Every firm needs customer-minded leaders. New research shows: these customer leaders do better when they serve both customer needs and company needs.
Leading with customers in mind can be tricky. In all organizations, customer leaders are facing at least two major challenges. The first is distrust. Many customer activities (e.g. innovation and marketing) tend to be future-focused and can’t be proven upfront. That’s why it can be hard to trust a customer leader’s projections. The second is a lack of power. The many people who are needed to make the customer experience great don’t report to these customer leaders. All customer leaders are facing this power gap.
How can executives overcome the trust and power challenges and gain the internal influence to actualize great customer experiences?
In our large-scale research for the book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I took a closer look at the influence of customer leaders.
As one would expect, the most influential customer leaders understand customer needs very well. But that’s not half of it. The most influential leaders also understand and address their companies’ top needs. They are well aligned with the C-suite and know how to mobilize their colleagues.
Our research confirms: success as a customer leader is about maximizing the overlap between customer needs and company needs. We call this overlap the Value Creation Zone, or V-Zone for short.
To understand what falls within the V-Zone, let’s first briefly look at a situation that falls outside of it.
Suppose a customer leader considers the acquisition of new customers her main priority, but the CEO doesn’t share her view. In top management’s opinion, acquiring new customers is expensive and wasteful because so many of them leave before the company has gotten its money back. The CEO’s top priority is to increase customer retention. Such a disconnect spells trouble. In this case, the customer leader would be working outside the V-Zone, because what she cares about and what the CEO cares about don’t match. The company and its customers would likely suffer, and so would her career.
So: what’s it like working inside the V-Zone?
When customer leaders work there, they create value for customers (products, services, and experiences that meet their needs), value for the company (revenue and profit), and value for themselves (greater influence and better careers).
In our research, among those leaders who primarily’ focused on the needs of customers, 67% stated that their business impact was high. But for those who focused on the needs of customers and the company both, that figure was 93%.
Continuously identifying and maximizing the overlap between customer needs and company needs is the foundation upon which customer leaders can build influence and success.
Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise