Key obstacles to transforming in step with today’s customer

by Marty Nicholas

Today’s buyers are transforming dramatically and rapidly, forcing businesses to do the same in order to adapt to the new buying environment. With so much change occurring, it’s often hard to find the time to stop and reflect on what the key obstacles might be as we aim for effective change management  strategies to transform our businesses in lockstep with our customers. During our work with enterprise clients over the last few years, we’ve had the opportunity to form a unique view on what these obstacles typically are. In this post we will share some of the key speed-bumps to be aware of in order to avoid falling behind your customers (and competitors).

Let’s start by reflecting on the customer maturity process; when you think about how customers are evolving, it is often easy to think about this in the context of a continuum:
Customers in early stages of maturity will typically still rely on physical channels, leaning on salespeople for more information around solution fit. As these customers begin experimenting more and more with new channels, their buying preferences begin shifting towards digital. As digital fluency grows, more of the buying process occurs online and customers become far more empowered and autonomous. Salespeople still play a role but are leveraged on a far more selective basis and far later in the process. As customers master buying digitally and accrue more positive experiences, they expect to be able to ‘choose their own adventure’. True omni-channel expectations emerge as customers expect to be understood, to be serviced meaningfully across channels and to receive personalised contact. These elements begin forming a key factor in purchasing decisions.

The challenge of adapting at the right pace

As enterprise organisations attempt to transform the go-to-market engine to keep up with this customer evolution, a range of common obstacles pop up along the way; holding leaders back from moving as fast as they’d like to. Calibrating the optimal pace of transformation is tricky unto itself. Moving too quickly creates the risk of alienating customers who are further back in the above spectrum. Being a laggard and moving too slowly puts the organisation at risk of losing touch with customers and being disrupted by more innovative competitors.

Whilst close customer understanding is a key element in managing this delicate balance, we observe that more often than not, it is internal impediments to change which prevent organisations from evolving in concert with their buyers. With this in mind – what are the challenges to be anticipating in order to achieve a more controlled transformation journey? Breaking these down into marketing transformation, sales transformation and integration challenges can be useful:
Key Marketing Obstacles:

With many executives hailing from relationship selling backgrounds, building leadership team understanding and support for digital initiatives can often be an initial hurdle. This is accompanied by a significant mindset shift that must take place amongst marketers as they shift from an above-the-line to below-the-line focus, holding more accountability for revenue and lead generation outcomes. Marketers also need to work with more data and technology tools and build more compelling content much more quickly, requiring a significant capability leap. Finally, today’s marketers face the challenge of delivering personalisation at scale – requiring more automation to deliver more content across a greater variety and volume of touchpoints.

Key Sales Obstacles:

Salespeople can easily feel threatened by digital initiatives, so clearly articulating the future-state opportunity and gaining bottom-up buy-in from the frontline is crucial. The ‘universal soldier’ field force of generalist reps will no longer be cost-effective or customer appropriate, so new sales channels like inside sales and increasing levels of role specialisation will be required to scale coverage and lift customer value. General digital literacy will need to lift to remain relevant to customers and operate in a more technology-enabled environment. Realising a higher level of commercial acumen and developing unique expertise will be critical prerequisites to delivering the level of insight and value required to engage customers.

Key Integration Obstacles:

As marketing and sales mature, the need for these functions to interoperate becomes fundamental. This typically begins with the challenge of awakening the business to the criticality of changing ways of working to reorganise around the customer. The next obstacle to navigate is data integrity. CRM hygiene is often poor and data is typically spread across disparate databases. This is a crucial pinch-point because without clean data, relevance becomes near impossible. Most enterprise organisations also have legacy platforms to deal with; representing significant sunk costs which are hard to walk away from, yet restrict the ability to nimbly adopt new tools. Organisational design and processes will also have to evolve to support new and more integrated ways of working. Finally, these people, process, technology and data elements all need to be brought together to enable staff to leverage the right data, at the right time, to be relevant and add value in each customer interaction.

Moving in Lockstep with Your Customer

As we embark on adapting our organisation to a rapidly evolving customer, keeping a close eye on our customer maturity and matching our pace of change is key. The above items represent the obstacles to be thinking about ahead of time in order to avoid hitting speedbumps which commonly derail go-to-market transformation. Preparing for and avoiding these will be a key step towards adapting at the right pace and achieving the objective of delivering both customer and business outcomes.

Look out for our next post which will go into more detail specific strategies for accelerating marketing and sales transformation, depending on the context of your organisation.