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Friday, October 25, 2019

Customer Ownership - Understanding the True Value of a Relationship by Ricky Fergurson * [15]

In the rapidly changing landscape of B2B sales, factors such as technology, competitive intensity, and rising sales support costs oblige greater attention to customer relationships. Many companies that have an enterprise focus struggle with the concept of “owning the customer” (Weeks 2016). Given that customers are buying in different ways, firms are driven to engage customers differently. According to Cooper (2016), “customer ownership is all about creating, delivering and communicating compelling value”. In nurturing and developing customers through the B2B life cycle, multiple departments and functional units in the firm are entwined in customer relationship management (CRM). The complexity of CRM and dynamism in customers’ relationship expectations require that sales, marketing, service, and support work together through the customer buying and fulfillment process. The diffusion of tasks and responsibilities exposes a fundamental CRM gap: who truly owns the customer? A recent American Marketing Association Marketing News article referred to customer ownership as “the age-old battle between marketing and sales” (Qaqish 2018). The idea of who ‘owns’ the customer relationship may become ambiguous.  So, what does it mean to own a customer relationship?

Customer ownership is defined as building a level of rapport, commitment, and trust with a customer that increases dependency. The question becomes “does this dependency by the customer reside with the salesperson who they deal with regularly or with the company they purchase from?” Anecdotally consider this situation, the salesperson who you normally deal with leaves to go to another company with similar and substitutable products. Do you continue buying the same product from a different salesperson or do you buy a different product from the same salesperson you have always dealt with? 

In B2B channels, most firms entrust front-line responsibilities to salespeople. Thus, the majority of customer interface occurs between salespeople and the customer which enhances the salesperson-customer bond. A convergence of personal and social forces emanates from the salesperson as well as the firm, so who owns the customer relationship, the firm or the salesperson? Gaining clarity on who owns the customer relationship is critical to maximizing customer satisfaction and the firms’ ability to develop and execute a growth strategy with the customer.

Cooper, D. (2016, November 22). Customer 'ownership? is about delivering 3 kinds of Value. - The Donald Cooper Corporation. Retrieved from
Qaqish, D. (2018, April 17). Who Owns the Customer Journey? AMA Marketing News. Medium. Retrieved from
Weeks, T. (2016, October 11). The Question of Customer Ownership. Retrieved from

* Ricky Fergurson, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Indiana State University. He can be contacted at


  1. This was a very interesting read. I personally think that the firm owns the customer. Salespersons come and go, meaning you may not be dealing with the same one every time you come into the store, though you definitely can. For me, the firm owns the customer because of brand loyalty. The firms' advertisements and marketing strategies are enough to make me continue buying their products with or without a salesperson present. While a relationship with a salesperson is very pleasing, it doesn't play a factor in whether I will be buying or not buying the firm's products.

  2. I concur with this article. One of the most important thing in owning a customer’s loyalty developing a relationship with the customer. The responsibility does not solely lie on the salesperson but as overall to the various departments in the organization. Developing long-term business relationships bring repeat business into the firm/company. Additionally, building business relationships helps establish a good reputation and branding.

  3. This is a very interesting question that I had never really considered until now. While I do believe salespeople play a vital role in creating customer loyalty and building a relationship with customers, I do not think it is ultimately a deciding factor in whether or not a person will go back and buy the same products. I believe firms ultimately own the customer relationship. I also believe it depends on the quality of the products being offered as well because personally if the products are good I will keep buying them regardless of who the salesperson was.

  4. I am not sure who owns the customer, whether it is the firm or the salesperson. I worked for a small company 2 summers ago and saw this situation first hand. Every sales person had their own list of customers they constantly dealt with and those customers, for the most part, were happy with their salesperson. One of the salespersons retired leaving her list of customers to the other people in sales. Some of the customers were happy with who they got and others weren't. I do believe that most of the customers stayed due to brand loyalty. The company's sales and marketing teams also worked very closely which I believe helped keep the customers after their salesperson retired.

  5. I enjoyed reading the article. I do think think the way companies build strategies about "owning the customer" depends on the size of a company. In smaller companies, the relationsip between the customer and a salesperson matters the most. In case of big companies, it is important for all departments to keep the customers by adjusting and developing existing strategies. As for myself, when buying a product, the personal relationship is not the most important factor. So changing the salesperson would not change my opinion about the product.

  6. I found this article very interesting and I can easily say that it simply depends on the services! I recently had an amazing experience with a salesperson at LUSH and I can say that my loyalty belongs to not just the salesperson but the brand as well. I love the mission and values that the brand has and even if the salesperson moved to a new company I would still continue shopping at LUSH. However, when my nail technician moved from Toi Spa and opened his own nail spa, I moved to his. Most nail places use the same brand of tools, massage chairs, and even the same polish colors; to me it did not matter where I got my nails done, instead who I was spending my time with while I was getting them done.

  7. Customer service can give a brand a great reputation. Having a relationship with a customer can be seen as essential for a business to thrive. To have a relationship with the customer allows the customer to feel a sense of trust with the seller. This gives the customer another reason, outside of the product, to buy from the company.

  8. I enjoyed reading this article. I found it very interesting how relationships and marketing can work to your advantage. Marketing is not just about getting the consumers' money into your business hands instead of creating that relationship with the consumer is what makes the difference. As technology is changing, it's important to stay updated for your business. This article does a great job of explaining the true values of marketing.

  9. This was an interesting read regarding something I've thought about and demonstrated in my work a lot in the past. the value of a relationship wether it be with a customer or a manager, is unmatched. Building a closer relationship can increase sales, and your position in a company.

  10. While I agree that the customer relationship is usually initiated by the front-line salesperson, I think that the firm ultimately owns the relationship with the customer and should take responsibility for managing that relationship. Specifically in B2B, the customer is a business that has a representative that deals with the salesperson of the selling business. At any time either of these people could leave their respective positions in their companies. It is up to the selling company to continue to maintain the relationship with the buyer. 

  11. This read opened my perspective on how B2B relationships are important. It is crucial to know who is on your side from both sides of the transaction in a B2B channel. In many cases, the salesperson is going to side with the higher commission/salary despite previous ties to a firm or product. This could result in a dangerous situation for suppliers and/or buyers.

  12. Very interesting read! This is actually a topic that’s been discussed a few times over the years at my company. For a few years, we had an operations manager that felt the sales team needed to own the entire relationship with the customer. Her thought being the sales team gets paid commission on these accounts therefore they should be the ones that managed every aspect of the relationship. It drove her policies and the way she directed the employees in each of the departments that she over saw. Her policies were actually very detrimental to the customer experience. The biggest effects were with the customer service department. She advised the CSR’s to communicate issues and other requests directly with sales representatives instead of working directly with the customers. This caused major delays in communications as well as confusion since the communications were in essence being “telephoned” from customer service to the sales reps to the customers and vice versa. If this was executed better with more comprehensive policies then maybe it would have worked however I disagree that sales reps should be fully responsible for the customer relationship. Sales people work for a company, it’s that company that owns the relationship and gives expectations and payment however they see fit to each department for managing that relationship. Any department that has to speak directly with a customer should feel responsibility for the relationship with the customer on behalf of the company. This includes sales, customer service, and even the employees in the accounts receivable department. If these employees don’t see themselves as being responsible for the relationship with the customer then their actions and communications are going to reflect that.


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