Breakthrough Best Customer Strategies Start With “The Who”

100% of Martellus clients cite driving top line growth in an uncertain economic environment as a top priority for 2020.   And most of our clients acknowledge that extracting more value from best customers is a proven growth lever. We agree, for three reasons:

  • The 80/20 rule applies: Time and again we see that 20% of a company’s customers account for 80% of value creation; in some cases, the concentration is even greater. Protecting – and getting more — power users enables companies to focus their investment dollars and jumpstart growth.
  • Keeping a valuable customer is much cheaper than acquiring a new one: The cost of retaining an engaged customer is much lower than cost of acquiring a new one, yet most companies we work with have serious, and often undetected, leaky buckets.
  • The best customer opportunity remains largely untapped (still): Most companies design programs and processes around the average customer. An unintended consequence of average customer design is under-investment in best.

If the case for best is clear, why are so few companies harnessing the full opportunity? Because they work “best customer” as a project rather than as a way of doing business enterprise-wide. And to get the entire organization working in concert on behalf of best customers, the single most important thing companies can do is get “The Who” right – who are these best customers around whom we are all going to rally?

An effective definition of “Who:”

    1. Aligns with top priorities – there may be more than one best: Define as best those customers within your base that you want to protect and/or grow. Most companies define highest revenue customers as best, but there may be other segments, for example, customers with multiple relationships (or assets under management, or influencers). Limit best to at most 2-3 discrete segments, however. More than that is confusing and counter-productive.

    2. Is Radically Simple:Don’t black box your definition of best customer. Effective definitions are 1) easy for the organization – from marketing executive to service representative – to understand; and, 2) easy to report on a timely basis. Ideally, choose a definition of best that the organization already tracks, reports on, and understands.
    3. Empowers the customer: Your best customer definition will have the most impact if you can use it in marketing. Implement a definition of best that customers can action. You want your customers to be able to say: “I want that pay-off, and I know what I need to do to get it.”

Mobilize the entire company to work on behalf of best customers by getting “The Who” right.   Reinforce the radically simple, empowering “Who” with best customer specific customer listening and measurement. Then watch the “What” (specific programs and services) organically emerge enterprise-wide.

If you want to continue to the conversation, connect with me on LinkedIn or email

Martellus is a specialized consulting network of senior women executives ready to partner with you/your company to deliver results in areas where we have deep functional expertise. Our network includes expertise across most core marketing and customer experience functions. Whether you have a specific project assignment or need help filling an interim role, we can help.


From “Freelancer” to “Expert:” Getting the most out of Gig Workers

If you or your company are not already working with gig workers, chances are you will be soon. According to the findings of the ‘Freelancing in America’ report commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, some 57.3 million Americans — or 36% of the workforce — are freelancers. And, the majority of freelancers say they would not leave freelance work behind for a full-time job. Not surprising given the attraction of flexible working hours and being your own boss.

Question is: are employers getting the most out of this growing, and in many cases immensely talented, workforce? Are they leveraging freelancers fully to power not only their business performance but also to accelerate the growth and development of their employees? Our experience at Martellus suggests that the answer is “not always.”

In most cases, employers tap into freelancers as substitutes for full-time staff. Makes a ton of sense given that one of the major drivers of the freelance economy is the need for public companies to trim HR-related costs. And this works. If you need to get out a product and don’t have the resources, a “quasi” freelancer – an individual who essentially becomes a full-time member of your team, sometimes for years at a time – fills the need. And at Martellus – an Expert network committed to helping women find work that fits with their lives — we’re all for companies affording their employees rich parental leaves, with Martellus Experts stepping in to provide coverage.

