I was talking to the CEO of a market leading services company recently. He was trying to entice me to get involved, I was trying to avoid telling him too bluntly that the cosy family-style management he had lived with all these years was about to crash completely. We skirted about the issues.
“With your sort of market position, it sounds like you could really do magic with a good CRM” I suggested. “Oh yeah, we bought one of those last year…I think the IT guys are doing it.”
Here’s what I propose: go get some social scientists to do it instead. Anthropologists would be great, sociologists if they are not too wishy washy. Because focusing on the customer should no longer be the domain even of the traditional marketing department.
Marketing has always been squashed between a sales department gung ho attitude and some magical creative juice produced on demand to impress. Throw a CRM project their way and yes, they will do a better job than IT for sure. But is that what we need these days?
What sort of salary is your customer living on? Where is she living? How on earth do you expect to relate to someone so different unless you have developed the methodological toolset? This does sound a lot like anthropology, because this is what you need to do. I would willingly have one of my fingers chopped off for access to Facebook, VISA or Google customer data. Not that I wouldn’t miss playing the guitar, but the social scientist in me would be in heaven. It is not about finding shortcuts to selling to them. It is about understanding how they think and how they feel.
You can do a lot of this without losing any fingers. Work a different position in your company. Dress up and play a different role on any sidewalk. Talk to strangers. But companies need to be a bit more systematic about this effort. And what the social sciences have learned over the past half century is an invaluable starting point. Call him a CCO or whatever you want, but someone near the top of the organisation has to want to understand customers and to add value to their lives. It isn’t just market research or R&D that has to come under this position, but it is a good place to start. Any customer facing function needs to be rethought with this hat on. And in a position to get things done about it.
Because the customer isn’t going to wait around for you to get it right much longer.