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By: Rhoan Morgan on June 29th, 2022

CX Decoded Podcast: Rhoan Morgan on Marketing-Led Customer Experience

CX Decoded caught up with Rhoan Morgan for a discussion on marketing-led CX. Who can, and should, truly own customer experience?

The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a survey of 500 CMOs and found that 86% of participants believed that they would own customer experience. Six years later, has it happened? Not quite. It hasn’t exactly been a full takeover of customer experience by marketing leaders.

What has emerged is the concept of marketing-led customer experience. It’s something Rhoan Morgan believes is and should happen in organizations. Morgan is the co-founder and CEO of DemandLab, an agency she launched in 2009. She’s also a CMSWire contributor, and she caught up with CX Decoded to discuss marketing and CX leadership.

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Rich Hein: It’s good to be here again today. Joining us is our new senior editor Michelle Hawley, who is making the CX Decoded podcast trio a reality. Michelle, it’s great to be working with you and Dom today. How are you?

Michelle Hawley: I’m happy to be here, Rich. Doing good.

Dom Nicastro: It is great to be working with you again. Michelle. This is podcast number two for you and podcast number one with rich in me so the triumvirate is complete. Today we’re going to be looking at marketers and obtaining a 2020 customer vision and launching a digital transformation plan. Our guest is laser focused on that Michelle, who are we going to be talking to today; would love to know more.

Michelle: Dom today we have Rhoan Morgan, co founder and CEO of DemandLab, an agency she launched in 2009. In response to the disruptive impact of technology and marketing. She’s a leading authority and marketing-led customer experience and continues to explore next gen technologies and analytics that accelerate revenue, prove marketing’s impact, support engaging customer journeys and deliver valuable customer insights. Rhoan is also co author of Change Agents, the Radical Role of Today’s CMO and host of the Revenue Rebels podcast. Welcome, Rhoan.

Rhoan: Hello, thank you so much. I’m very excited to be joining you guys and kind of thrilled and a little bit nervous that this is your first your sort of inaugural podcast where the three of you are on. So very exciting. Thank you.

Rich: Yes, agreed, we are very excited here.

Dom: Yeah, we have no idea how it’s gonna work out.

Rhoan: Bring it on.

Rich: I would love for you to start by telling the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got to your role today.

Rhoan: Sure. So as you already introduced, I co founded DemandLab back in 2009. I have been working in marketing, marcom, demand generation, etc. for about 30 years now really long time. I’m not sure I want to say that number anymore. But it’s been a long time. And so I’ve kind of been through it right?

Early days where we were still designing brochures and doing print ads, evolving with the growing technology platforms that we’re all working with and learning about these days. And yeah, so started the company in 2009, after I had deployed a marketing automation platform, replacing an email platform, which was sufficient but not keeping up with the demands that we needed to sort of manage from the customer’s perspective. And from there had the opportunity not too long after to go into consulting and start to kind of share the good news with the broader audience.

What’s Up With Marketing-Led CX?

Rich: You started with in print. How has this evolved over these last 15 years or so?

Rhoan: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of crazy. But you think about it, 15 years ago, maybe we were doing emails still. But we were still in the kind of the Dark Ages, I would say, where we didn’t have a lot of insights. We didn’t have a lot of control. There was almost no personalization.

And since then, when you talk about the Economist Intelligence Unit survey, what I found really interesting, I think it was that they would own the customer experience by 2020. And that’s been really challenging for marketers. Marketers want that, and we believe that they are the closest to team to the customer.

And so there’s a real passion behind the relationship that they’re forming with the customer and what they’re trying to achieve. And what I’d say has happened over this time, especially with digital marketing and the digitization of our engagement platforms is that now what we know is that marketing is a critical component of the journey, owning and responsible for anywhere from 70 to 90% of the customers’ journey through a buying decision making process.

So there’s multiple channels, multiple ways that they’re getting information to make their decisions, but they’re talking to sales, either human being or ordering directly online, just getting a trial or getting directly into a platform; they can just download it. And that’s like the last 10% of the process.

