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Why Customer Experience is so Important in B2B

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Today we're discussing Customer Experience with our special guest Carlos Hidalgo. Carlos is Co-Founder and former CEO of ANNUITAS and Founder and CEO of VisumCx – two agencies that work with B2B orgs on developing insights to their buyers to deliver better demand generation and customer experience.LeadCrunch[ai] uses artificial intelligence to drastically improve the performance of B2B demand generation campaigns through account-based "lookalike" modeling. Click the link for more information. https://leadcrunch.com/solutions/

Posted by LeadCrunch on Thursday, February 28, 2019

In this episode of the Green & Greene Show, the LeadCrunch B2B podcast, seasoned marketing experts talk about B2B Marketing Channels. 


Hosts: J. David Green and Jonathan Greene

Guest(s): Carlos Hidalgo, CEO and Founder, VisumCx

Topic: B2B Marketing Channels

Subtopic: Customer Experience

Duration: 24 minutes



Why Demand Gen Marketers Need to Think About Customer Experience

Customer Experience and Revenue Impact

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Cross-Functional Imperative of Customer Experience: Culture, Culture, Culture

How to Get a Customer Experience Initiative Started in Your Company

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Customer Experience 

Getting an Executive Sponsor for Customer Experience


Podcast Transcript


[0:00:14.8] ANNOUNCER:Live from deep in the heart of Galveston, Texas all the way to the gleaming shores of Jacksonville, Florida, it’s the Green & Greene Show. Here are your hosts, Dave Green and Jonathan Greene, ready to unlock the mysteries of scaling demand gen. The Green & Greene show is brought to you by LeadCrunch, which has reimagined how to find B2B customers at scale.


[0:00:38.6]JG:Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. It’s the Green & Greene Show. We’re going to talk about customer experience today, and I’m really, really excited. We’ve got the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Carlos Hidalgo in the building. If you’re not familiar, he’s written some really cool stuff on the topic.

Also, he’s a very highly-placed marketing executive, former CEO of Annuitas, Founder and CEO of VisumCx. These are agencies that work together with business-to-business organizations on developing insights, so that their buyers can deliver better demand generation and customer experience across the broad spectrum of activities. Is that a fairly accurate summation?

[0:01:22.4]CH:It is. You can introduce me anytime, Jonathan, if that’s the work I’m going to get.

[0:01:27.7]JG:Yeah. I’ve learned to lead with flattery. It puts me in a better position.

[0:01:30.4]CH:It will get you everywhere.

[0:01:33.0]JG:Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to before we jump into the nitty-gritty?

[0:01:37.9]CH:A long-time B2B marketer, I started at an agency back in the 90s, a small agency, and then moved corporate-side. I did a few years at McAfee and then also BMC Software. I left BMC to start Annuitas in 2005, co-founded that. I left Annuitas in early 2017 and started VisumCx. We work with customers of all shapes and sizes and really have three criteria: customers that we really enjoy working with, who want to drive effectual change and really are focused in on customer experience, because it’s so important.

It covers every stage, every interaction we have with a customer long before they become a customer. If you believe the research, which I do, a lot of the research says that price and product are going to be secondary to that customer experience, and we, as consumers in our B2C lives, expect that from brands, and we’re starting to see that in B2B as well.

[0:02:39.7]JG:I was remiss in introducing my partner in crime as well, J. David Green. He’s the mad scientist behind all the tomfoolery we’re undertaking here at LeadCrunch. Welcome to you as well, sir.

[0:02:52.0]DG:Thanks, Jonathan.

[0:02:53.2]JG:Let’s jump into this customer experience topic and ask Mr. Hidalgo here some smart questions.

Why Demand Gen Marketers Need to Think About Customer Experience

[0:03:01.8]DG:I love the context of it, but CX is somewhat new for a lot of marketers, and I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about that. You wrote a blog postabout why B2B marketers need to be thinking about demand generation in the CX context. Maybe you could just touch on that for those who haven’t read that. By the way, I think it’s a great read and I highly recommend it. Tell everybody what you meant by that at a high-level.

