CMO Insights: Getting Closer to Your Customers

an interview with
Kevin Bishop Vice President, IBM Experience One

This could be a meta-moment.  I’m sitting in the front row at IBM Amplify, listening to Deepak Advani talk about the power of customer centricity while trying to write an introduction to this blog post about IBM’s efforts to help their customers focus more on their customers.  If you’re lost, no worries.  IBM is definitely upping their game on multiple levels when it comes to helping companies analyze their current customer experience, creating products and services that could indeed transform these experiences. In the middle of this initiative sits Kevin Bishop, VP IBM Experience One. Kevin’s team, according to, does this:

IBM ExperienceOne brings together leading capabilities from across IBM Enterprise Marketing Management, WebSphere Commerce and IBM Customer Experience portfolios to make it easier to create and refine a system of customer engagement based on these practices to accelerate the growth of relationships and revenue.

Got it?  If not, the interview below should help.  Kevin and I cover the broken marketing model and how IBM is helping to fix it, one customer engagement at a time.

Drew: When we talked earlier, you mentioned that marketers “are still doing things the way they were in 1898.” So, what does this mean exactly?
We are challenge people’s mental models about how they think about marketing. The AIDA model (Awareness Interest Desire Action) is a reaction model, first discussed in academic literature in 1898.

It talked about a progression that consumers go through during the discovery and purchase process. But, of course, most people didn’t have mobile phones in 1898, or the internet or a thousand of their closest friends telling them which hotel they like, which goods they like, what services were the best for them. Today, people do, so that’s a significant change.

So, we need to think about marketing increasingly from the customer’s perspective, especially in a world with lots of goods and services. Tremendous competition is great. But in order to differentiate our brands, increasingly we need to think about the customer not just the product or service.

Drew: Lots of folks like Forrester have been talking about the need for extreme customer-centricity. What does this mean to you?
Let’s flip that around and start with me, as a customer. It’s not about me as segment – a middle-aged white guy, or Brits living in America. It’s about me as an individual, with a particular sense of style and things that make me distinctive. Today, a good marketer knows me.

We can have great experiences when companies (brands) like Netflix feed us movies that we didn’t even know we liked–because they can see patterns of behavior and things I like that I may not even be conscious of, yet they know me and they introduce me to new things that are perfect for me. I love that. Why can’t that happen with almost anything else that I do in life? Why do other companies not know me?

Drew: So what are you trying to do with this at IBM?
We’re working to help our customers to know each person as an individual, and increasingly, in the context of what they’re doing. So, not just knowing that I need a mortgage but that I need a mortgage because I’m downsizing now that my kids have gone to the university. Not just I need a mortgage because I’m downsizing, but I’m actually doing all of these whilst on a business trip so my only access is through a small mobile device.

Drew: So, now, if we’re focusing on the customer and their experience, are we changing the metrics of compensation?
We are changing the metrics, to help customers on the journey they want to go through. It’s no longer simply about how many leads should go in your pipeline, and if they have been qualified and validated, progressed through whatever is your company’s version of a funnel. It’s much more about how are we helping people discover our products and services? Are there people discovering us? How are we helping consumers draw comparisons? How are we helping them choose us?

Putting customers at the center shifts the orientation to the question of brands adding value.

Drew: You know, you’re preaching the choir here. Unless you change the compensation system, how does something like this line up in an organization?
This is one of the things that we find leading chief marketing officers are doing really well today. They’re collaborating with their peers in the C-suite to ensure that there is alignment around the customer. One example that is widely cited is the people in Apples stores that are helping you with their products. They’re there to help you become a brand advocate for Apple. They’re not there to make sure that you walk out with that iPhone or iPad the way most sales associates are at most electronic stores. In Apple stores, they’re to delight the client.

Drew: So how is IBM part of all this?
A few years ago, we created digital experience labs to create great marketing programs for IBM. After about six or seven months, we realized it wasn’t about digital. It was about the experience. So, here we are, four years later, and now these former labs are the IBM Design Studios and we use them in our business own business for marketing and for client led software development – and we have this great partnership with Apple around making business software easier and more intuitive – more like consumer software. And now we have formalized this approach for our clients too with the IBM Interactive Experience team and a network of 14 design studios around the world that are part of our consulting business.

Drew: So you will go to a client and say your experience is broken. And do you prototype it in your lab? How does this solution set work that you provide?
We have evolved the design methodology that came out of Stanford into what we call IBM Design Thinking. We’ve formalized the methodology that involves agile practices and bringing teams together. We’ll co-locate our teams with our client’s team into one of these design studios. We’ll bring some of their clients or their consumer into the experience. And in each one of those, you’re testing with the end consumer or customer what it is they’re experiencing, then going away and doing some work for a week or two. We create a better experience and get the customer back again to learn whether we have really succeeded. We now have over a thousand designers in IBM.

Drew: Well, I mean IBM is so vast and had so many things. How are your customers or prospects finding out about this service?
Well, often through the word of mouth. So it is through clients who have great engagements then talk to other clients about the good experience that they have.

Drew: So, wait a second because I want to make sure I understand this. You created a really great experience for your customers. They become customers. They share that information with their friends and then they become customers?
Absolutely. Driving advocacy is one of the fundamentals.

Drew: All right. So driving advocacy is one of those things that we’ve been talking about for a while in the marketing world. If a CMO wanted to embark on this thing with IBM what would he or she tell their CEO to expect?
As you know, we do these studies. We interview some 2000 CMOs every two years to understand what’s keeping them up at night and where they think they’re strong. We’ve embedded the learning from that research into a self-assessment tool that basically probes three categories of engagement, to explore where you are today and where you would like to be.

You get a planogram with a gap analysis the way you are. And then if you’re wondering if your colleagues feel the same way, you might get half a dozen of your peers to do it. And then you might do it with hundreds of your team and really get some statistical understanding of the gap between where you are today and where you’d like to be.

Drew: And the goal here is to assess your company’s degree of custom centricity?
Yes. The three categories give you a broad sense of where you are today with your customers. But typically clients need help diving deeper. How well have you built a system of engagement either within the marketing department or across other departments that touched the customer? So how well have you actually built a system of engagement and service of that customer? And how well do you engage your employees or your partners or your suppliers? Ideally, you understand the maturity of your operation across every point of engagement. It’s all about the customer.

Drew: Harvey McKay writes about a form that he completed for every customer that had 100 key facts and this was in the pre-internet era. One of the most important was a person’s birthday because that was a great day to call them to make an emotional connection. It sounds like you all are trying to blend the need for rational and emotional connections.
I think that’s important. We are human beings, however rational we like to think we are, we know that we are driven by emotional connection. And therefore, if you’re going to do effective marketing, and if you’re going to do effective customer service and have people delight in the way they use your products and services, then you’ve got to appeal to the emotional side as well as through the rational side. And you’re going to know people on both of those levels.

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