The New Power Struggle: Brands And Their Customers, Who Will Win?


If you are a sales or marketing executive, it should come as no surprise that we are officially in the “Age of the Customer.”  It used to be that companies could control the information exchange about their brand, products and services with customers, and position themselves in a way which best served their agenda.

However, with a constant stream of new digital and social technologies, a perfect storm of access (24×7 via multiple devices) and information (branded and non-branded) has been the catalyst for the emergence of new customer buying behaviors and a power shift from providers of products and services to their customers.

Those very customers who used to rely on brands for information are now much more empowered in their decision-making abilities, significantly impacting all aspects of the business.  While this power shift may actually have a positive impact on the volume of customer engagement and interactions with brands, it will also be highly disruptive to long-standing sales and marketing strategies for organizations around the globe.

In the recent Salesforce 2016 State of Marketing research report, it was found that customer engagement is a top priority for marketers this year , slightly behind brand awareness.  While brand awareness is a longstanding marketing objective that implies one-way, business to consumer broadcasts, customer engagement indicates the rising importance of more personal relationships with customers via valuable two-way communication.

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Source: Salesforce 2016 State of Marketing

Furthermore, in this same study, high-performing marketing teams are nearly nine times more likely than underperformers, to agree strongly that they have adopted a customer journey strategy as part of their overall business strategy.  Seventy-three percent of successful marketers believe adopting a customer journey strategy has positively impacted overall customer engagement.  But top marketers know that identifying the customer journey is an ongoing process requiring context, personalization, and high-value insights, which can’t be a one-time exercise.

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Source: Salesforce 2016 State of Marketing

Responding to a more empowered buyer requires not only process adjustment but cultural ones as well.  Recalibrating an organization towards a more customer-centric view is easier said than done.

The first step is to make a company-wide commitment to being more customer driven.  It can’t only happen in the marketing organization; otherwise, the potential long-term benefit may go unrealized.

Many companies get trapped in their past success and are unwilling to undertake the change necessary to transition from an internally driven sales organization to one which puts the customer’s actual decision-making process front and center.

No longer are companies able to apply traditional thinking towards managing customer acquisition – the linear funnel from awareness to purchase has been replaced by a much more dynamic, customer-driven process.  The good news is that marketing leaders are using their new digital and technology investments to further understand these more unpredictable customer journeys, which ultimately, should improve customer satisfaction and revenue growth.  The bad news is that many organizations are so focused on driving agility into the marketing organization, that they are ignoring the role sales plays and will continue to play in a customer’s (preferred) buying journey.

In many cases, sales is the first “human-to-human” engagement a customer has with a brand. What sales does – what they say, how they engage, and how they add value to the customer is a critical piece of a buyers’ journey.  Improving customer satisfaction, customer experience, and loyalty requires sales and marketing to be fully integrated with systems, processes, and people throughout the entire lifecycle of a customer.

This power struggle isn’t going to go away anytime soon – and as digital engagement continues to accelerate with the proliferation of social and mobile, the customer will remain in the driver’s seat of their own buying journey.  The challenge in 2016 and moving forward will be how companies can be responsive to the “Age of the Customer” without chasing all the various options available to them.  Gaining buy-in from sales on these new digital efforts can and will help win more business, and develop a truly customer driven organization.