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How To Be Customer-Centric

Chris Wallner

Chris Wallner is the Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading Executives-as-a-Service firm. Chief Outsiders helps organizations identify the fractional marketing and sales executives they need to accelerate growth.

Chris works with technology and financial service companies to drive revenue growth by converting insights into actionable, sustainable strategies and solutions. He is an accomplished marketing, product management, development, and e-commerce executive with an impressive track record in the technology and financial industry.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Chris Wallner talks about Chief Outsiders and how they help people

  • The top three challenges that Chief Outsiders solves

  • Why Chris joined Chief Outsiders and his experience with his first clients

  • The importance of listening to customers’ feedbacks as a business leader

  • Tips for becoming customer-centric as a business leader

  • How helping customers win has impacted Chris

  • The impacts of AI on customer experience

  • Leadership traits for winning more customers

In this episode…

Running all of the different departments in a company is challenging. A leader may be good at some but does not have the skills to lead them all. So where can they get the support they deserve to help them run efficiently?

Chris Wallner recommends hiring fractional executives to help them unlock and accelerate their growth. Many business leaders don't have the time or money to hire full-time CMOs or CSOs, but they need help growing their companies. This allows for leaders to grow without blowing the budget, and this is is how it works.

In this episode of The Customer Wins, Richard Walker sits down with Chris Wallner, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Chief Outsiders, to discuss the importance of being a customer-centric leader and hiring fractional executives. Chris talks about Chief Outsiders and how it helps people, the top three challenges that Chief Outsiders solves, and tips for becoming a customer-centric leader.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode...

This is brought to you by Quik!

At Quik!, we provide forms automation and management solutions for companies seeking to maximize their potential productivity.

Our vision is to become the leading forms automation company by making paperwork the easiest part of every transaction.

Meanwhile, our mission is to help the top firms in the financial industry raise their bottom line by streamlining the customer experience with automated, convenient solutions.

Go to to learn more, or contact us with questions at

Episode Transcript:

Intro 0:02

Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.

Richard Walker 0:16

All right, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talk to business leaders about how they help their customers win and how their focus on customer experience leads to growth. Our past guests have included Randy Cass, CEO of NestWealth, and Alan G of Finlocity. Today I'm speaking with Chris Wallner partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders and today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forms automation. When the last step to earning your clients business requires filling out paperwork. Don't ruin your relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik! Forms make filling out forms a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction. Go visit to get started. Now I'm super excited to introduce Chris. Chris is a technology and financial service veteran with a track record of major wins at startups to multinational firms. His approach is to bring transparency to marketing performance, and skillfully build top-performing teams accountable for achieving superior consistent results. Chris' clients have included global and regional financial institutions investment and insurance services, staffing, construction, high-tech and startups. Hey, even my company. And I know from experience just how much Chris knows and cares about winning customers because he did help us out at Quik! over five years ago. Chris, welcome to The Customer Wins.

Chris Wallner 1:36

Great to be here. Rich, thanks.

Richard Walker 1:38

Okay, so if you haven't heard this podcast before I talk with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they build and deliver a great customer experience and the challenges to growing their own company. Chris, I know, this is what you help companies do so well. And we want to talk about that. But let me first start by asking you, what does your company do to help people.

Chris Wallner 1:59

What we do is to really figure out what frustrates a leader or leadership team about marketing usually, and to then dive into and assess what the problems are. As an outsider, we can do that fairly easily. It always starts with understanding what the customer perspective is, what the team perspective is, where the competitors are, we then develop the strategy, then create the execution plan, and they're there to execute the plan and then step away, it's really put the company on track to a different trajectory for growth.

Richard Walker 2:32

Do you guys think of yourselves as fractional Chief Marketing Officers like the fractional CFO model?

Chris Wallner 2:38

Yeah, there's, there are a lot of similarities to the fractional CFO model. But at cheap outsiders, the fractional CMO that we really see ourselves as part of the leadership team, we collaborate a lot internally, we conduct what we call peer reviews, where we might create a strategy and then we'll go ahead and basically share that Strategy with a peer group of CMOs, and bring that feedback back to the company. So it's the collaboration, which is pretty unique to our company culture, that allows us to really kind of add a whole different level of value, rather than just once a single shingle as part of a kind of a broader company.

Richard Walker 3:18

Yeah, I know that you guys did that with us, too. You brought in experts in various areas to help us understand things. You also did the work. I'm not saying that you were just the captain of the ship, because you actually did a lot of the work, right?