That said, 1:1 substitutes for full-time staff are not the situations where non-traditional workers truly shine as performance accelerators. In addition to leveraging freelancers to back-fill open roles, think about where “Experts” with deep functional expertise (and experience driving results across large organizations) can power the performance of your business. In other words, to truly jump-start performance, consider uplifting “freelancer” resources to “Expert” resources. Especially consider supplementing a team with Experts when:

  1. Leaders/teams are new to roles or have new responsibilities:In my career, I spent fifteen years in marketing before taking on leadership responsibilities in operations. I would have LOVED to have a behind-the-scenes Expert helping me understand my new function, uncover opportunities, set priorities…and give me the handwritten list of things that could get me fired if I didn’t keep my eye on them. I got there on my own eventually, with the support of my boss. I would have gotten there months quicker with an Expert at my side who had my back. With a shorter learning curve, I would have been more productive, faster – and so would the 150 people who worked for me.
  2. You need to jumpstart a time-sensitive deliverable:You have signed on a new partner. Perfect. You need to develop a marketing plan that fully leverages all their channels in 12 weeks. Perfect opportunity to bring in an Expert to work side-by-side with your team to get it done. If you look in the right place, you will find someone with deep experience in exactly the area where you need support and counsel. In one recent case at Martellus, we paired a client looking for expertise in partner marketing with an Expert with experience in partner marketing with that specific partner. Our client was thrilled we found her the unicorn Expert to take the partnership to the next level.
  3. You have funding for one person, but actually need two:“I need someone with superb strategic thinking skills, who also thrives on execution. Unfortunately, those two skills don’t tend to come in the same package,” bemoaned a friend recently.  Experts are the answer. A half-time excellent strategist and half-time excellent driver are almost always more productive than a full-time super strategist who is a so-so driver (or the other way around).
  4. You need out-of-the-”building” thinking (or saying): Organizations get stuck. Often an external resource is needed to extract the wisdom that is already resident in the organization. Or to say things that internal folks may not be comfortable saying – “this service is no good” comes to mind as a real and frequent example. Consider bringing on an Expert if your organization is going around and around an issue without making a decision. An Expert with extensive experience and credibility in the function may be just what you need to facilitate cross-functional conversations that drive to decisions.

Once you decide to go with an Expert or an Expert team (for all the right reasons), it’s critical that you set them up properly. Make sure you provide tightly defined deliverables, a proper introduction to the team (“they are here as a resource to you, not because you can’t do your job”), the tools and access they need to do the work, and a clear definition of what constitutes a job finished and well done. Then watch as the folks on your new, blended team, encourage and support each other to work bigger and better.

If you want to continue to the conversation, connect with me on LinkedIn or email


Martellus is a certified women-owned strategic consulting group that pairs practical, experienced Experts with companies in need of their specific skills. We take on engagements only in areas where we have extensive expertise. Action-oriented, our Experts come in and work side-by-side with clients to quickly make a difference.

Agile is Changing How We Work

As businesses continue to try to keep up with the pace of change in consumer behavior and the constant pressure for new and better products, an increasing number are turning to an agile model. Four of our Experts with deep experience in agile discuss why this matters and what you need to know for successful implementation.

Why Agile Matters

The agile model of creating a unique team of people with various skill sets can enable you to build products faster, gain a competitive edge, decrease the time to market, boost internal morale and ultimately improve your bottom line. “For high volume, fast turnaround projects an agile model is beneficial because you lock in a team that becomes familiar with the project and can produce more for less money,” says Martellus Expert Leslie Hurst. Agile is more than just a cosmetic fix, though. “It requires a mindset shift away from thinking about projects to thinking about products instead, specifically what kind of product would be the best solution for the customer,” Martellus Expert Sarah Mitchell. “Instead of focusing purely on the end solution 12 months from now, you break the project up into smaller iterations and incorporate feedback as you go.”

Get the Right Team in Place

Successful implementation of agile begins with building the right team. Depending on the project, this could include engineers, designers, marketers and business developments representatives. “They will all share in the objective to deliver against project outcome, whether that is a website or a product,” Hurst says. Martellus Expert Felicia Lipson adds, “In my experience, once people are in agile, it is more team-based and it increases morale.” It is important that roles are clarified from the outset. “There always needs be a product owner and scrum master to drive meetings and lift road blocks, whether that is talking to compliance, getting clarity around a goal, or clearly articulating the value of what the team is building for internal stakeholders,” points out Martellus Expert Damaris De Los Santos.

Making Agile Work: What You Need to Now

For the agile model to succeed, executives must embrace the vision and a clear strategy should be in place first. “No organization is going to be textbook,” Mitchell (right) explains.

Going from non-agile to agile is not always easy and it helps to bring in outside experts. At Martellus, we look at people across the organization and assist in setting up the process, whether you are looking for a complete overhaul or need help taking a step back, redefining your vision and getting the right team in place.

