groups. This is exactly the opposite way to work and bring together the multiple channels and sources customers use to research, buy, and make decisions.”
Getting Started with the Customer Value Squad Approach
Schaub advises that, as with any change-management project, you can think big and start small. She advocates forming minimally viable “tiger teams” with the right skillsets around a small group of customer opportunities. She emphasizes that this allows these teams to “punch” through the challenges and work through the problems. Then you can continue to expand by deploying the customer value squad model across customers, segments, and markets.
This focused approach also allows the organization to identify how to evolve systems, workflows, and roles, as well as develop guidelines to accelerate the squads’ impact. Even applying this thinking to an organization’s top customers and prospects represents potentially millions of dollars of increased revenue and deeper customer relationships.
A Smarter, More Customer-Focused Sales and Marketing
I had to ask —Does marketing and sales exist in the future?
“Yes, sales and marketing functions exist, but these pros are organized differently,” Schaub emphasizes. “And new roles are created with deeper expertise. The result is greater value and satisfaction to the customer and team members.”
While customer value squads are edge use cases today, it is exciting to see the movement towards customer-centricity in our approach and getting away from the endless chase to align just sales and marketing. The thoughtful research and the passion Schaub and others are devoting to this much-needed change are energizing. The analyst team at Acceleration Economy is all over this organizational and strategic change that needs to happen to keep pace with today’s dynamic business environment.
P.S. In addition to the video at the top of this article, you can also read Schaub’s paper “Marketing Is Not a Vending Machine,” which proposes a new way to think about thinking and managing complexity in today’s rapidly changing markets.
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