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Rebecca Burrows: Turning B2B data into gold at Australia Post

How one of Australia's biggest B2B operations transformed its internal processes and became a customer-facing organisation.

Over 209 years, Australia Post has had its fair share of challenges and opportunities, but its greatest tests have risen over the past decade. Advancing technology, changing customer needs and demands and overall service provision means it has undergone continuous transformation.

About 18 months ago, the government-owned postal service set out to continue to transform itself into a sharply focused, customer-facing organisation.

Australia Post had already encountered many waves of transformation as it dealt with technological disruption on its many corporate flanks. Along the way, it faced numerous changes in how it served customers – especially its business and government clients.

Australia Post’s business functions reflected its traditional product-first approach. Marketing, sales, service and strategy teams were embedded in various product teams and followed differing objectives. Unfortunately this meant that when data was shared, the insights ran the risk of being outdated. Customers often entered Australia Post’s orbit through one of its verticals and left quietly, without a trace.

To modernise, Australia Post needed to bring these teams under one customer-facing umbrella aligned to the same corporate goals. It has increasingly understood the “gold” it has in its data – the insights that delivered superior products and better customer experiences. An organisation that makes more than 3 billion deliveries a year and has 70,000 employees had to acknowledge its customer data as a valuable business asset.

Australia Post also needed to start believing in the power of strategic marketing. It’s astonishing to think that before embarking on this transformation, one of the biggest B2B organisations in Australia didn’t even have a B2B marketing function.

People, processes and data

In evaluating the task they set for themselves, Australia Post's executives realised they needed to change their thinking around people, processes and data. It meant breaking down internal silos and using customer data to drive business insights. It meant transforming their legacy business into a modern "e-company".

According to Rebecca Burrows, the General Manager of Segment Development and Marketing for Australia Post’s Business & Government team, one of the first tasks was to deeply understand the organisation’s B2B clients. It needed to identify growth opportunities and build its value propositions around what its customers wanted.

“The main piece was moving away from product centricity to customer centricity,” Burrows says. “We needed to frame each of our services to customers, so it was a lot more bespoke around their needs rather than centred on the products we offer.

“We were able to express a lot more value in that way, both in terms of commercial value but also in the relationships we have with customers. It’s also about taking a long-term view around partnering with our customers.”

"If you're looking to embed customer-centricity across an organisation, you need to share the knowledge, open doors and take people into those relationships."

She sees marketers filling a vital corporate role in modern B2B companies – providing commercial and customer insights to drive an innovation agenda. It’s about pushing the organisation forward by using data to see patterns and create strategies for the future, and often challenging the status quo.

"Customer insight is the fundamental underpinning driver of optimisation of processes and products," Burrows says. "We're building all of those things for customers, or at least things that have an outcome for our customers. For example, through our 'voice of customer' programs with business sales, we get many insights we can aggregate. It's not one customer telling us something. We get to see trends in data or commentary that we're using to optimise processes and products."

Burrows says Australia Post now involves customers in its formulation plans. “[Marketers] often say things are ‘designed with customers in mind’ but we’re actually bringing customers into our innovation processes or innovation teams,” she says. “Being able to use insights to select the right customers and then hearing directly from them and making changes as they are testing … getting that kind of continual feedback is really important.”

Customer accountability

A significant step along Australia Post's journey was making everybody accountable for the customer, Burrows says. "It can be difficult when you work with a sales team or a customer contact centre or even people on a digital channel who feel a lot of ownership over their customer relationships," she says. "How you get those relationships shared across the business? It's a challenge and an opportunity both ways."

Burrows says it's vital for sales and marketing professionals to help employees at all levels feel a level of ownership over customer relationships. "If you're looking to embed customer-centricity across an organisation, you need to share the knowledge, open doors and take people into those relationships."

This open-door policy has enabled employees in other parts of the organisation to see the value of effective sales and marketing. “If you're sitting in finance, for example, why would we expect you to understand the mechanics and what we think about in marketing? It's about being more open in the organisation and including people in those thought processes.”

Burrows says an organisation wanting to follow Australia Post’s transformation path can’t rely on flashy software to call itself more “data-driven” or “customer-facing”. Technology, she says, is just an enabler. It’s much more important to get the people and processes in place to drive the outcomes you want.

“The technology will always be what it says on the box,” Burrows says. “But no one can guarantee the outcome unless you have the right goals up front, and the people and processes to run the technology.

“It’s much more important to set the right goals and ideas and have a skilled and motivated team using the right data. The right processes will allow you to leverage the good technology you’ve invested in.”

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Further reading: How Spark New Zealand uses data to deliver personalised services