Technology is changing the way businesses attract and win new customers – and retain and grow their existing ones – in the new digital age. By exploiting technology, from helping to stand out in their markets and sell to delivering excellence in customer service, there’s never been a better opportunity to create a competitive edge that will help your business succeed.
Justin Bowser, Co-Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Technology Market Interest Group, talks about how technology is changing the way businesses market themselves and explores where it could take them in the future.
Q: How rapidly is technology and the Internet changing how businesses win and retain customers?
A: Fast! Google search has totally disrupted traditional B2B and B2C sales models. By the time a customer calls or visits your website, they have already researched your business and built their shortlist; they’re way better informed than they used to be. Social media has turned customer service on its head, with customers firmly in the driving seat when it comes to exposing poor products and services. They expect a response within an hour or so, and will vote with their feet, or a dissatisfied tweet. And customers are increasingly buying digital “subscriptions” rather than owning things outright, which makes customer retention – and good customer service – more important than ever.
Q: How can technology help me compete against established brands and market dominant players?
A: Technology is creating giants in every sector, but smaller businesses can still compete effectively. The key is to find niche markets that the giants don’t address sufficiently well, in which you have some genuinely unique strengths. Then use technology to help you identify your target customers, and to serve them brilliantly. If you’re a B2C business, use social customer service to your advantage by creating fans who’ll recommend you to their friends, and a simple loyalty app to reward them. If you’re selling B2B, use tools like LinkedIn to help you understand your customers better and establish deeper business relationships.
Q: What steps should my company take to adopt technology-based solutions to improve our marketing and sales activities?
A: First think about your target markets and ‘personas’… what are your ideal types of customer? Then use a database or CRM tool to bring all your customer data together, so you can see who falls into each type – so you can send them relevant offers. Make sure your email marketing and sales (or CRM) software are joined up too, so you can measure success in terms of closed sales, not just email “opens” and “clicks”. And most importantly, have a measurable strategy… technology is no use unless you know what you want to achieve!
Q: What examples are there of how IT can give me an edge in customer support and improve customer experience?
A: There are now plenty of “cloud” software tools for customer relationship management and online customer support. Look at low-cost social monitoring tools like HootSuite, SproutSocial or SocialSignIn, so you know when people are trying to talk to you, or are talking about you, and something like Zendesk to professionalise the way you handle online and email support tickets. The important thing is to pick tools that work together, so that no matter how your customers want to contact you, you’re able to respond professionally.
Q: What are the next developments in mobile marketing?
A: SMS isn’t dead yet! It still gets very good response rates, so long as the content is relevant. Location-targeted offers will become more common across mobile and social apps, and we’ll see new hyper-local “proximity” services based on iBeacon technology. Along with this we’ll see a shift to “real time” marketing, where for example an appropriate offer is pushed to a mobile app when the customer walks into a store. Will consumers like this? The jury’s out as far as I’m concerned; it can seem a little “stalky”, but if it’s used to deliver a better customer experience it can work well.
Q: How can the cloud support my marketing and sales function?
A: Most vendors of marketing and sales automation software are moving to the “cloud”, with what the industry calls “software as a service”. For small and mid-sized businesses, this can offer significant advantages in terms of cost saving, compared to buying software outright. Look for software that works together though, so you can give your marketing, sales and support teams a single joined-up view of each customer. Also try out “collaboration” software like Yammer, Salesforce Chatter or Google Hangouts, so your marketing and sales teams can work together more efficiently.
Q: What ways can I use technology to reduce my marketing costs?
A: It comes down to good strategy and measurement. Look at where your customers are when they’re online, then apportion your overall budget by “channel” – e.g. SEO and paid search, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, forums etc. Social media can be fun, but don’t waste time and money on it if your customers aren’t there. Instead, spend your time testing, measuring and improving – for example by testing two versions of an email, Tweet or web page. The great thing about digital technology is that it’s very measurable, and quick to see what’s working and what’s not.
Q: What new technologies can we expect to see in the next few years that could play a role in how we market?
A: The adoption of “marketing automation” software outside of the technology sector is still very low – this will increase over the next few years as cost reduces and ease-of-use increases. Proximity-based services will increase, thanks to game-changing events like the launch of Apple Pay that will help mobile wallet-style services to reach the mainstream. I also expect the “Internet of Things” will start to deliver some niche but useful services (your fridge will tell you what food to buy) and the wearable tech / fashion tech sector will come of age. It’s an exciting time to be in technology marketing!
Synergy Technology offer a range of integrated software, service and devices that can you to consolidate you marketing efforts and create content to better engage and understand your customers and prospects. Contact us on 0845 456 0050 for more information.