Transcript: Customer Marketing Trends & Intentionally Investing in Customer Obsession with Amy Bills

On this episode, I was joined by Amy Bills, VP and Principal Analyst, Customer Engagement Strategies at Forrester. Previously, she was the Director of Customer Marketing at Blackbaud. We talked about all the attention that customer marketing has been getting recently, trends and patterns that she’s seeing, what it means to intentionally invest in customer obsession and choosing metrics that tie back to real impact. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Amy. 

Margot Leong: Hey, Amy, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really excited to have you with us. 

Amy Bills: I’m happy to be here. 

Margot Leong: Tell me about your background and your journey to customer marketing and where you are today at Forrester. 

Amy Bills: Sure. It was convoluted. So I began my career post-college as a newspaper reporter. It was what I had always wanted to do and was really interested in, and then I began to kind of look around and think, what else is there? Might there be new opportunities? I do subscribe to the theory that it’s best to think about your next move when you’re still fairly content in your current spot. Puts you in a better head space, gives you a sort of more relaxed flexibility. So I did that and I also, at the time was thinking about moving to a region that I wanted to settle in. Part of newspaper work, of course, is that you might end up living in a bunch of different places, which I did. And so I moved to Austin, Texas in 1998 and worked in a series of content and then marketing communications roles. And then a technology marketing role with Eloqua, which was subsequently purchased by Oracle. I also worked for an agency for a company called Bulldog Solutions. And then about four years ago, I came to work for Sirius Decisions, which subsequently became part of Forrester. And that’s where I am right now. 

Margot Leong: Got it. And you also lead customer marketing for a company called Blackbaud, right? 

Amy Bills: Yes.

How could I have left Blackbaud out of the rotation? So between Eloqua and Forrester, I worked for five years for a company called Blackbaud, which is based in South Carolina, but it has a substantial office here in Austin. And Blackbaud is really the place where first of all, wonderful people, many of whom I’m still in touch with, I love to collect people. I keep my contacts because I really like the vast majority of them. 

And Blackbaud is really where the threads of marketing automation, which I had been doing some of that in the agency setting and customer communications, growth marketing and also storytelling, advocacy. A lot of those threads came together there and then combine that with really supportive leadership, great peers, and it was nice alchemy. It was a perfect storm to really move ahead in customer marketing, which by then I had realized as an area that was where I saw a lot of opportunity. And then I thought it was just important and interesting, it checks all the boxes. 

Margot Leong: This is interesting too, because you mentioned Eloqua. And so Marc Organ, right, who founded Influitive. He was also, I think the CEO or the founder of Eloqua, but there’s like something in the water, like the love for the customer it seems like, you know. 

Amy Bills: Well, that was very, you know, a lot of companies, and of course at Forrester I see a huge range of what companies say and what companies do. And often that matches. And occasionally it doesn’t quite match. And Eloqua really truly created a culture around customer centricity before perhaps it was even a buzzword. And so you do see things like that, whether it’s in what Mark did with Influitive other, the other places that Eloquans went and you see a lot of customer marketing leadership. If you look closely, you can probably trace them back to that world. And part of that is because it really was in the culture there. 

Margot Leong: That’s massive. And I think we’ll probably get into this in a little bit around what it means to be customer centric, what it means to invest in customer obsession, right. And how to do that thoughtfully. I think what’s really interesting about your current role at Forrester is that you know, you’re advising companies, you’re really thinking about what it means to be on the cutting edge. You’re thinking about a lot of theory, having been a practitioner at Blackbaud, it’s just really interesting to think about how all of that stuff comes together.

So I’d love to know a little bit more about what does it mean to do what you do at Forrester. And how did your previous experiences translate to or influence your work there? 

Amy Bills: You know, my work at Forrester, if you have to boil it down to a ten second, I don’t know that people take elevators anymore in buildings, but really it’s about helping whomever we’re working with. And in my case, that’s usually VP Marketing, Customer Marketing, Director of Customer Marketing. Sometimes people in customer experience and customer success roles. The goal is to help them be their best selves. It’s to sort of be alongside them. And that might look like helping them validate some of the things that they’d already like to do, but they just want that additional validation. 

Sometimes it looks like providing some structure for an assortment of things that they want to do that may not feel connected. And so what’s the structure we can put around to operationalize what you want to do. Sometimes it looks like just helping evolve from, let’s say, a pilot advocacy program that they’ve built, put their hearts into, but okay. How do we scale this? How do we grow this? How do we get buy-in? So the part of my Forester work that is about helping clients really falls into those areas. 

