Sunday, June 30, 2019

Despite Challenges, Marketers Remain Committed to CX Technologies

In my last post, I discussed some of the findings from a recent study by The Harris Poll and RedPoint Global. Addressing The Gaps In Customer Experience was based on the results of two surveys. One involved 454 senior marketing and customer experience executives, and the second involved 3,002 adult consumers. The participants in both surveys resided in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom.

As the title of the research report suggests, the primary objective of this study was to identify where and how the perceptions of marketers and consumers about the quality of customer experiences differ. I discussed some of those findings in my earlier post.

This research also provides several interesting insights about how marketers view the technologies they use to deliver customer experiences. Somewhat surprisingly, the marketers in this study view technology as essential for providing great customer experiences and as a source of major challenges.

The Strategy-Execution Gap

First, it's important to put the findings about technology in the right context. Most of the marketers in this study were satisfied with their customer experience strategy, but not with its execution. More than half (57%) of the surveyed marketers said their company has the right customer experience strategy, but isn't able to execute it effectively. An even higher percentage (63%) said their company doesn't execute its customer experience strategy "very well."

When the survey participants were asked about the challenges associated with closing the strategy-execution gap, the top three challenges identified were:
  • The complexity of technology solutions (39% of respondents)
  • Lack of cross-functional commitment to strategy (35%)
  • The inability to integrate new capabilities with existing processes or technology (33%)
Satisfaction With Technology
On average, the marketers in the study said their company is currently using 10 customer engagement technology systems. About one in five of the survey respondents said their company is using more than 20 customer engagement systems.
The sheer number of technology systems is creating a challenge for marketers. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the marketers in this study said the number of customer engagement systems they are using makes it harder for them to provide a seamless customer experience.
Only about a third (more or less) of the surveyed marketers were very satisfied with their ability to leverage technology to achieve several key customer experience objectives, as the following table shows:

Despite the challenges associated with CX-related technologies, marketing leaders are committed to a technology-enabled future. More than nine in ten (91%) of the marketers in this study said that investing in marketing and CX technologies is a key initiative for their company.
Twenty-one percent of the surveyed marketers said they expect the number of customer engagement systems used by their company will increase over the next year, and even more (39%) think the number will increase over the next five years.
The Takeaway
These findings make the point that marketers and other CX professionals have more work to do to capture the full benefits of marketing and other customer engagement technologies. But these technologies are evolving rapidly, so it shouldn't be surprising that marketers and other CX professionals are still learning how to maximize their value. In my view, this is to be expected, and it's not a business-threatening problem unless the "proficiency gap" becomes too great.

Top image courtesy of Rabin Pamela via Flickr CC.

Related Articles:

Where Customer Experience Stands in 2019

Salesforce Study Identifies Major Marketing Trends

Both Market and Customer Expertise are Needed to Drive Growth

Decoding the Vital Attributes of Great Customer Experiences 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

New Research Highlights Personalization, Privacy, and Customer Experience Performance

Senior company leaders in virtually all types of businesses now recognize that providing great customer experiences is a critical source of competitive advantage and a primary driver of business performance. As a result, customer experience (CX) management has become a top strategic priority in many enterprises.

Given this interest, it shouldn't be surprising that CX has been the subject of numerous research studies over the past several years. One of the best studies I've seen recently was published earlier this year by The Harris Poll and RedPoint Global.

Addressing The Gaps In Customer Experience was based on two surveys that were fielded in early 2019. One was a survey of 454 senior marketing executives residing in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. This survey also included technology and customer experience executives, but I'll refer to the participants in this post as "marketers" or "marketing leaders."

All of the surveyed marketers were affiliated with companies having a minimum of $500 million in annual revenue. (Note:  The annual revenue minimum was $200 million for companies that derive more than 50% of their revenue from direct sales to end users.

The second survey involved 3,002 consumers (18+ years of age) residing in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. Figures for age, gender, education, region, and employment status were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportion in the population.

This type of study is particularly instructive and useful because it enables us to compare and contrast the perspectives of marketing leaders and consumers, and this is very valuable when the topic is customer experience. As the title of the research report suggests, these surveys found several significant gaps between marketers and consumers regarding customer experience performance.

The Performance Gap

The "headline" finding from this research was that marketers rate the quality of their customer experience capabilities significantly higher than consumers. Ninety-two percent of the marketers said their ability to provide an exceptional customer experience is excellent or good. But when the consumers were asked to think about the companies they interact with on a regular basis, only 80% rated these companies as excellent or good at providing great customer experiences.

