Marketers can easily get second-hand customer information from the sales team and from industry reports. But actually walking in the customer’s shoes, doing primary research and quietly watching firsthand is more powerful.
No one believes this more than Patti Newcomer, Vice President of Marketing and Analytics for Intuit’s ProConnect Group, which provides tax software for professional tax preparers.
Newcomer comes from a highly analytical background, stemming from doing consumer research in New Product Development at Procter & Gamble after receiving her Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, and holding Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer roles at B2B and B2C financial services companies. She believes marketers should listen to their customers so well, that the line between the marketer and the customer is nearly nonexistent.
Our interview explores how Intuit creates deep customer empathy to lead transformation and measure success throughout the organization. Here’s Patti Newcomer in her own words.
How can B2B marketers better listen to the customers?
In previous roles, I would talk to salespeople to gain insights on the customer. And there is nothing wrong with that, but going through salespeople to get to the customer can introduce bias. And, most standard methods involve a lot of interviewing and asking questions of the customer. When we talk to and interview people, we can unintentionally guide them and this can create bias. At Intuit, we talk less and observe more to gain authentic insights from the end customer.
What’s important is watching people in their place of work and how they do the work that is relevant to them. We call these: “follow me homes.” It’s not so much asking why they are doing something. It is quietly observing what they’re doing and asking what’s the look on their face mean and what can we do to help make their financial lives better?
We no longer do focus groups for certain research. We’ve learned it’s too far away from the customer’s actual experience. We find that people don’t accurately recall what they do and how they feel. We have the view that observing our customer’s actual behavior is a better way to understand the pain that they’re experiencing. And we believe that asking them for the ideal answer doesn’t truly get transformational solutions, it just gets solutions that are a little better than what they have now. If we understand the problem, we can create transformational solutions and put them in front of customers to get their feedback.
As an example, I hired one of our customers to be my CPA, in part so that I can have actual conversations. We can do real life scenarios together. I can see how she is using my information. And I can see and experience our product from the other side. I can experience the customer experience we ask our tax professionals to live through and create for their clients.
It’s an amazing experience for me, both as a customer and an internal stakeholder, to experience our products in real time and for my own selfish needs rather than just listening to feedback.
What’s your cadence around listening to the customer?
In my organization I have a requirement that everybody interact with the customer at least 30 minutes a month. That can be through “follow me homes,” listening to sales calls, or listening to customer care calls. It is something beyond just reading a summary of customer research, you actually have to interact with the customer.
And it doesn’t have to be one of our customers, it can be an accountant that is in your neighborhood. It can be your sister’s accountant. There is a pretty easy way to get close to the relevant customer. It’s just important that you identify a relevant person and observe them in their actual environment.
We also care about the experience our accountants’ customers, i.e. the taxpayers, have. We care about both the tax preparer experience and the taxpayer experience. We talk to people who used an accountant to have their taxes done and talk about their experience with their accountant.
Intuit employees have monthly check-in discussions with their managers about their professional and business development goals. We added a section about customer obsession and capturing the insights from their interactions with customers. So every month, we’re talking about the results of that monthly customer interaction as part of development discussions. What’s the insight that I learned from these interactions and how will it change my work for the better?
When the customer wins, the tax preparer wins, and the employee wins. We believe in knowing the customer so well that you don’t know where we stop and they begin. That is a good articulation. We’re trying to get in their head so much, you can’t tell if we’re talking to someone at Intuit or an actual customer.
What are the benefits to this approach?
It teaches people that talking to the customer isn’t painful. And they realize more situations are appropriate for customer interactions outside of sales and care. There are things marketers might not have talked to a customer about before, but now they are saying, “Hey, wait, it would be helpful if I talk to a customer or observe the customer to learn the customer pain points.”
I spent 10 years at P&G and new product development early in my career, I learned very much that a customer isn’t going to tell you the next innovation. Like I always say, “No customer ever asked for the fax machine.” They asked for the mail to be delivered faster.
It was actually the person that had the customer insight and enough awareness of technology to be able to put them together to create the big innovation. And so I have this very strong view that if we just go to customers and ask, “What do you want?” they’ll respond, “I want a little better than what I know today. I want a little better than what I have today.” But if you have people that know the business, know the product, and have customer insights around today’s pain, they come up with bigger ideas.
