Customer Relationships Get the Data Treatment

A new case study by MIT Sloan Management Review, “A Data-Driven Approach to Customer Relationships,” details how the South African bank Nedbank is using its rich access to a trove of transactional data from credit card use — from the time of transactions and size of purchases to retailer locations, and even specific details like the age, gender, race, marital status, and income bracket of some users — to help merchants make strategic decisions to better serve those customers.


Do You Know What Really Drives Your Business’s Performance?

Although intuitively appealing, strategy maps and models such as the service profit chain have a common pitfall: They encourage managers to embrace general assumptions about the drivers of financial performance that may not stand up to close scrutiny in their own organizations. A more rigorous analytic approach called performance topology mapping may help managers avoid these assumptions, as well as the strategic mistakes they promote.


Are You Using the Return on Investment Metric Correctly?

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The biggest challenge with ROI isn’t a technical deficiency but confusion over how it is used. “To calculate ROI accurately, you need to be able to estimate the fraction of profits attributable to the investment,” write Neil T. Bendle and Charan K. Bagga. “In order to calculate ROI, there must be a return (a profit associated with the investment) and an investment. Unless you have both, you cannot calculate ROI.”


Sales Gets a Machine-Learning Makeover

New advances in machine learning are allowing sales teams to manage huge amounts of data to become more effective and efficient. Our research suggests three main ways machine learning is being successfully integrated into sales processes. First, it allows for a scientific approach that clarifies opaque parts of the sales process. Second, it enables more-effective data-driven experimentation. Third, it automates administrative duties that take time away from higher-value tasks.


How Should You Calculate Customer Lifetime Value?

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Should marketers subtract the cost of acquiring a customer before assessing that customer’s lifetime value (CLV)? Most of the time, no. “CLV is easier to understand, and in our view more useful, if marketers don’t subtract the acquisition cost from their calculation of CLV before reporting it,” write Neil T. Bendle and Charan K. Bagga. “Imagine that a company is selling an old machine. In this scenario, the company’s managers would expect to receive the machine’s current value, not the current value less what the company paid to buy the machine when new.”



Should You Use the Value of a “Like” as a Metric?

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Social media strategy shouldn’t be seen as the driver of value difference between a company’s fans and nonfans. Fans are often more favorable toward a brand to start with than nonfans are — indeed, this is probably what motivated them to affiliate in the first place. As well, social media spending should not be justified by an observed difference in customer value that may not have been caused by social media spending. Instead, to understand social media marketing’s impact, companies should run randomized experiments.


Should You Use Net Promoter Score as a Metric?

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The net promoter score (NPS) has become one of the most widely used marketing metrics. Consumers answer a simple question (How likely is it that you would recommend X?) on a scale from 0 to 10. Customers who answer 9 or 10 are considered promoters; those who answer 6 or less are rated as detractors. The score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors. One of the strongest selling points of NPS is its simplicity. But the value of NPS may depend upon whether a manager sees it as a metric or as a system.


Should You Use Market Share as a Metric?

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Market share is a hugely popular metric. But is it really useful? Companies with superior products tend to have high market share and high profitability because product superiority causes both. This means that the two metrics are correlated — but it does not necessarily mean that increasing market share will increase profits. Using market share as a metric of success simply because other companies do can be counterproductive.



Why Great New Products Fail

Many innovative new products don’t succeed. One common reason: Companies don’t focus on understanding how customers make purchase decisions. But paying attention to how customers search for information about what to buy, and how they make guesses about details they can’t easily find, helps predict whether customers will embrace certain product innovations. Companies need to focus on innovations that customers will easily recognize or find ways to alert them to innovations they may not detect on their own.


Finding the Right Role for Social Media in Innovation

Social media provides a game-changing opportunity to support new product development. But taking advantage of the opportunity requires more than just a Facebook presence with a loyal base of “friends.” To use social media for innovation, organizations need clear strategies and objectives. They also should look beyond social media used by the general public to lesser-recognized platforms, such as special user forums or expert blogs, for especially valuable user-generated feedback.


Now That Your Products Can Talk, What Will They Tell You?

Products connected to the Internet of Things are providing unprecedented levels of information that can be used to improve both products and customer experience. For instance, a company does not have to wait until a customer calls with a complaint to know that a product connected to the Internet of Things is not working correctly. Instead, the product could already communicate the information, giving the company the ability to provide proactive service. Result: more loyal customers.


The Metrics That Marketers Muddle

Well-defined metrics are critical to effective marketing. However, despite their widely acknowledged importance, five of the best-known marketing metrics — market share, net promoter score, the value of a “like,” customer lifetime value, and ROI — are regularly misunderstood and misused. This confusion undermines the marketing discipline’s reputation for delivering results. The authors present Do’s and Don’ts for using these metrics and flow charts with detailed advice for developing each metric.


How Crowdfunding Influences Innovation

Crowdfunding is changing how entrepreneurs bring new products to market. It has allowed thousands of innovating entrepreneurs to raise money, build brand awareness, and join a broader conversation with large numbers of potential backers — all while still in the product development process. But crowdfunding’s potential goes beyond financing and marketing. The people who back projects can also be important sources for product feedback and ideas.



Turning Content Viewers Into Subscribers

Content websites can more readily convert site visitors into paying customers by prompting visitors to gradually increase their social engagement with the site — using a concept the authors call the “ladder of participation.” This means thinking strategically about using site engagement to improve conversion. It also means taking an active role in encouraging users to climb the ladder of participation and move quickly up its rungs.


We Are Open For Business

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On February 23 and 24, MIT Sloan Management Review is completely dropping the site’s paygates, allowing visitors to freely explore all of our articles, reports, posts, videos, webinars, tools, and case studies. Why? We want to encourage the world to get to know all the remarkable things that MIT SMR has to offer. We work to collect here the best new ideas, research, and tools, and we want to give visitors the chance to experience all of it.


How Transparency Changes Business

The Winter 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review explores how increased transparency — and, in particular, the ready flow of information in a digital world — is changing the environment in which corporations operate. Transparency also is changing the distribution of power between large organizations and those who challenge them. Executives need to anticipate the possibility that any issues related to their company could someday be public knowledge.


How CEOs Can Leverage Twitter

Rather than waiting for impressions about a company to be driven by others in social media, CEOs of large companies can help shape the conversation by becoming active on Twitter. Journalists often check a CEO’s Twitter account before covering the CEO or the company, and certain types of business-related CEO tweets — including tweets about new management initiatives; strategy and performance; and new products and services — have even correlated with positive movement of company stock prices.


When Customers Become Fans

Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. has actively involved enthusiastic customers — known as “Mi Fans” — in both software and hardware development processes. Tech-savvy users test interfaces and products as volunteers, doing much of their communication on the Internet. Customer involvement in the product development life cycle has not only helped Xiaomi reduce R&D costs but also enabled the company to cultivate a sense of participation and pride among lead users.

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