The contrast is even greater if we look only at the "excellent" rating. Thirty-four percent of the marketing leaders gave themselves an excellent rating, but only 18% of consumers gave that highest rating.

This research used a "Customer Experience Index Score" to evaluate CX performance across four dimensions - privacy, personalization, customer understanding, and omnichannel/consistency. Not surprisingly, marketers gave themselves higher scores on all four dimensions than consumers.

Personalization and Privacy are Paramount

The findings of this study also provide compelling evidence that both personalization and privacy are of paramount importance when it comes to customer experience. In the consumer survey, 63% of the respondents said that personalization is now part of the standard service they expect, and over half (53%) said they expect a company to know their buying habits and preferences and be able to anticipate their needs.

Customer expectations for personalization have risen to the point that 37% of the consumers said they would stop doing business with a company that doesn't offer a personalized experience. And while 36% of the survey respondents said that companies are presenting them with more personalized offers and messages compared to a year ago, 73% said that companies are still struggling to meet their expectations for personalized experiences.

Consumers in this study also made it abundantly clear that privacy is a primary concern. In fact, they ranked privacy as the most important dimension of customer experience, and 41% of the survey respondents said they would absolutely stop doing business with a company that sells their data to other companies for marketing or advertising purposes without their permission.

The consumer survey also asked participants about the importance of four privacy-related actions that companies can take. The following table shows the percentages of respondents who rated each action as very important or absolutely essential:

The Harris Poll/RedPoint Global research also has several important things to say about the role of technology in providing great customer experiences. I'll discuss those findings in a future post.

Top image courtesy of citylovesyou_ffm via Flickr CC.

Related Articles:

Where Customer Experience Stands in 2019

Salesforce Study Identifies Major Marketing Trends

What Abraham Maslow Can Teach Us About Customer Experience

Sunday, June 16, 2019

With Personalization, Less Can Be More

There is no longer any doubt that marketers overwhelmingly believe in the value of personalization. Most marketing leaders now view personalization as essential to marketing success, and providing personalized messages and customer experiences has become a top priority in many companies.

Numerous research studies have confirmed that large majorities of marketers believe personalization improves marketing and business performance. For example, in the 2019 Trends in Personalization survey by Researchscape International, 70% of surveyed marketers said personalization has a strong or extremely strong impact on advancing customer relationships.

And in a 2018 survey of more than 600 business executives by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, more than half of the survey respondents said personalization is an important driver of their revenue and profits.

Recent research also shows, however, that marketers have more work to do to realize the full potential of personalization. In the Researchscape International survey, only 16% of survey respondents said they are very or extremely satisfied with the level of personalization in their marketing efforts. Fully half of the respondents said they are not satisfied or only slightly satisfied.

To maximize the impact and effectiveness of personalization, marketers need to use the right level of personalization for each customer interaction. Most marketing pundits and many marketing leaders seem to believe that the key to maximizing the benefits of personalized marketing is more personalization. According to this view, the right strategy is to leverage every bit of available data about customers and prospects to make personalization more specific, and to use personalization more frequently, in more channels, and for more types of communications and experiences.

But as I recently argued, the problem with the "more personalization" approach is that it largely ignores the real and growing privacy concerns of both consumers and business buyers. The real key to maximizing the effectiveness of personalization is to use an appropriate level of personalization for each interaction with a customer or prospect. And in some situations, the best strategy will be less, not more, personalization.

The Corporate Visions Research

Recent research by Corporate Visions provides compelling evidence that less can in fact be more when it comes to personalization. This study consisted of a live field trial that involved nearly 7,000 potential buyers in the Corporate Visions prospect database. All of the prospects in the trial met two criteria:

  • Each was a cold prospect - someone who had had no prior interaction with Corporate Visions
  • Each fit the Corporate Visions ideal client profile (industry vertical, company size, and job title).
The objective of this study was to test the effectiveness of four methods or levels of personalization:
  • Industry only
  • Company only
  • Industry + personal
  • Company + personal
For the trial, Corporate Visions used emails that had identical offers and calls-to-action, but different subject lines and openings based on the method of personalization used. (Note:  The research report includes examples of the emails.)
The trial used three metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of each level of personalization - open rates, click-through rates, and number of meetings scheduled. The following table summarizes the results of the field trial.