[0:03:32.5]CH:I alluded to it just a few moments ago when I said the customer experience starts long before anybody buys anything. I actually got a text today from a client who was referring to a software company and said, “Oh, my word. Their salespeople drive me crazy.” She said they stick to their script. “They don’t ask questions and when I throw them off their script with a question, all they do is go back to the beginning and repeat.” That’s a really bad buying experience to the point where they’re now questioning, “Are we going to buy from this vendor?”

When we talk about demand gen, we have to make a buying experience that aligns to the buyer, how they buy, what content they like to read, in terms of what asset types they prefer. I was at a conference a few years ago where they proclaimed white papers are dead. Well clearly, they have never marketed to engineers, as engineers love white papers.

Myself, I won’t read a white paper. I’ll watch a two-minute interactive video. We have to understand that. Then we have to understand their content consumption patterns, how they buy, which is not “awareness, consideration, decision”. I wish it was that easy. There’s a lot in there that we can define and understand and say, “What feeling and what emotion do we want those buyers to feel? What is the experience?” We are human beings. We don’t sell to accounts, all due respect to ABM. We sell to people who have bad days, have good days, are fearful about making the wrong purchase, have their neck on the line for a lot of different things. If we can tap into that, even in the buying process, we’re going to deliver a great experience and have the chance to win more often than not.

[0:05:16.3]JG:I wonder. Why do you think it’s important for brands to focus on customer experience as a broader initiative, and what are the implications of it?

Customer Experience and Revenue Impact

[0:05:31.6]CH:Well, I think the implication should be revenue. It’s much easier to keep a customer and expand their share of wallet than to go out and acquire new customers, although new customer acquisition is where most companies focus, because it’s really sexy. It has some sex appeal in terms of marketing, putting together these campaigns and watching all the leads come in and convert, yada, yada, yada.

From a brand focus, though, we have more choices than ever. Very rarely do we run into a B2B scenario where there’s only one vendor that can supply our needs. That’s why I put so much value, as a consumer or as a B2B buyer, into what the experience is, starting with brand engagement, all the way through to, ultimately, the goal should be turning me into a brand advocate. We see a lot of B2C brands that do this very, very well.

B2B brands are struggling, because it’s this handoff. “We’ve closed the deal and now we hand it off…” to account management who hands it off to professional services. Now it’s handed off to support. As a customer spending a lot of money, I don’t want to be handed off. I want seamless. That becomes really difficult for us in B2B organizations. When we do it well, it becomes a huge competitive advantage.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

[0:06:50.1]JG:That continuity and congruency, I think that tends to lead people to convert in the first place, probably engenders better long-term relationships if you can extrapolate that to the entire engagement and the lifetime of the engagement as well, I imagine.

[0:07:04.6]CH:I think you just used a word that is really important: relationships. I mean, we all have relationships in our lives that ebb and flow, and we have really good days and then we get in those tight areas where there’s an argument or a disagreement. We have to understand with a B2B company, we can build relationships. When we do that with an experiential foundation, it gets us through some of those rough patches, versus, “You guys blew it, I’m out.” Customer experience is not just sending an invoice saying, “Thank you for your business. Your next payment is due on April 1.”

Cross-Functional Imperative of Customer Experience: Culture, Culture, Culture

[0:07:41.4]DG:Right. You said something that I think is going to be the hardest part about CX for companies. It really does touch every aspect of the organization. Companies are organized around, “This is my swim lane, that’s your swim lane.” The customers get dropped in between the swim lanes, because I’m too focused on what I do and not enough on the customer. How do companies do the right cultural things and organizational things to bring about the right kind of experience for customers? I think that organizational part is what’s really hard.

Listen to the Podcast: “Cultural Imperatives for Success with Account-Based Marketing”

[0:08:22.5]CH:You hit on something that’s so important, that cultural change management. That’s why I believe CX has to start from the top. If it’s a mid-level manager, all due respect to the work they do, driving effectual change is going to be pushing that rock uphill.

You have to have it start from the top. Then I think what’s most important to customer experience is the employee experience. Do the employees understand the brand promise and the brand mission of the organization at every stage? Whether I’m in product development, product marketing, campaign management, sales, customer support, professional services, even finance where I’m issuing invoices, if I don’t understand that brand promise and how that relates to the customer across every interaction and across their full spectrum of the lifecycle, it’s going to fall down.