And then of course there’s a component to Forrester as well, research and making sure that those learnings and that guidance are activated in a way that people can consume them through reports or webinars. And just the other ways that we have of providing content. 

Margot Leong: What is it like now to be on the advisory side versus, being the person for example, at Blackbaud that was leading that? How are you feeling about the differences between what you’re doing now versus what you were doing before? 

Amy Bills: When you’re a practitioner, your scope is narrow because you’re working for a company and deep because you are the details and whether you’re a team leader or you’re a practitioner, you’re steeped in whatever your objectives are for that organization. When you’re an analyst, of course you’re I don’t want to say shallow, but it’s wider because you’re working with multiple clients and the end of the day, you’re arming them to go into that meeting, but you’re probably not sitting in that meeting with them. That would be pretty rare. 

So it is a transition and I was ready for it because I had been a practitioner, I’ve be en a team leader and I had really seen, and this is particularly at Blackbaud, watching people show interest in advocacy, show interest in customer marketing, and then hired onto the team and then really grow and stretch and watching them realize how much opportunity is there is so satisfying.

And now I get to see that, but on a broader scale, because I’m working with multiple clients, but it also means we are there to, as I said, enable our clients to be their best selves. And that means teach. Don’t do. Right? I’m not a hands-on consultant, other parts of Forrester do that. So it’s really about reminding yourself to make sure that you are enabling the customer to do their absolute best, whether you’re sitting with them or not. There’s really an enablement element to it. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. Teach someone to fish kind of thing.

Amy Bills: Yeah. You know, there’s a scene in that HBO show, Band of Brothers, where that Captain Winter’s character, he’s promoted in the field. There’s a scene where they’re trying to take a town in France and he starts to want to run into this battle with his soldiers. And the military leadership pulls him back. They say no, you are here to lead and enable all of them. You are not here to run into this battle.

And I feel that way sometimes. I want to sit down with my clients and be in the battle with them, but that’s not what I’m here for. It is so satisfying when our clients get a promotion or when they come back three weeks after making a big presentation to their CMO and they say, we got the resources. We just got it a yes. First of all, I love that they think to tell me, and second of all, I loved that they did it. It’s really satisfying. 

Margot Leong: And so if we think about the time that you joined Forrester, right, to focus on customer engagement strategies, customer marketing, advocacy, that was about four years ago. And I would say probably where the understanding of the practice was four years ago versus what it’s like today, seems like it’s accelerated massively and I’m curious, like when you joined Forrester, what the understanding was around sort of maturity level at organizations when it came to this versus what you’re seeing now. I’m super curious about these trends and the direction, the evolution.

Amy Bills: Yeah. Customer marketing is getting more attention and more attention means more resources, of course. It also means the imperative to keep that attention and credibly show that with great power comes great responsibility. So it is important for customer marketers to realize where you are getting more attention, where you’re getting the ear of your CEO or your CMO, be prepared to shine. But absolutely, it still requires customer marketers to be able to credibly demonstrate the impact of what they’re doing and to put the same kind of rigor around their work as is expected from demand marketing or sales or you know, any of their other partner functions. There was an evolution happening anyway. In fact the service that I joined, customer engagement, was created because, at that point, Sirius Decisions could see that there was more attention, more interest, questions being asked about how do we retain customers. Questions being asked about how do we grow with the existing customer base. That was happening already.

And then additionally, for a variety of reasons, the value of customer advocacy, finding and activating, enabling customers to share the story about how they’ve been successful and how they’ve achieved value. That, driven by a few things also was beginning to get much more attention beyond the kind of early adopting industries like marketing automation, which is where Eloqua was.

So all of this attention then was accelerated somewhat by the pandemic, because in various scenarios where it looked like perhaps new logo, new sales goals might’ve become more challenging. Sales teams were having to learn perhaps how to interact without the advantage of in-person. Budgets were changing and so on. More attention turned to, okay, how do we keep our existing customers and grow those existing customers? This is our base. It’s a substantial part of our revenue. Perhaps it’s time to pay more attention to them. So the pandemic is not the only reason. This was maturing anyway, but it definitely accelerated.