And then after that, and we find this really important and a really compelling argument for marketing to continue that journey. But after they’ve made the purchase, there’s still quite a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure that those folks stay engaged or go from trial and to a buyer, and then deepen their loyalty and become advocates for the various products and services that they can buy out there. So that sort of that entire journey is something that I think marketing has been touching and continues to grow. I think their influence around.

Dom: I get so confused sometimes. I mean, eight years as a reporter, editor at CMSWire covering marketing, customer experience, and I couldn’t tell you who owns what, right, and what they do sometimes, because it’s different. For so many organizations, I would love, you know, just kind of hear your level set like. OK this is what marketing does. This is what customer experience does, because I think it’s kind of like customer experiences there to pick up marketing and make sure they’re not over marketing and stuff and providing a great experience. Like you’re a contributor to CMSWire. Thank you, by the way, we had some distributors recently in mid June — Anita Brearton and John Mancini — both talking about over marketing, too much, collecting too many emails at too many points on a website, and it provides a bad experience. So there’s the connection, right marketing with customer experience, and how they can be better together. So point of the question, what does each one do you know, at the end of the day?

Rhoan: That is a really fantastic question. And it also sort of begs that we define customer experience, and how that plays out in all of the different roles within an organization that are touching the customer. So there’s customer support and there is sales, then there’s the audience management, post sale, or the customer success, rep, that sort of thing. And of course, there’s marketing and a variety of touch points throughout marketing. I’d love to know what you mean about the multiple emails being collected on a website and over marketing. And then I can answer that.

Dom: Anita Brearton. She talked about her own experience having to go through a website and just trying to find something in along the way. They asked her to collect her email multiple times. Like it just wasn’t good enough. Yeah. Right. Like it wasn’t good enough at one touch point. And she was like, Whoa, you know, this is not a great experience. I mean, I’m spending; time is so precious. And I’m spending so much time on this. You can collect it once and be done with it. So that that was the gist of her column.

Rhoan: Well, that’s really interesting story. And it’s amazing to me, now that that still happens. But it does, it happens to me far too frequently. But that is just a really poor design of an automated process, right? So we’d have to think about what’s happening the back end for that particular company.

But in terms of that story, I actually have one that I would share with you also, which is a website that I had gone to multiple times. And a pop up came, they asked me to subscribe. And I thought, yeah, this site has a lot of great content. I’m going to subscribe to that, which I do not do very often, by the way, because we all have plenty of emails coming in. But really great content.

I came back to the site, and it popped up again, for me to subscribe. And I closed it. I went to a new page, and it popped up again for me to subscribe. And it was really frustrating.

And those are the kinds of experiences that for us, and for me as a founder of DemandLab, I think, how can we solve these problems? How can we make marketing better for the end user. I mean, our job is to make marketing work be really effective for the client, right for the company that’s looking to grow revenue, etc. But at the end of the day, the only way to do that is to make it better for the end user.

In this particular case, it was a matter of how they had just set up whatever CMS they were using, whatever marketing automation platform they were using, etc. And it wasn’t tracking me. And I even actually entered in to the form, hey, you already know me, don’t you know who I am, I already filled out this form. And I probably did it twice, just so that hoping that maybe there was some mechanism in the background.

But something didn’t trigger, the data didn’t connect, so it didn’t know that I had already subscribed. This is just one tiny example of what creates really poor customer experience. And that is because even though we’re communicating and engaging through digital platforms, we still want something that feels a bit more authentic, and frictionless as we’re going through this process. And it feels like you don’t know me, I’ve given you all of this information, yet, it didn’t matter. And I think people, they don’t want to have to waste their time. But they also have the expectation that they’re known. That’s today as a standard. That’s table stakes.

Why Is CX Ownership So Ambiguous?