I think it has to start from a executive mandate. Somebody who says, “Look, I’m not telling you how to do your job. I’m telling you how to create the experience within the role that you have.” I think that’s when you start to see some of that cultural change. Then, give the employees the empowerment to deliver that and reward that accordingly.

[0:09:41.9]JG:I mean, let’s say I’m a believer.

[0:09:44.9]CH:I hope you are.

How to Get a Customer Experience Initiative Started in Your Company

[0:09:46.6]JG:Well, I definitely am. Let’s say I’m watching this and now I’m a new believer. I’m a convert. I think to myself, “My organization is really not like this at all.” What would you think would be some pragmatic first steps to setting this up from the top-down and beginning to execute upon it?

[0:10:03.8]CH:I think the number one place to start is really understanding who your customers are. Quite often, I hear, “Well, we have personas.” That’s a great start, but really a lot of the personas are more about what they think about my product and simply contain to a buying cycle when we know that 90% of customer lifetime value happens after the first purchase.

What we want to understand is not only the ideal customer profiles we’re dealing with, who in the company, but at what stages are they interacting? For example, if you take just the initial buying cycle of customer experience, which we would call demand gen, you will find that oftentimes salespeople, “Oh, I’ve got to get to the C-level.” Well, the C-levels are the ones who kick off the initiative to buy something. It’s directors, VPs, senior managers who are actually the most influential, because they’re the ones collecting all the information, bringing that back to the C-level, so you might see a C-level at the beginning and at the very end. Why am I worried about an experience for that C-level in the middle, when really, I have to create an experience for the managers, directors, VPs?

Understanding the customers, how they’re moving through that lifecycle, and then what involvement they have, how they interact with each other, and then what experience they’re looking for is a great place to start. You’re going to know that by going out and talking to your customers.

[0:11:33.6]JG:There you go. I was just going to say I think a lot of people are really screwing the pooch on this. When you talk about their personas with them and you begin to dive into how they arrived at those conclusions, you see a really stunning lack of empathy in a lot of the thinking around that. Then, down channel, they lack the conversion metrics that they would like to see and because they’ve never bothered to talk to anybody in the process of trying to figure this out

[0:12:08.2]CH:I was speaking at a conference last November. In my session, there were probably about 200, 225 people. I estimate all marketers. I think there was one salesperson. I said, “How many of you, on a regular basis, let’s say monthly, pick up the phone and call your customers, or at a customer event, sit down with your customers and ask them about their experience. How did they purchase? What’s important to them? What do they look for in a vendor?” Two hands went up.

We create this internal view of what we think the customer wants, and then we launch it and they land with a resounding thud and we wonder why. Then, we say, “Well, we just should do more of this and we invest more and do the same thing,” which is the definition of marketing insanity.

Listen to the Podcast: “Why You Should Stop Faking Your Buyer Personas”

[0:12:55.4]DG:I think there’s value in simply talking to people, customers and prospects. Actually, I’ve found a lot of value in talking to the people who look and decide not to buy. Try to understand, what is it that happened in that experience? Maybe it was just that they weren’t a good fit. That’s certainly a possibility. Maybe there’s something in that experience you could have changed that would have gotten more of them to come onboard. I just think there’s not nearly enough of that simple qualitative research of just talking to people and listening, being an active listener.

[0:13:36.7]CH:It definitely is lacking. What I hear is, “Well, we don’t have the time.” That, to me, is you find the time. I bet if you took a look at all the activities that a typical marketer, or even customer experience professional if you have that organization in your company, all the activities they do, if you spend two hours a month just setting up 15-minute interviews, not to ask about, “Hey, why are we so great?” But, “Tell us about your experience.” To me that is more valuable than an NPS or a customer satisfaction survey.

[0:14:09.6]JG:That whole “I don’t have time” thing, I have something of a military background, and some of my buddies are snipers. The interesting thing to me about the way they conduct warfare is they’ll spend weeks getting into position to take a single shot. When they tend to take it, it tends to have finality. It does what it’s supposed to do. That’s why there doesn’t need to be a platoon of them, or a company of them. It can just be a guy who took his time and set it up correctly.

