One unique element of the Communication Executive Council is our close relationship with sister programs serving heads of Sales, Marketing, and Market Research. Leading executives in these spaces are rapidly adopting new strategies in response to changes in customer behavior brought on by both new technologies and economic realities. In aggregate, these changes acknowledge a significantly more empowered and circumspect buyer who is ever less reliant on brands themselves in the purchase decision process. To respond, the best companies are improving the quality of information they have and provide to the customer while trying to influence the broader information landscape that influences purchase decisions. For those of you in the high-tech, computer software, and electronics industries, this trend is even more important as your consumers are some of the most tech-savvy and early adopters out there.
Communications ability to impact the flow of this information both internally and across earned media channels will be critical to success in these initiatives, so after the jump, let’s review some early findings from our sister program’s latest research and the implications for our function.
Marketing Insight: Compressing the Decision Journey (from Marketing Leadership Council, MLC)
Overview: Despite being bombarded with marketing messages from many new channels, MLC data reveals nearly 80% of consumers delay their brand choice until the point of sale. Understanding the consumer decision journey—including how, where, and why consumers buy—is more important than ever. Factors, from mobile search to SKU proliferation to just-in-time digital coupons, are widening consumers consideration sets across categories and threatening defection from your brand. And the negative effects live on post-purchase: the more consumers comparison shop and consult multiple sources of information, the more anxious and the less satisfied with their purchase they become.
Key Insight: In response, the best brands are increasing consumer’s perception of information clarity—the degree to which it is easy to gather, prioritize, understand, and trust information for purchases. And for good reason: consumers who report such clarity during the purchase process are far more likely to repurchase and recommend.
Implications for Communications: Communicators who typically see their impact at the earliest stages of the buying process must find ways to get influential information and stakeholders connected to customers just before and after its conclusion as well. The scale required to achieve such last minute connections may well require the mobilization of employees to monitor and respond to last minute queries for information. We think Intuit has done this particularly well using Twitter.
Market Research Insight: Putting Customer Insight at the Heart of the Business (from Market Research Executive Board, MREB)
Overview: Research should play a big role in focusing the company on the customer. No one knows more about customers and consumers. But knowledge in the team is like a tree falling in the forest. What good is it if the rest of the business doesn’t have it? To make its findings known, most functions prize the literal “seat at the table.” Face-to-face meetings and presentations, which are very labor-intensive, are thus typically reserved for relatively high-value decisions or business partners who make lots of decisions. But research indicates that key decisions are increasingly made with e-sources meaning putting a premium on the ability of research to provide information with speed and reliability.
Key Insight: Leading functions are re-thinking how to both market and delivery customer insights to more effectively align with an organization’s decision making. These options include improved online sources such as portals and e-mail, a new generation of research communication tools, and a more narrow view when live presentations can increase an insight’s impact. Improve your intranet by visiting the Intranets and Internal Social Media Topic Center.
Implications for Communications: Communications must better understand how e-sources are commonly used across the company and ensure technologies such as new intranet platforms are optimized for speed, reliability, and confidence decision making.
Sales Insight: Guiding the Customer Purchase: Closing Complex Sales by Teaching Customers How to Buy (from Sales Executive Council, SEC)
Overview: Bigger, more complex solutions combined with greater customer risk aversion are causing more stakeholders to get involved in each purchase. One member said that the average number of stakeholders involved in each deal has increased by 3.5 people since 2006. To manage this dynamic, many companies are investing in sales methodologies built around mapping and categorizing stakeholders (e.g. economic buyer, technical buyer, coach). The seeming reality is that better understanding of how groups, not individuals, make decisions is required.
Key Insight: While significant work has been conducted around identifying specific buyer types (i.e., economic buyers, end users, advocates, technical buyers, etc.), understanding each buyer type is no longer sufficient. Group decision-making dynamics must be understood in order to best approach the customer. Sales must focus on making change easy to grasp and minimally disruptive for customers: In today’s selling environment, the best reps do more than present a value proposition: they surface risks and key stakeholders upfront, lay out clear implementation steps and timelines, and use their expertise to highlight and mitigate the risk of change throughout the buying process.
Implications for Communications: Communications should expand the focus of thought leadership and other commercially relevant messages to focus on the process of change in new product/service adoption not just the benefits of the company’s offer. Consider two options when building your thought leadership strategy.
Related CEC Research: