- Research Highlight
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Recommendation engines are an easy way to reach new customers, but marketers may encounter unintended consequences due to the inherent biases in the algorithms.
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Rather than trying to sell standardized products or services to the biggest possible set of buyers, B2B companies need to develop ways to help specific customers achieve better outcomes. Instead of describing their solutions, companies first need to understand customers’ specific challenges, objectives, operating practices, and competitive environment, then create offerings to deliver value within a customer’s specific business context and culture.
In response to increasing consumer demands for faster deliveries without added cost, more companies are implementing IT solutions that enable access to real-time sales data and inventory data across the whole enterprise. Real-time sales and inventory information, coupled with advanced analytics enables networks to accommodate fluctuations and changes in the business environment quickly, a quality the authors call distribution agility.
Too often, companies with products that have alternative potential markets miss their opportunity: Either they fail to see the possibility of alternative markets, or they simply lack the will to do the necessary groundwork to explore the opportunity. Leveraging existing technology for new uses can be tricky, but the return is greater profit and a revitalized business model.
At the same time that many traditional retailers are closing offline stores, digitally native vertical brands such as Bonobos and Warby Parker are aggressively expanding into offline locations. And both online and offline retailers are converging in experience-oriented “showrooms.”
The worldwide population of seniors is growing rapidly. So why are tech companies ignoring them? An excerpt from The Longevity Economy highlights the opportunities in catering to older adults.
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.
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.
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.
An online questionnaire by the authors of the MIT Sloan Management Review article “Integrating Supply and Demand” helps users assess how well their company’s supply chains are helping meet product demand — and serve key customers. The self-assessment lets users rate their companies in five areas in the demand and supply integration spectrum: relevant value focus, integrated knowledge sharing, strategic resource allocation, integrated behavior, and capacity and demand balance.
At the alcohol beverage company Constellation Brands, graphic presentations of data are making it easier for sales people to see how they’re performing. In an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review, Joseph D. Bruhin, the company’s CIO, says that measuring marketing and sales efforts is a particular challenge in the alcohol industry — but one that his team has come up with a solution to. “Visibility of data is a critical piece,” he says. “We came up with a solution that’s really driven predominantly by information technology.”
Companies increasingly recognize the value of maintaining good relationships with former employees. Recent research, however, reveals a new insight: It’s also wise to pay attention to what your competitors’ former employees are up to. “Many managers don’t typically think of previous employees in competitive terms (if at all), and have virtually no tools or frameworks to help them wage this talent war,” write the authors.
When Nestlé UK invited customers to vote for a new chocolate bar flavor, the company’s target customers participated in droves. By leveraging social media for the Kit Kat brand, the company was able to build positive word of mouth through consumers who became brand advocates; increase sales; and generate a higher return on investment. The process followed a four-step framework that any company can use to extract valuable information from the vast amount of data generated by social media.
Mondelez International’s brands include some well-recognized names, including Oreo, Ritz, and Cadbury. Yet as Mondelez’s vice president of global media and consumer engagement Bonin Bough explains, even a powerhouse like Oreo must work to engage its customers — and in the modern era, that means using social media. In his interview with David Kiron, Bough describes the company’s innovative methods for expanding its reach.
How do companies gain value from ethnography — the in-person study of how people actually use a product or service? Wells Fargo Bank commissioned an ethnographic project and found out for itself. The bank was able to determine that customers approach retirement with three styles: they were either Reactors, Poolers or Maximizers. The bank learned, for instance, that the language of customers who were Maximizers would not resonate with Poolers — and so it developed new kinds of messaging for each.
“Our lives have increasingly migrated online in recent years, so why wouldn’t [sales] reps want to connect with customers on the social media front as well?” That’s the logic of Hearsay Social, whose platform lets sales people keep track of what their customers are posting on Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook. Says Gary Liu, vp of marketing, “social media can be used very effectively to enhance real-world interactions.”
Companies are gaining value from ethnography, the in-person study of how people actually use a product or service. Through its attention to the details of people’s lives, ethnography can be a powerful tool to help executives gain insights into their markets. Ethnographic stories can also be indispensable in helping executives rethink their assumptions about what customers care about and about overall strategic direction.
Should a new product or service launch at the high end of the market and move downward or at the low end and move up? In truth, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for entering the market, but a new research-based framework helps identify the best strategy for a particular product or service. The two key questions to ask: Is the basic functionality of the new offering better or worse than that of existing competitive products? And how groundbreaking are the novel attributes of the new product?
In a Q&A, LinkedIn marketer Ralf VonSosen says his company is using its own tools to build connections through social channels that facilitate a better selling and buying experience. He calls this “social selling,” and says that done right, it “moves our contact from a traditional cold call to either a warm introduction or at least a warm conversation.” VonSosen details the free ways people can build a personal brand online and LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator product, which scales up the concept.
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