Middle-Market Digital Customer Experience: Strategy, Skills and Transformation– April 20, 2018 by Jim Boland

It’s no secret we’re living amongst a digital revolution, especially when it comes to customer relationships and interaction. Customer experience is a top priority for most executives, as it aligns with revenue growth. Customers, whether individuals or businesses, expect service and product offerings to be customized to them. They’re less loyal than ever when provided a less-than-desired service level, and gone are the days (or nearly so) where seeing value in a product or service makes price irrelevant.
Digital has redefined traditional revenue growth and customer experience.
For example, according to the National Center for the Middle Market, 54% of middle-market spending towards digital investments goes towards revenue-driving or customer-facing activities:  sales, customer interaction, business analytics, innovation or demand generation.
While some fully embrace “going digital,” it’s often more difficult for small and mid-market enterprises to make meaningful strides in the journey with the constraint of resources, time and budget. Most of these companies would still consider themselves early on the maturity curve of the journey of digital transformation. More than 75% feel the pace of digitization is slow or moderate at best, according to the National Center for the Middle Market report. However, it’s critical that business leaders of small and mid-market enterprises consider what’s necessary to remain competitive with a sense of urgency.

Convincing Your Organization Digital is Here to Stay

This starts with strategy, endorsement and a radical increase in collaboration at the top. The CEO and CIO are the top two individuals leading digital transformations in organizations; they should be acting as change champions that reinforce the ‘why’ and help communicate the ‘what’ to get there. The largest obstacles executives face during this transition are the organizational change efforts that come along with transforming.
Use Facts to Build Your Strategy

  • Rising Budgets: According to Gartner’s 2017 CMO Spend Report, investments in digital are occurring and marketing budgets are on the rise.
    • Marketing budgets are rising to an average of 12% of revenue
    • The technology portion of marketing’s budget now averages 3.2% of revenue
  • Digital Capabilities Are Important to B2B: Digital commerce has exploded just as much in B2B as it has in B2C.
    • 42% of middle-market enterprises anticipate increasing/significantly increasing digitization spending on business analytics and strategy development, according to The National Center for the Middle Market
  • Social Engagement Matters: Social media is used as a modern customer service enabler; use it as a feedback tool to get data on the sentiment of your products or services.
    • The omnichannel reach enables greater possibilities for any reach in history
    • The 2017 ZenDesk MultiChannel Customer Care Report stated that compared to 2013, at which time 50% of customers expected a response within two hours, 72% of customers now expect a response within two hours of engaging on a social media channel

Identify Influencers Who Execute

It’s one thing to illustrate a power of influence; it’s another to be a positive influencer who can execute. Look for individuals who:

  • Are in executive leadership and mid-management, who understand and support the strategy;
  • Speak out about why new capabilities, training and/or tools are ‘musts’ to transform customer experience and company operating models, and
  • Reinforce desired behaviors with employees and are most impactful when it comes to executing change.

Bridging the Skills Gaps

The next challenge confronting leaders on their journey to increasing customer experience with digital includes building the right skills.
Many executives are concerned that even if they have the attitude for change, they don’t have the right talent to get there. The Digital Marketing Institute reports that 69% of U.S. marketers believe they need improved skills to remain competent in their roles.
Here are a few capabilities to consider as musts in not only your marketing teams, but for all of your people contributing to customer experience this year:

  •  Agility. Welcome the idea of market and customer change along with others’ ideas on how to respond to it. Respond, plan and release quickly.  
  • Analytical. Strongly encourage training and development around working with data and analytics. The stronger the analytical skills, the quicker insights can be gained around customer journeys. 

  • Transparency. Be bold in sharing information with your customers. Encourage an open culture that promotes quick retrospectives when things don’t go as planned; gone are the days of closed-door cultures and ‘lessons learned’ at the end of a planning year. 

  • Collaboration. Recruit people willing to cross organizational boundaries. Abandon the constraints of traditional reporting structures and embrace working teams. Create a new cultural norm if you have to. Reach your customers in new ways, on social platforms or by nurturing them in a targeted way.

What Comprises a Digital Infrastructure Geared Towards Customer Experience?

Today’s technology decision makers find themselves choosing a best-of-breed selection to implement what makes sense for their organization(s). Technology budgets are also increasing as a percentage of revenue. A healthy technology spend represents about four to seven percent of revenue for small- to medium-sized businesses, while small businesses typically spend closer to seven. The National Center for Middle Market report shows that fast-growing companies (greater than 10 percent annual growth) achieve the best returns on digital investments. There’s a reason for that. They pair an endorsed digital strategy with the right solutions and talent to optimize customer experiences.
To make things a little more tactical, the most successful customer experience-focused infrastructures include the following elements to drive revenue growth:

  • Enterprise Insights: Microsoft® PowerBI, Tableau®, & Qlik® are the world’s leaders in this year’s Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence

  • Content Management and Web Analytics: Drupal, Wordpress, Sharepoint® along with a platform like Google Analytics® and AdWords®

  • Customer Relationship Management: Salesforce®, HubSpot©, Dynamics are generally preferred by small to mid-market companies

  • Productivity and Social: Microsoft® Office 365 with Sharepoint, Buffer®, etc. for social engagement and customer feedback loops or reviews

  • Sales Planning: Salesforce®, Anaplan®, Upclear® and others facilitate a way to streamline sales forecasting for larger sales teams

  • Marketing Automation: Zendesk®, ConstantContact® are top choices for increasing lead engagement and automating marketing functions

  • Order Management: Typically an element of your ERP solution, where workflow automation and automated invoicing should come into play. 

In addition, depending on your industry, you may consider sales quoting and/or trade promotion management/ optimization tools equally as important to creating value.
Pairing a sponsored digital strategy with initiatives that deepen customer experience by investing in people and solutions is key to making progress on your digital transformation journey this year.
Learn more about making a sales and marketing transformation for your organization.
Please contact a member of your service team or contact Jim Boland at jboland@cohenconsulting.com for further discussion.

Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Information contained in this post is considered accurate as of the date of publishing. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts, circumstances and current law.