Martellus in Action: Meet Our Experts

Leslie Hurst, a senior marketing executive, has implemented agile marketing at major financial institutions.

Sarah Mitchell, an expert in the digital customer journey, has deep experience in agile transformation as a facilitator and member of a products team.

Felicia Lipson, who specializes marketing strategy and product development has implemented agile models at financial institutions.

Damaris De Los Santos is a specialist in digital strategy and has served as a product manager for agile teams.

AI is Coming

Welcome to the April issue of Martellus Matters. One of the questions we hear being asked in boardrooms across companies concerns what impact AI will have and how best to prepare for it. We tapped a leading professor and author in the field as well as our own Martellus Expert for their practical advice on what steps businesses should take now

AI is Coming… 
Are You Ready?

Build the Right Strategy

AI is coming. Whether that is exciting, anxiety-provoking, challenging or all three, virtually every company is investing to get ready for the onslaught of artificial intelligence. Without having the right strategy in place first, though, businesses risk losing millions of dollars and umpteen hours of time. A smarter approach is to take a step back to ensure that you are foundationally prepared for machine learning before taking action. Consider what investing in AI will mean to your organization, identify when AI can help to achieve specific business outcomes and set clear, measurable goals. Ask yourself: Are you fundamentally structured for the coming digital experience, and if not, what people and processes do you need to get into position?

The Three-Step Plan 

Begin by cleaning up all your data sources so that you have a single view of your consumer. To accomplish that you must be sure that your terminology is tagged online and off to provide an accurate report on every action that takes place from forms to downloads. This process will enable you to constantly gather information that can be used as predictive analytics. When you identify behavior across touchpoints, you will be better able to create an analytics-based strategy. Once you have the right tagging and analytics, think about the best experience to pilot with personalization: Will it help your bottom line? Will you learn more about your interactions with consumers?  Be sure that you have clarity around use cases, including quantifiable measures. AI isn’t just coming, it’s here. And it can be transformative – if you do it right.

The Role of Data: What You Need to Do Now

We asked Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, NYU Stern School of Business professor, and best-selling author of The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream. for her advice on pitfalls to avoid.

“AI isn’t a magic wand. I once heard an executive brag about the number of machine learning patents his company had. ‘Great,’ I told him, ‘but what are you planning to do with them?’ Patents alone won’t create new business verticals or profit centers. To take advantage of this next era of computing, look for narrowly-focused business applications using data your company already has access to. Make sure that your data is clean, free of bias, and that you have consent to share it. It’s vitally important that every organization review its data retention and use policies now.  Finally, make sure you’re developing your stable of quality data scientists and engineers who represent the rich diversity of your customer base. It will still take a few years for AI applications to propagate, but that doesn’t mean you can wait a few years to start recruiting and training your workforce.”

Martellus in Action: How Management Can Lead

Martellus Expert Damaris de los Santos specializes in digital product management, web usability and user experience. Here, she gives her tips on how management can lead the way to successful usage of AI.

1. Leaders must foster a culture of experimentation. Trying out pilot programs – and being willing to learn from them – can help you avoid larger and more costly disasters.

2. Implement a uniform set of best practices that grows out of your pilot programs and is informed by outside experts who create clear guidelines.

3. Start by automating an internal process that will free up employees to spend more time on other things that can improve the customer experience.

Don’t Answer the Call: How Fewer Contacts Increases Customer Satisfaction

Re-Thinking Call Center Investment   

The conventional wisdom is that investing in call centers increases customer satisfaction. In some circumstances, that’s true.  Most of the time, though, reducing costs actually results in increasing customer satisfaction. While this may seem counter-intuitive, most customers don’t want to call anyone these days and are annoyed when they have to take that extra step. When you eliminate complexity and make sure your FAQ’s and query capabilities across platforms are continually updated, customers are better able to self-serve so they no longer have to call when they don’t want to.  Once you remove unnecessary calls, you can reserve your small, lean call centers for “moments of truth” – those rare times in a customer’s life when only a human will do.

