Four Ways Service Teams Can Inspire Marketing Innovation

Investing in customer insight but cutting customer contact makes no sense. Service teams have huge emotional investment in putting right the things that cause customers angst. They should be central to strategic product and service innovation.

Customer insight arms race

For ten-thousand dollars a report, anybody can buy as much customer surveying, benchmarking, customer ethnography, usability, psychodemographic segmentation, social network monitoring and integrated listening capability as they want. There are two problems with driving innovation from this kind of insight:

Lots of organisations have deep pockets, so the pursuit of a commercial edge through third party solutions becomes an arms race rather than a competitive advantage. These approaches are a step removed from reality.
They’re constructs. They are to real customer experience what television is to reality or what air conditioning is to climate.
Contact centre Cassandras

By contrast, service teams are the most under-exploited resource for driving marketing insight and product and service innovation out of customer experience. If this isn’t self-evident, ask yourself the following questions:

Who spends the day in constant contact with customers?
Who has most emotional investment in putting right the things that cause customers angst?
Contact centre staff know exactly what customers love and hate. They experience it viscerally every day. But, Cassandra-like, their voice is often overlooked in strategic marketing and new product innovation. Why? The reasons boil down to a) narrow service management focus on cost and operations, b) silo’s between service management and marketing c) service staff without the skills, systems or incentives to make a strategic difference and d) physical and cultural remoteness from the Board.

The most powerful customer insight you’ll ever have?

All of these barriers can be broken down fairly easily, and for far less cost than many customer insight approaches. Here are four key ways of doing it:

Get service agents to listen and probe for what customers are saying about competitors, products and features. Make sure that this kind of insight can be captured and reported in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Track service performance against brand values, and not just operational targets.
Conduct regular reviews of raw customer service feedback, searching for strategic product and service insight.
Give the Board regular, visceral, experience of the customer. Board members should sit in on the call centre at least every month and should regularly listen to representative recordings of customer contact.

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Switch On Your Marketing Innovation Machine

The question I posed to the room full of financial advisors was “What new ways have you used in your marketing in the past twelve months?” I was really eager to hear the answers, and for other people in the room to hear and learn from the suggestions as well.

As I took answers from the people around the room I saw that one of the participants, Michael, had a self-satisfied grin on his face. I thought to myself “Great! He must have a good example to share.”

You can imagine my surprise when he said, “I’ve been at this thirty years. Frankly I’ve tried everything without predictable results and there is nothing else worth trying.” He really meant it. When I asked for details, he listed approaches he’d used years ago and never tried again since.

Sitting across the table was a new financial planner, Dave, who proceeded to list four things he’s doing to market his business…and each is getting him results right now, building his business.

I could list those four approaches for you but that’s actually not the point. The point is the difference in attitude and the steps Dave is actively using are producing his results.

As I probed further, I unmasked the fact that Michael took a scatter shot approach to his marketing and didn’t stick with any approach long enough to get real results. Dave on the other hand was persistent in moving his new ideas systematically through the four steps of innovation that I teach my clients to use.

These four steps both drive new activities through from first idea to completion, and also provide checkpoints that ensure you won’t get stuck along the way. It works for marketing a new entree or your professional services.

Step 1 “Create” a new approach

Some people are brilliant innovators. They see the pieces of new ideas and can assemble them into new approaches with ease. Very often, though, people keep ‘working the new idea’ trying to assure themselves they’ve got it perfectly designed before putting it into action.

If you’re like Michael, you tend to have new ideas, yet never move them forward. Ask yourself if you clearly see the new ‘thinking’ that is involved, and the new ‘action’ that is required. When you can see both of those aspects of your idea, move on to step two.

Step 2 “Advance” the idea with others

Having a new idea isn’t enough. At times, we become enamored with our own ideas and certain the rest of the world will love them. We need to get a ‘dose of reality’ by actually sharing the idea with others to get their opinion of it.

The quickest way to do this is to use a board of advisors, friends, clients or colleagues, as your sounding board. Present the idea and take down every single compliment and suggestion they have. It’s key to test it in the real world to see if it resonates with the market you’re trying to go after. Then use step three.

Step 3 “Refine” your idea

All too often independent professionals go from “idea” to “done.” It works for a while so they think that’s all that was needed. Over time results fall off and they classify the effort as ‘been there, done that, doesn’t work’ and drop it permanently.

Even if your advisors say “It’s great!” and a couple of clients do as well, you’re not done yet. You need to match your “thinking” to your buyer’s thinking. AND you need to match the “action” you’ll take to the way your buyers want to be approached.