Rich: I agree. And I also would say that we’re all in a hurry, and nobody wants to feel like their time is being wasted. And that makes you feel like your time is being wasted when you have to go through these things multiple times. And that I agree is very frustrating. You guys have brought up a topic that I think we should just explore a little bit around CX ownership, we hear about CX ownership on CMSWire all the time. Why is it so ambiguous? Like why is there not a head of CX in every major organization?

Rhoan: So we’ve done a little bit of research on this, as we started to vet to develop our marketing-led customer experience banner, basically, it’s an important part of what we deliver. And CX, and there might be people that will disagree with this, and I welcome you know, some new information. But customer experience, I think, really started to find its home and grow in the digital space, especially around web sites. And so the customer experience was very much highly technical, and it was around, okay, where are they clicking? Where are they going? How can we make that experience feel good? And as I said before frictionless.

And so there were a lot of CX people were based on were functioning in the web development space. And so the way that we define customer experience today is not how it was defined earlier. So it might have been more IT, and it may not have had as much emphasis or power behind it.

Then came in more and more data, more and more information to strengthen the CX portfolio. But also customers were expecting to have an experience, on site and off site, and in multiple channels that felt authentic, and kind of the same throughout all of these channels. And so it really started to develop and grow.

Now, when we think about customer experience today, it is in our viewpoints, every unit, every person, every team in an organization that touches the customer, that’s from marketing, that can be to accounting, who’s sending out invoicing, that sort of thing. All of these organizations within a company are responsible for that experience now, in our view.

And so how do we bring that together? I love the idea of CX lead. But I think from our perspective, it’s going to be handled under marketing, because of the revenue generation, the revenue operations, which is oftentimes bundled under marketing as well. And all of the technology now that marketing controls; marketing controls that original channel of a website typically; marketing controls all of those other engagement channels as well. And they are the folks that are, in general, the closest to the customer.

So what they need to do ultimately is partner with the other organizations, marketing is not going to control sales. But we need to have a strong partnership and a better alignment. It’s crazy that we’re still having those conversations, but you know, we have to have better alignment with our sales partners. We’re all there to reach the same goal, which is to grow the company that we’re working with. So how do we work with sales more closely? And then how do we work with customer service more closely? And then how do we even reach into any other touchpoint that a customer might have with us as an organization to ensure that there is a unified experience? There does have to be one oversight. We think it’s marketing.

Michelle: Now we’re going to talk about this changing definition of CX. And I think we as marketers definitely see that even though it’s still confusing to us. How are organizations handling this ambiguity over CX ownership? Are there any big mistakes you’re seeing companies make?

Rhoan: Well, big mistakes is just not addressing it kind of staying the same. And those are going to be the folks that ultimately, are stagnant and don’t progress. What I’m seeing companies do that are really successful is making the choice to combine some of their great organizations. I’ve seen huge success when marketing is able to tap into IT, and actually even bring IT talent into their organization. We have a client that has done this where they’ve had some select IT leaders move over into marketing leadership roles. And that has helped with the translation between those two groups, and also harmonizing, what are the goals? Why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish? And so that is one area that I have seen quite a lot of success. And I’ve been thrilled to see more companies taking that charge.

Where Does Bad CX Go Bad?

Dom: I totally agree what you said earlier to Rhoan, about experience sort of starting with digital, because when there wasn’t digital, it was like a transaction, right? You go to the department store, you buy a pair of pants, there’s an experience there. Did you like the price and all that and you go home and hopefully the pants fit. But like the store doesn’t go follow up and go to your houses Hey, how those pants doing man is working out for you, you know.

But now there’s so many touch points digitally that yes, the experience never ends. I mean, you can go to mobile and ask them for a refund for the pants. You can go to Amazon to do that. I mean, there’s there’s so many touch points. So you’re right experience definitely did start with digital.

And speaking of experiences that happen, you know, I want to go back to the multiple subscription offers multiple email signups. I want to know, you know, marketers listening to this, and customer experience folks listening to this and how they can work together better, like what happens that leads to these breakdowns? I don’t think any brand wants to say let’s bombard them with four email signups in one experience, let’s ask them to subscribe five times. Why do these things still slip through though?