Chris Wallner 3:30

Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, our job is to roll up our sleeves to figure out what needs to be done. And then to really set things on track on the right path, and then bring in resources so that we basically can step out, it's not that we want to step out, but our job is to step out to have, whether it's the right agency, or internal resources, whatever is needed to really keep the company on that successful track.

Richard Walker 3:55

Yeah. So I imagine if other companies are like me, or leaders or like me, I don't have all the skills in the world and there's some things I just am not good at, what do you think are some of the like top three challenges leaders bring to you that they're trying to solve?

Chris Wallner 4:09

Well, the first is to have really good information to make decisions. And that really goes to the core topic that we're gonna really get into is getting that perspective from your, your customers, their perception is your reality. So that's number one. Getting that information number two is understanding kind of how to interpret it. What's real important number three is being able to prioritize of all the things that you can possibly do what should be the first few things that you should do to really kind of get things that ensure that there's the greatest impact. So those are the three things

Richard Walker 4:45

I do want to get into more of that but also want to go back in time. What got you started on this path? Why did you want to join chief outsiders you had a successful career? Why not just retire?

Chris Wallner 4:53

Well, yeah, I may be old but I'm not that old. So thank you for that. You After having been in the corporate world for my really most of my entire career, I wanted to do something that was more focused on the stuff that I like to do, which is to build, I like to assess, I like puzzles, I like to understand what the challenge is to come and work with the company and understand that challenge, work with the leadership team to create the Strategy, and then to be there to execute it. I love that building part, the running the organization, or the admin part, not as much. So this, this job, so to speak, allows me to do what I really like, and it is the best job that I've ever had, it's being able to go again, understand the puzzle, and figure out how to solve for it and work with the leadership team to make that happen.

Richard Walker 5:47

I don't think there's anything better than doing your best work. In fact, that's one of the premises of my company is to empower people to do their best work, not paperwork, for example. And what I find is when people are doing their best work, you get the best from them. So your customers are getting the best from you. I'm curious, like, who is your first customer in this role? And why did they choose to work with you? And if that's me, don't say it, go to customer two?

Chris Wallner 6:11

Well, I would say that I had two customers that started out within a day or two, one another, and you were one of them. And so it was the experience that I had with quick working with you and your leadership team that really validated that I was doing the right thing. And there are a couple things that really stood out, I'll share one anecdote, which I think was really a lot of fun. And I haven't mentioned this to you for a while. But you're a technology leader. And we were looking at your current marketing technology. And I had an opportunity to share an alternative technology that was leapfrogs over what you had been using. And I shared your personal experience with Chief outsiders, I remember that the end of that conversation was I need that. It was leapfrogs over above, which had been using before. And for me, I mean, to be able to kind of help leaders kind of come to those sort of aha moments is so gratifying. So, that's an example of what really makes it fun and rewarding in terms of being able to affect significant change for our company.

Richard Walker 7:21

Yeah. But I'll tell you, one of the reasons we chose you is because you had a background in our industry, and finance and also in technology, and you're a product person like me. So you understood how do you bring products to market, but what we were struggling with was understanding how to communicate to the customer our value. And in our messaging, which you dove into headlong and you did some of the things we could never do. I mean, didn't you actually call upon actual customers and prospects and talk to them?

Chris Wallner 7:50

Yeah, that's actually in a sort of the foundation to the work that we do is to interview customers, and to find out from their perspective from in their voice, what's important to them. As I said earlier, their perception is your reality. So getting that perception really helps move a company away from theorizing of what you think the customers are thinking, to getting the facts on exactly what they're thinking what's important to them. It may be that what's important to them might be hard to do. But it actually might be easy for you to do, and you just don't have to be doing that. And that informs all the subsequent work. I mean, that informs what your strategy, what your go to market strategy might be that informs your execution plan, the order of what you would do things always comes back to getting that perspective from the customer. If you get that right, the likelihood of getting everything else right is so much higher. So that's the place that even before chief outsiders, I would always start there as a reformed product guy, you always go back to the customer, because the customer is always right, regardless of whether you think that they're right, the customer is always right. Or at least you have to deal with the customers perspective. So that's always the go to place. And again, it increases the likelihood of all this follow on work will be correct. And we had a great example with quick. We thought we were going after one particular customer segment, we talked to that segment realize that segment. While there was a lot of frustrations with forms, they really weren't the decision maker in the process. And so we actually had to re-shift. And I remember it was a tough conversation I spoke I was brand new to Chief outsiders and I had this conversation with who I am working for. And it was I have some bad news for leadership team what they thought was the ideal customer or the ideal opportunity was in fact really not the case. So we had some frank conversations and it shifted the marketing and it well your company is very successful. So I think some I have some part of helping you head down a path of Route really helping the customers that you'd have been focusing on to help really help get the positioning and messaging tightened up. So it really resonated with them. And that all came from those conversations as interviews with your customers.