As the table shows, the emails that used company + personal personalization (the highest level of personalization) produced the highest open rates, while those using industry only personalization (the lowest level of personalization) produced the lowest open rates. But the positions were exactly reversed with click-through rates. The emails that used industry only personalization produced the highest click-through rates, while those using company + personal personalization produced the lowest. 
In terms of meetings, the emails that embodied either industry + personal or industry only personalization produced significantly more scheduled meetings than those using either company + personal or company only personalization.

So the results of this trial indicate that when reaching out to cold prospects, messages that embody less personalization actually produce better conversion rates than messages using higher levels of personalization.
Explaining the Differences
The Corporate Visions research did not attempt to explain why the different methods or levels of personalization produced different results. However, in the research report, Leslie Talbot, Corporate Visions' Vice President of Customer and Commercial Excellence, offered a possible explanation:
"Human beings are self-centered enough to respond readily to something that looks like it's personal to us. But when we discover the underlying gimmick - that is, someone plucked a random fact from our LinkedIn profile and used it to suck us in - the letdown factor is enough to preclude further action.
Similarly, when you try to ingratiate yourself to someone by referencing an issue specific to their company, they already know you don't work there - you've just read publicly available content . . .
On the other hand, if you offer an insight about a prospect's industry, you activate their voyeurism . . . So when you share a story about how a similar company struggled and solved a common industry concern, they're better able to project themselves into the story and eager to find out what happened next."
I believe that Ms. Talbot's speculation is fairly accurate. To be effective, personalization must be based on genuine insights. When you take personalization beyond such insights, it become inauthentic, and customers or prospects will tend to view it as presumptuous.

Top image courtesy of BobChao via Flickr CC.

Related Articles:

Two Ways to Make Personalization Welcomed

The Growing Personalization Conundrum for Marketers

Salesforce Study Identifies Major Marketing Trends

How Customers Really Feel About Personalization

New Insights on Personalization - Usage, Value, and Challenges

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Marketers Get Better At Strategic Content Management

Marketers have made noteworthy progress in managing content strategically, but still have work to do to match content with the right audience segments and customer expectations, and to fully leverage content management technologies.

That is the major theme of the third annual content management survey published recently by the Content Marketing Institute. The objective of this research was to assess how marketers are using technology to help create, manage, deliver, and scale marketing content, and how they are using content to better engage audiences across the customer journey.

The 2019 Content Management & Strategy Survey produced 250 usable surveys, so this was a relatively small study. For comparison purposes, the 2019 edition of CMI's annual content marketing survey produced 1,947 responses. Eighty-three percent of the respondents in the content management survey were affiliated with B2B or hybrid B2B/B2C companies, and 79% were with companies located in North America.

For this research, CMI provided survey participants with two important definitions:

  • Strategic approach to managing content - "an approach that involves setting up processes, people, and technology to better scale and deliver content with the intent to improve the overall customer experience."
  • Content management strategy - "a strategy that addresses issues such as how your organization plans, develops, organizes, distributes, manages, and governs content."
The Good
CMI found that marketers are making substantial progress in managing content strategically. Three-fourths (76%) of the respondents in the 2019 survey said their organization takes a strategic approach to managing content, and 59% said their company has a documented content management strategy. In the 2018 edition of the survey, only 43% of the respondents said their organization had a documented strategy "for managing content as a business asset."
CMI also found that many companies are now doing several of the basic things required to manage content effectively. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said they have an inventory of their content assets, and 66% said they have performed a content audit (an evaluation of their existing content). In addition, 56% of the respondents said they have performed a content gap analysis (an analysis of areas where additional content is needed), and 55% said they have conducted research to better understand their audience.
The CMI research also reveals that marketers are becoming more confident about the success of their content management efforts. The following table shows how respondents in the 2019 survey and the 2018 version of the survey rated their overall success at strategically managing content:

As the table shows, the percentage of respondents rating their efforts as extremely or very successful grew from 12% in 2018 to 26% in 2019, and the percentage saying they are moderately successful increased from 44% in 2018 to 54% in 2019.