Margot Leong: Just like in a pandemic accelerated remote work being so common right now, it’s almost weird to think about what we were doing before and then how we never really thought about it that much, being accelerated by the pandemic and also the sort of this groundswell. People basically sort of beating the drum and being like, this is common sense, people. We should also focus on things post-sales. 

Amy Bills: You know, I have a little running joke probably just with myself about no kidding. Of course you should pay attention to your existing customers. You know, I’m not the only one. This is why more activity around customer success. And the other big driver here is the changing ways that people buy. Changing buyer behavior in B2C. But I focus on B2B and as buyers increasingly are sourcing information about the offering, about the company themselves, and they’re sourcing it early and we’ve known this for awhile. I don’t think I’m breaking any news here, but that means that it’s really important for companies to have information, to have their story out there wherever buyers are doing their research. And this could be in peer communities. This could be review sites. This could be a variety. I won’t even list all of the ways, and this is where advocacy really comes into play. Because you, as a B2B organization, you may not even be in the place where your story is being told when it’s being told. So if you’re thinking ahead, you do some work to ensure that whomever is telling the story, is telling a good story and has been enabled to do so. 

Margot Leong: In your time now having advised, so many VPs of marketing or directors of customer marketing or customer experience leaders, you know, it sounds like common thing there, which is probably common for anyone at any level really is, okay. How do I get my boss and my boss’s boss to see a lot of value in what I’m doing. So I’m curious, is there some sort of like red thread throughout, right, is your advice to them in terms of bringing it back to the business value or helping them get that promotion in terms of conveying the value and getting that visibility, are there patterns, trends, things that stand out to you, right? Or is it very specific based off of the person individually. 

Amy Bills: I think there’s trends. Let’s talk specifically about customer advocacy . It’s not customer marketing’s only purview, but it’s certainly an area for the reasons that I stated that is important. So if you ask, is it important for your customers to be able to share their experience? Most people aren’t going to say no. This is the same question as are customers important to your business.

I don’t think anyone’s ever said no to me on that. But you have to take that thread a little bit further and think about, again, what I just mentioned. That it’s unassailable that buyer behavior has changed. Anyone who thinks that B2B buyers buy exactly the same as they did two decades ago, I’m not sure what else I could say. So there’s no question that the way that B2B buyers buy has changed. Buying involves more people. In B2B, it’s rarely one individual just making the entire decision on their own. So there are buying groups. There is the sourcing and in early stage and then in solution stage and kind of all through that buyer journey. As I said, much of it is done or a good portion of it can be done without involving the company’s sales team or even the company’s website, meaning a lot of this decision and exploration takes place before they even get to you, before you even get to do your demo or follow up with them.

So think about that. If you think about how buyers buy and then also think about how important it is for people to hear from their peers. And again, this is pretty unassailable too. So it’s clear that people want to learn from their peers, people seek community, whether that’s capital C online community or more social media or places where people get information.

So if you think about the way that people are behaving, where they go for information when they’re buying, where they go for insight and validation, when they’re using a solution or trying to solve a problem, you think about those behaviors then as an organization, what is the way as a B2B company to not ensure, but to enable those conversations to take place. Even if you, the company, are not involved in them. 

And that’s where advocates come in. So things like case studies or social sharing, or people who use your solution, joining conversations on LinkedIn or speaking at an event, those are all ways the people who have derived value and have a good experience with your company can share their story. Whether it’s in buying or deciding to retain, we know how important it is to people to hear from their peers. Those connections should be made. If people like to hear from their peers, make sure their peers are out there to be heard.

Margot Leong: I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this, is of course in B2C oftentimes the buying journey, right at the end of it can actually be quite emotional. It’s just like, okay. I saw the ad, the ad sparked something in me, I’m just going to like buy it, cause I like made that decision. And maybe I checked some reviews, but overall I’m like, I’m just going to go for it. What also strikes me is that it also feels like it can also be kind of emotional in B2B as well, which of course depends on obviously what you’re purchasing and what other teams are involved, but I have a feeling that let’s say, for example, you know, you are running marketing at a company or you’re running customer marketing at a company and you ask some of your good friends, maybe who also work in customer marketing, hey, like what do you use for this? 

And so if most of them say the same thing, you naturally have a tendency to weight that recommendation much higher. And of course, again, you have criteria for what you’re trying to check off, but at least for me, I know that you know, me being like often quite busy and quite hectic. And I just want to like, get the damn thing and like, make it work for me. 