Your goal is to create new activities that reach the most people with the greatest efficiency. Take every one of the suggestions you received, and fine-tune your planned approach. Now you’re ready for step four.

Step 4 “Execute” your idea systematically

Using your new approach successfully once is not enough. To build your business with new marketing activities, you need to implement a step-by-step process to use it over and over again.

Dave is getting High Payoff results because he’s learned that a good marketing idea needs a good plan of action. Dave’s plan consists of calendaring the time needed to accomplish his marketing activity on a regular basis, investing the resources needed to get it done, delegating all the pieces that would distract him from focusing on what he’s best at, tracking the results, and repeating the steps over and over again.

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Knowing New and Cool Internet Marketing Innovations Today

We’ve all been familiar to the basic as well as the so called old school techniques in internet marketing. Ad banners like the ones we see on those famous websites have proven itself to be pretty effective throughout the years. We could say that almost in all aspects using ad banners for internet marketing is really a great way to advertise your products and service but it totally fails to some extent when we talk about it in terms of affordability specially in the case of small online businesses. With more and more internet shops demanding for these ad spaces the more the prices steepen.

Though this has been the case one thing that separates internet marketing to the usual medias like television, print and radio is the fact that it evolves really fast. Though ad banner marketing strategies have been here for years it’s amazing that there were already new online marketing innovations available. Pretty different when we juxtapose it to the usual medias since there isn’t really new in terms of strategies from them.

One of the recent and more interesting innovations in online/internet marketing is social media marketing. Some people consider this as a derivative or an answer to the problem of costs from the usual online marketing strategies.

What makes it special and what makes it an answer to the problems in costs is because it uses the free available resources in the internet like social media sites (facebook, friendster, multiply and others) as a tool for marketing. Other than that if you have some money, you could hire a professional social media marketer to do the job for you but that is totally optional since you could do the whole marketing process all by yourself.

With this new development in internet marketing more and more people with online businesses will get a chance to level the playing field in the market and of course we’ll be expecting to see more innovative, cheap and exciting ways to market products and services in the internet.

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Knowledge Sharing the Key to Marketing Innovation

Creating and managing innovation can be one of the most complex challenges facing organizations large and small today. Part of innovations management includes “marketing innovation management.”

Marketing innovation is the process of developing, creating and maintaining new ideas and methods for building sales teams, lead generation, getting the word out about your products and services and creating buzz.

The marketing landscape is forever changing and what that markets classifies as valuable is a fast moving target.

Marketing managers know that to succeed in the long term they must constantly package and re-package meaningful relevant messages and techniques to appeal to old customers, new customers and old markets and new markets to meet new demands.

One of the possible first steps toward marketing innovation is sharing knowledge.

Marketing executives and managers must share knowledge not just with the sales and marketing team members, but also with other departments.

Companies should consider a “hybrid” marketing team that consist of managers from various departments.

This can include…

Product Development Managers Sales & Marketing Managers Manufacturing Managers HR/Service Managers Other Managers

To this mix should be a small group of customers who love you and customers that can’t stand you.

Developing a process to allow such diverse department heads to make contributions to the marketing mix will give the marketing team many more ideas to work with, different perspectives and a more accurate finger on the pulse of how the products and services should be marketed for best results.

Knowledge sharing should be encouraged among individuals and groups even below the management level.

Teams should be allowed to freely exchange ideas and relevant information between departments. One of your biggest marketing innovations can from a completely different department.

Fostering An Innovative Environment

With change being the raw material of innovation, one of the key elements to marketing innovation is fostering an environment that embraces change rather than shies away from it.

There are countless organizations that remain static year after year. The likely culprits are managers who fail to recognize the need for innovation and change. When an organizational culture is created that embraces changes and encourages new ideas and attitudes, innovative methods for marketing and selling products and services are likely to be spawned.

With time customers and clients change and they are changing today faster than any other time. Today’s urgent scratch is tomorrow’s forgotten itch.

Their needs are dynamic, waxing and waning with changes in technology, the economy and socially.

It is vital that marketing managers recognize the ebbs and flows of client needs and encourage an innovative atmosphere where workers support marketing innovation. They can do this by applauding individual and group efforts to design new practices that are aligned with corporate strategy, vision and objectives.

They can also set aside time for individuals and groups to focus on innovative practices or creative techniques. Doing so will ultimately create an environment where innovation is constantly occurring.

To win the marketing game and allow your organization to fly above the competition, creativity and innovation practices must become the norm rather than the exception to the rule or a side show.

