This is the second in our series of blogs focused on the era of the collaborative enterprise that businesses are stepping into.

The eras of the productive employee and productive enterprise were inherently both very inward looking. This made sense given that:

  • the technology required for external collaborative engagement with consumers had either not been invented or was in its infancy
  • there was clear line of sight ROI that could be driven by attacking the lowest hanging fruit first – i.e. improving average employee efficiency, and overall organizational efficiency

In 2016 the ability to interact directly with consumers is greater than it has ever been, and it’s no longer enough to simply improve profit margins by driving internal efficiencies. In this post we will look at the emergence of omni-channel and how it has impacted the ways in a which a company can interact with the consumers of its products and services. In the next post on this topic we will examine the larger macro-trends that are driving the shift towards focusing on top-line growth.

Improved ability to interact with external constituents:

Interaction with consumers usually occurs in the context of three business functions – marketing, sales and customer service. The most obvious change that has occurred since the dawn of the Internet is the increase in the number of communication and collaboration channels available for each of these business functions. Lets take a look at marketing, sales, and customer service respectively, and see the impact of “omni-channel” communication and collaboration on each of these functions.

Marketing: Until very recently marketing was largely analog and outbound. Even the term inbound marketing was not coined until 2005. Fast forward to 2016 and marketing’s focus is almost entirely digital, and increasingly inbound. Below is a snapshot of how marketing channels have evolved and continue to evolve.

Marketing Channels v01 MA 6Jan2015The technologies that were required to supercharge inbound digital marketing – SEO, blogs, and social media platforms – came into their own in the 2000’s. Beyond providing marketing an outlet to build brand awareness and loyalty, blogs and social media have combined to enable collaboration between brands and consumers, ultimately giving consumers a much more immediate and larger say in shaping a business’ products and services. In parallel, outbound marketing technology is also improving significantly. Outbound marketing efforts are moving past simple demographic targeting to hyper-targeting consumers based on their personal preferences and geo-location.

Sales:  Even though e-commerce sales average less than 10% of total US retail sales, the direction of the trend is unmistakable. As seen from the table below, the sales channels available to companies have increased significantly, and will continue to increase.

Sales Channels v01 MA 6Jan2015With the increased adoption of mobile and social commerce the trend in favor or digital commerce will continue to garner pace. Additionally, the technology available to traditional sales channels, such as door-to-door salesman and in-store sales representatives, is improving leaps and bounds. As we look into the future, with the emergence of big data, wearable technology, augmented reality, and the Internet-of-things (IoT) the line between online and offline sales will begin to merge, and truly become omni-channel. It’s only a matter of time before who you are is determined the minute you walk into a store, your general purchase preferences are almost instantaneously established, and your entire sales experience is customized.

Customer Service: It wasn’t very long ago that customer service was primarily inbound, primarily agent-assisted, and primarily voice. With the emergence of the web some of this started to change – support become primarily self-directed, and became much more text and multi-media driven. Below is a snapshot of the evolution of customer service channels:

Customer Service Channels v01 MA 6Jan2015In customer support, perhaps more than even in marketing and sales, we see a third even more revolutionary change in the works. This change is being triggered by the emergence of big-data technologies and the IoT. It won’t be long before a problem with your smart Whirlpool appliance is detected and fixed by Whirlpool before symptoms begin to manifest. This will make customer service entirely transparent and seamless, in other words a marketers dream.In this new world customer service will be primarily outbound, and increasingly automated. I call this IoT enabled-CX, the basic principles of which are explained well in this HBR article.

All in all the omni-channel world that we are now in opens up the door to consumer engagement and revenue enablement in ever increasing and innovative ways.