Cyborgs Will Beat Robots: Building a Human-AI Culture

There are two competing AI narratives bouncing around the internet. On the one hand, AI is seen as a future scourge, a technology that once unchained will push humanity past a singularity. Past this singularity, we cannot predict what will happen—but many think it won’t be good [1].

The other camp is dominated by AI optimists like Ray Kurzweil, who believe that human-machine integration is inevitable, is a great thing that will usher in a new golden age for humanity, and has been happening for years. Many people don’t realize that their brains have already been rewired with a Google API; when we don’t know something, we’ve gotten incredibly good at opening a browser, executing a pretty optimal search, and finding the answer (if there is one)—dramatically increasing the productivity and intelligence of those who use this API wisely. This camp still sees a singularity on the horizon, but in their view, humans and machines will merge, creating “cyborgs” that integrate the best elements of human intelligence and artificial intelligence, and this is a good thing.

I wanted to write this article is to help companies and executives navigate this coming cyborg transformation. Just like in past technology waves, the companies that succeed will not be the ones with the best algorithms; the algorithms will largely become tablestakes. In this new reality, the winners will do a better job transforming their employees into better “AI interfacers.” In other words, the companies with lots of motivated employees who understand how to use AI—and who are staffed with employees equipped to interface with the technology—will ultimately stand out from competitors by developing better use cases, integrating AI into their value-added business processes, and using AI in concert with human intelligence to drive better outcomes.

Good News: We Are Still Early

Early in the personal computer revolution, the distance between the most advanced computer engineer and a 12-year old kid messing around with his Apple IIe wasn’t really that large. It probably seemed huge at the time, but the reality was that the basics of that machine were still simple, and someone with a soldering iron and a few screwdrivers could actually tinker, maybe upgrading the RAM or adding on a graphics card. Try doing that in 2019 with a MacBook Pro. The components could seen. The circuits could be understood. Programming languages, while clunky by today’s standards, were BASIC. (sorry).

I would argue we’re roughly at the Apple IIe stage right now with artificial intelligence. A hobbyist can download open source software like Python, the SciKitLearn library, Jupyter, and Git, and be off and running building an OCR (optical character recognition) algorithm. In fact, one could argue that AI technology is more democratized than PC technology was in the mid-1980s. At that time, it would cost at least a few thousand dollars to get up and running with a good IBM clone, and programming languages had to be purchased as physical boxes of floppy disks. Learning to program or build hardware required physical books; today, it’s possible to take free courses on AI from Stanford on Youtube, and any error typed into Google returns an immediate solution courtesy Stack Overflow.

In other words, an interested, talented person can achieve basic artificial intelligence literacy today pretty easily, if they put their mind to it, and the distance between there and a self-driving car isn’t insurmountable. Granted, millions of developer hours have been spent tweaking each neural net and environmental sensor on that car driving around Pittsburgh, but a tinkerer can basically explain the theory behind how it all works, if they want to. The net-net is that it’s still possible to build an army of AI citizen scientists at your company who will fully embrace the unknown advancements of the next decade—and that not doing so will put your company at risk of faltering, just as slow movers on technology did in the 1990s.

New Role: The AI Interfacer

Companies that successfully transitioned from offline to digital in the 1990s and 2000s all had one thing in common; they built a strong layer of interface employees. We’ve all been there: Bob is the master of database X. He works 70 hours a week; he can answer any question; people worship him, and he has total job security. However, that database never reaches its full potential. Hundreds of reports are written, but few are used. Integrations happen, but fall down over the last mile. The problem in this scenario is that few people have the skills (or the interest) to meet him half-way. There are no interfacers for Bob.

The company that Bob works at spends millions on expensive proprietary software, and armies of consultants to install and configure. The bare metal servers at this company are just as powerful as the servers at their competitor—but yet, it just never seems to “click.” The competitors pull away, and before you know it, this company is on the trash heap. Sound familiar?

This analogy extends to AI flawlessly. An AI system can be built to (in theory) predict the perfect marketing touch at a given point, or detect fraud with uncanny accuracy, but without human advocates and interfacers feeding the algorithm data, providing improvement suggestions, and driving adoption, these systems will fail—or at the very least, they won’t evolve.

AI interfacers are to 2019 what computer literate employees were to 1989, or what database-literate people were to 1999. They may not be developing machine learning algorithms, but they know what a machine learning algorithm does. They may not be on the team developing the self-driving car, but they can explain how a self-driving car is put together. They are the key to AI’s success over the last mile.

AI Interfacers come in five flavors, not mutually exclusive:

  • User: Can interface with AI endpoints and integrate them into their day-to-day processes;
  • Explainer: Understands how machine learning algorithms are trained and validated, and how these can chain together to form systems, and most importantly, teaches other about them;
  • Product Manager: Can see how systems and processes can be improved by AI, and can prioritize these improvement points;
  • Data Gatherer: Understands how artificial intelligence gets information from the world (IoT, big data, etc.), environmental sensors, users);
  • Prototyper: Can prototype simple AI systems using machine learning algorithms (in other words, tinker).

The AI User is equivalent to someone who liked and was facile in using email in 1989, or an SAP power user in 1999. These are individuals who instead of running away from AI, actually attempt to integrate it into their day-to-day, realizing that it will make their job easier, and allow them to surf to higher value-added activities (and perhaps, get a promotion.)

The AI Explainer is a natural teacher who understands how AI elements are knit together within the core business processes of the company, and evangelizes these stories to others. He is the executive who tells the same story over and over again at staff meetings until it has been internalized; the line manager who explains the sales rep why the AI-based next logical product algorithm works; the new employee who teaches upwards to their 45-year-old supervisor what machine learning really is, using simple, approachable language.

