Data. Knowledge. Power. Yours? Mine? Ours!

online surpriseThanks to a rich online experience, buyers indeed have greater purchase influence these days, but where does the true power reside?  It’s shared, really.

Marketers have made much of this “empowered customer” phenomenon.  Online, you can research and get close to a buying decision – right down to vendor, product, price and feature selection – before the seller even becomes aware of your existence.

Salesreps, just a scant decade ago, guided purchases with probing inquiries about interest, budget and other decision factors.  About 2/3 of buying and selling decisions today are salesrep-facilitated, but a full 1/3 of buying and selling is of the buyer-driven, “salesrep-lite” variety.  We can expect to see considerable rebalancing from time to time, thanks to (a) recent advances in mobile digital profiling ; (b) a coming wave of marketing technology mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, and (c) a currently proposed standard for profile data interchange currently before the Worldwide Web Consortium – the W3C.

Profiling – It Really Is All About You

dog sufing webToday on the internet, so the updated joke goes, if you’re a dog everyone knows it – as well as your breed, age, gender and preferred kibble brand. Today, your online behavior – actions such as clicking “Like” buttons on Facebook pages you visit, for instance – helps marketers (interpretive algorithms, really) make inferences about your identity including gender, age, political and social tendencies, then use that info to tailor your online experience so you see ads and content that cater to your digitally harvested “buyer persona”.  That preferences profile of you is continually enriched and refreshed based on your online and mobile behavior patterns.

Stated differently, “free” isn’t really “free”. It never really was. When you surf the web, you reveal (“lend”) bits of your identity to savvy marketers who trace your online behavior patterns to compile that rich profile of you that can be then used to tailor your online experience in such a way that your satisfaction from the online experience is improved and, of course, increases the likelihood you will buy from them.

Emerging Standards

Recently, a consortium of retail and insurance companies including Adobe, Google and BestBuy have proposed to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) a set of standards for commerce data interchange that would make it easier for us all to do business online.   Merchants, health care providers, finance firms, and consumers all stand to gain from this.

Who Goes There?

mobile surpriseAs long as you consent and your privacy is protected, all is well.  Increasingly we have come to trust certain online identity repositories curated by the likes of Google Wallet,  Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.  In the broader commerce world, however, small and midsized organizations have not built, bought or hired the depth of technical ability to make sense of all that data, let alone apply it to their business or curate it responsibly.  The above-mentioned W3C Web data acquisition standard could really democratize things.

Leveling the commerce field

Larger organizations may seem more capable, but that isn’t always the case; they typically are running legacy apps (archaic programming and hardware) whose code is tough to maintain, let alone modify to take advantage of the proposed newer standards.  Fortunately, companies like AppDirectApigee and Nexaweb Technologies –  experts at modernizing all those legacy apps for large financial, trading, shipping and consumer facing companies – are hard at work on the challenge.  (Disclosure: I own a smidgin of stock in Nexaweb).

We buyers can tell who is “with it” and who isn’t, based on whether the ads that get served to us, or our repeat visits to favorite sites,  are tailored based on our browsing behavior or our location.  For example, I recently visited a jewelry website, after which my visits to other websites, including Google Search, became peppered with jewelry, wedding and dating ads.  With the recent accelerating consolidation among solution providers in the marketing automation, sales CRM, email marketing and web analytics space, those web commerce architecture elements are becoming knit more tightly.  Expect the next few years to bring an expansion of already existing analytics, buyer profiling and content tailoring solutions, more broadly affordable to midmarket and smaller enterprises with whom you regularly do business.

Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

If you consider the ability to track user behavior narrowly through the buyer / seller lens, Consider the implications.  Will buyers’ online preference profiles tailor each netizen’s digital experience so greatly that the reinforcing effect of a profile-driven, tailored on-the-fly web experience merely helps bring relevant online information conveniently into sharper focus, to your benefit?  Or, could the online experience become so digitally mutated by profile-driven content tailoring that its “echo chamber” effect distorts your online experience in ways that prevent you from viewing alternative information to consider broader options and render well-informed decisions?  Will the rich have a different web experience than the not-so-rich, based on their profiles, harvested data, and access to speed?  In other words, how much is too much?

If you broaden your focus beyond commerce and consider the ability to track population behavior to detect and help resolve anything from traffic congestion (like, say, Waze) to disease spread, then the benefits become more clear.

Shut it down if you want to

Do you know how to “shut down” your behavioral profile and surf the Web anonymously to obtain a more random, unfiltered experience? It’s possible, you know, without a lot of geekery. Tools abound, such as Google’s InPrivate Browsing feature and other tools that let you assume a random IP address (Google that boldface phrase to see some options) when surfing.  Your mobile experience can also be made private if you know how to turn off geo-location, but you’re still registered on a network when your phone is on.

This delicate balance of individual privacy, public disclosure, information gathering and sharing between big firms, security agencies and other firms is now being played out in the world headlines.  The NSA and other entities regularly approach Google, Facebook and Microsoft, as well as telecommunications companies, to obtain customer activity  information for the purposes of national security and law enforcement.

