Several recent Forrester reports home in on what we call “The Age Of The Customer” in which firms must seek to become customer-obsessed to build differentiation and loyalty. Those firms that embrace this will ramp up investment in four priority areas: 1) real-time customer intelligence; 2) customer experience and customer service; 3) sales channels that deliver customer intelligence; and 4) useful content and interactive marketing. All these needs are technology-infused – wholly dependent on technology and in categories where technology is evolving rapidly. Underlying these investments is the need to master the flow of data about customers: capturing/collecting data about them, analyzing it, distributing to those points of engagement, and, finally, integrating the insights into the customer experience.
Companies can’t succeed at doing this without a close partnership between the business areas leading the charge and IT. The rate of change of your customers, markets, business opportunities, and technology is simply too fast. Forrester is exploring this theme in our first CIO/CMO joint forum.
The reality, though, is companies flounder at this marketing-IT partnership. They flounder because of:
More ideas than capacity. A plethora of desired initiatives are constantly being surfaced – beyond the limits of available budget and with no mechanism to sort them into an achievable plan that IT can deliver on.
Consider the following scenario: It’s a hot summer day and a prospective customer walks into your store to buy an air conditioner. He evaluates several models and then buys one — but not from you. It turns out your competitor located two miles away is offering the same model at a 20% discount. How did he know this? He scanned the product's bar code using the RedLaser app on his iPhone, which displayed several local retailers with lower prices than yours. If he had been willing to wait three days for shipping, he could have purchased the exact same model while standing in your store from an online retailer at a 30% discount.
This type of technology-fueled disruption is affecting all industries, not just retailers. Since the early 1900s, businesses relied on competitive barriers such as manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery. But this is all changing in the age of the customer, where empowered buyers have information at their fingertips to check a price, read a product review, or ask for advice from a friend right from the screen of their smartphone.
To compete in the age of the customer, your business must become customer-obsessed. As Forrester’s Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff), SVP of Idea Development and author of Groundswelland Empowered, advocates in his latest research: “The only source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption — an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.”
With the increasing richness and complexity that digital channels and social media bring to the marketing equation, senior marketers increasingly realize that, to be relevant in shaping their brands’ interaction with customers, their teams need to embrace new technologies with the help of the IT group.
In my latest joint research effort with my fellow analyst Nigel Fenwick from Forrester’s CIO role, I explore how marketing and IT can successfully work together in enabling organizations to master the customer data flow.
Our early findings were not very promising . . . What clearly emerged from our interviews with CMOs and CIOs was how deeply ingrained the stereotypes about the two teams are. We heard that:
IT is the department of “no” and does not care about customers or what’s happening in the market.
Marketing is having all of the fun and spending money without rhyme or reason.
In today’s fast-paced global economy, examples of how empowered customers and citizens use social technology to influence everything from brands to governments are all around us. The Arab Spring clearly shows the ability of technology to empower people. In this new digital age, marketing teams must react at the speed of the market: Product development life cycles that used to last many years are compressed into months or weeks; customer service expectations have moved from same-day response to instant response; public relations snafus must be handled in minutes rather than days; marketing campaigns are adjusted in real time based on instant feedback from social media. In this new era, mastering customer data becomes the key to success and, in my opinion, represents the biggest opportunity for IT to impact business results since the dawn of the Internet.
I realize I'm posting two rants in a row here (my last one was on marketing being a dirty word), but this is important! I just read in the WSJ that it's time more CIOs report to the top... my initial reaction was "oh come on, really, are we still on with this old chestnut?" -- the thing is, I couldn't agree more. But here's what gets me -- we were saying this in the '80s. The hope back then was that, as more CEOs stepped up who had grown up with technology, things would change and more CIOs would report into the CEO. Clearly this was pie-in-the-sky optimism ... so what went wrong?
Traditional wisdom (aka analysts) suggests that it's up to the CIO to "earn" a seat at the table by demonstrating leadership, delivering business value from IT, and lots of other hoops to jump through. While my colleagues and I work diligently on research to help CIOs achieve this, I can't help feeling there is an alternative perspective we are missing, and that's what drove me to write this blog post.
I'm going to date myself here, but in the early 90's when I was working in IT, I created a new role: "IT Marketing and Services." In defining the role, I was quite deliberate about my choice of words -- especially in the use of "marketing." This role was responsible for all customer-facing aspects of IT -- that included IT business relationship managers (yes we had them back in the early 90's), help desk, training, communications (of the PR kind), demand management and planning. I chose the word "marketing" deliberately to reflect the fact that this was a customer-facing responsibility (both internal IT customers and end-customers of the business from a technology perspective).
Twenty years on, and the number of IT professionals who really understand marketing and recognize the importance of marketing as a key component of IT operating strategy has, if anything, declined. Why?