 A lot of times I’ll just be like, look, my friend said, this is good. Do your due diligence but I heard this is really good, so like, I’m happy to try it. There’s levels in terms of where I will weight where information comes from and how quickly I should act on that or how, yeah, how quickly, I suppose.

Amy Bills: Yeah, you know, I’m not sure when we decided that people turn into robots when they get to work. I wasn’t consulted. Certainly people want to feel reassured, they want to feel confident in a purchase they make. A big difference is that B2B purchases are probably not one person. It’s a buying group. So you can absolutely leverage insight from your peer, the opinions of your peers information, that you’ve gleaned from your own research and that’s a big creator of your shortlist, right?

So if you are looking, at first, you have to even determine that you have an issue that needs to be solved. And then as you move more into your process and look at, okay, I get it. Who can solve it? You know, of course, you’re going to weight the insight of people that you trust, presumably you trust your peers, to make that short list. And that’s not to say that if you then look at the criteria that your buying group has set for the three organizations that are on your short list, if one of them really isn’t a fit, it doesn’t matter how much your peer liked them, you’re probably not going to go forward. You can’t justify that. 

So at the end of the day, there’s going to be specific criteria. There’s going to be data that goes into to decision-making. But that doesn’t mean that both data and the emotional component or kind of the human component can’t coexist.

Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. And I really liked what you said about the shortlist. There’s so much competition in B2B nowadays. There’s so many new companies that are springing up. To even get on the short list is really hard. And I think about basically, how are you capturing the attention of your prospect? Like there’s so many different channels, but each one of them comes weighted with different levels of propensity to buy. 

Amy Bills: The idea that you weight the opinions of people that you trust and respect and that have themselves been successful, that’s as old as time. That’s as old as word of mouth, that idea.

And then to bear that out, and I noted this a little bit earlier, when we look at Forrester’s Buyer Insights Research, which is extensive research around how various C-level buyers and VP level buyers buy and make decisions and what those buying groups look like, the top two, and this has been the case since I’ve been here and probably before. Two of the decision drivers for C level buying: one is that they have used the solution elsewhere before, and that’s almost a no brainer, you know, of course they trust themselves. And so experience with the solution before, probably going to put the offering at the top of the short list, assuming it was a good experience.

But then the other top decision drivers, and these are C level buyers, are being able to understand how other customers are experiencing the offering. This could be through sourcing those references themselves could also be through a reference provided by or a case study provided by the seller. But something like 80% of the buying decision drivers have to do with the experience of someone with that offering. So as a B2B organization, as leaders, it’s up to you to decide how you want to tap into that 80%, whether you want to enable those stories to be told and shared in the marketplace, or if you want to just cross your fingers and hope that people are out there, I’d probably choose the former. 

Margot Leong: That stat blows my mind. I’d just throw that stat like in front of people all the time. That 80% is so powerful. 

Amy Bills: By that logic, nobody would ever have to worry about buy-in. And I think where that kind of really comes together, and this is what we’re increasingly seeing, even in a scenario where everyone agrees with that. Yup, absolutely. We want to have those stories out there and by the way, another big piece of advocacy is creating a nice experience for customers. It’s not just a mercernary go be a case study. It’s to create ongoing advocacy programs where customers feel like they’re being validated in some way, or they’re getting some professional attention for telling their story and they feel like the company cares about them, cares about their story, wants them to be successful, wants them to be able to tell their story. That’s a big piece of this too. So advocacy is not only about new business. There’s a big retention and customer experience component as well. 

But I think where things need some more maturing is knowing that is not quite the same as being able to convey that in an executive dashboard that demonstrates exactly what customer marketing’s impact is. And at the end of the day, we want all of our clients to be able to demonstrate these are the things that we focused on. This was the objective. The objective of this program was to support demand generation campaigns. The objective of this program was brand-related and make those connections and be able to consistently demonstrate and report on that. That is how you get scalable and ongoing support and attention in your organization and really get to flex.

So the chasm needs to be crossed here between reporting on the activities that you’re doing. Now, that is important for practitioners and for their leaders. So certainly, absolutely. You need to understand and know if your community’s growing and what engagement looks like in that community. And how many case studies you’ve created and how many reference calls have been taken quarter over quarter and, I could sit and list activity metrics for another three hours. That stuff is important, but those are actions. They’re what your team is working on. Those actions ultimately have to connect to something that’s going to drive impact. 