The AI Product Manager might not be an actual product manager, but has that DNA. They are constantly stepping back and seeing how AI does and could improve existing processes. They are passionate about driving better performance and outcomes, and tell the stories across the company that drive innovation.

The AI Data Gatherer sees how information flows through the company—from customers, marketing campaigns, the supply chain, IoT, etc.—and makes connections. They see potential signal for learning algorithms, and they see how AI algorithms can feed data into other systems. For example, this individual might see that internet-enabled cooling units report on energy usage every hour; she surmises that when units spike above two standard deviations for long periods that another chiller might be required. She recommends to the cross-sell AI team that they use these data in their algorithm, along with her hypothesis.

The most advanced non-engineer role is the prototyper—the individual who is comfortable tinkering and messing around with AI technology. This is usually a business power user who is impatient for results. These individuals can frustrate engineering teams (think, stepping on my turf,) but at successful, agile companies, interdisciplinary work is encouraged. We ask AI engineers to understand the business problem; successful companies encourage business leaders to get their hands dirty (in a safe environment, of course.)

Principles for Building Your Bench of AI Interfacers

There were several traits that companies who successfully built up a strong bench of digital natives had in common, and a few traits that struggling companies also shared. There is no reason to expect that the core principles have changed, but I’ve adapted them for AI.

The actions below are all totally doable. None of them require spending millions of dollars on a quantum computer, or hiring 50 new developers to go “do some AI stuff.” Rather, they are mainly HR and management actions. If they don’t get done, it’s probably because, like most things worth doing, they don’t drive immediate ROI. They are cultural changes that must be driven from the top (the first DO below.)

Do’s

  1. Hire a Lifetime Learner CEO / Exec Team. It all starts at the top. If you have a CEO who won’t take the time to understand AI at a foundational level—how it works, how it learns, existing use cases—then you’ll be toast. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about hiring a programmer data scientist—I’m talking about someone with an insatiable thirst for learning who never gets tired of reinventing her skillset.
  2. Hire New Cohorts, Every Year. Companies who don’t hire young people for prolonged periods of time quickly fall behind new waves. AI is no exception. I first heard the term “digital native” in 2004, from a technology company marketing executive who lamented his inability to make the transformation to digital. This company had kept old managers in seat for years (they were the original crew) and now needed a talent infusion. If he’d hired one or two 22-year-olds every year, he wouldn’t have been playing catch-up.
  3. Have a Citizen-AI Training Curriculum. One thing that didn’t exist ten years ago was the MOOC. If you wanted a marketing manager to learn the basics of ad exchanges, she either had to learn on the job or go take a course at a university. Today, motivated learners can take AI courses from basic to fairly advanced, essentially for free. As a manager, it’s your duty to (1) create a curriculum based on existing MOOCs and post on your intranet / wiki, and, (2) give employees the time and space they need to get up to speed.
  4. Co-Create, Foster Agency. If an AI-based next logical call algorithm is implemented in a call center, don’t allow it to be cynically jammed in with an explanation of “just do it.” This will drive resentment. Instead, train users on how the algorithm was built. What are its inputs? What algorithms were used to train the model? How do we know it works? Involve your employees in co-creating the AI interfaces; you’ll find that they quickly surface problems and blind spots, and will happily use it / work with it. Analogies for this exist all over, but perhaps the most powerful is the Andon Cord used in lean manufacturing whereby any employee can “stop the line” to identify problems with production.
  5. Force Human Interaction Interfaces. If AI algorithms are only allowed to talk to one another, we might actually get to the “grey goo” scenario pretty quickly, and I’m only half kidding. Rather, focus on human understandable interfaces. The Google search example I started with is a good example of a human-AI interface that is mutually reinforcing. Concretely, building out a next logical product algorithm in a CRM system shouldn’t just spit out a SKU. Expose more about the key inputs; the predictive factors; allow the human to adjust parameters and see how the model changed. Perhaps most importantly,
  6. Promote Tinkering. Siloes and a “guild mentality” kill innovation. Most Silicon Valley companies have done a good job promoting a tinkering culture. However, in too many other places, “stay in your lane” dominates, causing people who stick their neck out to get whacked. AI is no exception. If you want people to stay around, let them play around. Make sure you have safe spaces set up where nothing can be broken—but innovation beats parochialism any day of the week.

Don’ts 

  1. Don’t Go Build Stuff Just Because AI. Perhaps the fastest way to alienate your workforce, and make them AI opponents rather than AI proponents, is to hit the panic button and go off half-cocked on an AI initiative without a clear business reason. A lot of companies did this last year with blockchain. “We need to do something with blockchain, because… blockchain!” (Guilty. Mea culpa.) So don’t do this with AI. Wait for the real use cases. If your employees are excited about it, it’ll be a lot easier, and it’s a really good indication that it’s worth doing.
  2. Be Cautious of Black Boxes. Proprietary black boxes may be awesome, but even more so than with enterprise software, companies need to use extreme caution before committing to them. AI is, by its very nature, opaque. Buying from a vendor who won’t expose the inner working adds another level of opacity, and will make it much harder for employees to interface and find agency. It’s fine to test out proprietary solutions, but be aware of what you’re committing to.
  3. Don’t Build a Monolith. Finally, don’t build the one AI ring to rule them all. When I see IBM advertising Watson as the solution to everything, I definitely get Lord of the Rings Flashbacks. I guess I get why everything should be centralized, but again, if you’re trying to build a cyborg organization, this seems like a giant mistake. Instead, building smaller AIs that humans can work with directly, that communicate with one another but aren’t a hive mind, seems a safer way to go—in more ways than one.