I think that has application in marketing. People like to throw a bunch of poo at the wall and see what sticks, rather than doing proper research on the front-end and figuring out what they really ought to do.

[0:14:50.1]CH:Absolutely. If we can really inform our activity both on the marketing and the sales side and, again, across all the departments and understand what that experience is that customer is wanting. Finance is an easy one. I want it to be easy to pay my bill. I want invoicing that’s most likely electronic, and I want to be able to, if need be, have flexible payment terms. I’m just making stuff up at this point.

If we don’t know that, we just assume well, “I’m going to batch it out.” You have a notification in the product or whatever, those are things that matter. I mean, in my own consumer life I’m dealing with right now, I think it’s final today, but I had to call the company three times, and I had to send five e-mails and then the whole scheme of things. It’s not that big of a deal, but I’m like, “How hard is it to just cancel this one account? That’s all I’m asking you to do.” I’m spending so much time and it was so frustrating. I will never do business with that brand again.

[0:15:54.1]DG:Yeah, I think sometimes back-office operations that do interact with customers, they optimize for process internally and it’s a very inwardly-looking view. “Hey, we can do this to reduce the unit cost by X.” Then the customer pain of that reduction isn’t really looked at. I’ve seen that time and again with things like customer success. “Now that’s pretty expensive, let’s reduce the headcount over there.” Now they’re not getting the help to use the product or the service, and they’re unhappy and they don’t continue with you. You really do have to take that bigger, broader view that you were talking about.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Customer Experience 

One question that’s near and dear to our hearts is how you see artificial intelligence playing into this journey that you’re taking people through with CX. What’s the intersection there?

[0:16:55.2]CH:I definitely see it. First of all, I love what you guys are doing, just even on the demand gen front, matching look-alike companies and qualifying those. I’ve talked with your colleague, Doug, at length. We’ve nerded out a few times on what it can do, what it means for the industry.

I think, in terms of CX, there’s a big opportunity for it as well. We can really help use that to enhance the experience we’re delivering at every checkpoint, because you’re going to find your buyers, your customers are going to tell you one thing and it’s true within that moment, but then you’ve got to have that macro view of all of your customers brought together. When you can start to use machine learning and AI to sort through that massive amount of data, you’re not going to do it manually. Let’s just be honest. Even if we have some automation tools and things like that to apply AI and say, “Hey, there’s been a shift,” right? The customer was here. Now we’re seeing this happen, there needs to be a shift. How do we respond as an organization?

Those are the insights I think that’ll be extremely valuable. I know that I hear a lot of marketers go, “Oh, yeah. AI is supposed to accomplish everything,” with the rolling eyes, but I think when it’s applied in the right way to really help cut through reams and stacks of data that we’re never going to do manually, there’s a big value there and it should be looked up.

[0:18:24.3]DG:One of the things that we’ve seen is that you can use look-alike models, just as one example, to find the people who look like they’re going to leave. What do those people look like and then who else looks like that? You have a whole bunch of people who leave all the time, and there’s some model there that may be able to give you some insight so that you could preempt it, find out what’s going on and maybe salvage things.

Read the blog: “B2B Lookalike Audiences Are Here and the Future Looks Bright”

[0:18:51.1]CH:Well, then not only pre-empt it, but get you well ahead of that to say, “Okay we’re starting to see a common trend.” Then, if you’re going to apply it in that manner, think about an NPS. My concern with NPS is not so much the detractors because at least there’s still an emotion there. It’s the passives. You go, “Yeah, I could take you or leave you.”

If you can even apply what you just described to a passive group and say, “How do we move those passives now into actives and again into advocates?” that’s going to be a big win as well, because those passives are just one issue away from walking out that door.

[0:19:30.3]JG:That’s interesting. I think you could even match that up with the interview focus, actually talking to clients, and maybe even identify people who are going to pass and figure out how you’re losing to the status quo. I think a lot of an awful lot deals are lost because it’s easier to not do anything at all.

[0:19:51.2]CH:I agree with you 100%. I can tell you, in the last two-plus years, every deal that’s never come to fruition for us. Thankfully, there had not been many. “We just decided not to do anything.” It’s hard to compete against that. Yeah, I think there’s just a play for it, and it does concern me a little bit when I hear people say, “Well, AI, AI, all we hear is AI.”