Rhoan: Yeah, I mean, there are a couple of reasons. One that we’ve seen is that the data is so siloed. And some companies still have multiple tech platforms that they’re using. So for instance, if they’ve got multiple websites, or domains that they’re leveraging, but they might actually be using different, let’s say, marketing automation behind any of those domains. So you feel like you’re with the same company or you know, that maybe you’re with a subsidiary, you’re entering your information. But in the background, that technology is still really siloed.

But then the way to get around that is to have a really good customer data platform, which there are a lot of different forms of, but that also can be really challenging because there can sometimes be ownership of data, or politics or sales teams, which are fragmented. So you might have sales teams within the organization, that own particular audience. And the way that your CRM is set up the audience is, we’ve seen it, it still happens, duplicated in the CRM, because it’s how this business unit is selling to John Smith, one product. And this business unit has another opportunity to sell to John Smith, but they haven’t even unified their sales team.

So there’s such a complexity in the way that business is structured. And business needs to catch up, I think to the real customer experience, the real customer journey. And we’re seeing a lot of really smart companies do that now, where they’re looking for that one customer data platform, or you know, the concept with the 360 customer and that sort of thing, the golden record. And depending on the environment that they’re working in marketing can carve out just what they need versus having all that personal information that a golden record might house.

But I would say that there’s still an incredibly siloed technology. There are processes and business structures that are still Preventing companies from providing that unified customer experience. And it is not an easy job to make those changes. It takes changes not only in technology, but also there’s a lot of change management, human beings have to change.

Rich: We’ve been talking about siloed data in organizations for seems like decades. Is it a technology solution in your opinion? Is it a human solution? And you know, if you think it’s a technology solution, I just love to hear how you handle that?

Rhoan: Well, I kind of go back to what I just said, I think that it’s a combination, it’s both human. And that’s politics sometimes, or process or interest in or resistance to change.

So in the case, where you’ve got a CRM, this is a really commonly used customer data platform, it’s where all of the, let’s say, you know, you have somebody using Salesforce, the sales team is using that data, the marketing team is using that data because it’s plugged into their marketing automation platform and a variety of other platforms.

So you have people that need to be willing to make the changes so that they can share data across organization or across teams. And if you still have a structure of a business structure, that is siloing key players, like different sales units, you’re going to run into these challenges. And so you have to all come to the table from a people perspective, and draw out the customer experience or the customer journey, especially around purchasing and identify how you can unify this from a design process. So who’s responsible for what, what are you going to share, etc.

From a technical perspective, it is a matter of what is your philosophy on what goes into the CDP or how you’ll be leveraging your CDP if you’re in a highly regulated space versus less regulated? What information will be shared? How is it going to be integrated into an ERP? Most martech stacks have at least a dozen, if not two dozen different platforms that can house data that marketing would really love to use, right? And that would help that customer journey help to unify the experience and help to create something that was really much more authentic and frictionless.

So at that point, it’s really about, well, can you integrate this information? Can you port that information into a single system like your marketing automation platform or your CRM? Or do you need that CDP? Or do you want to create a data lake? And what are all of the sort of data systems that you’re planning on using?

Michelle: That’s a lot of moving pieces for marketers to keep track of Rhoan.

Rhoan: Yeah, you know, what, I actually just had a great conversation with a CTO who came to us saying, look, I just got this customer journey, I shared the map with us, that my CEO created. And I need to work with you guys on implementing this. And it was really fascinating to me that it wasn’t the CMO that was coming to us. And I know that he’s pulling them all together. But they came to the tech guy to solve this problem. And what was wonderful is that it was the CEO that said, this has to change. So here’s what we need to bring together. And he’s really the driving force right now on this project, which is really new for us.

Dom: So you’re saying like the tech people are the more the ones leading that charge versus the CMO versus the marketers?