Conclusion

Companies that successfully navigate the coming AI transformation will build an army of AI Interfacers, made up of power users, product managers, teachers, data plumbers, and tinkerers, who will drive a positive feedback loop between the power of AI and human intelligence. These companies will make the creation of this culture a priority, with concrete management, HR, and technology decisions designed to prioritize the human-AI interface, not the raw power of the algorithms. These “Cyborg Companies” will emerge as the clear winners over the coming decade.

[1] In his book Superintelligence (2014), Nick Bostrum laid out many potential dangerous outcomes for an unchained, general intelligence AI: a “grey goo” of endlessly self-replicating nanomachines that takes over the planet; a resource-consuming algorithm gone awry whose sole goal is factoring prime numbers, eventually building a Dyson Sphere around the sun to achieve its objective; and even more malicious scenarios evoking devious, trickster AIs who fool researchers into mailing it what it needs to build a machine to escape its human prison. This is pretty dark, and while I do think we need to be worried about these dangers, this isn’t the focus of this article.

FinServ Digital Transformation: It’s All About the Data

CEOs and their leadership teams in FinServ companies—from banking to insurance to credit—are moving on to the next wave of digital transformation: data strategy and execution. While every company is at different stages of digital maturity (as are individual BUs and functions within each company), one trend is absolutely clear:

The future of FinServ digital transformation will be “make or break” based on the execution of data-driven go-to-market strategies and marketing systems

FinServ leadership teams are at a point where they need to ask some probing questions about technology strategy.  Below I have outlined a non-tech perspective on digital transformation and data that we have found useful for our senior exec clients.

1. The Good News: New Product Opportunities, Improved Workflow, Better Customer Experience

As McKinsey Digital accurately states “financial services companies have rich sets of exclusive information on their customers (key demographic details, where they live, their lifestyle preferences). When used responsibly, with respect for regulatory constraints and privacy concerns, this data can be analyzed for insights.”

Our experience is that FinServ leaders can find “customer intelligence gold” by tapping into the entire supply chain ecosystem of customer data: from digital/social media content consumption to customer transactions to downstream distributor sales and marketing (agents, advisors, etc.).  These opportunities include:

  • New Products: Most banks, insurance companies, credit card providers, etc. have demonstrated their ability to leverage customer data – profiles, purchase patterns, etc. – to identify new cross-sell and “flanker” product opportunities.  In fact, it increasingly becoming a competitive disadvantage to not have a growing, broader product line to take advantage of (and amortize) the lifetime cost of customer acquisition.
  • Greater Automation: Workflow efficiency and customer experience across the value chain have significantly improved:
    • Direct marketing and sales
    • Customer management platforms
    • Distribution management (e.g. agents, advisors)
    • Underwriting, claims processing
  • Predictive Purchasing Analytics: More data means an enhanced ability to develop artificial intelligence applications to improve customer targeting, next best product offers, underwriting, etc. Smarter, data-driven decision-making will be the norm.

2. The Bad News: New Competitors and Distributed, Fragmented Systems and the Last Mile Challenge

The proliferation of “digital apps” has some downside as well.  Among the challenges our clients are most concerned about are:

  • New FinServ Competitors: While we are still in the early innings of “FinTech” innovation, already companies are seeing cloud-based and SaaS companies like PayPal, Betterment, and even Amazon change the competitive landscape and economics.  While in 2018 only maybe 5% of a legacy FinServ company’s customer use the “next gen” software apps, these new entrants are retraining customer how to purchase and use FinServ products.  The tipping point is coming….
  • Fragmented Systems of Record: Traditional FinServ ERP and CRM systems are now being “augmented” with new SaaS software apps.  The problem: every new cloud app may streamline a workflow but also collects a vast amount of customer data in separate silos.  Bringing data together from multiple disparate systems can be a labor intensive, multi-year, multi-million dollar investment.
  • Inability to “Activate” Predictive Analytics: Even when “customer data gold” is aggregated and analyzed to create powerful predictive insights, landing that analytic insight into front-line workflow systems (e.g. marketing, web sites, CRM systems, agent/advisor systems, etc.) is a big challenge. We call this activating predictive analytics by embedding into day-to-day employee, agent/advisor, etc. workflow systems, and even customer-facing applications.

3. The Next Big Question: How Should Big FinServ Companies Integrate Their Data Ecosystem?

Digital transformation efforts are leading FinServ companies and their third-party partners to acquire and/or build many new, fragmented systems.  The next BIG challenge is bringing all this data together—or at least coordinating it—to not only create a 360° seamless customer experience, but also to enable internal data science operations to monetize its value.

We will get into managing the ecosystem of FinServ customer data through marketing data platforms in future blogs, but let me tee up two options that execs must consider:

  1. Build a totally customized data warehouse that require massive numbers of bodies, hours, years, and $$$$. This, of course, is what many software and data management vendors encourage—and it makes sense, until it doesn’t. After all, every need must be met, right? Keep in mind, this is how the Pentagon buys fighter planes.
  2. Think and act like a nextgen FinTech software startup and aim to build a scalable and extensible data lake, enhanced in an agile way based on business needs in a matter of weeks, not years. The first version might only contain 10% of what’s needed, but the next one, released in two weeks, will have 12%, and so on and so on. The most important data elements will be addressed first. And, it’ll all be built on cheap, scalable cloud storage (e.g. AWS or Azure.)