The Problem Starts Upstream:  Work the Intersection

In most call centers, anywhere between 15-30% of calls can be eliminated.  Start by understanding why people call and why they call back.  Make sure your value proposition is easily understood, with no tricky terminology or policies surrounding fulfillment, coupons or renewals. Within the call center, first-contact resolution should the key metric across channels; unit cost is meaningless if it requires three “units” (calls) to solve an issue. An outside expert who has experience across disciplines – marketing and operations, for example – but is not beholden to any one group can help accelerate progress by identifying cross-functional solutions that internal leaders with an understanding of only their own discipline cannot see. Go upstream from the call center and work at the intersection of organizational boundaries – that is the surest way to drive satisfaction up and costs down.

How Much is That Call Worth: How to Tailor Service Levels

A  new study, co-authored by Professors Philipp Afèche and Opher Baron at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and Mojtaba Araghi at Wilfrid Laurier University, links customers’ future behavior to the service quality they experience at call centers and to the operational decisions to achieve that service. Here, Professor Baron top lines their findings:

“Companies can get more bang for their buck by better coordinating marketing decisions that drive customers to call centers with operational decisions about handling customers once they get there. Companies need to have a more complete picture of the lifetime value of a customer and the value of a call. We urge companies to answer important questions such as: How does a particular customer behave if they don’t get served? What’s the chance that they will leave the company, or spend more, depending on the service quality they’ve received? The answers provide companies important guidelines on how to tailor different service levels for different types of customers.”

Martellus in Action: Are You Setting the Right Goals?

Martellus Expert Beth Lacey spent 25 years at American Express where she designed and deployed exceptional services that improved the customer experience across a broad range of channels. Here, she shares her advice on optimizing call centers.

1. Make first-contact resolution everyone’s goal. This includes customer-facing employees as well as process managers, policy and procedure developers and other “behind the scenes” players.

2. Use handling time as a coaching tool for managing effective conversations.  Hard targets will only force call-backs.

3. Hire people who love interacting and helping others.  You can teach the rest.

The Importance of Internal Branding

This month, we examine how internal branding can build brand love, turn your employees into advocates, and boost the bottom line.

While companies spend millions of dollars on external communications, many overlook one of the most important components in establishing brand love and loyalty: Internal branding. Taking the time to ensure that you have a clear, authentic brand message that is tied to your DNA – and that every employee understands and can speak to it – not only increases employee retention and engagement, it creates a higher sense of purpose, which directly impacts the bottom line.  In fact, companies with a shared sense of purpose outperform others by as much as 400%.

Internal branding is especially important when you are launching a new service or pivoting your consumer messaging in order to ensure that all client-facing employees can be true advocates. Everyone in your company, from the C-suite to individual teams, should feel engaged in creating the story. An external adviser who can be threaded throughout the company across silos can make this process friction-free, bringing fresh clarity and ensuring consistency. In the end, the best internal branding doesn’t merely state facts, it engenders beliefs – that is what moves the needle.

Putting It Into Practice: Employees Play a Key Role

We asked Professor Nicholas Ind of Kristiania University College, Oslo and author of the recently published Branding Inside Out; In theory and in Practice for his advice on how to best engage employees in internal branding.

“When it comes to internal branding, managers should work out how the brand can support what it is employees do.  How can it make their working lives better?  How can it help them change their working practices?  How can it help build better relationships with customers and other stakeholders?  This requires clarity about what the core of the brand means, but it also requires the flexibility to allow people to explore and to experiment – to accept some disunity. In the end, living the brand needs a leadership approach that inspires and supports rather than one that seeks to control.”

Martellus in Action: Three Tips on How to Create Effective Internal Branding

Martellus Expert Amy Giddon is a branding expert who has held executive positions at RushCard and American Express, where she led Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Partnerships and Customer Information Management.  Here, she offers her three tips on effective internal branding.

1. Be clear, consistent and authentic in your messaging. For branding to resonate, it must be true to your brand’s DNA in content and tone. Don’t try to be the flavor of the week.

2. Demonstrate top level commitment.  It is important that the C-suite be visibly involved and give departments the framework to cascade the message. Everyone who touches your brand should understand how the work they do aligns with the brand promise.

3. Give everyone the opportunity to be brand advocates.  Your employees, especially those who are client-facing, can become your greatest evangelists. Ensure that they have avenues of expression on social media by creating a branded site, template, assets, tools and resources.