Often when I ask CIOs today about the role of marketing in IT they are overcome with concern about using the term "marketing" in the context of IT. They believe people across the organization will think there is no role for marketing in IT, and that having anyone with a "marketing" title will suggest IT has too much money. Why does this fundamental misunderstanding of marketing perpetuate throughout organizations? So many otherwise knowledgeable executives think marketing is simply advertising or worse "spin." Do "marketing" job titles in IT really suggest that CIOs are trying to "sell" IT to the rest of the business? I wonder if this is a problem for IT or if it is an issue created by the perception of others outside of IT.
Social technology is coming into every organization whether IT wants it or not. The adoption of social technologies to support business and customer needs has been fastest outside of IT — often with IT playing catch-up and struggling to provide value. CIOs are at a crossroads where they can either choose to lead IT toward social business maturity or sit back and watch as the rest of the organization pushes ahead, leaving IT in social business obscurity. The choice is easy, but the execution is difficult. A new report — Social Business Strategy: An IT Execution Plan — suggests CIOs should assess the organization’s current social maturity and implement a plan that positions IT to successfully support a social business strategy.
Organizations are broadly categorized as social laggards, internally mature, externally mature or enterprise mature. The approach recommended for CIOs differs based on the maturity level. For example, CIOs in organizations with strong internal maturity should focus on developing a partnership with marketing in order to extend the use of social strategy out to customers and business partners.
While very few organizations are already at the enterprise maturity level, CIOs in these organizations can take an active role in developing social business strategy by supporting the creation of a social business council and dedicating staff to support social strategy.
Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a number of IT vendors such as HCL, Fujitsu, Oracle, and Dell. This has been some time coming, but over the next few weeks I am taking the opportunity to summarize the overall perceptions I have received from these vendors when evaluating them from a CIO perspective - i.e. as a potential partner for your IT organization and your business. Today I'll tackle HCL, and will move onto the other vendors throughout January. The goal of these blog posts is to give an overall perception of the vendors - something that we don't particularly capture so well in a Wave or vendor analysis where we are focusing on one particular capability of a large vendor. I am trying to capture the "culture" or "style" of the vendor, as this is something that is hard to include in a Forrester Wave, but it IS something that makes a significant difference to the partnership in the longer term.
HCL. A company that is comfortable in its own skin.
That is the way I would summarize HCL. They are a company that know where they have come from and know where they are now, and have a pretty good idea that in five years time they will be nothing like they were or are. They don't know what that future is, but they know they have to put the capabilities in place to ensure the organization can effectively morph into that future form in order to achieve longer term success. Employees First, Customers Second is the first step on this pathway, but it is only that. It will not shape the company that HCL is tomorrow, but it will probably provide the groundwork and internal culture to allow the smoother change.
What will business and technology be like in 2020 – and what’s IT’s place in this new world? This is the subject of a teleconference that James Staten and I held for our clients yesterday and also the subject of an upcoming Forrester report.
In this teleconference, we painted a picture of the impact of business-ready, self-service technology, a tech-savvy and self-sufficient workforce, and a business world in which today’s emerging economies dwarf the established ones, bringing a billion new consumers with a radically different view of products and services, as well as in which surging resource costs – especially energy costs – crush today’s global business models.
In the past, when new waves of technology swept into our businesses – everything from the 1980s’ PCs to today’s empowered technologies – the reaction was the swinging pendulum of “decentralized/embedded IT” followed by “centralized/industrialized IT.” These tired old reactions won’t work in the world 2020. Instead, businesses must move to a model we call Empowered BT.
Empowered BT empowers business to pursue opportunities at the edge and the grassroots – but to balance this empowerment with enterprise concerns. Key to this balance is the interplay between four new “meta roles” – visionaries, consultants, integrators, and sustainability experts – combined with a new operating model based on guidelines, mentoring, and inspection. Also key is IT changing from a mindset in which it needs to control technology to one in which it embraces business ownership of technology decisions.
The teleconference chat window was busy as James and I presented our research. Here are the questions we weren’t able to answer due to time.
Microsoft began opening its own retail stores in 2009 and recently began a push into more US cities. A recent post by George Anderson on Forbes.com about Microsoft's new store format prompted me into some late-night analysis. It appears Microsoft's store format strategy is to ride in the draft of Apple by building larger-format stores very near, if not adjacent to, Apple's own stores. As a retail analyst and both an Apple and Microsoft customer for over 25 years, I feel compelled to weigh Microsoft's retail strategy against Apple's (and since I cover retail strategy from a CIO perspective, it feels appropriate to publish here).
Comparing eight success factors
Location: I'll start here, as it was the subject of the original post. Across from Apple may be the only sensible choice for MS, but the challenge MS has is that Apple is a destination store, i.e. people plan to go there for the experience. This makes it less likely they will decide to browse the MS store because it is close. On the other hand, assuming MS does some promotions to attract traffic to its stores, they are likely to also drive additional traffic to Apple. Predicted winner = Apple.
Store architecture: Size isn't everything! Sure Microsoft can copy Apple and go for outstanding store designs and even build them bigger, but Apple architecture is designed to reinforce a consistent brand image: minimalist, clean lines, designer. Microsoft's designs can reinforce many things about its brand, but it's hard to see the consistency in a way that's possible with Apple. Predicted winner = Apple.