Well, there’s a reason that you’re hearing it is. It’s really valuable, and again, when you apply it in the right context, it can really bring your data to life. Again, it can serve as a competitive advantage and give you the insight to say, “Hey, we’ve got a real gap across this area. We need to improve either our product, or our experience, or our content,” but we see it in the behavior of our customers.

Getting an Executive Sponsor for Customer Experience

[0:20:42.3]DG:I’m one of these demand gen marketers and I’m buying into what you’re saying. Then I go talk to my boss or the CEO or somebody like that who’s going to be the person who sponsors this stuff, and they don’t seem very enthusiastic. They’re not seeing the value and they don’t get it. What do you do if you’re that person trying to drive that change and get it started with the executive sponsor?

[0:21:10.5]CH:I ran into that a lot with my clients. I ran into that when I was client side as well. I think a lot of that is that status quo, Jonathan, that you talked about as well. Should we really fix things that don’t appear to be broken, but you could probably find a lot of breakpoints in what’s happening?

My recommendation is start with a pilot. Do something that’s minimally disruptive. You can say, “Hey, let us take a segment of the business. Let’s take an audience segment.” Whatever it is, a product segment, really zero in on that segment, do it a different way, apply some AI to it and really see what we can do. In essence, you’re doing a bake-off. You’re doing the modern, sophisticated approach, versus the status quo. When it’s done right, modern and sophisticated is going to win every time.

Then you say, “All right, now that I’ve shown you the numbers and we’re so far ahead of the pack,” now executives either have to make a decision of we’re still not going to do that (At that point, brush up your resume, look for a new job.), or they say, “Well, how do we then roll this out, this methodology and approach, across all the other lines of business?”

[0:22:21.3]DG:Right. Fantastic insight on that. Do you have any additional thoughts that you think people really ought to understand about CX? You provided quite a bit for people to chew on today.

[0:22:36.9]CH:I would say it’s an investment, number one. It’s a significant investment and it’s a long-term proposition. It’s not a campaign that you push out there and then go on to the next one. It is about change. You’re going to change the culture in your organization most likely, and that’s going to take a long time. I mean, cultural change takes up to three years depending on the size and complexity of the organization.

Understanding that component is going to be huge. Have patience, set some achievable milestones, and then look for the quick wins. To me, the companies that are going to win in the future are going to be the ones that invest in this now.

[0:23:16.6]DG:I think there’s no doubt about that. I think people have to really start getting into the customers’ experience and understanding it and approaching with some empathy, which you can’t do unless you get out there and interact with them and really start to understand them and the entire experience they have and not just a small aspect.

[0:23:38.8]CH:Agree. Agree.

[0:23:41.3]JG:Well, listen you’ve hit them in the mouth with some knowledge. Now they have to figure out how they’re going to react. The man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Carlos Hidalgo in the house talking customer experience. Listen, if listening to customers and pivoting based on what they need is wrong, I don’t want to be right. You know what I mean? This is the way it has to go, folks, so I highly encourage you to press in and look at the things that Carlos is writing and the things that he’s putting out into the market and research his companies, because I guarantee it’ll help you move the needle.

We’re coming to an end of our Green & Greene Show for today. We probably need to have you back on. I feel there’s probably another hour to of good content to draw out of you. These crazy kids these days can only go for about 30 minutes beforethey drop dead.

[0:24:34.7]CH:I’d be honored to be back on, and I really do appreciate you having me on this episode. It’s been great. It’s been fun. It’s truly an honor to be with you both.

[0:24:43.2]JG:All right. Thank you very much.

[0:24:44.0]DG:Thanks a lot, Carlos.

[0:24:45.4]CH:All right. Take care.

[0:24:45.3]JG:Until next time, folks.


[0:24:46.7]ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning into the Green & Greene show by LeadCrunch. Green & Greene think differently about B2B and want to start a movement to transform demand gen. If you have ideas for topics or would like to be a guest, send an e-mail to David.Green@leadcrunch.ai. If you’d like to find more customers, visit our website to talk to one of our demand gen guides. www.leadcrunch.com.

Listen to the podcast, “How Artificial Intelligence Will Change Marketing Operations.”