Being more “customer-centric” is a goal that a lot of companies purport to have. CEOs are talking about it on quarterly earnings calls. Companies are creating new positions like “Chief Customer Experience Officer” to trumpet their commitment.
Unfortunately, sometimes these initiatives add up to little more than lip service. Why? Because being truly customer-centric is really hard work. Every customer is different so there is no easy, cookie-cutter prescription. This runs counter to the current desire to automate and standardize everything. It requires organizations to take a leap of faith that if they keep their focus on doing right by each customer—and invest in understanding them and helping them—the right financial results will follow.
Let’s look at one company that is doing customer centricity right—and is closing mammoth deals as a result.
Customer-Centricity Does Result in Revenue
Salesforce has created a customer collaboration program called Ignite. Through a two-to-three month collaborative process, Salesforce engages its customers to do deep discovery into how digital transformation could spark new revenue streams, improve operational efficiency or transform corporate culture. The customer is then delivered an actual prototype for that transformation-- a mobile application or digital service that happens to use Salesforce software. And these sessions are free of charge.
Farmer’s CIO Ron Guerrier, who has been through the Ignite process twice, said, “It’s not a sales approach but a visioning approach.”
How successful is this program? According to Fortune, “In the past 18 months, it has nudged more than 250 established and emerging companies toward the digital precipice, including Fortune 500 fixtures Farmers Insurance Group, Unilever, and UnitedHealth… Salesforce’s digital strategists don’t have formal sales quotas, but their work corresponds with a growth in bigger deal sizes…Ignite and Salesforce’s team of crack consultants are a key part of the cloud company’s growth goals. Salesforce has declared that it will cross the $10 billion revenue threshold during its next fiscal year, which ends on Jan. 31, 2018.”
Ignite is helping Salesforce close bigger deals, faster.
Salesforce President Keith Block told analysts in May 2017, “We had some of the largest transactions in the company's history this quarter… when you think about the compelling reason why these companies are undertaking these transactions and establishing these relationships, at the end of the day, the CEOs of these companies are very forward-thinking CEOs. And they want to bring their companies into this age of digital transformation, and they have an imperative for growth, and they believe strongly that we are the only technology platform out there that will enable that growth.”
What is unsaid here is that these companies are being given the opportunity to co-create a vision for their future alongside a powerful collaborator willing to invest in their success: Salesforce. And this program is giving Salesforce visibility and access in the C-suite, where decisions for eight- and nine-figure deals get green lighted.
Critics might point out--as Fortune reported back in December 2016--that Salesforce’s current strategy and aggressive financial targets are “certain to come at the expense of profits—and historically, Salesforce hasn’t shied away from spending as much as half its revenue on sales and marketing to fuel growth. (It lost money in its last five fiscal years.) Still, expect Salesforce to invest even more in its digital design expertise in the months to come, Block says.”
We will continue to follow Salesforce to see if its investments in customer-centricity eventually pay off in profits.