Customer centricity isn’t new.
Case and point: The graph below from Google Trends, which charts interest in customer centricity over the last 5 years, shows that it’s always been there.
That said, notice when interest peaked.
At the beginning of August when the economy started to decline. The chart below, which shows the performance of the S&P 500 over the last two years, backs that up.
Other customer-related topics peaked around the same time as well.
Here’s a graph that shows the interest in customer success. While it’s been steadily rising since 2015, the substantial increase began in 2022, with its all-time high coming in July.
We see the exact same story when looking at search volume for “customer success managers.”
The writing is on the wall and the words are making it perfectly clear that companies are thinking about their customer — and the teams that impact them — now more than ever.
One reason: Businesses aren’t buying — and if they are, closing the deal is taking ages.
As companies see their acquisition engine slow, they’re realizing their gold mine is elsewhere: with existing customers.
The key to surviving and thriving in the modern business world is not to hunt for new customers, it’s to look inward and find ways to grow existing ones.
Said another way, it’s time to invest in customer centricity.
What’s Customer Centricity?
Customer centricity is the practice of putting customer outcomes at the center of business decisions, including product development, marketing and support. By putting customers’ needs above all else, companies can increase loyalty, retention, product adoption and revenue.
The Key to B2B Customer Centricity
A few B2B companies come to mind when I think of customer centricity.
These companies stand out. Spend any amount of time surfing the Internet about them or reading up on their latest endeavors and it’s obvious everything they do is for their customers.
They don’t just stand out, though, they’re also growing exponentially.
In 2021, HubSpot surpassed $1b in revenue.
In Slack’s first quarter fiscal 2022 report, it reported revenue of $273.4mm, an increase of 36% year-over-year.
Now, are HubSpot, Slack and other B2B giants growing because they have great products?
But they accelerate and sustain that growth by investing in a customer-centric strategy and culture that puts their customers on a pedestal.
Any B2B company can follow their lead.
Create — and Maintain — a Customer-centric Culture
This is a bit of a precursor to the true B2B customer-centric strategies, but it’s where we need to start.
The most customer-centric companies invest countless resources to make sure their employees keep customers at the core of everything they do and the decisions they make.
This starts with proper employee onboarding and continues with customer-centric training.
From day 1, employees should have a crystal clear understanding of two things:
- How to succeed and grow in their roles
- How to help customers succeed with the product or service
It’s that simple. This is where true customer centricity starts — and to some degree ends. If you can’t create and maintain a customer-centric culture, it’s going to be nearly impossible to engrain the following strategies into your DNA.
Customer Education and Success: The Keys to B2B Customer Centricity
It seems fitting that two of the best ways to drive customer centricity is to invest in teams and tactics that have “customer” in their names.
I’m talking about customer education and customer success.
Notice that I put “and” in italics.
Because true customer centricity is only possible when customer education and customer success act as one.
The core function of customer education and success are the same: Make sure customers are successful with the product or service they bought.
How customer education and success accomplish that is a bit different.
Customer education is typically an always-on tactic powered by a learning management system (LMS).
The HubSpot Academy is the quintessential example of that.
These academies serve as a central source of truth that customers can rely on to learn about the product or service — whether that’s the basics to get up and running for the first time, advanced tactics to become power users or answers to navigate technical hurdles.
That’s the fundamental definition, but not precisely where the value comes into play for B2B companies.
The reason an LMS-based customer education is the key to customer centricity is two-fold:
- It’s always available.
Customers can access an academy whenever and wherever they need it — no waiting on hold, going back and forth with support or digging through a traditional help center to find the resources they need. Just relevant answers, fast.
For a regional or global customer base that’d be tough and costly to service with an army of customer success managers (CSMs), live trainings and support reps, the value here cannot be understated.
- It frees up your teams.
The central goal of an academy is to empower customers with the resources they need to navigate the product or service without hand-holding (the same hand-holding that can often frustrate customers and decrease time to value).
By making relevant content available — even better, automating delivery via your LMS — customers are less likely to drown CSMs with tickets. Instead, CSMs have the time to have more in-depth strategic conversations, build relationships and expand the customer base from within.
Historically, the relationship between B2B companies and their customers have been disconnected for a simple reason: Everything was about net new customer acquisition.
Once the deal closed, businesses were satisfied and shifted their attention to the next deal.
This worked in the past when the economy was firing on all cylinders and it was easy for B2B companies to keep their pipelines full.
Signing a customer and leaving them out to dry without any support is a recipe for churn.
Think about it: If you downloaded a budgeting app, but you don’t know how to optimize it or integrate it into your life and it’s not helping you save money, will you keep using it?
Of course not. You’ll churn and find one that does provide you with value.
Now think about how different that scenario would look if the company supported you with customer education and success.
- You buy the app and immediately get an email instructing you how to setup your account.
- A few days later, you get a course that walks you through how to use the basic features.
- After not completing the course for 3 days, your CSM reaches out for additional support.
- You work with your CSM and support representatives moving forward to make sure the app is achieving the intended outcomes: to save money.
This example is as bare bones as it gets, but hopefully you get the idea.
Customer education and customer success exist to reduce churn — and they do so in ways that build relationships, increase adoption, build advocates, and ultimately, help you expand your customer base without expensive acquisition strategies and increasing headcounts.
To all B2B companies: This is the way of the future.
Your Customers Are the Ultimate Growth Engine
It took a pandemic and recession for us to get here, but we made it (or at least we’re getting close 🤞).
B2B companies across industry lines are shifting their attention from acquisition at all cost to sustainable growth powered by customer retention.
Because they have to.
As sales cycles slow and budgets continue to shrink — global growth is forecast to slow from 6% in 2021 to 2.7% in 2023 — B2B buyers will, well, stop buying.
The customer acquisition well is going to dry up (if it isn’t already).
In 2023 and beyond, the B2B companies that survive and thrive will be the ones that look at customer expansion opportunities and ways to increase value from within.
The only way to do that is with customer centricity.
The only way to achieve that is with customer education and success.