Clearly we have a bias to #2! This is how we have been building marketing data platforms for years—and it’s nice to see Agile imperatives starting to penetrate huge companies.

Software is Eating the World and Financial Services is Next

Like many families, my son and I both have accounts that are linked at the same bank, and of course I sometimes transfer money online when his balance gets too low. (To be fair, he works hard to earn his own money, but occasionally still needs some support!) The other day I got a notice that his balance had fallen below $25 – again. I went in to transfer some money and decided to inspect where he was spending. I noticed small, differing amounts being withdrawn daily – $1.52, $2.27, etc. – all to the same vendor. I was sure it was some sort of online gaming, but after further research, I discovered it was an app he had downloaded that analyzes historical account inflows and outflows and algorithmically determines an amount that can be automatically transferred daily to an insured savings account – at another institution. I must say, I was impressed that A) he was actually saving his money and B) the apps on his phone aren’t all mindless games – in fact, so much of what’s out there can improve our daily lifestyle in the long run.

Here’s my point…

Unfortunately for my bank, they lost the opportunity to expand their services and relationship with a customer very likely to grow in value over the coming years. Why? Because with the access he now has to quick savings at the touch of an iPhone screen, the extra value my bank might want to offer him might not seem as worth it. A win for FinTech.

 

What financial services needs to realize…

As Marc Andressen put it, “software is eating the world” and banking is no exception. Many traditional financial services players – banks, insurance companies, asset managers, payments providers – continue to claim that so called “FinTech” competitors have low market share and are not yet a threat. That may be true in the near-term – most financial services buyers are cautious and reluctant to quickly change how they spend, save, and invest their money. But in my opinion, financial services needs to think quicker – just like my son and his apps, before you know it, the next generation will demand mobile and digital capabilities from traditional FinServ vendors or else those consumers will move on to someone who CAN provide it. Heck, he is already using Venmo to pay split the bar tab with friends! FinTech’s impact is already being felt in traditional Sales & Marketing organizations and customers who explore or experiment with these new online financial services are beginning to change buying habits and vendor expectations.

 

FinTech is here to stay… and here’s why…

  • It’s not just a fad: Robo-advisor AUM is expected to grow from $ in 2012 to over $2.2 trillion by 2020 according to some estimates
  • It’s not just a startup game anymore: Charles Schwab and Vanguard have both launched robo-advice channels that are quickly becoming a significant part of their go-to-market
  • It’s not just millennials: Over 30% of the assets come from clients 50 and over

 

So what should traditional financial services firms do?

  1. Digitize the buying journey where possible: Firms must find new ways to engage with their customers across the buyer’s journey beyond the traditional phone and face-to-face channels – apps, mobile technology and more – or like my bank, they won’t even get the chance to compete for the business.
  2. Analyze customer data from external and internal sources: Financial services need to better understand and segment their customer base using multiple data sources so they can better address the needs of each segment.
  3. Personalized digital content to fit each unique prospects profile: Firms must leverage that segmentation to engage appropriately with each customer/prospect. My son will likely never open a piece of direct mail, walk into a bank, or take a call from a financial advisor. But he will read a text (at least I THINK he reads mine!)
  4. Enabled quota bearing sales reps with better customer intelligence and digital engagement tools: Financial service firms must equip their traditional channels with better intelligence and new ways to engage in today’s environment.

Traditional FinServ sales and marketing organizations must “get their data and digital game on” or being further disintermediated in today’s environment.

How to Make the Most of Digital Customer Loyalty Strategies

The success of pure customer loyalty strategies online depends on your brand, products, customers and execution of the program. Companies should focus on the foundation of customers and digital media to get a handle on the vast number of customer retention strategies.

Companies that prioritize the customer experience generate, on average, 60 percent higher profits than their direct competitors who do not focus on the customer experience. In the same light, a 2 percent increase in your customer retention rate has the same bottom-line impact as decreasing your total operational costs by 10 percent.

Customer experience is the heart of loyalty and retention. Learning what works best and the foundation you need to have in the digital space will better prepare you to create more positive user experience. Here are 3 simple but important digital customer loyalty and retention area to focus on.

1. Start With Social Media

Social media will always top customer retention tips and loyalty recommendations because it’s easy to start, most of your customers already use it and it allows for communication however your customers prefer.

The beginning of social media is participation. Join the communities where your customers are and work to provide benefits – with a mix of branded and unbranded help – to show that you’re committed to their efforts and not just making a sale. Communicating within groups allows you to skip over the uninterested consumers and reach those who have actively said they need a service in your industry.

Your initial goal is just to provide help. Being helpful is an amazing digital customer retention strategy because digital assets don’t die; they linger. Solve one person’s problem publically and there’s a good chance another person with that issue will stumble upon the interaction or answer.

The likelihood of this discovery increases on platforms that search engines index more often, such as public LinkedIn groups and blogs. Twitter chats and Facebook posts won’t see as much search traffic, but they have better share rates and perform well for B2C brands.

Small brands can’t afford to create their own community, but you can participate in existing communities and reach your customers where they’re already looking for and sharing tips and help. You’ll generate loyalty by being helpful and can improve traffic to your best assets.
The other reason you need to be on social media is that 88 percent of people are less likely to buy from companies who leave social media complaints unanswered. Meet your customers where they want to be: on social networks.

2. Use Email as Your #1 Digital Retention Strategy

Email remains the most common activity on mobile devices and is a great place to build loyalty, according to Smart Insights research. The reason it ranks well, beyond pure usage numbers, is that email typically builds trust and mobile devices inherently feel more personal and intimate. Reach out to mobiles, especially through email, and you can capitalize on intimacy as long as your messaging isn’t too stiff.