Our Best Behavior

If we marketers hew to the goal of providing a more useful, satisfying experience to you while keeping your privacy sacrosanct, that’s all to the good.  As tools become more broadly available and powerful to enable deep customer profiling and tailored online experience, you may come to expect a more gratifying relationship with your favorite brands.  After all, consumers already have heightened expectations.  They don’t want every interaction with the same business to feel like the first date.

How do you feel about the coming boom in digital profiling and data exchange?  Comments welcome here.

Other Resources

Death of the Active Check-in (David Peterson, CEO, Sense Networks blog)

How Sales and Marketing Leaders Plan

The Chief Revenue Officer is constantly stretched in multiple directions.  How do we keep it all straight?

Sales leaders wrangle with team leadership, forecasting, partnerships, customer care, implementation strategy, etc.  Marketing leaders need to manage Brand, research, communications, media, communities, etc.  Both roles require technology and processes to support measurement, reporting, analysis and tactical adjustments to keep progress on track.

Complicating matters further, the Sales and Marketing roles have numerous touchpoints and overlapping responsibility which, managed well, provide a real “power couple” opportunity.  How do you map that and keep it productive?

After some years in the role, I came upon a planning tool a few years ago, shared it with a few colleagues, and we evolved it to its present state.  It continues to evolve based on input from users.

Here is a screen shot of the planning guide’s clickable map cover (sorry, click-map only works in downloaded .pdf and .ppt versions).  Visit our Resources page to freely download the complete Sales & Marketing Development Plan for the CRO.

Item #6 at our Resources page - free
Item #6 at our Resources page – free

The tool is three “layers” deep and 33 slides long, with each detail slide covering a major strategic or operational topic.  You can freely preview it ( item #5) at this site’s Resources page .  There is also a download link where you can request a copy of the native file for your own adaptation and use.   See below for details and user tips.

Topics Covered

Sales Strategy – covers distribution models, pricing, direct and partner channel management, pipeline management and sales management.

Strategic Marketing – covers mission and branding, market segmentation, customer profiling, competitive analysis and value proposition development.

Integrated Marketing – covers lead generation, CRM, content marketing, audience / community management, web properties, media and PR.

Customer Engagement deals with product / service satisfaction, account development, customer asset management, etc.

User Tips

For best results, use the Resources page’s “get the file” link to request the MS PowerPoint slide deck.  Of course you can click the Preview link and view it immediately as a Google doc online, but you’ll only get the linear version – slide by slide, front to back.  It is best viewed in Slide Show mode as a clickable map, with all links activated, so you can jump quickly to any topic you desire.  Alas, those links are de-activated in the Googledocs version.

Another benefit of having the .ppt file is that you can then modify it to suit your individual needs, inserting sub-pages under each topic where you can detail your own planning progress.

As with all Resources page downloads, I welcome your feedback and suggestions.



Ask away! (query page link)

Buying and Selling 2.0: the High Performance Model

Rapid technology advancements have benefited buyers and sellers alike.  Buyer-accessible information and buyer-controlled technology help buyers research, evaluate, discuss, recommend, check references, review pricing, and even negotiate purchases.  Sellers, meanwhile, have access to new tools and information that help them to engage their communities, nurture buyers, identify high potential prospects and guide the sale, while keeping the broader community appropriately engaged.

The biggest challenge for buyers and sellers now is filtering and managing all that information.  Buyers have more reference material, and sellers have more data to aggregate and analyze from a broader array of touchpoints.  Which inquiries are ultimately worthwhile?  How can you nurture them all over time to identify worthwhile prospects, nurture the buyer community, maximize your success, and avoid costly mistakes?

A complicating factor is organizational transparency.  Buyers demand it, and can now interact with Marketing and Sales at will, often vacillating between the two, making it difficult to determine who “owns” the relationship at any given point in time.  As a result, Sales and Marketing must collaborate like never before and jointly own the relationship – integrating their efforts, sharing data on a common technology platform, and tightly managing roles, responses and responsibilities – to help manage the discontinuous, often backtracking buyer relationship.  If done poorly, the Sales Funnel sprouts “leaks” which often manifest later as lost sales, customer dissatisfaction, damaged reputations and inter-departmental friction.  Done well, the sales funnel becomes better managed, and the process of qualifying sales leads, concentrating on high potential buyers and nurturing the broader community is enhanced.

All of this is only possible with an integrated technology platform and an aligned organization.  The sheer volume and complexity of buyer activity is too great and too nuanced to manage otherwise, and the impact on the buyer and the seller is too important to neglect.

In sum, both buyers and sellers have heightened expectations these days.  Buyers gravitate to sellers who provide consistent, reliable treatment with every contact.  Selling organizations require tighter integration of sales and marketing functions to effectively provide that consistent treatment, guide each buyer’s journey, and nurture the community at large.  With the strategic guidance and alignment of roles and resources, the marketing and sales organization can collaboratively make significant gains in performance and measurably improve overall results.  When the sales team spends more time in high potential sales meetings and less time prospecting, you know you have successfully tuned your organization to the higher performance model.

How have these new realities affected your role and your organization?

What challenges have you overcome?

Love to hear your stories.