Midmarket organizations face imposing competitive challenges, particularly in responding to an increasingly empowered customer base. Cheap bandwidth, together with an explosion of mobile devices, has put the customer in the driver’s seat, providing ready access to information from digital channels, particularly social media sources. I’m often asked to think about what midsized businesses can do to unlock customer information and respond with relevance and speed.
My answer focuses on a series of concepts IBM groups under the heading, “Smarter Commerce.”
The Empowered Customer
The goal is simple, whether you’re operating in the B2B or B2C sector: It’s to provide a seamless and consistent customer experience across the entire business network. This means facing upstream to the partners and suppliers, and downstream to the marketplace, and ensuring that your network is standardized, integrated, and streamlined, across multiple channels. Let’s take a look at what that means in practice.
Automation Is Key – Internally
The business network is more complex than ever. Vital data flows in all directions, on the Web, and along social media and mobile routes. The task facing any enterprise is to achieve real-time integration of operations and processes with these data streams. This means, wherever possible, automation of back-office processes. Failure leads to marketplace dissatisfaction and ultimately to lost sales, especially in this age of customer power.
Integration Is Key – Externally With Partners
Improving supply chain visibility will lead to streamlined engagement with partners. Organizations need to create an integrated partner ecosystem, facing upstream to manufacturers, suppliers, and other links in the chain. This creates significant value for customers. Integrating with partner networks allows automated information sharing, leading to an increase in supply chain data accuracy, administrative cost savings, reduction in back orders, and lower transportation costs through more efficient management.
Know Your Customer – Create a Personal Experience
Next, take a look at marketing. No aspect of digital commerce is evolving more rapidly. Customers have unprecedented access to information and expect customized, personalized interaction across a variety of channels, especially social and mobile. It’s no longer enough for businesses to offer mass branding and impersonal offers, no matter how strategically deployed. Customers are already basing purchase decisions on input that’s completely beyond the control of any brand message or campaign.
A deep understanding of customer responses, gained through Smarter Commerce market initiatives, can reduce customer acquisition costs, increase ROI on campaigns and marketing efforts, and cement customer loyalty.
Smarter Commerce solutions also offer the agility needed to keep step with commercial interactions that skip from Web, to email, to online chat, to call center, to field sales, and back again, and which involve a highly informed customer base. Even midsized businesses can create a cross-channel selling environment, empowering customers to purchase whenever, wherever, and however they choose.
Use Your Data
Finally, no matter how complex the business network you are coordinating, customers demand a seamless after-sales service experience. An important part of that is empowering employees to deliver targeted services at the moment of sale and provide service value after the sale. Access to customer analytics helps identify opportunities to increase satisfaction and lock down loyalty. Using analytics to reduce customer turnover, midmarket enterprises have seen exponential increases in ROI.
How Can This Work?
We have many great case studies to show what can be achieved by midmarket organizations that use Smarter Commerce to build commercial relationships. One of our favorites is the Irish Dairy Board, an international exporter of dairy products and other foodstuffs. Using IBM B2B Integration software, the company leveraged real-time data exchange, in multiple formats, to integrate with partners upstream in the supply chain, improve visibility throughout the chain, and reach suppliers and customers more quickly and more easily.
The Irish Dairy Board was able to make quicker business decisions, reduce waste, and provide better service for suppliers and customers. It did this by centralizing supply chain data, eliminating manual processing, and enabling real-time tracking.
The Irish Dairy Board is just one example of a midmarket enterprise that used Smarter Commerce to integrate and manage its value chain, improving visibility for partners and customers, and creating opportunities for increased efficiency and revenue growth. Smarter Commerce from IBM can help your business do the same.