You can optimize your email efforts by personalizing content based on the purchase habits and preferences your existing customers provide. This can be as simple as showing when a past purchase goes on sale or as complex as using detailed personas to deliver specific content around advanced feature sets.

Email gives you a variety of areas to personalize, from the subject lines and body to the ending call-to-action. Among the best digital customer retention tips is to match your pitch with the tone of your customers and keep personalization out of areas where it may cause anger.

A good rule of thumb is to personalize an email as much as you think is appropriate and then take one step back. You don’t want your brand to come off as creepy, and personalization can do that as Target learned the hard way.

  • The One Email You Need

The welcome email should be among your top three customer retention strategies. As soon as someone makes a purchase or provides an email for your newsletter, send over a quick note to thank them.

It starts the conversation and allows you to spell out any information you need. Provide useful contact details and information, but keep the promotions limited here. You’re establishing a relationship, and 65 percent of loyal customers want this type of communication.

  • Always Opt-In

How many businesses ask for an email address to send you a receipt and then follow up with ads and spam?
One of the easiest ways to tank your digital customer retention strategies is to start harassing customers when they haven’t realized they’ve signed up for your marketing. Running an implicit opt-in, when you use emails or contact information from forms for downloads or registrations, can be troublesome if there is no indication that your customers are joining a mailing list. In some countries, an implicit opt-in policy in your marketing is illegal.

Subscribers you force into mailing lists may bolster the volume of your list, but they’re also more likely to consider your emails as junk and send you to the spam folder. To avoid that, it’s best to use a combination of explicit opt-ins and follow-ups.

Ask customers to sign up and make the pitch for why your loyalty program is beneficial. When they’ve signed up, send an email that asks for a confirmation of the subscription. Now you’ve got a list of people willing to take a few steps to engage with your brand, so they’re more likely to be loyal. This opt-in confirmation is also the perfect place to provide the email address of your content so new subscribers can be on the lookout for great content. Automating the confirmation process can also help you immediately send out a welcome email, which we know improves loyalty and retention rates.

After you’ve secured the sign-on, make sure customers can adjust their preferences easily. A preference center on your website can be automated to improve retention and show customers you care about their time and concerns.

3. Define Your Goals – CLEARLY

At the end of your big customer loyalty push, you’re going to have a lot of numbers. Understanding them gets significantly more difficult if you didn’t have a set of defined goals. You also risk not tracking the right data if you don’t enter with eyes wide open.

Goals should be spread across a wide variety of metrics, including:

  • Repeat sales
  • Increases in newsletter or program sign-ups
  • More followers, subscribers and friends
  • More social media conversations
  • Likes, shares, mentions and retweets
  • Email opens
  • Upsells or cross-sells

In that subset, it’s clear that revenue is not the sole goal of a strong customer loyalty program. The best digital customer loyalty tips cover your interactions and focus on long-term growth, which can simply mean getting more followers today. Improving loyalty across multiple channels, especially new channels you’re launching, requires a blend of sales and customer service, so make your metrics appropriate to those goals. Remember to consider privacy and customer complaints relative to these metrics – you may see a dip in followers or subscribers over time if people feel they’re not being properly helped or feel tricked into your loyalty program.

Customer loyalty tips should never cause you to overlook the people you’re serving. When in doubt, ask customers what they want and provide options that you’re willing to provide. Learning what works best will better prepare you to create a positive user experience and long lasting relationship with your customers.

To read more about building brand loyalty through personalized digital programs check out Olivia’s related blog post on Humanizing Your Digital Marketing.

3 Digital Tactics to Increase your Cross-Sell and Upsell Opportunities

Most marketers know that acquiring a new customer is only the first step in a long-term relationship. However, cross-sell and upsell activities are often left to sales teams whereas marketing focuses on acquisition. Did you know that having an online presence means you already have an opportunity to upsell using digital marketing? The good news is you won’t need to add anything to your portfolio to take advantage of these advanced sale opportunities, and you can start today.

Emails, social media and your website represent the best opportunities for you to capitalize on online marketing cross-sells and upsells. Keep reading to learn more about how to improve your returns on digital cross-selling.

Digital Cross-Selling: Email

Email is one of the first avenues most brands try for online marketing upsells and cross-sells. With leads and contact lists, as well as customer profiles, email already gives you the right foundation. With email, digital cross-selling and upselling will be a subtle message you either use in existing transaction emails or in standalone emails, such as follow-ups.

In general, upsells perform better within existing transaction emails — standalone emails see better performance from cross-sells. There’s no guarantee about which will work best for you, so consider A/B testing to see if one avenue is more effective.

If you want to start with email, follow these steps:

  1. Define when you will use existing transactional and/or follow-up emails.
  2. Build cross- and upsell emails in your email management system and automate their delivery. Insert transactional emails into existing campaigns, and replace existing follow-up emails with your new cross-sell CTA.
  3. Vary deliveries as you begin. Testing is essential, so make sure you send follow-ups to different groups at different times — such as 5, 10, and 14 days after a purchase.
  4. Link final efforts to events. This varies by industry, but the easiest example would be a vacation reservation service sending a check-in email a week before one of their customer’s trip. This check-in email could also promote auxiliary services such as car rentals, theme park tickets and tourist attraction packages.

Because email is well-understood, it’s a great stepping stone for online marketing upsell and cross-sells.

