2010 – The Year of the Astutely Engaged Organization

By David Nour

The changing dynamics in buyer behavior will force many organizations to engage and influence their current and prospective customers very differently in the “new norm” of 2010 and beyond.  Marketing will have to focus much more proactively on one-to-one relationships (as advocated by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers of Peppers & Rogers Group in the early 90s – talk about being ahead of your time!) whether on the corporate website/blog, or a multitude of social networks.

The organizations of 2010 and beyond must become much more astute in how they identify and respond to the ever fluid market dynamics.  In short, they have to learn to engage and influence more and mass broadcast less, participate in communities, set up LinkedIn groups and Facebook fan pages, read blogs and respond to tweets, create conversations, and share photos – in short, Listen Louder! In many ways, social networks are changing the rules of influence and engagement.

Lead ranking, exponential value of listening (often an art) in a dialog vs. mass broadcasting, and quantifiable output in supporting the sales pipeline, will point to the marketing organization’s true efficiency and effectiveness.  This will be far more “hands-on” and at the edge of the business (read: a contact sport) than many marketers are comfortable being involved in (read: a spectator sport today).  Furthermore, marketing’s role must expand from the preliminary prospect perception and motivation, all the way through the buying lifecycle and post sale, customer experience.  We believe marketing has even a longer-term accountability in the retention and profitable mindshare and wallet share growth of a strong customer lifetime value (LTV).

Sales organizations must focus on a greater education across a wide audience, where the recommendations of a fellow user / participant far outweigh that of traditional advertising of the product or service value proposition.  The buyers are doing a great deal of their research prior to engaging a vendor.  If you’re not on their radar in the research phase, you certainly won’t be there in the decision process.  You’re now working in a Social CRM ecosystem where:

Advocacy / Evangelism leads to Lead Ranking which leads to Social Engagement which defines the Customer Experience!

In 2010 and beyond, organizations will suffer from this disruption in their broader markets and individual companies.  As my co-authors, David Ryback, PhD, and Jim Cathcart have captured in ConnectAbility (to be released December 2009 by McGraw-Hill), a range of emotions also are at work from prospects and customers alike, including fear, skepticism, frustration, doubt, distain and even elation.

In the process, traditional customer “no-service” must die.  In a TiVo / Twitter world, customer opinions of the value-add, perceptions of the competitive differentiation, consensus to buy or not buy, and overall experience to remain loyal is formed in an instant.  Brand loyalty itself is getting defined and re-defined daily and without the organization’s finger on the pulse of that real-time brand equity, the organization will struggle to remain relevant.

In a recent personal experience, I felt an enormous sense of frustration in making a web-based software application work with the latest Apple operating system.  Having used TweetDeck to share my frustration, and expressing interest in exploring alternative options, within minutes, this small software was proactively engaged to try to help.  They provided a tweet and a link to resolve the conflict and underlying dissatisfaction.  But they didn’t stop there.  They followed up with a phone call (did I mention that this is a FREE utility?!) and ensured that I was up and running again.  The scenario was unparalleled to anything I have experienced in the past.

Can you imagine anything remotely similar from say one of the airlines, auto or any of a number of other large, traditional companies?  At every opportunity to deliver an exceptional experience, on- or off-line, they tend to stumble upon themselves with what appears to be lack of accountability, caring, competence, or the understanding that in any business, the net new customer acquisition cost is substantially higher than the existing and satisfied customer retention cost.  Furthermore, satisfied customer experiences now share those experiences in real-time online, which can make marketing’s job that much easier or more difficult in reinforcing the brand value or trying to repair it!

Customers in 2010 certainly don’t want to be sold to.  They want to be engaged, be given options, and their decision to buy be reinforced by others who have experienced similar positive reinforcement, hence a consensus to minimize the risk.  They will want education much earlier in the buying process.  Astute organization of 2010 and beyond will more appropriately align the way they sell to the specific manner in which their clients buy, on- or off-line.

In 2010 and beyond, functional silos of marketing, sales, and customer service must evolve to evangelism and experience.  Personal and team-based accountability must rise to achieve the same results if they are in fact focused on achieving the same goals, strategies, tactics and objectives (GSOT).  The roles and realm of responsibilities must become more fluid and the level of expertise must go deeper and wider – not just in products or services, but in the intimate understanding of the customer requirements, buying preferences, and how to engage and influence them – often without authority.

To engage and influence what your customers are thinking, reading, doing; what do they find of interest and value and how you can identify, build and nurture a consistent and value-based relationship with them.  Not as a mass audience, but as individual consumers with unique requirements in the outcome of using your products and services, not simply the input of it.

So, how will you evolve in 2010 and beyond?  Here are three recommendations for your consideration:

1. Independently access your sales, marketing and customer service bench!
Are they appropriately aligned, empowered, trained with the right measurements and compensation in place to move their needle to care about the customer experience?

2. Reevaluate your perception of brand promise and brand equity – how well are you testing new market opportunities and tracking the results of every touch point, every interaction, every opportunity to engage current and prospective customers?

3. Do you have the right tools and internal support for one-to-one relationships?
It will certainly be more expensive, but in 2010, the table stakes are higher.  What are you willing to do that your competitors aren’t?  Will you take a leadership position in the social network landscape?  Will you lead the learn-dialog-spark-support-innovate and learn again evolution?

How will you remain relevant?

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