Richard Walker 10:13

So that brings up an interesting challenge point, how do you get customers to talk to you so you can hear this feedback? And then how do you inspire leadership to actually hear that tough feedback, and ignore what their preconceived notions are, what their headlong strategy had been?

Chris Wallner 10:29

Well, yeah, so those sorts of conversations. It's amazing how many folks are sort of intimidated to have to having those conversations with customers. But when a customer understands that you're really listening to them, that you really want to understand their perspective. And they that you value, their perspective, it's amazing how they start to open up, particularly if you acknowledge what they're saying, you play that back to him, I heard this, let me make sure I understand that, to really get that genuine connection, that I really want to hear what you say, it may be good news, it may be bad news, but all information is helpful. And so with that, almost all customers open up, are very canned, because they feel that they've been hurt, because in fact, they have been hurt. So having that information with a leadership team, is highly effective, because this is the raw truth. And there's some good news, there's some bad news, obviously, when asked to frame it up. But using quotes from those conversations, being able to translate well, here is what we heard. And maybe here are some of the things that we can do with what we heard, and helping to sort of create the path for here's all this raw information. But here's how it might be translated into altering or changing some of the strategies and changing some of the plan. It's a lot easier to do that. I think a lot of people fear. I mean, it's simple as cases, pick up the phone and call some of your customers. Another alternative is hire an outsider like myself to go and do that for you where I can ask some questions that maybe a customer might be uncomfortable with, how they might want to share information that might not be real flattering to the company, or the leadership team. But it whichever way you choose opening that door, and it rather than theorizing that what might what might be on the other side of that door, opening that door to that information can't hurt a company. There's no downside to it. And it's amazing to me how few companies go through that door.

Richard Walker 10:30

So I love this theme about how people should be more customer-centric. And really what you're talking about is if you talk to your customers, you become more customer-centric. But I want to ask some really detailed brass tacks stuff here, because you said yeah, pick up the phone, that's an easy thing. We're gonna do a user group meeting at a conference coming up. And my product manager and I are just thinking, we'll just keep it simple and say we just want to hear from you. Our agenda is to learn from you. Is that simple enough? Do we need to bribe them with gift cards? What do we need to do to make them open up?

Chris Wallner 13:07

Well, most of the time, the customers really want to have that next level of service. So there's this I mean, there's selfishly customers want to encourage a company to perform better for them. Right? So it really comes down to being curious to be it to asking the right questions that really get a customer to open up about the things which they're passionate about, I usually start out with a very simple set of questions to be really tactical questions about what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses mean to the company? Why, what delights? What delights the customer, from the company? And those questions are only thought starters, they're only opening very open-ended questions. And then you're able to sort of take the conversation and go where they have a lot of passion. And that's really, really get the rich conversation. Well, you know, you didn't mention this, you know, let's talk. This is really important to me, Well, let's go and talk about that. It's having that kind of open dialogue, that really gets you some incredibly rich insight into what really is important to them. And that's the first step, what you do about it the second step, but getting that information is in doing it in a way that's not you know, let's check the box for a survey. That tends to be very, very kind of linear and narrow, but really having a dialogue very similar to kind of the dialogue we're having right here.

Richard Walker 14:39

So number one, then you're really suggesting, go into the conversation with a genuine curiosity. And curiosity is going to force you to want to ask questions about what's going on. So in other words, we should do more question-asking and more listening and less talking if we really want to hear our customers.

Chris Wallner 14:57

Absolutely. Yeah, the better of conversation is the less you talk, so I get permission form from customers that I speak with I record in Otter, for example, which is another kind of tactical thing. Otter tells you the percentage that you're talking, versus the percentage of whoever you're speaking with. And for me, the conversations were clearly I'm, I'm not talking very much at all, maybe 20 or 30% of the time, those are really, on average, the highest quality conversations.

Richard Walker 15:26

Yeah, for sure. So I asked you about first customer, what has been one of your favorite customer success stories? And really, what I want to understand is, how did you help them win? What was their outcome? How are they transformed by what you and maybe your team did for them?