And so the way that Forrester looks at this is an approach called the metric spectrum, where we think about activity metrics, right? Those are the ones I just listed, and those would also include metrics like click throughs on your customer newsletter and how many key contacts you have in key accounts for an ABM program. And then you have the impact metrics, which are really the business metrics: growth, retention, efficiency, cost of acquisition. And so on. These are the high level metrics about impact on the business. 

Between those two are output metrics and what a lot of our customer marketers and I tried to do this, so I’m putting myself in the bucket with my people. To make that connection between activity and impact can be a pretty big leap. So think about the scenario where you are attempting to demonstrate that the 10 case studies you created generated X amount of pipeline. That’s kind of tenuous. A lot more went into pipeline generation, then the creation of your case studies. And it’s where you can fall into a kind of area of lack of credibility, because you as a customer marketer are marching around saying we did 10 case studies and therefore we made our revenue goal. That’s hard to take. 

But as customer marketers and what we would really like to see and guide clients about is the middle ground, which is output metrics. And this is the result of actions taken. So let’s think about one example. Let’s think about customer advocacy. It’s super straightforward example of a reference program, right? This is an ongoing reference database that supports specific sales cycles and can be leveraged by the sales team. Number of reference calls is an activity metric. Very important for you to know. Absolutely. But still an action. That’s a count of actions taken. 

Close won business, right, new revenue is an impact metric. That’s what your company is going for. In the middle ground there to, for example, demonstrate the value of what the advocacy team is doing is something like a velocity of deals that include a reference or likely to close or even influence of a reference on closed deals.

What you’re showing there is kind of the connection between the action of taking references and the ultimate closing of those deals, but it’s an output metric that as an advocacy team, you can see and control more. And it’s just a more credible way to approach demonstrating what you do. 

Margot Leong: Okay. I’m going to basically put you on the spot here and see if you want to give me more metrics for some of these other activities that we typically see. So you mentioned case studies earlier. Is there a way to thread that middle ground as well in terms of how you would think about those metrics? 

Amy Bills: Yeah. It’s got to start with why you’re doing case studies. Let’s say, and by the way, we’re talking right now, really specifically about advocacy tactics, but the unspoken, but I’ll go ahead and speak it is that customer advocacy, doing it at scale and kind of a way that’s consistent and measurable really requires a strategic approach.

So a one and done will you do a case study? Will you be a reference? Without any kind of structure or ongoing program to appreciate and value customers, that’s hard to scale and in those scenarios, that can be difficult to demonstrate the impact because you don’t have anything consistent or programmatic.

So I’ll talk about tactics, but I want to caveat that best in class, or even better in class is some kind of strategic approach to advocacy. So if we take case studies and let’s say that you as an organization, one of the reasons that you are doing case studies is to, I have to make up a reason here, is to demonstrate the efficacy of the combination of a couple of different offerings. You have an offering and there’s a few add-ons and that creates a package that can be really powerful to solve problem X. 

So there’s a particular story that you want to tell about these case studies. And it’s strategic to the company. And it’s an important story that you want to tell.

Product team is supportive of this and sales is really looking for it. So the creation of those case studies is an activity. Now, an important one. I am not under selling activity metrics. It’s an important, and ultimately as I said, the closed one revenue is your impact metric, but in the middle ground, there could be things like if you are using the case studies at the center of a demand campaign, then you might look at opportunities influenced by that campaign.

If you are going to use the case study to tell a particular story at an event and included in that event is some kind of mechanism for existing customers and prospects to learn more about that solution. You might look at the opportunities created from that event or the campaign around that event. These are all really demand focused examples, but I think they’re the easiest to understand. So what you’re doing without put metrics is saying the results of actions taken look like this, and those outputs correlate to the kind of impact we want, whether that’s new revenue or driving retention or whatever else, even with brand components that you’re trying to create.

Margot Leong: Yeah. I really like what you said about those outputs correlate, right? The metrics that we ultimately care deeply about. And in a lot of ways like customer marketing is very service oriented, right? Is that you are thinking about how you can find customers in service of all of these different objectives. And maybe we just need to do a better job of more proactively tying ourselves, to those things that ultimately the teams that need your help on the customer side are ultimately tying themselves to. So bridging that gap is really interesting. 

