Marketers losing touch with customers

Marketers may be adopting customer-centric strategies, but they're not connecting directly with customers, a CMO Council study finds

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Despite technological advances intended to improve and simplify life for marketers, a new study finds that many marketers are now more removed from their customers than ever.

In fact, it is partly because of technology that marketers no longer have a close connection with customers, according to Christopher Kenton, senior vice president of the CMO Council, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

"A lot rely on sales to initiate dialogue with customers, the product people for products and customer service for satisfaction and loyalty," Kenton said. "In many ways, marketers have been marginalized from any direct interaction [with] the people they're supposed to serve."

Providing metrics and visibility into the customer acquisition and retention pipeline, global competition and new technology are increasing pressure on marketers to the point where they're losing day-to-day contact with customers, according to a recent study from the CMO Council.

For example, although marketers recognize the importance of reliable customer data, two-thirds of respondents to the recent study said they had no formal system for tracking marketing's role in customer acquisition, retention and value creation; more than a third don't have a model or profile of the best customer or opportunity; and just under a third had no reliable data on revenue value and profitability of key accounts. In many cases, according to the report, marketers are ceding control of customer segmentation. Nearly 50% said someone other than the marketing team influences or determines segmentation and targeting strategy.

The study also found that marketers are heavily reliant on their CRM systems. These are far and away the biggest source of customer information, with 33% citing CRM as their customer information source, while aggregated internal marketing databases were named as the source by 16%. Yet marketers have little faith in the data. The survey found that 40% rated their customer data systems as "weak" or "very weak" in timeliness and depth; availability of useful data; reports and analytics; and relevance to marketing strategies.

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"Marketers are relying on CRM systems more than anything else for customer info, and the vast majority [don't] have any customer advisory board or panel that puts them in direct contact," Kenton said. "Then they turn around and say they don't trust the CRM system. Either you shouldn't rely on them, or you should vastly improve the CRM system."

Rather than turn to customer advisory boards or a formal online community of buyers, marketers are relying on their sales organizations for direct contact with customers. According to the report, nearly 75% do not have advisory boards, 75% do not have online communities, and more than two-thirds said they have no formal word-of-mouth program in place.

The news was not all discouraging, however. There are some marketing organizations that have achieved customer intimacy. Common traits across those companies include marketing control over segmentation and targeting, direct contact with customers, and robust data systems that generate reliable customer information.

"I would hypothesize that these marketers have a little more of an understanding of what they're going after and can better articulate the business needs for CRM," Kenton said.

Marketers can also improve their customer connections by communicating with other internal departments, particularly the salesforce. The gap between adopting the idea of customer-centric strategies and the reality of implementing them is not a technology gap.

"I see it as a process and a human gap," Kenton said. "We still operate in a culture where it's a lot easier to identify a technological solution than it is to try and work out a human solution. There's still a significant cultural gap between marketers and salespeople that [is] not going to be solved by technology."

Exercises such as marketing regularly sitting down with sales to score leads and customers can go a long way to improving the bottom line, Kenton added. For example, one company he spoke with has sales and marketing collaborate in defining three or four key survey questions that sales can work in when talking with prospects and bring that information back to marketing

"It doesn't require investing in some expensive data integration tool, but the impact may indeed improve CRM technology," Kenton said. "Now you have something to put in your CRM system."

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