Who Are CX Pilots, Where Do We Come From And What Are We Trying to Accomplish?

Who hasn’t worked a job and spent time wondering how it could be better in some way? I haven’t. I’m hard-wired to think persistently about improvement. How can what I am doing in any environment be more meaningful for the employees? How can it be made better, faster, smarter or more profitable? How can we put more distance between ourselves and our competitors? How can we protect our ability to command a premium for what we offer at our core while gradually moving out to our edges or flanks to strategically capture more of what our customers find valuable? This is just the way some people organize thoughts and how they prioritize tasks.

And it’s not that the existing ways of doing business are broken, it’s just that I bring a different perspective to it, like everyone else, I presume. I cannot be convinced that what our company is doing is just fine. I just can’t. I blame Gary Hamel.

Somewhere long ago I read about how sharks would lose control or potentially die if they don’t keep moving through water. And for some reason I’ve used that metaphor as my ambition’s power plant. At least as a gentle reminder each day that we cannot stop moving. I spent a lot of my time at my last company with the unshakable belief that we could be doing more, better. And not just more or better for more or better’s sake. More strategically relevant work that mattered for clients that mattered to us. Condensing our core while moving steadily out to our edges.

Recently I ended my position at a great content marketing company in Raleigh, NC in the shadows of the Research Triangle Park. It was an agency with a fluctuating range of about 130 people who focus on finding ways for companies like IBM to use content more intelligently. And few companies do it better than them. I was happy to be there and was floored when the CEO accepted my recommendation to create what I was calling a hedge and a strategic opportunity at our edges.

I was thinking about competitive pressures exerting themselves on content strategy and creation which is its core, and how we could hedge against the potential commoditization of that core offering. What I came up with was an extension to the core, just barely outside on the edges of what we had been offering our enterprise marketing clients. This was terrific. Exactly what I thought the CEO ought to do. This expansion at the edge was a lightweight change management offering. Not the classic and oft bloated Organizational Development (OD) model, but a simplified version of it to help our clients see the impacts that content could have on their organizations and manage it to get the most from deep strategic marketing that we were recommending. We called it Marketing Change Management or MCM.

In August of 2014 I set out to build this MCM practice and develop the offering within the agency. Initially I was working alone designing what I knew would be difficult to integrate into our company but an important foundation, nonetheless. I knew that first and foremost, I’d have to know the change industry inside and out. What are companies who do this, doing? How are they doing it? What are the principle gaps in service design and delivery? How can we address these gaps in a way that is attractive to marketers whose focus is on strategic content? I knew I needed to prepare us to answer the imminent client question, “what does this change stuff have to do with content and how exactly will this help my organization?” And over time, we were prepared.

After that research phase I felt comfortable that I understood the change management industry enough to create a version of it that could be welded to content strategy, creation and distribution. I felt fluent in both change management and enterprise marketing to the extent that I was ready to craft the perfect offering within its content boundaries. At that point, I had to assemble the specific menu of services. That was a particular challenge.

What I was about to create needed to fit, like the last puzzle piece, into a very complex puzzle. It needed to fit between what my agency was known for (content marketing, predominantly for one of the world’s largest tech companies), what the change management industry was saying (all of your shit is wrong and broken and your leadership is rudderless!), how I thought prospects would look at us relative to the competition (wait, you’re trying to do what… be a content company AND a change management company?!?) and how our content-focused account managers would sell it into existing clients (I’m not really sure what this change management thing is and I don’t really feel comfortable talking about it, yet. Simplify it more.)

But alas, I created it. In the first phase the MCM offering would be a series of organizational effectiveness offerings that allowed companies to adjust processes, team structure, workflow prioritization and technology to be able to handle the new impacts that strategic content would create for their marketing departments and companies as a whole.

At this point, I hired a team of four people focused on how to implement this change offering. They were MBAs with a vast range of measurement and change experience. We were working with one client at the time, installing a Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CX CoE) using all the tenets of change. It was off the ground! It was working!

