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Article -> Searching for a Chief Customer Officer

Date Added: March 2005

Organizations continue to search for ways to grow revenues and profitability. Marketing is a key area to grow with customers, markets and products. Despite this, more than 65% of CEOs recently stated that marketing is very important to company success; however, only 17% are very satisfied with their company's marketing efforts.1

Marketing and customers are often inter-related, yet many organizations do not have a specific person/role dedicated to customers. The view of many organizations is that it is everyone's role to work with customers. While this is true in many instances, as finance (CFO), operations (Operations vice president), marketing (CMO), human resources (HR vice president) or the entire company (President/CEO) may be involved with customers; there typically is not one person solely responsible.

While we're not suggesting that your company creates a Chief Customer Officer position as several companies previously have done2 (e.g., Quaker Oates, Kellogg Co., Sargento Foods, UIL Holdings Corp.), we are recommending that some key processes are in place to achieve customer (and profitability) success.

  • Understand customers' needs: Do this better and sooner than the competition.
  • Act quickly on customers' needs: Create action plans to proactively meet and exceed their needs.
  • Organize around customers: Many organizations are organized by product segments, which can work; however, organizing around customers and touch-points allow for better customer profitability measures.
  • Demand accountability: If everyone's role is to work with customers, feedback from everyone regarding customers should occur at all meetings.
  • Focus on the most profitable customers: This relates to organizing around customers to measure effectively so resources can be properly aligned and allocated to the right customers.
  • Plan marketing activities: Create a marketing plan so that limited marketing dollars can be strategically invested with the right venues and tactics.
  • Align around the business strategy: Customer measures should be clearly linked to the corporate strategic plan and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

A marketing plan can be a critical success factor in lieu of a Chief Customer Officer. The marketing plan takes the processes listed above and creates a 360-degree view of the customer-focused strategy. It prioritizes needs and turns them into actionable objectives. It creates a measurable baseline to track customer value. And it aligns objectives, strategies and tactics to ensure a high return-on-investment (ROI).

Items such as not being customer focused and market driven, not understanding target customers, not having marketing plans, and having weak brand and communications skills were identified as issues related to corporate marketing.3 In addition to this, more than 90% of CEOs indicate they are very or somewhat involved in marketing for their company.1

There is an obvious disconnect between marketing, marketing leaders and CEOs. The disconnect correlates directly with customers. Take a step back and analyze your customer base. Create a marketing plan. Follow the processes listed above. If you choose not to do this, your competitors will.

1 Nicolet National Business Pulse. Executive Summary: Q3 2004.
2 Johnson, Craig R. and Don E. Schultz. "A Focus on Customers." Marketing Management: September/October 2004, pages 20-26.
3 Kotler, Philip. Ten Deadly Sins of Marketing. John Wiley & Sons: 2004.

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