Many marketers are confused about their roles in the age of big data and customer experience. That message became all too clear this week at unrelated conferences in San Francisco.
Do marketing professionals really understand their jobs?
My doubts surfaced during the Totango conference on Wednesday, when I heard Jeanne Bliss's lively presentation on how to be a great chief customer officer. Bliss wrote the book "Chief Customer Officer" and found herself explaining many things that I would expect to be second nature to the customer-centric, data-savvy marketers of today.
There I was, surrounded by more than 400 professionals at a customer success summit when I realized what I was hearing were divergent views of what it takes to create customer success. A politician might say, "they're all correct." But I'm not running for office, so I'll just say it sounded like people debating about their favorite colors.
Totango CEO Guy Nirpaz said one of his six core beliefs is that all customers are important. But several panelists in the afternoon, citing citing credible sources like George Orwell and Lady Gaga, insisted "some customers are more equal than others."
The afternoon panel on customer success was titled "Is this a legitimate role?" After about five minutes of discussion, the panelists concurred their jobs were justified. But they debated over such fundamentals as how customer success differs from customer support or sales, and to whom a customer success manager should report. I would have guessed the Chief Customer Officer, but there were also votes on the panel for CFO, CMO and COO.
Does a customer success manager sell things to customers? Jon Herstein, the SVP for customer success at Box, said "I like to have a wall between customer success people and sales," but CCO Rahul Sachdev from Get Satisfaction said the customer success people should work with sales. Others acknowledged that CSMs can help sell upgrades.
All this made me think back to discussions at PAW where one speaker joked about how everyone knows they have to have a big data initiative but nobody knows how to do it. It drew knowing chuckles from many of the highly paid data scientists in the audience.
I shared a lunch table with a young professional who was admittedly confused how how predictive analytics fits into marketing. She was asking very good questions that her very knowledgeable lunch partner found very difficult to answer. Sometimes he noted there was no consistent answer.
In my opinion, this sort of debate is welcome and refreshing at conferences like these, and I applaud the event producers for including viewpoints that sometimes challenged their own thinking.
That said, so much has been changing so fast in data technology that I genuinely believe that many marketing professionals are confused, conflicted or confounded about what they really do for a living. I suspect it will be many years before they sort it all out to arrive at a set of best practices that truly makes the most of data.
In the meantime, we have to remember that nobody is really sure of anything at this point. The good news is that you just might be the smartest person in the profession right now.