Digital Cross Selling: Social Media

Marketers often turn to their social media accounts to start cross-sell and upsell pitches because it covers a large area and you’re already working to establish a connection. Studies have also found that people are more likely to make a purchase after brands engage with the customer on Facebook and Twitter.

The main concern with social media is being too pushy. View your interactions on social media as an offer that’s always open, not something you need an immediate answer to move forward. Social media is where you want to share your best deals, but you’ll need to make it clear when and where this applies. It’s also ideal for promoting opportunities for upsells and cross-sells on your platform, especially if you have coupons or specific landing pages that offer your deals.

Use Good Design for Upsells

Digital cross-selling and upselling can take place on your website quickly. The main way this happens is by optimizing each sales page by de-cluttering your site design and using proximity to link products together. If you’re selling shoes, put socks and proper cleaning products directly next to the information about the shoes themselves.

You should also:

  • Clearly list the products you’re trying to cross-sell and use visual cues to tell customers the items are related.
  • Limit your cross-sell and upsell pitches to 2 to 3 items per page.
  • Make digital cross-selling feel like a suggestion, not a demand.
  • Provide upsell opportunities on your cart and checkout pages, or in pop-ups when an option is selected.
  • Don’t make customers click “no” on an offer in order to proceed. This turns offers into annoyances and may lead to abandoned carts.

When you want to achieve upsells using digital marketing, limit your options and provide clear value to your customers. Make sure you de-clutter and provide a distinct advantage, or your attempts will simply seem like noise. Learn more about MarketBridge’s customer retention solution which combines predictive pathways and personalized offer programs that are proven to increase your customer renewals and cross-sell opportunities.

Digital Sales: Adapt or Die

Digital Sales: What Does it Mean?

How much time does your company invest landing a single sale? Traditional sales — the phone calls, meetings, and lunches of the past — have taken a back seat to digital sales in the past decade. Now, companies hoping to steadily land new clients must reinvent the sales process to cater to the needs of customers without losing the all-important personal touch. Discover why traditional sales processes are failing and what you can do to change your company’s outlook for the future.

Want more detail? Download the PowerPoint slide at the bottom of the page for a detailed blueprint for a successful digital sales program

The Problem with Traditional Sales

When it comes to selling the traditional way, everyone loses. Why? Because your company invests significant time and resources without an impressive return while your customers are forced to dodge unwanted sales calls and come up with new excuses as to why they’re not “all in” with your product or service. It’s frustrating for both sides, and doesn’t help your company grow in the long run. With more than 2 billion people using the Internet, it no longer makes sense to approach sales with dated ideas. It’s time to innovate your sales process using proven digital tactics.

How to Perfect Digital Sales

Digital sales involves the use of virtual channels to reach out to prospects, provide education, and ultimately offer a solution that uniquely meets their needs. Think of it as 1-1 marketing. Here are three key strategies to complete an effective digital sales model.

Understand Your Customers Through Enhanced Profiling

Your sales department’s secret weapon is using customer data to improve the customer experience.

  1. Use the Data You Have: Organizations have plenty of insight on their prospects and customers which they can use to make sales more effective. Whether it is providing sales with triggers around specific activity or prioritization of leads/accounts with a lead scoring model, making better use of data can make a big difference in sales productivity.
  2. Social Media: Facebook alone has more than 1 billion users and LinkedIn has 300+ million. The growing number of social platforms gives your company endless options to listen to what customers have to say and learn more about them through improved profiling.. From reviewing common complaints to addressing unmet needs, building a strong social media presence is essential to digital sales.
  3. Advocate Based Selling: Online reviews are a great way for customers to get acquainted with your company while researching whether you’ve effectively solved a problem for someone else. Monitoring reviews and providing advocates with the power to share their views will not only offer a snapshot of sentiments about your solutions, but also offer social proof of your value for uncommitted prospects.

Sell Like a Marketer through Digital Channels

  1. Social. A common misconception about social media is that it’s just for socializing. For brands, engaging customers with social media posts, news, and responsiveness through social media, however, is the best way to build rapport and engage customers (all while in a platform of their choosing).
  2. Email. Without a doubt your most direct digital channel, email is the crux of your company’s customer engagement. Between drip campaigns, newsletters, and special offers, email simplifies lead nurturing without tying up your sales department’s resources.
  3. Marketing Automation Work with marketing to gain insights to customers with this tool. Use these insights to offer up personalized content or offers to your prospects.

Educate Your Customers with Digital Content

One of the best ways to communicate value online is by providing education to prospects. Not only does this benefit them without forcing a commitment, but it shows you’re investing in their problems by providing solutions tailored to their needs. Use the following assets to educate via digital channels (and make recommendations to sales on how to use them):

  1. Personalized Content. Whether creating blogs, white papers, or social media content, you have the power to offer helpful advice and tips through content tailored to your prospects. Incorporate both written and visual content into your sales process to make solutions accessible to Internet prospects.
  2. Curated Third Party Content. Thoughtfully curated content from third party sources shows you’ve taken the time to cater to your prospect’s needs.
  3. Case studies. Sometimes it’s difficult to visualize how a solution will benefit your customer’s life, but detailed case studies can add an illustrative quality to the typical problem-solution equation. Create case studies focused on industries you serve by outlining their struggles, failed solutions, effective solutions, and ultimate results.
  4. Web-based events. Working with marketing to host an event, such as a webinar, is a great way to establish expertise and use digital channels to make a personal connection with many prospects at once. Develop webinars focused on a particular topic, use complementary visual elements (such as slideshows or presentations), and leave room for engagement with customers after the event.