Amy Bills: Yeah. We would say this to any function. It is really important to start with what your company’s goals are, what matters to your organization. Everyone’s goals should flow from there. So if you’re a customer marketing team, let’s say you’re working on advocacy and you are over here creating 20 new case studies that are product specific around a product that’s going to sunset. I don’t know if you’re aligned with your company’s objective. Anyone working in silos, like that’s a very real scenario. It’s not tone deafness. No one’s doing it deliberately, but if you’re in a silo and you haven’t thought about how can what I am doing support my company’s broader goals, you’re already a little bit behind. 

Margot Leong: So something that you also alluded to earlier was advocates don’t just magically appear out of thin air. You have to build a good product, you have to have support, right, in whatever capacity that is needed at that stage of company, whether it’s success and account managers or more self-service, right.

 In order for advocacy to sort of come out the other end, there has to be really investing in the customer with some of these areas that I mentioned earlier, support product, et cetera. I know something that you’re interested in talking about, and I think that you’re going to be doing a talk on this soon as well. This idea around intentionally investing in customer obsession. I’d love to delve into that a little bit, and I have a feeling that it also combines nicely with not just customer advocacy. But really what does customer obsession mean at every department within the company. 

Amy Bills: There’s a saying and kind of the customer success world, that retention starts the moment the contract is signed, right? Because you keep customers when they are successful and they see value and they are satisfied working with you. And and all of that stuff is inclusive of their entire experience, whether they’re able to use the solution, if there’s value added in being part of your ecosystem. 

The same is true of customer advocacy. Developing advocates probably even starts before the contract is signed, during the buying cycle, because you are taking that opportunity to develop trust and really understand what good looks like to customers and then their whole journey with you, their onboarding, the way the relationship starts, when they understand what good looks like and how to get there, when they can see that you as an organization want them to achieve value, care about that, put the things in place to help them do and understand that. All of that whole journey, the whole customer experience is creating advocates because advocates are people who are a) happy and successful. They’re getting value and b) interested in telling people about it. And you can’t have a) without creating a resonant and powerful customer experience. So to think that you will be sort of neutral on the customer’s journey, but at renewal, ask them to be advocates is shortsighted. I don’t think that would be scalable. I’ll leave it there. 

You’re not just creating customer advocates like you’re in a lab building people. You’re not. It’s really scalable customer advocacy that is benefiting everybody. Maximizing value for everybody has to be ongoing and a little more strategic. It’s not one and done. I asked you for a reference when I suddenly need one. It’s building a two way conversation and advocates who are really invested in you will do this because it’s interesting and compelling to them as well. That’s really what you’re aiming toward.

Margot Leong: When I read the blog post preview of your talk, I really zoomed in on this idea that there’s a difference between saying that we are obsessed with the customer versus thinking about how that actually applies to your company. So I’d love to talk to you about that more. 

Amy Bills: Sure. The definition of customer obsession is simply putting the customer at the center of what you do. And this goes from strategy and leadership all the way through operations. Customer obsession is not, we sure like our customers. And it’s not, we will reactively do anything a customer wants at any given moment no matter the consequences. That’s not customer obsession. And the key for customer obsession is really about balance. So where are you? 

The sweet spot for all organizations is where value is being maximized for the customer. So they are getting what they want, what they need, they’re achieving value, but it’s also maximized for the company.

I’ll give just a very straightforward scenario. Let’s say the product team wants to release enhancements in kind of a steady stream because they’re excited about the enhancements. They believe that customers really want them. So there’s this constant flow of enhancements. You would think, oh, how customer focused, they are getting improved product. 

But let’s say there’s a customer base that for whatever reason does not want these constant enhancements. Maybe they’re accountants and it’s tax season. And the last thing they want is a bunch of surprises.

So that’s not customer obsessed because that’s not balanced. It has to be in balance so that you are maximizing your value as a company and maximizing customer value. And that’s why it’s more than just, we love our customers and we’ll do anything and everything. That’s not intentional and it’s not customer obsessed.

Margot Leong: Interesting hearing you say this because it seems like it should be a no brainer, but it’s the fact that you’re talking about it then means that it is not necessarily a no brainer. Are you seeing this happen at companies where they go sort of too far? Like the pendulum swings too far in one direction or the other. 

Amy Bills: Yes, because I think that just may be human nature. So what everybody sees is customer obsession being just used as a stand in for, we adore our customers, which is not that you don’t like your customers, but that’s not what it’s supposed to mean. And customer obsession as air cover for well, I really want to do this thing, whatever the thing is. I’m not sure if it’s the best decision, but I’ll say it’s customer obsessed and then no one can say no. Now I’m oversimplifying, but it’s air cover for stuff you want to do.