Rhoan: Not at all? No, no, no, not at all. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the CTO come to us and say, OK, help us, help us rollout and build this tech stack that’s going to support the customer journey. Oftentimes, it’s the CMO who says, we need to improve our customer experience or customer journey, help us with all of the marketing, the martech stack. And hopefully sales will also let us work with their tools, although we’ve seen plenty of cases where they’re required to stay really siloed sadly. And in this case, it was, hey, we want to fix it all. And we’re thinking about this from a technical perspective, that’s going to support the operations of our entire organization for our customers.

Keeping Up With Digital Acceleration

Michelle: But on top of all those moving pieces, brands are still adapting to the digital acceleration we’ve seen since 2020. We as customers, or at least me, I think we become spoiled. We expect that digital seamless experience or we get frustrated. And if that experience is bad enough, we can just we’ll go right to the competitor.

Dom: That’s right, Michelle, if they don’t have extra cheese checkbox on my online pizza order, I’m out. I am out. I’m not calling them. That’s a lot of work to say, Hey, can you put extra cheese? No, I’m checking that box man.

Michelle: You joked on but you’re right, if we’re used to these in store experiences, and then now we’re trying to do it digitally, and we don’t have the same options that can be really frustrating. So how do you see brands adapting to the digital acceleration we’ve seen since 2020, Rhoan? Can marketers embrace this digital transformation time we’re in now and craft a successful digital transformation plan?

Rhoan: Well, there’s no question in my mind that they can do that. It does need to come from the top. They do need to be able to identify what the impact will be on the business because it’s no small investment. So if a company wants to keep up with their competition, or beat the competition, and own the market, they absolutely have to invest in this.

What we see is that marketers strive to do this, and they know that it’s necessary. And in order to truly win, they have to have the support of all of the executive leadership, primarily, also the CEO.

But what’s really cool, and what I think we’re seeing more and more of is that I don’t remember where the survey was. But there was a survey not too long ago, that indicated that the CEO is really supporting more and expecting more from the CMO. And so they’re relying more, they’re trusting them more. And they know that after many years of fighting for that seat at the table, they belong there, and they deserve to be there.

And now they’re saying, OK, show me the money, show me what you can do with all of this technology and the investments that you’ve made. And so there’s no question in my mind that companies can be successful with this, they just need to get really good at clarity around the design of the customer experience of the customer journey. And when I keep on going back between experience or journey, I do say both, but that’s because I think from a B2B perspective, we think about the journey a lot more than on the B2C side. It’s more CX. About getting really tightly aligned about the customer journey, who’s touching the customer, when? And what does that handoff look like, between teams? And being really clear about what are the expectations in terms of the return on the investment in all of the platforms and all of the work that’s going into that engagement.

What Does the CEO Expect from the CMO?

Rich: I’m curious to know what you think the CEO perceives for the CMO, it seems to me like that role has gotten more technology driven than it ever has before in the past. I mean, it seems like that is the job of the CMO. It’s digital at this point. And I’m curious to know you were talking about how the perception of CMOs has changed. Is that why?

Rhoan: I think for a long time marketing has been battling for a seat at the boardroom, at the table. And we have that now marketing has that seat. And there are surveys and other research that is demonstrating that CEOs do see the CMO as a driving force behind revenue. But also CMOs are outspending IT on technology now. So they are the ones that are going to initiate oftentimes a digital transformation. They will more likely lead the digital transformation.

And they’re going to sort of help to manage how that runs across the entire organization. The CEO recognizes how important that is. And while they’re trusting the CMO, they believe that this is important, they’re also then saying, as I said before, show me the money, let’s see the return on this investment. So if we’ve got a tech stack of 12 or 24 different platforms that marketing is investing in to engage a customer to move the customer through decision making into a buying cycle, and to help close the customer. Well, let’s make sure that that investment is worthwhile.

And so the expectations have increased significantly around marketing and the CMO. And I truly believe that CMOs are rising to the occasion, because we now have the technology that enables them to do the kind of reporting that they hadn’t been able to do in the past. So I do think that because of the data and the reporting that marketing can do, because of the mandate now that all companies have to deliver exceptional experiences. We’re able to sort of marry that demand with the data, the insights that are available now to marketing more than ever to prove the value of what we’re creating for the customer. And the CEO can see that so that has garnered a higher level of trust.