More Work To Do
While the broad findings in CMI's 2019 study are generally positive, some specific findings are more mixed and show where companies have more work to do. For example, more than half of the survey respondents said they are extremely or very confident in their ability to select the right overall topic for a content asset and identify the key themes or messages to emphasize in a content asset.
At the same time, however, the top three challenges identified by survey respondents were determining which audience segments to prioritize (71% of respondents), knowing what is most important to their audience (61% of respondents), and knowing the goal of the audience at each stage of the customer journey (50% of respondents).
These somewhat inconsistent findings indicate that marketers need to conduct more research to gain a solid understanding of market and audience dynamics. As noted earlier, only 55% of the survey respondents said they have performed research to better understand their audience, and this finding underscores the need for more research.

Top Image Source:  Content Marketing Institute

Sunday, June 2, 2019

New Insights on Real-World ABM Strategies and Practices

SiriusDecisions recently published an e-book that describes some of the major findings from its 2019 State of Account-Based Marketing Study. The 2019 study involved 120 "ABM leaders" drawn from several industries. Forty-two percent of the study respondents had been running "full" ABM programs for more than a year, while 58% were still running pilot programs.

The SiriusDecisions study provides several useful insights about real-world ABM strategies and practices. I found three of the study findings to be particularly interesting, and here are the "headline" versions of those findings:

  • "Named-account ABM" was the most popular model of ABM used by participants in the 2019 study.
  • The average budget for ABM pilot programs was about $200,000 (excluding personnel costs), while the average budget for mature ABM programs was about $620.000.
  • Study participants identified executive briefings, in-person sales interactions, company-hosted events, and industry events as the most widely-used and effective delivery mechanisms for ABM content.
Let's look a little closer at these findings.
Varieties of ABM
SiriusDecisions recognizes three types of ABM:
  • Large-account ABM - "A very small number of large existing or targeted accounts"
  • Named-account ABM - "A moderate or larger number of defined existing or targeted accounts"
  • Industry/segment ABM - "A moderate or larger number of new or existing accounts in the same vertical or other specific segment"
The most popular variety of ABM used by participants in the 2019 study was named-account ABM (60% of participants). Fifty-six percent of the study participants said they are using industry/segment ABM, and 54% reported using large-account ABM.
These results closely resemble the findings of the 2018 ABM Benchmark Study by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance (the "ITSMA study"). ITSMA also recognizes three forms of ABM, and although the ITSMA model doesn't match up exactly with the SiriusDecisions framework, it is similar.
In the ITSMA study, 60% of the participants reported using one-to-few ABM, which is similar to named-account and industry/segment ABM in the SiriusDecisions framework. Fifty-six percent of the participants said they were using one-to-one ABM, which is virtually identical to large-account ABM in the SiriusDecisions model.
The SiriusDecisions e-book states that many companies are using more than one type of ABM, and the ITSMA study confirms that many businesses are using a blended ABM strategy. Forty-six percent of the participants in the ITSMA study reported using more than one variety of ABM.
Successful ABM Requires a Significant Investment
Both the SiriusDecisions study and the ITSMA study found that successful ABM programs require a substantial financial commitment. As noted earlier, the SiriusDecisions study found that the average annual budget for mature ABM programs is about $620,000.
The ITSMA study reported similar levels of financial investment, although it used a somewhat different approach.
  • One-to-one ABM - The median number of accounts in the program was 14, and the average spend per account was $36,000, which results in a total average program investment of $504,000.
  • One-to-few ABM - The median number of accounts in the program was 80 (4 clusters of 20), and the average spend per account as $2,750 ($55,000 per cluster), which results in a total average program investment of $220,000.
It's important to keep in mind that these budgetary numbers are averages. As SiriusDecisions wrote in the e-book, "ABM budgets vary widely depending on organization size, from small organizations running ABM pilots on less than $100,000 . . . to multibillion-dollar enterprises with ABM budgets up to several million dollars."
The Human Touch Matters in ABM
One of the most interesting findings in the SiriusDecisions study relates to the importance of the human touch in successful ABM. SiriusDecisions asked study participants what types of content they are using with ABM accounts, how that content is delivered, and how effective each type of content and each method of delivery is.
Study respondents identified four content delivery mechanisms that are above average in both usage and effectiveness. All four of these mechanisms - executive briefings, in-person sales interactions, company-hosted events, and industry events - are human-based mechanisms.
This finding shouldn't be surprising. Despite all of the advances in communication technologies, human-to-human interactions still provide the best way to achieve rich communication and understanding. At its core, ABM is a marketing strategy that focuses primarily on a relatively small number of high-value customers and prospects. So it's understandable that ABM leaders rely on human-to-human interactions and believe they are highly effective.

Image courtesy of Missy Schmidt via Flickr CC.