ABM and Customer Success, two ships passing in the night.


At what point does a phrase or term become a cliché? Who decides? When I took creative writing classes a number of years ago, the professor critiqued our work by spotting cliches with the tenacity and ferocity of someone who perhaps had once been mortally wounded by one and was out for revenge.

The word cliché is defined as:

a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, such as: sadder but wiser, strong as an ox, happy as a clam, as old as the hills, every cloud has a silver liningour company is customer-centric

Of course I added that last example but let’s talk about it. It seems every company is either saying they are customer-centric or they are on their way to becoming customer-centric. Usually they can articulate a definition that approximates this…

We are working from the outside in. We are placing the customer at the center of everything we do. They fuel our processes and inspire our people. They are the reason we exist as a company.

Can’t argue with that passion. It’s actually the correct way for companies to strategically think in today’s business environment when disruption not only creeps up on you but given the right conditions it can swamp you in a matter of weeks. The customer must be the center of everything a company does. Anticipation of their needs, wants, hopes, and expectations must fuel your processes. The alternative is failure.

Still, if so many companies understand this and so many companies are seemingly headed in the right direction, then why does customer-centric sound so resoundingly empty? Can we call it yet? Can we say that customer-centric is a cliché? Not yet but we’re getting close. It doesn’t mean as much anymore when you read it or hear it. When a phrase is uttered and it doesn’t register a brain wave, it has become a cliché. Or when a phrase irritates and forces you to probe and dig deeper to really understand what the speaker meant, then it has become a cliché.

Words need to mean something so let’s all try to avoid clichés. Let’s agree that if we’re going to continue using the term customer-centric we will be prepared to describe how our companies have organized ourselves and our processes to encompass the entire experience of the customer, from their unknown buyer state all the way through purchase to their eventual state of organically-felt advocacy on your behalf.

Okay, Armaly, we need an example.

As both a marketing and a customer success professional I am accustomed to looking at enterprises and seeking opportunities where these two disciplines could be cross-leveraged, opportunities that might be overlooked by those with a more discipline-specific focus.

The classic (simplified) pre-sales portion of the sales process calls for Marketing to find and nurture leads and to pass the qualified ones off to sales who close the deal. Typically, the only post-sales involvement of marketing is leading the customer reference program.

The classic (yes, simplified) post-sales process calls for Customer Success to lead the effort of ensuring the customer gets properly on-boarded and that the path they need to take in achieving their desired outcomes is detailed, made smooth, and governed. Typically, there is close to zero customer success involvement in the pre-sales portion of the sales process.

Let’s move on to ABM (account-based marketing). ABM is the hot, new(ish) thing of marketing and ITSMA, which bills itself as “the leading source for insight, community, and hands-on help for B2B marketers in the connected economy”, explains it this way: “ABM is a strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.” In essence, ABM is about focusing specific messaging on detailed personas in key accounts. There is a lot of increasing interest in applying Artificial Intelligence in this space. Nudge is one company keen to be a player here. See also, this post from Oracle Marketing Cloud for additional clarity on ABM. So rather than marketing to the masses of unknowns, ABM is about focusing your marketing on identified accounts, where the odds of success are greater, and tailoring your messaging so that the recipient feels it is meant just for them.

All good, right? Well, yes, except when it’s not enough. What do I mean? So far, ABM has been all about targeting accounts for new sales. While I have no argument with that, I do wonder why it doesn’t go further.

Where is Customer Success in the ABM play? With its rich knowledge of the customer’s experience with your solution and with intimate knowledge of the customer’s relationship with your company (good, bad, indifferent) along with knowledge of all the strengths, weaknesses, and quirks of the various stakeholders, the information collected and influenced by the Customer Success team should be seen as a perfect input into the ABM process. Wouldn’t ABM messaging be even more precisely tailored for the audience if Marketing knew that their audience (the customer) has been suffering trying to implement or adopt a certain feature? Or that they’ve been wildly successful with it and have been championing it on social media? If ABM factored that side of the equation in, then that would be how a customer-centric approach is demonstrated. Because it would be about the complete customer who is experiencing everything your company intended to do and didn’t intend to do in all your interactions with them.

A phrase is a cliché when it’s meaning is lost. Customer-centric is not a cliché when the customer feels they are at the center. It is a cliche when they don’t.

Oh, and yes, I realize the title of this post includes a blatant use of a cliché.

Picture courtesy of TripAdvisor


About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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