It’s critical to have customer insights and pair it with knowledge of the product, and the technology. From there we can innovate in ways the customer couldn’t actually think of. We call this Customer Driven Innovation.
What have you learned from implementing a system like this?
My team has been listening and observing customers as part of this program for a little over a year and we’ve learned to focus on the learnings, not the activity. Have your team tell you what they learned and what they are going to go do differently. Don’t just check the box after they’ve done their 30 minutes that month.
This was a big insight for us. Early on the focus was on the activity, “Here is what I did, here is who I talked to and here’s when my meeting was.”
We’ve modified our approach to focus more on the insight and how it will impact the work.
What is your approach to performance measurement?
B2B marketing is uncertain enough, so expenses are tight, so if you can’t measure your success and your impact, then you’ll never persuade your audience that the investment is worthwhile. Then you’ll always be in a constant battle to keep your budget at last year’s level or worse.
I want my peers on the executive team and my CEO or GM to see marketing as an investment, and be willing to invest. The only way that happens is if we can demonstrate impact.
And so we ask what does success look like and how will we know that we’ve been successful? How will we able to measure it? It all comes back to the analytics.
When I got here, into this business, we could measure the top of the funnel and we could measure the bottom of the funnel, but we couldn’t connect them. So we didn’t know which activities, and which channels, and which investments were most effective at actually driving sales.
We knew what was effective in driving leads and we knew which leads in Salesforce had higher close-rates, but we couldn’t connect the two.
We’ve spent two years making significant improvements to our data so we can close that gap between the top of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel.
In my experience it is even more crucial in the B2B space compared to B2C because the audiences are narrower and more specific. Having indicators on marketing’s impact and where marketing should be investing is dependent on having the data and being able to analyze it appropriately.
Data becomes table stakes when deciding on future investments that need to be made in marketing.
Personalization is only enabled with data. Artificial intelligence and being able to use machine learning is also enabled with good data because garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t have the data, you won’t be able to personalize well.
How do you think about investments in brand?
It depends on what success is. For example, we have this debate about our trade show presence and how much we invest in trade shows in our business. It is hard to measure. It is hard to tie a particular sale to a trade show versus the other six ways that people might interact with us.
We didn’t show up at the shows one year. Everybody thought we were going out of business. And our competitors took advantage of it. Our customers came to us and asked, “Where were you?”
For trade shows, acquiring customers and brand recognition matters, but it is also an opportunity to talk to our existing customers. It is an opportunity to make sure that our competitors see that we have a presence. And so that is how we define the criteria for success. It is not just, “Did you get 416 leads?”
Besides generating demand, we can measure how trade show presence affects the way customers view our brand. We can do this with surveys, or listening to show attendees. It is a balancing act of making sure we maximize results with the minimum amount of investment, and it is being clear on what those desired results are.
What are the keys to success for leading digital transformation?
It requires partnership from other functions that you maybe didn’t realize up front. It always takes longer and requires more investments than you thought. Even after you’ve made the monetary investment, people need to be brought along.
I had an experience in a previous life where we made the request for the dollars. More than what we asked for was approved. Everybody was ready to go. And then I sat everybody down and was surprised by the types of questions being asked,
“What are we doing? Can you give me more background information? What are the benefits again?”
What seemed so obvious to me in terms of benefits and rationale aren’t as obvious to others who aren’t experts in marketing technology or who haven’t had visibility into the journey. Keys to success are to over communicate, plan for cross-functional dependencies, bring experts that have done it multiple times before, and challenge the team to think differently on timing or it will take forever, because in most cases you’re doing it alongside business as usual.
And so in my experience when I ask how long this will take, I plan to hear, “We’ll be done in about six years,” and I reply, “How about six months? What would it take to get it done in six months?” We usually end up with a compromise that’s a little longer than where I’ve pushed, but much shorter than where the team started.
The timelines are hard. Everyone is working full-time on what they’re doing today, and then you introduce something new. I don’t hear enough people bring up the timeline issue and get out in front of it.
Organizations don’t always make sure it is high enough on the priority list. It is always easy to do what is urgent now. And digital transformation always falls in the important but not urgent category.
I have had team members who want to be in front of technology because it is a resume builder. It is a conversation starter. It is really good for their experience. It is not very often that people say, “You know, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to learn anything new. I don’t want to be working on the cool new technology we’re implementing.” So from that perspective, people are very engaged and digital transformation becomes easier.