Michelle: I think Rhoan would are audience would like to know is what’s one big takeaway from the concept of marketing-led CX? And how marketers can lead digital transformation that you’d like to share? Blame sales?

Dom: Blame Sales. That’s my answer. Well, you don’t even need to answer it. I mean, come on. That’s that’s the answer. Right?

Rhoan: Never, never, never. I’m a huge fan of sales. I have been working with sales teams for years. And you know, marketing wouldn’t be anywhere without them, because they’re the ones that help us close the deals.

Dom: I gotta tell you, I gotta tell you, I went out to a trip business trip with about three sales folks. Right, and I’m in editorial. So right church and state church and state, church and state. But I mean, I’m so impressed. I’m so impressed by their sales. I mean, they sold me on staying at one more establishment in downtown Nashville. I mean, he made it seem so great. I’m like, I gotta go home to my hotel room, guys. I’m very tired. And he goes 30 more minutes, and I go 30 minutes. I can do 30 minutes. That’s like a Seinfeld episode. And I’m like, Oh, my goodness, he sold me just now he sold me on staying out. I can’t believe it. All respect, much respect for sales.

Rhoan: Absolutely, totally. And that’s what we’re here for marketing, marketing brand. Absolutely everything that we do, from demand generation to big brands, initiatives. We’re here to grow a business. And we’re all working towards the same goals. And so we have to really keep that in mind. I’ve worked in companies where there was too much of a gap or a silo between these organizations, and we’re on the same team.

Rich: I agree with that. The process of getting that alignment can be very painful. But that is really the path to success, in my opinion.

Rhoan: Yeah, we worked with a client some years ago, we still are working with them have great relationship with them. But it was really interesting because we had marketing and sales in the same room. And they said to us, this is the first time we’ve actually ever been in the same room together talking about this stuff. And that’s one of those goosebump moments. That’s why we’re here, right? That’s really exciting. But it is not an easy task.

But I also might say, and one thing we haven’t really talked about, we talked a lot about technology and some data. But I would also say, another really critical component of the customer experience is content. I’m sure you guys would agree with this. It’s what you do.

Michelle: We love content.

Rhoan: Yeah. And so you know, without really compelling, really exciting content, that sort of sets the stage for the customer journey enriches every single touch point. If the content isn’t worthy, or if it isn’t authentic, or if it doesn’t help compel an action, then the investment that you’re making in technology, the investment you’ve made in that data is going to fall flat, or it’s going to get you a lot less return. So for us, it’s the triad; it’s technology, data and content to really accelerate folks through decision-making process, or to really engage them and keep them connected.

Rich: Great tips, great, actionable advice here for marketers, and CX folks a lot to munch on. And kind of like a like a, how do we do things again, like how are others doing things? So I’m still confused. But this is why we have people like you want to kind of cut through that. And give that industry perspective. We would like you’ve been so gracious with your time, we would like to give you an opportunity to tell our listeners where they can follow you and get your thought leadership. And I know you might even have a little book update to share as well.

Rhoan: Oh, yes. So you can always find me on LinkedIn, Rhoan Morgan. And you can check out our Learning Center on There’s lots of great content there from strategic level down into tactical. And we are, you know, we published Change Agents, actually a few years ago, and it was maybe a little too early. But we’re really excited because technology continues to evolve and grow. And as we started to develop our next phase of what we felt was important, which is the marketing-led customer experience, we recognized that we needed to add a third section to Change Agents, which is a framework advice, thinking and some practical steps that folks can take to help to really drive a superior customer experience.

Rich: Awesome. Well, thank you again, Rhoan. I mean, we really appreciate your time today. We know our audience is going to appreciate it, too. And we look forward to more thought leadership discussions in this arena. Thank you everybody, for tuning in. And we will see you next time on CX Decoded.