Chris Wallner 15:42

Yeah, favorite customer success story is with a managed service provider in the IT space, and where the company had a was going through a transfer of leadership, the CEO, was passing leadership in the company to his son as president, and the company had sort of shifted their focus to from, we're there for you, the customer to these are all the things that we do. And isn't that great, this is all the technology, we're really good at it, and, you know, come to us. And so in my interviewing of customers, their perspective was that, yeah, those that's the technology capability, that's all table stakes. I mean, we would expect that from really anybody, any company in the space, maybe some are a little bit better, some are not as good. But the important thing that really differentiated this company, was the fact that when technology didn't work, that this company was always there. I mean, it always, this company, really in the end, would stand up and figure out work with a company when some system went down. And that was the value the overarching value for the company that really was how the company was started. And the with the marketing did based on those insights from customers, is we went from a description of features in our marketing to really going to the feelings of, hey, we stand behind you were there, if things should go sideways, we're there. And actually, the overall positioning is we have your back, when things go sideways, we have your back, that really connect with consumers that are the customers of the company. And that's really the thing that they value the most. And today they're using that as their, their, their kind of lead into all of their marketing. And it really, for the founder, who has had this company for 3040 years, he kind of brought things back to how it was originally established, which is we're there for our customers. And the aha was that the customers almost universally, agree that that was what was most important to them, the features and benefits of the technology. Yeah, sure that that was important. But that didn't differentiate the company was the fact that when things go sideways, this company was there to support them.

Richard Walker 18:17

And I love that you probably reinvigorated that leader too, because it got back to the roots of why they started their business.

Chris Wallner 18:23

Absolutely. I mean, that was hugely gratifying to actually to both leaders for the son to have kind of this level of, of confidence that that was what really mattered to customers that got the company in the door to have a conversation about the technology at a whole different level. And for the founder of the company. It was, yeah, that really is that was behind the original growth of the company. And now as the company moves to the sun, that'll continue to grow propel the company on the next sort of phase of their growth.

Richard Walker 18:58

So I want to ask a question that's kind of percolating in my head around this. And the question is, what does it take to be customer-centric, but I'm also hearing you talk about this, like listening to your customers one of the keys, but now you're telling a story about a company that was doing the work for the company, or their customers, but they weren't articulating it. So what does it mean and how does a leader become more customer-centric with their own company?

Chris Wallner 19:23

It's being able to be open to something that you may have been theorizing being the right thing for a long time being open to a different perspective, being open to what your customers are trying to tell you. And listening for. What in fact, is important to them? Is hard when you sort of and you see this happen a lot with companies where they are, they talk to their sales force, and they hear you know, they're telling their sales force what's important what's important this Salesforce is telling their customers what's important. And then you're asking your Salesforce to tell you what's important. And you're hearing the same thing. And it kind of is this closed loop, we need to open up the loop to include genuine, candid, frank feedback from the customer. And that actually helps, I mean, being able to be open to this feedback and actually have a conversation about it in a very kind of honest way. And, and sometimes it takes an outsider to kind of help kind of move that does to us, that's critical. When companies have this sort of closed feedback loop. They get into trouble because the customer sort of gets lost in the conversation. And it happens over and over again, big companies and small companies, when you close the loop in your sort of self, you're getting the feedback that you know, is right. And it's just, it's not, you're not keeping pace with where your customers are, if the technology is changing fast, or there's some things like a pandemic that are happening, that's happening, things change, and you've got to stay connected to that, you've got to figure out, what are they trying to tell you, you've got to listen for these are opportunities for us to do something differently, and then you got to act on it. I mean, that's the other thing is that you can you've got to do more than just oh, yeah, I've heard that. I know that. It's like, well, what are you going to do about it, it may be as simple as changing your positioning and messaging in your marketing. But it also might be that it requires some changes to your product, like product setup, my bundle products in a different way, because they're used in a different way where you might break them apart. Because ala carte in a particular circumstance may make a lot of sense. It's not the end should be chasing all the edge cases. But if the if the customers segments that you're trying to pursue, if they're shifting and moving in a different direction, you want to be there before they move away from you and to a competitor who's figured it out better than you that you have.

Richard Walker 22:09

Yeah, yeah. And I want to validate something you said, because over the 21 years, we've been in business, we've had three separate outsiders, you being one of them, go talk to our customers, and help us understand what they perceive about us what they think about us. And one of the great things that came out of all three was that our customers were actually reflecting our core values, our company culture. So it was really nice to see that were consistent inside and outside with that culture. But something else came to mind what you were talking about. I think a lot of people think about the Steve Jobs kind of out of context, quote of the customer doesn't know what they want. I'm smarter than them. I'll show them what they want. They haven't embedded it in their own mind yet. Right. So my question to you is, you've worked with a lot of companies over the years, what percentage or is it most leaders are customer-centric? Or is it a minority that are cust