The result of using digital channels: Time and frustration saved

These new channels are making it much easier for sales teams to prioritize their targets and spend time on the right ones. Using digital tactics and technologies allows you to connect with the right buyer at the right time, as opposed to the traditional pure volume metrics of yesterday.

Which of these elements is your digital sales strategy missing?


Below, download the detailed PowerPoint slide that summarizes this article.

15 Recommendations to Improve Website Analytics – Part 3

Welcome back to our third installment of 15 Recommendations to Improve Your Web Analytics. In the last two weeks, we laid out our first six recommendations, and this week we continue on with suggestions seven through nine. By now you should be ready to begin tagging. Here are customized tagging options and plug-ins.

Web Tagging Best Practices

7. Use Custom Events and A/B Testing:
Web analytics solutions are powerful tools to help measure the success of your website. If you have been following this article, then you probably already know that. But we would be remiss not to mention how many customization options are available in order to gain more insights on your website. While it may take some time to set up custom events and get the hang measuring them, the effort will pay dividends. Also, using A/B testing capabilities that are available on most analytics platforms will allow you to make more informed decisions about site enhancements as you continue to measure your website and optimize performance.

8. Enable Enhanced Click Tracking:
Your analytics platform is only as smart as the data captured. Unless directed otherwise, web analytics platforms aggregate all clicks on a given web page that link to the same destination. As a result, if a page has ‘Contact Me’ link or a social media link in the header and the footer, total clicks for each link will be the same. In practice, visitors may click on the header link more often, but that fact is obscured. This is a significant limitation to understanding how users interact with the page. You can’t distinguish these links with the URL schema as they point to the same page. However, site owners can avoid this pitfall by enabling Enhanced Link Tracking. It’s as easy as adding some simple JavaScript to the page and selecting an option in the analytics admin console. It is called something different in each web analytics platform but the same concept applies in each.

9. Capture Scroll Depth:
Understanding how far people scroll down of the page provides intelligence on whether visitors actually see the content your team spent so much time developing. This is particularly critical for content that is ‘below the fold’ (the part of the site that is not visible to the eye without scrolling down the page). Many sites are not collecting this information. There is no out-of-the-box solution from most web analytics solutions. However, there are many plug-ins available to perform this task. Google Analytics has a popular scroll depth plug-in that even allows you to customize the scrolling percentage for your site. It takes a little more effort to implement, but the information is very valuable, especially as popular site designs increasingly advocate one-page scrolling.

While having a tag management system in place (discussed in our last post) can help a marketer implement these custom tags without the help of a developer, working with the development team to get these valuable events and plug-ins to fire should be no more than a couple days work. From there, just watch the results come in! Next week, we’ll explore some more site activity to track that is often overlooked.

15 Recommendations to Improve Website Analytics – Part 2

In last week’s post, we kicked off our 5-part series of 15 Recommendations to Improve Your Web Analytics. Click here to revisit the first post. It outlines our first three recommendations to improve tracking and accurate measurement for your website, or continue reading below for our next three recommendations in the series. Once you’ve set up a strategy, confirmed your key performance indicators, selected an analytics platform and established baseline goals for your website metrics, you are ready to dive in. Well, you’re almost ready to dive in. Our number four recommendation below is an additional investment you may want to make before adding tags to your website.

Additional Investments Before You Begin Tagging

4. Consider a Tag Management Solution:
Site tagging has become both more critical and more difficult as web properties have become more complex. Companies often have multiple sites or sub-sites that fulfill distinct corporate functions, and executives need to understand site performance in aggregate and by web property. Product teams and other stakeholders are constantly updating site content, increasing the need for responsive measurement. To add to the muddle, 3rd party vendors need to place pixels on the site to track clicks from ads. The volume and pace of change often leads to roadblocks when the web development team is asked to implement new tags or change existing tags. As a result, measurement can be compromised due to timing or implementation problems. Tag Management Solutions can enable tech savvy marketers with some basic java script understanding to manage site tagging themselves, freeing them from constraints imposed by the web development calendar.

5. Filter Internal Traffic:
Do you know how much of your site traffic comes from employees and partners? It could be more than you think. If you are not filtering out this traffic, your site metrics are skewed upward. It’s simple enough to remove these visits, but you might be surprised how often companies count internal traffic. Even worse, your team could be drawing insights based on internal navigation instead of valuable customer navigation. There are a couple of things to remember as you take this step. It’s a best practice to create a separate view that eliminates internal traffic, while maintaining a view that captures all site traffic. Also, be sure to account for your wireless network when creating the filters. Exclusions based on IP address do not always eliminate this traffic source.

6. Eliminate Bot Traffic:
Many implementations do not exclude traffic from bots that are constantly crawling the web to index pages. Failure to eliminate bots will overstate site traffic. For smaller sites, this may not be insignificant. We have seen sites where a notorious crawler is one of the top three referral sources. The admin settings in most analytics tools allow users to eliminate the bot traffic by simply checking a box. There are a couple of key things to remember when implementing this. First, it’s a best practice to do this as view; there should always be an unfiltered reporting view that includes all web traffic. Second, it’s not foolproof. You will need to create custom filters to eliminate some bots.

Next week we will continue to discuss simple ways to enhance your website tagging, covering the topics of customized web tagging options and plug-ins.

5 Website Analyses You Must Conduct Before Your Next Website Redesign

The time has come for your website redesign. You and your team have been dreaming of this moment for months, even years now. So, let’s roll up our sleeves, toss the old site aside and get the creative juices flowing. But wait! Before you say goodbye to your company or client’s weathered website (probably designed circa 2010), you should take the time to reflect on lessons learned in the form of website analysis.