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The Top Three Online Marketing Innovations

They say that one year in the online marketing world is like seven years in the bricks and mortar world. As someone who has been marketing online for well over ten years, I find it extremely hard to disagree with this wisdom. Marketing strategies and techniques that work well one day, seem to become obsolete in the blink of an eye.

With that in mind there are three innovations that are integral to almost every online business and many marketers, including myself, owe a great deal of our success to these all important marketing tools.

Autoresponders

The lifeblood of any online business is email marketing. The ability to collect the email addresses of your target market and follow-up with new product updates, current sales and promotions, and keep your business fresh in the mind of your hottest prospects is extremely powerful. So powerful in fact, that the innovation of autoresponders is responsible for millions of dollars in online sales every single year.

Blogs

Before blogs, it was extremely difficult to create website content. With the creation of blog software such as WordPress, you can now post your content to your website with the press of a button. You don’t even need to know HTML or how to even write code. If that wasn’t enough, the search engines love blogs and index their pages much faster and more efficiently than your standard static website.

Today, many people are profiting handsomely after creating popular blogs in niches such as politics, sports and celebrity lifestyles. In fact, an article on CNN just broke the news about several famous blogs run by stay at home moms being sponsored by none other than Wal-Mart.

That alone speaks to the far reaching power of blogging and the culture surrounding it.

PayPal

Before PayPal, if you wanted to accept payments online, you needed to apply for a costly merchant account. This made it extremely difficult to get any online business off the ground.

Now from eBay to simple websites, marketers are making millions of dollars in profits that they otherwise never would have without PayPal.

Of course this list is only my opinion and while you may disagree with me, there is no arguing about the impact these three innovations have had on Internet marketing.

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Project Risk Management and Assurance

Why do so many organisations embark on high-risk projects without demanding robust project assurance?

Projects fail for many reasons. Recent global studies indicate that inadequate risk management is a common cause.

Successful project managers aim to resolve high levels of exposure before they occur, via systematic risk management processes.

Many projects are inherently exposed to myriad risks and are often significant in scale, complexity and ambition. Delivering large-scale projects can often be adversely impacted by a bias towards being over-optimistic.

Imperfect, insufficient or inadequate data increases exposure that often results in over-estimating benefits and under-estimating costs.

Managing macro and micro-level events related to achieving project deliverables, whilst balancing the needs of many stakeholders, has become increasingly important.

Assessing risks at both portfolio and work-stream levels helps increase confidence that risks are understood.

Projects are often prioritised relevant to their levels of perceived exposure and one has its own risk profile.

Project Risk Management

Project risk management focuses on identifying, analysing and responding to project events.

It should be designed to systematically identify and manage levels of uncertainty and potential threats to delivering project objectives successfully.

Risk management processes should be iterative throughout a project’s life-cycle and embedded in project management planning and activities. Smaller projects often require minor work and periodic monitoring.

Complex projects need formalised processes to analyse, manage and report risks.

Good reporting relies on clear descriptions of all exposure, their impact on the projects, and potential costs for mitigation and inaction.

This helps ensure project personnel understand the potential impact risks may have on projects’ success and have prepared strategies to minimise negative consequences.

Problems occur when there is limited visibility of risks at project and portfolio levels or approaches to risk-management are ad-hoc and inconsistent.

Further problems can arise when risks are identified but recorded at a very high level accompanied by highly subjective risk ratings, rather than being the result of more substantive risk assessment.

When these problems arise, an organisation would benefit from clearer, more formal and wide-spread processes for capturing and monitoring risks.

Project and Portfolio Risk Assessments

Project and portfolio risk assessments should be undertaken to understand their risk profiles and associated threats in achieving business objectives.

Assessments should identify the action plans to address the risks identified and allocate executive responsibility to manage them. Additional risk assessments should be carried out on selected projects (perhaps by prioritising them by value or complexity).

Risk management processes should be on-going and monitored throughout a project’s life-cycle.

Regular risk reports would provide Project Sponsors, Senior Responsible Officers and Steering Groups with better visibility of projects’ risk profiles.

Whether you’re responsible for overseeing or managing a project, robust project assurance will help you address the risks that threaten its success.

Mark Gwilliam FCCA CA is the founder and Director of Business Advisory Services.

From humble beginnings, the firm has grown from strength to strength.

It has matured from a small accounting and tax services practice to one that helps small business owners, entrepreneurs and executives navigate complex challenges; including strategy, risk management and internal audit, managing shared-service centres and operations.

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