Through Uncertainty And Beyond: A Customer-Centric Growth Leader Is The Missing Piece To The Puzzle


Forbes | June 18, 2020

The Forbes article, "Through Uncertainty And Beyond: A Customer-Centric Growth Leader Is The Missing Piece To The Puzzle," was written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Norm Yustin​ on the increased need for customer-centricity in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the paper, "CMO Leadership in a Crisis​.". The aritcle is excerpted below.​

The Covid-19 crisis has quickly impacted every business in every industry and, in turn, has impacted every business leader. As Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU Stern School of Business and founder of both L2 Inc. and Prophet, explains, “Things won’t change as much as they will accelerate. While other crises reshaped the future, Covid-19 is just making the future happen faster.”

This is especially true for customer-centric leadership. The current circumstances have ​not dramatically changed the role of a chief marketing officer, which I like to now call Customer Activation & Growth Leaders (CAG); however, the need for CAG leaders, and the pace at which they need to work, has been greatly accelerated. While other roles are being reshaped, Covid-19 is just accelerating the critical need for agile, customer-centric leaders in every business today.

We recently gathered four customer-centric leaders together via video to discuss how they and their teams are playing a significant role driving growth in their organizations, especially after Covid-19. Jay Schneider, senior vice-president of digital at Royal Caribbean, Gail Grimmett, chief experience officer at Wheels Up, Julie Atkinson, chief marketing officer at Chopt and Sarah Searls, chief customer officer at Choice Hotels International, shared their perspectives on how the crisis is accelerating the need for change. Further, Russell Reynolds Associates​ has conducted significant research around the behavioral attributes of customer-centric leaders, and have statistically uncovered four traits on which CAG leaders spike when compared to their c-suite counterparts. These traits are covered later in this article.

The unprecedented shifts in today’s landscape have prompted an increased urgency around new business models – due to pace of change and external forces reshaping industries. Companies are quickly reinventing their business models, go-to-market capabilities, tech platforms, organizational structures and ways of working together. Given these circumstances, organizations require leaders who are resilient, work smarter not harder, are highly communicative, rapidly reinvent selves, disrupt paradigms, are role models for inclusive and sustainable leadership and balance offense and defense.​

In many ways, this illustrates who customer-centric leaders are at their core. These types of Customer Activation & Growth leaders are not defined or constrained by a particular role or title. They can be chief marketing officers, chief digital officers, chief commercial officers or chief experience officers and more. What these contemporary business executives have in common is a bold, customer-centric mindset, the ability to help fight disruption in the market, and an emphasis on gaining alignment internally to enable the company to be more disruptive externally. They possess a balance of left brain/right brain processing power and are heavily focused on how brand and data together can galvanize an organization~ in order to keep up with the ever-changing customer landscape.

Companies now need to find a new type of go-to-market leader to grow their businesses in today’s disrupted landscape. Customer-centric leaders that are driven by a growth agenda have 4 distinct traits: They are disruptive thinkers by nature and know precisely when to take a risk. Additionally, they are influential and engaging leaders who build strong teams. More specifically, these four traits are described as:

The ability to change the future: Customer-driven growth leaders are notably visionary in their thinking compared to their c-suite counterparts. They consider the competitive landscape when setting goals and are skillful at incorporating the big picture into their strategic direction. Compared to their peers, they are exceedingly creative and change-oriented in their thinking and approach to problem solving.

Knowing when to push the limits: Customer-driven growth leaders drive their business process through the lens of testing boundaries and capabilities. Contrary to other c-suite executives, they don’t hesitate to take the initiative and push forward even amidst challenge. They are action oriented, thrive in pressure filled situations and are comfortable playing in “grey areas.”​​

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Through Uncertainty And Beyond: A Customer-Centric Growth Leader Is The Missing Piece To The Puzzle