buyer journey marketing automationPsychologists have compared the human instinctive aversion to change to the way people avoid pain or experience fear. Yet one of the primary responsibilities of CEOs is to facilitate cultural, organizational and strategic change in response to evolving market dynamics – a tall order when your opponent is human nature itself.

However an increasing body of research is creating a chorus with a resounding message: Change or die.

Lori Widzo’s recent blog post at Forrester is the latest voice in that chorus calling for change in the field of marketing. We’re waking up from a daze that started when marketing results became increasingly unreliable and change whacked us in the head and flipped decades of established marketing and sales practices upside-down.

How Customers are Changing
According to Forrester, 75 percent of the buy cycle is completed before Sales is ever contacted. This reaffirms our own analysis with Fortune 100 companies. We found they have already completed their business case, created a vendor short-list and tapped into their social graph before contacting vendors. IDG found that 60 percent of prospects look at nine or more digital sources to research products they are considering.

The buyer expected control of their experience. Vendors that don’t put customers in the driver’s seat will have a hard time closing deals and keeping customers.

Lori Wizdo also noted that buyers expect a personal touch yet sales departments are still pushing products instead of building relationships. As a result 50 percent of sales don’t meet their quotas and only three percent of customers feel their interactions with sales are meaningful.

Companies need to stop trying to control the buy-cycle, instead we must understand the customer’s natural path and engineer our organizations to support it.

How We Need to Change
The only way to make the right changes is to align your entire organization with the customer’s buying process. To do so successfully we need an in-depth understanding of the customer that only comes from research and a partnership with your customer base.

The starting place is to interview them. Customers are happy to lay out the steps they take from the trigger event through purchase. Asked the right way, you’ll discover what type of information they look for, where, and to whom they turn for trusted feedback and advice. They will even tell you when and how they want to engage with your sales teams and their expectations of what, for them, makes a valuable customer experience. All you need to do is ask and then act on that information.

Executives might be afraid of what the customer says, but a vendor’s survival hinges on their ability to overcome those fears; to really talk to their customers and then tune their organization’s culture, business model and processes to match the customer’s experience expectations.

Marketing automation, CRM, and sales automation systems can’t interview your customers, ask probing questions, or plot your Sellers’ Compass™. Marketing automation doesn’t help you build relationships or understand customers. These aren’t qualities we can purchase off a shelf.

What these systems can tell you is where in the buyers’ journey a prospect might be based upon the behavior you’ve been able to capture. Software has value, but vendors won’t get ahead just because they bought marketing automation.

What defines winners are CEOs who muster the courage to create change. To truly listen to their customers, build deep cross-organizational relationships based on value, and change from internally-focused, product-obsessed organizations to customer-centric businesses. That means overcoming fears of change and driving different values, culture, processes and ways of doing business.

Only when we understand customers’ trigger event, buy-cycle and what influences trust can we paint a story-board for the organization to follow that guides us to customer alignment, loyalty, and sustainable growth.