December 28 by Michael Dunne
Omni-channel sales and marketing is increasingly getting the mindshare of corporate executives, strategists and decision makers, in firms of all sizes and in different industries, worldwide. In a recent survey 122 CMOs by TheCMOClub, 63% of firms were either at an “early implementation” stage or “Plan to launch in 6-12 months” Omnichannel initiatives.
The Omni-channel concept resonates strongly because of dramatic benefits to be gained in growing revenues and margins. Benefits stem from more effective engagement with customers across channels that aligns closely with buying preferences and delivers superior buying experiences. Skillful responses to how people shop online and offline increase loyalty and win over customer segments that buy more, buy more often.
Why Your Business Needs an Omni-Channel Strategy
Key to success is delivering consistent experiences across customer touchpoints, whether in-person, through a call center, or at a webstore, by leveraging knowledge of buyers, products of interest, pricing, promotions and other concerns. A 360 view of the customer is essential, to reduce friction, and to ensure that what products, promotions and pricing viewed online can be easily discussed by persons in a call center, or at a store.
The rising importance of Omni-channel sales is unsurprising since e-commerce has disrupted consumer markets for some time now – think of Circuit city and BlockBuster going out of business, or Best Buy having to confront the phenomenon of show-rooming. These same trends are now impacting the B2B world. According to Forrester, “93% of B2B buyers say that they prefer to buy online rather than from a salesperson when they’ve decided on what to buy.”
What is unprecedented today though is the amount of
uncertainty self-reported by executives on their companies’
readiness to pursue Omni-channel strategies. The study by TheCMOClub found that 64% of CMOs felt they lacked resources and investment required to succeed. Forrester found only a small minority of business executives confident in executing the digital side of Omni-channel selling, in having the right culture (21%), technologies (19%), people (16%) and processes (14%).
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A 4-Step Action Plan to Creating Your Omni-Channel Strategy
To begin to tackle readiness concerns, companies should reevaluate the positioning of products and how their customers actually go about making evaluations and purchases. A 4-step action plan is recommended to update and improve the understanding of products by channel, buyer’s journeys, pivotal moments within channels and potential sources of channel conflict.
1. Evaluate Product Portfolio for Complexity
Categorize products based on sophistication and suitability for specific channels. A big concern is the amount of assistance required to educate clients and to actually close sales. Standalone, discrete products and bundles are common sold online, either directly from or through partners (like buying a power drill or a mobile phone plan). Now however, marketing more complicated
product bundles and allowing online product configuration is
now possible, opening up new possibilities for selling higher value offerings on the Web while lowering selling costs. However, companies need to carefully define the points in buying cycles when live persons are clearly needed to move a sale along. And certain products will always involve professional sale people any ways, like purchases of elevators for instance.
2. Map Out Customer Journeys
Trace customer buying behaviors and anticipate how channels are traversed, from brick-and-mortar to online, or partner to direct, to understand customer preferences. For example, customers who buy products from Bobcat will likely browse products online before visiting a dealer to complete a purchase. They may get an extended warranty from the same dealer, but renew the warranties online. Spare parts and accessories may be purchased from a local shop. Understanding commonalities in journeys within target customer segments creates significant
advantages in prioritizing sales and marketing programs for
different channels. Ideally, trends in customer preferences allow expansion or promotion of channels with lower cost-to-serve, like reordering instead of using a call center (which can be 90% more cost-effective).
3. Match Buying Phases with Channels
Look at key process steps for marketing, sales and servicing, to determine “best channel” by buying stage, to raise mindshare, lower the cost-to-serve and drive sales. Ideally, moments of truth can be identified by buying stage (with (e.g., discovery, education, evaluation, etc.) and channel preference, when mindshare is consistently captured, when client interest turns often serious (the client is hooked) when commitment to make purchases rises dramatically. Understanding such moments will help any effort to increase conversion rates. Activities to look at include how prospects and clients are browsing and researching products, their use of online reviews, when or if live persons are solicited for information, where purchases are made, and how reordering products or renewing relationships are done. A big issue is uncovering buying activity (often a majority of legwork in making a decision has already gone undetected) as well as moving
prospects from researching products online to channels best
suited to close deals.
4. Proactively Address Channel Conflict
Put in place the right communication, education and ground rules to curtail uncertainty, anger and doubt among partners and sales. Partners will need to be reassured that they are not being undercut. Sales people will fear that their “patches” will be encroached upon if customers don’t go through them; and that their prospects for making their quotas will be hurt. In both cases the value of Omni-channel strategies in improving lead quality should be highlighted. Similarly, highlight the information that will get captured from different channels to strengthen their hands (both partners and internal sales) in accelerating sales cycles. In addition, consider having reordering activity count towards quotas of sales people during transition periods, when customers are getting shifted to online channels.
Start Your Path to Omni-Channel Success
Following this 4-step action plan will help prepare your organization to execute a successful Omni-channel strategy and pursue ambitious Omni-channel sales and marketing goals. With digital transformation shaping how consumers interact with companies around the world, having an effective strategy in mind is essential to making sure you aren’t left in the dust, while everyone else is adapting to this new shift.