The idea that customers don’t know what they want, until you show it to them, has long been influential in marketing. But these days, it seems companies are starting to question their own ability to know without solid metrics to guide them. The recent surge in analytics adoption might demonstrate a turning of the phrase: ‘we don’t know what customers want, until the data shows us.’
While it’s tempting to imagine these kinds of trends and paradigm shifts as the result of collective human brilliance, the truth is they are often spurred by more fundamental technological advances. There’s no question about it; the ability to process and understand data has been sparked by cloud technology and applications within. This revolution, like any good historical drama, comes also with its own complications.
Shifting Priorities, Customers and Beyond
A Forrester study on the cloud computing market from late last year makes a distinction between systems of engagement versus systems of record and insight. All signs indicate the latter is currently becoming more important for cloud adopters. To illustrate with an example, while early cloud adopters sought to provide web and mobile interactions for their customers, companies are now increasingly interested in storing CRM data from those interactions and then applying predictive analytics to that information. This shift is revealed in one telling statistic from the Forrester report: 89% of respondents plan on increasing their systems of records to the cloud.
The reason for this shift is largely in response to customers being empowered by technology in the first place. Speaking to this new leverage that customers have, John Rymer, principle analyst at Forrester, claims ‘[t]hey’ve got tools, they’ve got information, they’ve got immediate access to all kinds of insight that puts them in a very powerful position relative to you, . . . so you need to constantly be producing better insights, updates to your apps, new apps and new campaigns.’
It’s Not You, It’s My Applications
There are some tensions businesses struggle with as they adopt cloud applications to enhance customer analytics. Speed is certainly one vital factor. Data is useful only if it is relevant and actionable, and the pace of change in today’s technological landscape constantly creates new interactions and renders others outdated. Not only do applications need to perform accordingly, but they must be deployed quickly as well.
Other factors include efficiency and scale. Any business decision must have a cost-benefit ratio that justifies the initiative, and the ability of analytics to have a wide impact is essential. Cloud environments must support a network of applications that interact well with each other. What becomes clear is that the customer-centric revolution driving cloud computing will require not only excellent tools, but the ability to grease that particular set of tools.
It’s no wonder that warnings and analysis on these challenges are appearing across the industry. The best summary might come from a recent Harvard Business Review article on IT and B2B sales: ‘Information technology and digital channels can help sellers become more effective and efficient, but they can also be a source of disharmony and confusion if implemented without thought. Too many sellers have wasted millions of dollars on sales technologies such as CRM systems and data warehouses that never lived up to their potential.’
Find The Missing Link
In implementing any technology, whether it lives up to its potential, depends on usage and management. This is the missing link that many are searching after in their desire to be truly customer-driven. It’s the ability to make cloud applications perform optimally. So it might make sense to return to our original phrase and revise it: ‘we don’t know what customers want, unless the applications function well to make sense of their data’. Sure, this doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like most marketing catchphrases. But maybe, to truly place the customer first, there’s no better way to say it.
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