Forrester B2B Summit EMEA 2023: Focusing on customer-first

Oct 20, 2023

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by | Oct 20, 2023 | Data and Insights, Strategy

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Last week, we sponsored and attended the Forrester B2B Summit EMEA 2023, an annual event hosted by Forrester. This is their flagship EMEA event for marketing and sales featuring clients, vendors and partners, with attendees from all over Europe, in fact, globally.

This year, the big theme was all about putting the customer at the centre of everything. This was a subtle shift from previous years when the focus was on the operational transitions of lead to account. What was interesting is that the customer filtered into all the sessions I attended, some more than others – so it was a consistent theme.

This comes as no surprise as in our Digital Connections 2.0 research from February 2023, it was clear that CMOs were refocusing on the customer, as growth from new customers was looking tougher than ever.

So, why the focus on the customer?

The opening keynote started with a bleak picture of the economy in 2024. The projections certainly weren’t rosy. EU inflation is predicted to be 3.2%, EU GDP growth expectation is 1.4% and tech spending growth (YoY) is predicted at 3.6% (European Tech Market Forecast, 2022 to 2027) – all pretty banal. What was more worrying was the 4.4% Chinese GDP growth prediction – when that’s poor, it impacts everything. 

When the economy isn’t favourable, it typically makes new business acquisition tough, so naturally, we turn to existing customers. Organisations work hard to gain customers, so how can we be more effective at meeting their needs, keeping them longer and measuring our value against the customer – particularly when growth is likely to come from this group.

This creates a dual problem. Focus on the customer and their experience, whilst figuring out what’s happening under the hood and skill up teams to think customer-first. Looking inward to fix problems is a minefield, let alone addressing the customer growth opportunity at the same time (think ABM and cross-sell analysis to get a head start here).

We spoke to several organisations operating globally that were struggling with just this. The concept of focusing on the customer was enlightening for them, but the reality of delivering that, with global-wide tech consolidation, lower head counts and a lack of skills made them scratch their heads.  

The overwhelming response was that Forrester’s thinking was definitely food for thought, but they were at odds on how to implement any of it. The problem was simply too big.

When does a problem become too big and how do you break it down?

For most people, you can get busy focusing on the weeds and picking them apart. So in most instances, it’s better to take a step back – and when you do that, you focus on what’s right for the customer today – and tomorrow.  

When you look from the customer’s perspective, you get a different perspective. And you get focus.

The opening keynote started with the premise that companies that focussed on the customer had 2.5 times more growth. That’s a nice stat, right? 

So, even if your organisation is acquiring, seeking growth from cross-sell and account development, or looking to add new names to the client list, you need to step back and focus on the customer – and gains will come.

Big call-outs that were eye-openers

With the sessions I attended, and by no means did I manage to get to all of them, there were several areas that left a focus in my mind. 

1. The sea of sameness

Where your proposition is pretty much the same as your competitors, there’s a risk of blending into the background. Remove your brand name and you could be describing any company. This was particularly true for cloud vendors, so differentiation is key – and that stems from understanding your customer and looking at things through their eyes.

2. Focus on value for the customer

Value to your business is not value for the customer. How organisations measure value is not the same as how customers perceive value – so consider integrating customer-driven metrics into evaluation processes. 

3. The dimensions of value

Value isn’t just monetary or business related, there are other dimensions that we don’t usually consider or measure in marketing. These include post-sale experiences such as community and customer support – how can you change customer interactions post-sale to engage customers for the long term, beyond the contract duration.

4. Consider customer lifecycle as part of your strategies

Think beyond the initial purchase or contract signing and consider post-sale activities that move a customer from a purchaser to an advocate. For me, this is far from the consideration of most B2B marketers and something that’s critical to B2C… yet, highly lucrative when it comes to long term growth.

5. Customer journeys underpin value

It doesn’t matter what area you’re thinking about, you need to think about the customer journey. Whether it’s website experience, post-sales journey, customer onboarding or renewal, every touchpoint needs consideration from the customer’s perspective. Focus on delivering seamless experiences, supported by technology and engaged employees, and you’ll create value. 

6. Focus on external metrics, not just internal metrics

This one was interesting. When we think about measuring performance, we always look at things from the business perspective. For example, what’s the return on (our) investment, what’s the cost per acquisition (to us) etc. The marketing and business metrics are often overly focused on internal metrics.  

Instead, look at customer value and what that means, and how you can measure it. For example, customer outcomes (what value have you created for them) and customer metrics such as Net Promoter Score. If you start to focus on what customers think and what they get from using your products, you’ll only deliver better results and naturally attract more revenue. 

We’re so embedded in revenue reporting and associated metrics, we sometimes lose sight of the customer and the value you receive. 

Ultimately, happy customers equates to growth and when times are tough, we need to double-down on providing excellent customer services so we’re sticky, valuable to them and ultimately irresistible. 

Considering how to put customer-first thinking into your strategy?
Talk to us. We can walk you through our Customer Excellence model and shape a roadmap for increased maturity - and impact.

Further reading

The impact of the strategic skills gap in marketing technology

When conversion tracking goes wrong, everything gets shaky

Leading change: Unpacking the Forrester B2B Summit, North America