Many executives today are struggling in two areas. One is in formulating strategies designed to help their organization stand out in a crowded field. The second is in creating an enterprise adept with deep customer insights and understanding, which translates into obsessed customer focus. When struggling in these two areas, executives and their organizations can find themselves in a turbulent whirlpool dragging them and their customers into further states of confusion.
Wrapped In A State Of Business Speak
Depending on the circumstances and the people involved, you sometimes wonder if people are wired with a switch in their brains to start using business-speak. For executives trying to explain their strategy to employees and customers, they can find themselves robotically spewing meaningless terms. Expounding upon diagrams and run-on bullet points. Using such terms as “strategic value relationship”, “superior ROI”, “reduced risks”, “enterprise-wide capabilities”, “top tier technology”, and more. The strategy can be spot on and even revolutionary. However, explained in business-speak as well as tech-speak, both employees and customers cannot comprehend it.
Business Speak Distorts Customer Understanding
For any organization, common understanding of the customer they serve is an important goal. Whether it be companies with 100 employees or 100,000 employees, having all employees get who the customer is and how they serve them is recognized as making a difference between winning or losing the hearts of customers. Every year we hear the chant for customer centricity companies seek. Yet, this admirable goal remains elusive.
There is something afoot getting in the way of this goal. It has to do with business and tech speak now clouding customer insights and buyer understanding. I have had numerous conversations and meetings in the past year with both sales and marketing organizations. And, I have seen as well as heard presentations at conferences talking about customers as well as buyer personas. Here is what they are all beginning to have in common: a cache’ of business-speak where you cannot tell the difference from one conversation, meetings, or the dreaded PowerPoint presentation from another.
It goes something like this usually:
“We need to know the buyer’s pain points, their buyer’s journey, buying criteria, watering holes, key success factors, triggers, and ROI. We want to become the customers’ trusted advisor.”
Now do not get me wrong. Some of these can be helpful and sales have had a corner on this form of business-speak profiling as part of their vocabulary for a long while. However, what I am witnessing today is marketing teams using terms like these in a dogma like manner. Some, admitting in moments of candor, that they do not fully understand what is behind these terms. And, not realizing the very customers and buyers they hope to reach do not talk or think in this way.
Sadly, these presumed business-speak terms of importance do not get at the heart of what marketing really needs today. Insights into newly forming behaviors and emotions affecting purchase decisions in a rapidly evolving digital economy.
Executives Can Lead With In-Depth Customer Understanding
Marketing and sales executives have to play an instrumental role in cutting through the clutter invading the language of customer insights and buyer understanding. An important role because these terms have produced a checklist mentality rendering them even more meaningless. In effect, doing more harm than good.
What can marketing and sales executives do differently? One significant thing they can do is become the conveyors of the customer narrative for their organizations.
What Are Persona-Based Customer Narratives?
It has been exciting to work recently with a few marketing and sales executives who are forerunners in taking buyer personas and customer narratives to a new level. They have led their teams via the use of Persona-Based Customer Narratives™. This approach gives both leaders and employees an understanding of the daily narrative playing out with their customers and to map their own company narrative to this deeper customer understanding. Culled from experiences in working with several marketing and sales leaders, here is a working definition of Persona-Based Customer Narratives:
Persona-Based Customer Narratives makes use of multiple research-based personas to tell a compelling humanized customer story. They offer a narrative of customer goals and desires, how usage and buying behavior are affected, the context of situations confronting customers, their interactions with others, how customers view the world, the impact of their world view, their visions for the future, and how you and your company can contribute to their customer story still unfolding.
This working definition helps to elevate buyer personas from the inauthentic boilerplate regurgitation of customer profiling to offering rich customer understanding – made available to all employees. To truly be a customer-centric organization, every employee must not only know the customer’s story, but also know how they contribute to the customer story still unfolding. This is at the heart of customer centricity. This includes making customer narratives easy to understand as well as easily accessible throughout the enterprise, not holed up in a silo somewhere.
In order to build an organization obsessed with helping customers fulfill their goals, business leaders will need to convey important strategy in the right context. The right context is that of deep customer understanding. Thus, conveying strategy and customer understanding go hand-in-hand. Simply put, strategy cannot succeed without customer understanding.
As the world of customers change and become more complex, we are seeing a response aimed at even more complication, which inches up complexity to an even higher degree. A response characterized by the adding of more business-speak boxes in charts or templates with a promise they will lead us to a fortune telling gemstone about buyers and customers.
We should seek to understand customers and buyers through graspable simplicity – not more complexity.
(What follows is a brief interview with Ken Segall, former Creative Director for Apple and author of Insanely Simple. His mantra, “in a complicated world, there’s no more powerful force than simplicity”, is one to listen to.)