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How to drive C-suite alignment with a customer-centered digital strategy

Today’s CMOs have a real opportunity to leave a legacy as the executive who was able to bring alignment in the C-suite with a customer-centered digital strategy. But it’s no easy job. In fact, alignment has become increasingly complex with the rapid expansion and specialization of C-suite roles. The trend toward specialization has enabled businesses to develop the deep expertise necessary to deliver complex and often highly technical change. However, the result has more often than not created silos, which limit the cross-functional collaboration necessary to meet the demands of today’s businesses. Each role has different priorities, some of which likely compete with marketing.

CMOs have a unique opportunity and challenge to build cohesion around these efforts. CMOs may know customers better than just about any other executive in the C-suite. They can use this knowledge to demonstrate how silos impair the company’s ability to deliver what customers want. Putting the customer at the center of all efforts can spur an organization toward more integrated strategies. It’s done step-by-step through growing your relationships, integrating social and customer data for better insights, developing a digital strategy, and fostering the needed organizational change.

This can take many different routes. One example is the evolution of the American Red Cross social program. Initially, they used social media as a channel for fundraising and marketing efforts. Now, they’ve grown to use the data and insights from those channels as a foundation for cross-functional business decisions, integrating social data into core operational activities, including mobilizing communities and managing the logistics of its trucks and supplies. This example demonstrates how insights from a marketing-focused activity can be expanded to unite the organization around a goal.

Here are some key activities that can help to get your organization there:

Grow your relationships

For CMOs, often the most strategic relationship to start with is the CIO/CTO, as marketing and technology continue to converge. Pairing the CMO’s outside-in, customer-oriented view with the CIO’s inside-out, implementation-oriented perspective can help streamline internal operations with external outreach, leaving the customer with an experience that supports the values professed by your brand. When this is done well, the business results often follow—and there is perhaps no more compelling reason needed for the rest of the C-suite to embrace this shift.

Integrate your social and customer data to understand what customers want

Another way to combat working in silos is through SaaS or cloud-based technology. When social and CRM data are integrated, CMOs can gain a broader view of customers and business operations. Although you could use an agency to combine the data, internal employees using this technology can provide a holistic view that an agency might not.

A major cellular provider is a case in point. While monitoring customer conversations on social networks, the company discovered that a major source of frustration was the fact that they didn’t offer iPhone® mobile devices at the time. Losing large numbers of subscribers, the provider moved quickly into action. The company identified at-risk customers using names and the geo-location of their tweets. They then tracked these customers in their CRM system to engage the customers specifically. Before customer contracts expired, this group of customers was marketed to in real time, stressing the provider’s advantages. The initiative reduced customer attrition by 50 percent in 90 days. Company executives credited the social business approach with the company’s turnaround.

Tech won’t save you. Develop a customer-centered digital strategy

For strategic coherence, the C-suite should rally around a core business strategy. The ultimate power of a digital strategy lies in its scope and objectives. In his oft-cited 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “IT doesn’t matter,” Nicholas Carr argued that unless a technology is proprietary to a company, it ultimately won’t provide competitive advantage on its own. As was the case with electricity and rail transport, many technologies will become available to all, and thus provide no inherent advantage. The trap to avoid, according to Carr, is focusing on technology as an end in itself. Instead, technology should be a means to strategically potent ends.

As business becomes increasingly customer-driven, and success becomes more and more tied to an understanding and commitment to the customer experience, the CMO can leverage their unique position to rally the entire C-suite around this singular, overarching vision.

Foster the culture change required to implement the strategy

The ability to digitally reimagine the business is determined in large part by a clear digital strategy supported by leaders who foster a culture able to change and invent something new. Everyone in the company needs to understand and rally around the customer. This helps ensure every customer touchpoint is part of an integrated experience. It’s much broader than which social networks you’re on and how you’re using each channel. Leaders should think about how they integrate customer information, and communicate that to the whole organization so that the culture re-orients, and each person in the business is thinking about how they help the organization deliver on customer needs.

Many strategies, one foundation: Your customer

While every organization is different, when all strategies can ultimately point to how they benefit the customer, it helps everyone to prioritize, focus, and drive toward holistically beneficial markers of success. The CMO’s understanding of customer touch points, access to their data, and direct engagement through marketing channels can offer incredible value and insight that has the power to align the organization to a customer-centric business vision. While ensuring alignment across strategies certainly takes shape differently in every organization, the need to break down silos will be critical to growth in today’s customer-driven market.

Published on August 27, 2015.

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