And it’s not authentic to try and do an end run around the thinking process and run around the balancing priorities priorities of the organization. I was going to say, that’s not allowed and that’s very mom-ish of me, but I think it’s one of many things in the B2B world that is simultaneously a no brainer and something that’s worth reminding everyone about.

Margot Leong: It kind of short circuits the actual thinking that you have to do about whether or not this is going to be truly viable in the long-term and valuable in the long-term for the company, it can just be so much easier just to say, Hey, like they said something, let’s just do it and they’re going to love us. It’ll be great. It is true that there are always other considerations to weight outside of just doing whatever the customer wants. 

Amy Bills: We talk to customers who are customer obsessed. So Forrester has an assessment. So when I say customer obsessed, it is a level to unlock in assessment and there are degrees of it. So it’s not an all or none proposition, but when we talk to organizations who are there or close to it, one of the themes that comes through is, and sometimes this is a cultural shift they’ve had to make is that it’s not about we just do what the customer says or we just take requests. 

All the companies that are customer obsessed and see the benefits from it have been thoughtful about saying we do what the customer needs. We put the customer’s well-being at the center of what we do, but that is different then just doing whatever and whenever at any time. It’s not thoughtful.

So it may be a cultural change sometimes, which is fine. But it’s a big difference. That mindset of we will do what is best for the customer’s achievement of value and for their success, as well as for ours. That balance is customer obsession. 

Margot Leong: If you apply that same sort of rigorous thinking, typically the companies that think like that they’re applying that same sort of thinking to everything that they do. So everything is a bit more disciplined, in terms of all of that, and that’s why you may see more general success. 

So one of the last topics I wanted to talk to you about Amy is about increasing sort of partnership around advocacy within an organization. This is not an easy task, you know, we talked about this on the pre-call is, you know, if we all had the secret, you know, we’d all be like millionaires with six pack abs. you know. There’s no easy answer, but I think you had some good ideas around if you are coming into an organization or if you’ve been there for awhile and you want to start thinking about how you can orchestrate this process, how you can centralize it. What are some tips that you have for people as they’re rounding up the stakeholders and thinking about what to do next, basically, 

Amy Bills: I would say this about all marketing, really have to have your listening ears on. As I say and ignored by my kids. So it is really important, it’s a starting point to understand what’s important to the company. What challenges our sales team or what challenges our product marketing team? you know, What are my peers struggling with? What do other functions need, which is not to say that you’re then going to go off and fill everyone’s needs. You’re not a fast food restaurant, you’re a marketing organization, but it is really critical to understand this is where I can help. This is where my company is focused. 

Let’s say this organization has had some issues with churn and we want to improve retention a little bit. So connect yourself and your activities, as we talked about in the dashboard section, with what matters to your company. And that may mean maybe the thing you want to do, maybe you really want to go build X number of case studies. That’s what you think is fun and interesting, but you also have to level up your thinking to is this what my organization needs or maybe what we need right now is support in another area or what we really need right now is to see if we can activate our advocates to help some of their peers, some of our existing customers solve problems. 

So just all of that is it really speaks to connecting what you’re doing with what matters to your company. And that’s a fair thing to ask for. It’s fair of your COO and your CEO and your CRO and the people to whom you’re ultimately going to share this executive dashboard we discussed to connect yourself to what really matters.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. Amy, I think this is a great place to end. There’s so many nuggets of wisdom that you dropped on this call and I’m sure our listeners will find this really valuable. Where’s the best place for our listeners to connect with you if they’d like to chat or learn more about what you’re working on. 

Amy Bills: I’m on all the places and fairly easy to find. LinkedIn of course is fine and Twitter is as well and I’m actually not on all the places, but Twitter and LinkedIn are great. You can also always reach out to any analyst on the Forrester website. If you go to the site of the front page or even the blog, there are channels to reach out. And I collect people. I love talking with marketers. I love mentoring or helping people who are maybe earlier in their careers. I had lots of mentorship and help, so I’m absolutely going to pay that forward. And so all of those places are good places. 

Margot Leong: Okay well, awesome. Amy. I’m sure there’ll be a bunch of people reaching out to you after this, but so appreciate you coming on and thank you so much. 

Amy Bills: Yeah, you bet. It was a pleasure. 

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at Take care, everybody. 



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