But over the medium term, it didn’t work. Of the many lessons learned, I realized that agencies, themselves, are the hardest to change. Our agency rejected the change management offering like a bad kidney because it was too far from the core—delivering content. It was too hard to merchandise, holistically with the core offering. It screwed with how we thought it ought to be messaged externally. It was too hard to manage with the existing management infrastructure focused primarily on the tactical accountability of content assets. It was too hard to sell, with the front line sales fluency zero’d in on what they’d been selling for decades. The irony wasn’t lost on some of us, trying to build a change offering inside a company that was radically resisting and all out rejecting the change itself. Ultimately, it failed and I hold only myself accountable. In hindsight there are a dozen things I would have done differently. And that’s the most valuable outcome. I know more now.

What I learned was that despite my CEO’s diminishing appetite to continue investing in an offering that was probably a year or two before its time, clients still overwhelmingly wanted to organize around accountable content, performance measurement and the elusive Customer Experience. They had an insatiable appetite to move much closer to their customers in any way they could. And they wanted to do this with research, content strategy, smart content, measurement and CX dashboards. And they still had to make adjustments to their internal organizations to get closer to their customers.

We just couldn’t organize to take advantage of this emergent need with the agency management model we were most comfortable using. The way we managed the work, the team and the client wasn’t flexible enough to also manage the client’s interior issues. Again, hindsight.

Just as we were shuttering the change management offering, I started to see intense light at the end of the tunnel. Everywhere I read, groups I attended, calls I joined; all were talking about the need for change management mindsets to help marketing leaders figure out how to make their next move. But it was too late for the agency. They had made their decision and communicated it out to the employees. And while I was floored at the rate at which the industry seemed to be validating my original hypothesis around the need for change, I agreed that this agency should shut it down and intensify focus on their core.

Back to the light at the end of the tunnel. The message was clear. These marketing leaders that I was hearing first hand, and was reading about, many who are joining CMO clusters like Forbes’ Brand Publishing Institute, were are all making the same declarations:

  • UNDERSTAND CUSTOMERS BETTER. They have to develop internal systems to know who their customers really are through smarter, faster and more complete data and research. They wanted to build centralized customer data systems to feed the change toward CX.
  • DEVELOP A PUBLISHING MINDSET. They have to develop a publishing mindset and platform so that they can take the customer research and create value and meaning from it, in an agile content system that are always on.
  • MOVE TOWARD PERSONALIZATION. They have to develop models of personalization and pre-personalization so that the actions/reactions per touchpoint/engagement are contextual and the messages they’re sending and content they’re publishing resonates clearly on more of an individual level and in the most measurable way.
  • AMPLIFY PINPOINTED CONTENT DISTRIBUTION. They have to learn how to activate or distribute their content in ways that maximizes the right coverage at the right times. They need to put more power behind getting content to individuals instead of massive segments.
  • CENTER EFFORTS AROUND CX. They have create systems that allow them to understand the more complete customer experience spectrum so they can deliver more personalized, contiguous and consistent content that leads to measurably positive experiences regardless of the devices they are using.
  • ELEVATE CONTENT. Develop a content marketing function that harnesses the org’s most valuable knowledge assets.
  • ENGAGE EMPLOYEES. Make employees excited about the change by relentlessly communicating with them and empowering them to take on greater accountability. Get them to understand and own more of the process by collectivizing their ambition.
  • BE AGILE. They are looking for agile approaches to get more done in less time with fewer resources by focusing on broader ranges of accountability and intelligent speed.
  • SIMPLIFY CHANGE. They have to change and the way they’ve been attaining results because they’re simply not organized to achieve the outcomes that mobile and social multiplied by measureable and manageable can now achieve.

So, we have bundled these concerns up into one focus area and offer it as a way for organizations to start doing marketing differently. Start with smaller, more simplified “pilots” and that help marketers begin to organize in smaller more accountable tribes toward more meaningful ends.

We chose the word “Pilots” quite deliberately for its dual meaning. Pilots refers to both the nature of the more “modular” work to be done and the consultative element of capitalizing on our valuable experience as advisors in this new era.

We are Pilots, creating pilots with future Pilots—and we’re focused on helping our clients center their organizations around their customers with simple, understandable and purposeful change.

This is a flight we believe to be really important.

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