If you have a web analytics solution on your site, you’re probably already measuring things like visits, bounce rate, average pages per visit and custom events set up to continually optimize site specific solutions. But you may not have thought of leveraging the troves of data your current analytics platform provides to help influence design decisions for the new site. Even if your new website will look drastically different from the former, it can be important to use the data you’re collecting to help guide future design decisions. Here are 5 website analyses that will help in the redesign of your website.

1. Home-Page Analysis:
There are many ways to analyze a home-page, but one great way to visually understand the impact of user navigation is to create a heat-map that shows where visitors are clicking the most. Often you’ll notice that people tend to click on areas “above the fold”, but you may be surprised by what people click on after scrolling down the page. Knowing where your visitors go and don’t go on the homepage will help you decide how to organize that prime real estate in the future. You can also learn where it might be best to feature a callout for a new product or campaign that you are running. If there are any lingering questions after you decide on the homepage layout, set up A/B testing and monitor the results.

2. Page Content Analysis:
Once you have the homepage navigation set, a great next step is a general site content inventory. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many professionals cannot identify their best and worst content by page. By seeing what are the most important sections or pages of your website, a company can prioritize the content that generates the most attention and enhance those that aren’t as frequently visited. A deep dive into your site pages and features can potentially lead to a new navigation screen or a remodeled site hierarchy and structure.

3. Exit Page Analysis:
Just as it is important to know where your visitors arrive, it is equally important to know where they leave. Exit Page Analysis can help with your website redesign by identifying areas where you need to better guide your visitors to the next page. Where do people drop off the most and how can you dissuade them from departing? Perhaps the analysis tells you there are too many steps in an e-commerce site, which leads to abandoned shopping carts. If you have a content site, maybe you can improve it by creating suggested articles. Those pages may need a stronger call-to-actions or potential next steps at the bottom of an article. It isn’t unusual for your most important pages (those right before a user signs up or buys something) to have the highest exit rates, so identifying this is key to an optimized user experience.

4. Traffic Analysis:
It is also extremely valuable to know what type of traffic is coming to your website. A new user who visits from search can have a drastically different objective compared to a user that comes to your site every morning while at work. Understanding how these distinct segments groups navigate the site can give you deep insight into how you can redesign your site to be more first-time friendly, but also how to provide “sticky” features to keep users coming back. By segmenting the Acquisition Type (search, direct, referral, campaigns, etc.), you can identify site content that keeps people engaged with your site longest and make sure to feature this prominently. You could even take it a step farther and dynamically change your site for different user flows to fully capitalize on different visitors’ objectives.

5. Mobile vs. Desktop Analysis:
Finally, one of the most important things to remember when redesigning a site is not only the channel from which a user comes but also the devices they are using when navigating your website. According to a recent study released by comScore, mobile devices (including smartphones and tablet) account for 60% of U.S. digital media time spent. That means at the very least, your site must have a responsive design that renders appropriately for any screen or device size. However, when conducting a device analysis, you may find that it makes sense to adopt the increasingly popular mobile-first design, or even create an app to give users the best overall experience, no matter what device they come from.

 

With the plethora of web metrics available today, it can often be an overwhelming task to begin looking underneath the hood of your website when you want to make significant changes. However, in today’s environment, websites are a critical tool for driving customer engagement, conversion and retention and must not be neglected. By combining useful and pertinent analyses with the latest usability trends, companies can use web analytics solutions to know what their customers are looking for and how to meet and exceed their needs. By evaluating what part of the website your users are looking at, how they are getting there, and why they are coming back, you will have a better, more informed plan when creating the plans for your next website redesign.

Have any other tests or analyses you think are important when evaluating a reconstruction of a website? Let us know in the comments section below!

Learn more analytics tips & tricks from our whitepaper How to Leverage Predictive Analytics in B2B Organizations!

Part 3 – Prevent Customer Detours Through Digital Engagement

The Ultimate Guide to the New Buyer’s Journey – Part 3: Prevent Customer Detours Through Digital Engagement

We established in Part 1 that digital and online channels are playing a significant role in the new buyer’s journey. Organizations need to create digital strategies for multiple digital channels, including but not limited to, SEO, Social Media, Websites, Communities, Blogs, Etc. Furthermore, organizations need to optimize those strategies for inbound marketing, outbound marketing, content marketing and digital sales coverage. However, the critical part of the new customer buying journey is not in creating new digital tactics, its how your organization engages prospects once they engage digitally. When the appropriate digital engagement doesn’t take place around a key consumer segment, revenue loss is a very real scenario. Organizations tend to over engage on their corporate website and under engage on social media channels.

Not all customer engagement is created equal. Research shows that customers who engage on social media expect a response within a few hours but those who engage in a PPC ad or download a whitepaper typically do not want to be contacted by a sales rep. Carefully plan out when and how you engage with perspective and existing customers. A lack of engagement in the digital space when your community is ready to vent/complain or overly engaging when your customers are not ready can mean the customer terminating their journey with you or, worse, your competitors offering them an alluring detour. Don’t let your competitors provide a better customer experience than you, its a sure fire way to lose revenue.

So how should you digitally engage with your prospects and customers. Read our whitepaper on the Ultimate Guide to the New Buyer’s Journey for specific digital engagement best practices.

 

Continue the Ultimate Guide to the New Buyer’s Journey:

Part 1 – What is the New Buyer’s Journey?

Part 2 – Segmentation Must Be the First Step

Part 4 – Content for Every Stage of the Journey