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Customer Ownership - Understanding the True Value of a Relationship by Ricky Fergurson * [106]




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.

References
Cooper, D. (2016, November 22). Customer 'ownership? is about delivering 3 kinds of Value. - The Donald Cooper Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.donaldcooper.com/customer-ownership-delivering-3-kinds-value/
Qaqish, D. (2018, April 17). Who Owns the Customer Journey? AMA Marketing News. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/ama-marketing-news/who-owns-the-customer-journey-53a2f271de25
Weeks, T. (2016, October 11). The Question of Customer Ownership. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/question-customer-ownership-tom-weeks/

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



Comments

  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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