Forrester B2B Summit: Customer Obsession & The Increased Reliance On AI

Published: May 6, 2022

As attendees re-entered the Austin Convention Center for a new day of Forrester’s annual B2B Summit, there was notable excitement in the air as more than 2,000 marketers prepared for another day packed with breakout sessions, case studies and keynotes.

The Demand Gen Report team once again sat in the front row to collect all the nuggets of wisdom the esteemed Forrester analysts shared on stage.

The Increased Prioritization Of Customer Obsession

Most marketers understand it’s a customer’s world and they’re just living in it. As technology advances, so do prospects’ demands for hyper-personalized, targeted experiences that place their needs and pain points at the center of all outreach. In their keynote session, “Invest Shrewdly In Customer Obsession,” Amy Bills, VP, Principal Analyst, and Nick Buck, VP, Principal Analyst, explored the industry’s transition from customer-centric to customer-obsessed.

“Customer obsession is a perpetual business orientation,” said Bills. “It’s not a to-do list, and it’s not just about being customer-centric or loving your customers; customer obsession puts the customer at the center of leadership, strategy and operations. Customer obsessed organizations strike a balance and maximize value to their customer and company.”

Get the latest B2B Marketing News & Trends delivered directly to your inbox!

According to Forrester research, customer-obsessed organizations outperform their non-customer-obsessed peers in key business areas of retention, profitability and employee engagement. Bills and Buck broke customer obsession down to five levels: Customer naïve, customer aware, customer engaged, customer committed and customer-obsessed.

However, Buck clarified that, “customer obsession doesn’t mean being customer-driven at any cost without consideration for your individual company’s situation; when you invest in customer obsession, it’s going to be determined by pressures that are impacting your businesses.”

The experts pointed to external pressures and internal pressures that have an impact on a business or industry. While external forces include industry disruption caused by economic, environmental, social and technological factors, internal forces are issues such as:

  • Trying to break into new markets;
  • Grow the business; and/or
  • Attract, engage and acquire new customers.

“Each of these pressures is going to require a specific, focused and measurable response,” continued Buck. “And the reason I say measurable is that if we can take those pressures and align them to actions or responses, and then marry those actions to the right KPIs, metrics or objectives, we can start to quantify what customer obsession is going to mean for us.”

The first step on the journey to customer obsession is an honest assessment of how many resources can realistically be invested so that the practice is scalable, feasible and within budgetary parameters. This requires an understanding of what customer obsession means to each organization, such as how it translates into a sequence of meaningful and impactful interactions along the buyer’s journey and customer lifecycle.

Though it’s daunting to start the journey to customer obsession, the analysts explained that the results will quickly justify the efforts and initial uncertainty. The pair pointed to Forrester research that found customer-obsessed organizations consistently outperform their peers and competitors across multiple dimensions.

“Customer obsession is not just about doing anything and everything in a reactionary mode at any time,” said Bills. “This is about being thoughtful and intentional with the way that we invest in customer obsession.”

Leveraging The Power Of Automation & AI

A major part of customer obsession is streamlining productivity and relying on machines to do more of the “heavy lifting,” which Forrester’s VP, Research Director Cristina De Martini and Principal Analyst Renee Irion touched upon in their keynote, “Unlocking Growth And Creativity: Marketing In An Insights World.”

Due to the almost entirely digital culture marketers are operating in, they’re now armed with more data than they ever could have imagined — but the abundance is a blessing and a curse. The experts explained that the volume of data is just too much for humans to properly analyze, manage and act upon. To mediate that issue, they highlighted how using technology, AI and automation to efficiently process quantities of data help marketers by making that data usable.

“Technology and insights are the collective bridge to how we can unlock growth and creativity in marketing,” said Irion. “Today’s B2B buyers expect immediate and relevant information — and organizations are generating large amounts of data as they try to serve buyer and customer needs and expectations by empowering them through digital engagement.”

The two experts leaned into the “show, don’t tell” principle by introducing three key opportunities for technology and humans to work together and explaining them through relevant case studies.

Opportunity No. 1: “Machines are fantastic at doing repetitive, tedious tasks quickly,” said De Martini, explaining that practitioners should leverage their support technology and data to increase their productivity. Marketers — and the world in general, really — have an innate fear of technology taking over their tasks and rendering their jobs obsolete. However, the experts explained how PointClickCare, a healthcare software provider, deployed new customer advocacy technology.

Part of the adoption included the release of a new dashboard that identified customer advocates and their specific types of advocacy, such as willingness to speak at an event, share information on social media or participate in an online community. While all advocacy types are good, there are some that have a higher value than others, De Martini said, explaining that the technology-enabled PointClickCare’s customer advocacy team identifies each customer’s advocacy level to determine who to nurture and source for appropriate opportunities.

As a result, the team identified hundreds of acts of advocacy happening every single day and aligned the appropriate advocates with the sales and marketers that needed it at that time, increasing productivity on their own team and on the team for sales and marketing in general.

Opportunity No. 2: “Technology and automation can boost customer experience by powering and providing real-time and meaningful interactions,” said Irion, continuing that real-time insights enable marketers to respond to buyer intent signals immediately. She pointed to everyone’s favorite workplace messenger service, Slack, whose free, self-service experiences are one of the main ways it acquires paid customers.

To better serve the customer experience, Slack formed a new lifecycle marketing team whose main goal was to help customers of the free version be successful on Slack and, ultimately, convert to paid customers. This team developed a framework for their segmentation around team size and engagement and then customized programs for each segment using Slack’s first-party data. Through these efforts, the company learned which content, creative and messaging worked best across different delivery to understand how to provide the most value to the individuals associated with that segment.

Irion explained that after productivity is increased and the customer experience enhanced, it naturally unlocks Opportunity No. 3: Improved performance. She pointed to Lexmark, a provider of imaging solutions and technologies, which used to rely on a relationship-led sales process that featured information silos and marketing teams focused on sales enablement. After recognizing it needed a new way of generating conversations, Lexmark built a foundation that would support more conversation-ready opportunities.

Lexmark invested in building skills and talent internally, tapping external talent and partnering with providers, such as one for BDR services. The company shared insights across all of those involved in generating, nurturing and converting these opportunities, and started to see incredible results with improved activity and engagement, such as generating more than 1,100 opportunities worth $1.5 billion.

“Machines do not work on their own — they require human interaction,” said De Martini. “So, you’re going to have to build a different working relationship between your marketers and those machines. And when you define that working relationship, there are three places where the human beings or the marketers are critical: Applying insights to set program rules, establishing parameters, determining metadata and applying judgment to the decisions that the technology is making.”

Tuesday’s sessions built upon the ideas introduced throughout the day prior to shine more light on the ever-increasing importance of customer obsession and highlighted key ways man and machine can work together to increase success. As attendees prepared for that evening’s concert and cocktail hour, the overall feeling was of optimism and excitement about the future of B2B.

For more insights from Forrester’s 2022 B2B Summit, check out more of Demand Gen Report’s coverage here.

B2B Marketing Exchange
B2B Marketing Exchange East
Campaign Optimization Series
Buyer Insights & Intelligence Series
Strategy & Planning Series