One to one with Don Peppers

  • 27 Sep 2023
Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

In 1993, a book called ‘The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time’ set the stage for a revolutionary approach to marketing.

Thirty years on, I had the honor of welcoming co-author, and one of the most influential experts on customer experience, Don Peppers, on an ABM podcast.

I took this opportunity to delve into Don’s foundational principles of client-centricity, and his philosophy that’s stood the test of time in the Account-Based Marketing (ABM) landscape.

You had a big influence on me with some of the topics you’ve written about. For those unfamiliar with your work, can you give a bit of an intro?

Martha Rodgers [co-author] and I met in the late ’90s and started working on a book about the impact of technology on business. There was a cartoon character called Tony the Tiger. We asked ourselves when the time comes that children could talk back to Tony the Tiger in a commercial, what would Kellogg’s do with what the kids say? The answer was nothing, because it’s a cartoon character that’s anecdotal data, not representative. But we realized immediately, that when interactivity really occurred, companies around the world would be hustling to try to create relationships with their customers individually. So that was the inspiration for the book.

You’re widely recognized as starting the CRM revolution. What are your thoughts on the journey we’ve seen? Are we in the best place we’ve ever been with it now?

I think that, gradually, people are coming round to the understanding that it’s no longer, as Simon Sinek would call it, a ‘finite game of either winning or losing the client’. Yes, you want to win the client. But you probably win the client a little at a time, and you want to grow the client bigger and bigger, engage the client, and be intimately interacting with the client all the time. You have to be bringing value. Just because a client agrees to have a meeting, it’s not a reason to have a meeting. You only have a meeting if you can leave the client better off after, and they feel like they’ve got something interesting, good, or useful out of it. I think that’s a good principle for ABM executives.

For customers, particularly at the larger enterprise level, buying is getting harder. What do you think is driving it?

I think it’s organization complexity and there’s probably more red tape today than there used to be. Computers are our friend but also are complicated, because suddenly you’re swimming in this ocean of data. I don’t think the discipline of critical decision making has kept up with the enormity of data now available to us. And I think that complicates the matter.

That having been said, I also think there’s a strong movement for de-complexing the agile movement. Making decisions on the spot and empowering employees – not just senior executives – to take action and make decisions having a unified direction of success.

We’ve been working on strategic client framework, helping B2B organizations become more client-centric at the marketing and sales level. What’s your take on the last couple of decades – are organizations becoming more client-centric?

Customers are leading the charge here. When I give talks, I talk about the impact of Moore’s Law. Every 20 years computers get 1,000 times more powerful. But there’s also Zuckerberg’s Law – every 20 years we interact 1,000 times more with others. There’s a tremendous amount of interaction now and the more you interact, the more trust you expect and need from others. Trust makes interactions efficient. If I can trust what you’re saying, I don’t have to check the fact – that trust allows me to interact more.

Consumers today have begun to expect a much higher degree of trust. They want you to be proactive in protecting their interests. And I think as we get increasingly technological, and they have more and more capabilities, it’s going to come down to: who do you trust?

I’m a great believer in focusing on the clients that are most valuable to you. How do you think about identifying customers and that prioritization?

Probably the best way to do ABM is start with sorting out the larger clients, because they’re a greater opportunity for you. I do think that every client has potential at some level and it’s important for you to really get a grip on that potential.

You could think of a customer as a little tiny bundle of cash flow with memory. And the better you treat that cash flow, the better the memory is going to be in the future. The customer creates value by buying today, and they create value if they have a really good experience today. As a result of that experience, their memory is better and they’re going to buy more tomorrow. The value I realized later was created in today’s meeting.

What implications will buying and organizational changes have on customer experience, generally?

The more companies focus on the experience their customers have, the more likely those experiences will improve. The quality of the customer experience in general, worldwide, is improving with technology. The trick is – as the Red Queen said in Lewis Carroll’s book: “You’ve got to run hard to stay in the same place.” Companies keep progressing just to stay level with their competitors. Because everyone’s doing this now, because everyone wants to do ABM. And if you want to do ABM right, you’ve got to do it better. It’s still a competitive world.

I really valued your collaboration on my book The ABM Effect, it’s been a career highlight. What inspired you to get involved?

Number one: I really believe what I put in foreword. I think that ABM is basically one to one marketing at enterprise level. As a sales executive myself, with one foot in the consumer marketing camp and one in the B2B marketing camp, I applaud your effort to try to raise the quality of selling and account building. I also think that the ABM movement is a really, really good bridge between sales and marketing. The customer doesn’t care whether they’re talking to a salesperson or a service person, they’re just talking to you, the company. And it’s time for us sellers to realize this.

We’ve got to be able to talk with one voice and one purpose and make sense for our client. ABM is a fundamental common sense to do that.

Listen to the full podcast here and order your copy of The ABM Effect for more insights. If you want advice on your ABM program, please get in touch with me

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Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

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