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Carlos Hidalgo: Trials of a B2B customer experience champion

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The journey from demand gen specialist to CX campaigner has not been straightforward for author, speaker and globetrotter Carlos Hidalgo.

Carlos Hidalgo is on his second incarnation as a B2B marketing oracle. The Colorado Springs resident is now a successful customer experience advocate. He works with clients and travels the world as an in-demand keynote speaker, delivering talks and workshops espousing the urgent need for B2B businesses to take CX seriously. He is a forceful advocate for companies that make a priority of delighting their customers.

“It’s tough – it’s a big culture change,” Hidalgo says. “It’s hard for organisations to do, even if they say ‘customers are our top priority’. If they were, CX would be their top priority.”

Hildalgo’s first incarnation, as a demand-generation expert, was also highly successful. The business he co-founded in 2005, ANNUITAS, became a demand-generation and change-management giant with dozens of Fortune 500 clients. His ANNUITAS team established a demand-generation strategy based on detailed customer insights, identifying the ideal buyer’s challenges and purchasing habits.

As a hands-on CEO, Hidalgo was a prodigious blogger and presenter. In 2015, he wrote a book – Driving Demand – that helped countless companies deal with the organisational changes required to focus on attracting buyers. It was recently rated No.4 on a list of the best B2B marketing books of all time.

But by the end of 2016, Hidalgo realised something wasn’t quite right. There was nothing wrong with his ideas, his clients or his business. He was travelling three weeks in every month for client meetings, and speaking engagements continued to flick into his inbox. His was a major business success story. No, Hidalgo’s issues were much closer to home.

“The more successful and the more accolades we [ANNUITAS] got, the more my personal brand grew,” Hidalgo says. “I found that I was more unsatisfied and became more narcissistic in the process. I really became a person that I looked back and I didn’t like. I was so just hell-bent and driven.”

Hidalgo says his identity became tied to his business accomplishments, and his family and personal life suffered. “It just came to a point where I asked, ‘What am I doing this for?’ ‘What am I going to lose if I continue down this path?’ It was a real wake-up call. It was what I call my ‘dark night of the soul’ moment.”

Hidalgo says it took some time to get back to the person he wanted to be. “There was a lot of introspection, a lot of work with some friends, a lot of patience from my family, and a lot of bridge building,” he says.

Now, as founder and CEO of CX consultancy VisumCX, Hidalgo is as busy as he has ever been. He still works hard but has developed clear boundaries (“I’m not available on weekends, and I’m not available most nights past 6pm”). He has big personal goals: after completing a half marathon and an Olympic triathlon, he’s training for a full marathon. He still travels the world, but is now often accompanied by wife Susanne. On his last trip to Sydney, their 19-year-old daughter joined them. “I’m home for dinner, and I cook a whole lot,” he says. “My best dish is probably my chicken parmigiana.”

What hasn’t changed is Hidalgo’s passion for helping B2B marketers. That’s why he feels CX is the most important thing for him to pursue right now, because there’s a definite market need for his knowledge and enthusiasm. Most of all, he says he enjoys working with people who share his values.

“CX isn’t something that I’ve always had this burning passion for,” he says. “But the more I studied it, the more I realised it gets back to tapping into people. What are our customers feeling and thinking? I’ve always been big on experience, and now I get to do it in a business. It’s kind of fun.”

Hidalgo feels B2B businesses are taking CX much more seriously than they did when VisumCX started. But time is running out for those who haven’t looked carefully at their CX. During his presentation at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum 2018 in Sydney, Hidalgo said price and product would be secondary to customer experience by 2020.

“I now see a lot of organisations are saying ‘we have to address this’ versus ‘yeah, we’ll get to that’,” he says. “They’re now realising that if they don’t address it they’re going to suffer, because customers won’t continue to pay you for a bad experience.”

A misnomer Hidalgo likes to dispel is that CX is the same as “customer service” and “customer support”. He makes three points, especially when it comes to B2B businesses:

* CX often begins well before customers buy anything. “Your customers start to engage with you long before there is a trigger event where they have to buy something. They are engaging with your brand; they are engaging with some of your content before you ever know it.”

* While businesses may deliver customers excellent service, they may not provide great experiences;

* Great CX happens when companies are proactive and act more like partners than vendors.

“I’ve heard CMOs saying, ‘We’re in B2B – we don’t have to worry about that’,” Hidalgo says. “I’m like, ‘No, you absolutely have to worry about that, because if your competitors are doing it, you have to do it’. It’s starting to become more centre stage for a lot of organisations.”

Often, he says, CEOs deliver a brief to their CMOs to “fix CX” and they don’t know where to start. CMOs might say they already have to look after brand, product and field marketing and demand gen, and now they are also held responsible for customer experience – something they’re not trained to handle.

The biggest impediment for organisations to develop great CX capabilities, Hidalgo says, is resistance to making the necessary cultural changes. “It has to be top down,” he says. “At my workshops, I ask CMOs: ‘how many of you have full purview and responsibility across the organisation?’ I mean, we only own this much.”

It’s also difficult when executives follow traditional corporate roles and responsibilities. He says he’s spoken with people at B2B companies that employ a chief customer officer who is made responsible for product success, not pleasing customers.

“It’s enormous,” he says. “It’s an organisational mandate, not just a marketing mandate. It has to be implemented at every level of the organisation. Especially in larger organisations. They often have built these silos where it’s, ‘Don’t come into my swim lane; don’t tell me how to do my job’. I’m not telling you how to do your job; I’m telling you how to delight your customers.”

This drive to help B2B marketers thrive is what Hidalgo now sees is his greatest strength. “I believe that we all have one note to play,” he says. “Once we find that personal passion, we can find our personal brand promise. For me, I realised I love helping people. That may be from my neighbour, who needs help painting his kitchen, to doing a [CX] workshop or helping my clients.

“I want to help people discover their one note, but I also want to help marketers be better at their craft and be more disciplined at what they do.”

Carlos Hidalgo is releasing a second book in early 2019 that talks more in-depth about his new approach to business ownership and leadership.

Further reading: The most compelling reason to invest in CX

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