What CMOs Need To Know About Listening To The Customer

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Tony Zambito

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Hear by Iván Andrés
Hear by Iván Andrés

It is a generally accepted notion that listening is vital to having positive and healthy interpersonal relationships. Listening is an essential skill for leaders in business, politics, sports, and in many different aspects of culture and society.  As a country, we have had many leaders rise to the occasion upon their ability to listen and connect with people and their causes.

For CMOs today, listening to customers has become one of the key ingredients shaping their success in connecting brands with customers.  Expanding the growth of their customer base is predicated, to a high degree, on having listening be an active part of their team’s DNA.  Yet, many CMOs are struggling with connecting with customers.

A recent Ernst & Young study on the C-Suite perspective, only thirty-one percent (31%) of 800 C-Suite executives surveyed believed the CMO drives best marketing practices that are tailored to constantly changing customers.  In other word, barely a third of C-Suite executives surveyed feel CMOs are listening to and understanding customers.

To a large degree, CMOs are struggling with the concept of listening.  Exactly what does it mean for an organization to listen?  On an individual level, the concept of listening is graspable.  While on an organizational level, it becomes quite murky.

Active Listening To Customers Versus Big Data Signals

With the rise of Big Data, we have seen a corresponding rise in the use of analytics.  Analytics is popping up for a variety of channels.  Measuring and spinning out data on activities in such areas as inbound marketing and social media.  No doubt, CMOs today must develop technical prowess in making use of big data analytics to help inform their strategies and planning.

On this point, however, CMOs need to avoid confusion and make an important distinction.  A distinction between what constitutes monitoring signals versus active listening.  In a rather misfortunate categorization, we have seen big data and analytics labeled as listening to the customer.  This may not be a healthy way of putting it for CMOs.

When it comes to analytics and big data, it is a process of monitoring signals.  Digital signals can help relay information on patterns, responses, and trends.  And, provide clues on concrete choices customers may make whether related to an activity or a purchase.  What it lacks are context and language.

Context and language are important.  Active listening involves a sense of understanding as well as hearing speech and language within the context they are provided.  Active listening devoid of hearing speech and language within contextual surroundings, to put simply, is really not listening at all.

Qualitatively Hearing Customers

To listen to the customer, as defined above, means developing ways to hear customers.  Hear the speech and language of customers in their contextual surroundings.  To truly hear customers, CMOs will need to develop qualitative “hearing” programs to stay in tune with the constantly changing customer.

How can CMOs then create active qualitative hearing programs?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make use of big data analytics to guide where deeper hearing needs to take place
  • Conversely, make use of qualitative hearing interviews with customers to construct big data analytics design; in other word, know what to monitor and analyze
  • Develop a committed program to qualitatively interview customers and prospective buyers annually or biannually; utilize third-party qualitative research expertise if not in-house
  • Create user personas, buyer personas, and customer personas to help develop a communications platform on user, buyer, and customer insights
  • Armed with qualitative hearing insights, draw correlations and connections to big data analytics
  • With the use of a communications platform, play an active role in helping the organization to hear customers, making use of personas and analytics to tell the story of customers
  • Keep the C-Suite informed on what marketing is hearing from customers and prospective buyers and help draw implications
  • Help the C-suite and the organization see the connection of informed marketing strategies and tactics to both the monitoring of customer signals and the qualitative hearing of customers

Bringing Innovation To Marketing

For CMOs, here is why distinguishing between active listening (or hearing) and monitoring big data analytical signals can be a factor in C-Suite membership: in the E&Y survey mentioned above, only thirty percent (30%) of the C-Suite believe CMOs brings innovation into marketing practices.

Innovation often requires deep insights, which can be translated into innovative opportunities and trajectories.  In the next few years, we will continue to have a constantly changing customer impacted by new digital technologies and market forces.  Thus, making innovation in marketing practices an important element of CMO success.

To bring innovation to marketing practices, CMOs then will need to rely on both the informed signals of big data and the insights offered from qualitative hearing of customers.  Without these, the ability to influence and help shape how organizations connect with customers can be like being in a dark room without a flashlight.