As the world and its human inhabitants are rushing deeper into a new digitized reality enhanced by mobile ubiquity, cloud computing, and the internet of things, many traditional industries and companies with hundreds of years of history and business success are facing a challenge they haven’t seen before. Now the world is dramatically different from what it used to be some fifty years ago, or let’s make it five years.
In today’s world, while the corporate operational environment has in many cases drastically changed from what it used to be – and it may even seem like the changes have happened over night – many managers and entrepreneurs would like to get a time-out to ponder upon how are they going to keep up with the pace of development and how are they able to keep on bringing value to their customers. Or what is even more alarming, some may be puzzled how are they going to maintain relations with their customers when they are not even sure where to find customers anymore nor recognize what kind of services they want in this new digital reality.
Sometimes we may wish for the pace of technological development to slow down so that we could better keep up with it. However, the fact is that digitization is an on-going process, and we need to make the necessary pitstops with our engines running. Some experts say we are already heading to digitization 2.0 that basically means advancing from overlaying digital functionality to adapting connected products and services to customer needs. In practice, we are about to see more interconnected products and services entering the marketplace. One of the key things that companies should concentrate on in the process of digital transformation is to improve customer experience by bringing more interconnections between different devices and platforms. Yet at the same time, there are companies which haven’t really entered the first phase of digitization.
How to start?
No matter what you are selling it’s probably the best to start thinking about ways how to digitize your business and, besides continuing doing business like you’ve always done, begin to create new business models that take advantage of the new means of communication and networking – if you haven’t already done just that.
We have gathered together a few pointers that give entrepreneurs and business managers advice on how to create customer value in the digital economy utilizing new approaches in making business. If you are going to be a player in the future you probably need to develop new business models suitable in the digital landscape the world has entered or enhance you traditional business and introduce digitization to engage your customer and get leads online.
As a business entity, you should be keen to know the answers to following questions:
- Who is buying?
- What are they buying?
- On which platform?
- At what time?
- Where did they came from, or how did they find you?
- What made them choose you over competitors?
- What are they using your products for?
- How often they use your products/services?
- How much time they spend with your products/services?
- What features are they using?
- What do they think about your company and your products/services?
- What are they unhappy about?
- How would they improve your products/services?
If you don’t know the answers to these kind of questions, you probably haven’t done all you can in the field of developing new digitized business models, or implementing them.
Admitting that customer is still king in digital economy
Obviously, the first thing a business entity needs to make sure is that their products and services are available where the customers are located, physically or online. Sometimes we may need to be reminded of that. This part of the business is just like in the old days, but we need to bear in mind that in the network society companies should be able to engage with their clients in a new way.
There’s an old saying in the business world which states that customer is king. Yes, this golden rule of commerce still holds true but, furthermore, in the digital world its importance has emphasized. Should a customer get a feeling they were mistreated at the counter, it is just a few clicks away for the large internet audience to know this. Also, in the network society, product information and reviews are easy to find on the internet.
When you begin to digitize your business processes you may first want to make sure that your products’ quality, reliability of delivery, and customer service are up to date. Your online reputation is very important in succeeding in the digital age. You should give as little reason for negative reviews and angry online feedback as possible.
In the business environment of the digital age your corporate values can’t be merely rhetoric anymore – even though you may have gotten away with it in the past – because many consumers are very conscious of what they are buying and from whom. If the way you make business is not viewed as sustainable and transparent, chances are that the online communities are not buying from you.
The digital world has given birth to a new breed of consumers and customers who demand that companies have certain digital services available on their product portfolios. By offering these services you help ensure that the public thinks your company is still running strong. Furthermore, choosing the right business models, companies can generate real cash-flow through digital processes and get return on invested capital.
Setting up Point of Sale & Customer Relationship Manager
If you are running a brick and mortal store then you should probably need only Point of sale with some accounting features and Book keeping. The purpose of using a point of sale is to record all the data related to sales or purchase. You can even control inventory right at the cash register with point-of-sale (POS) software systems. POS software records each sale when it happens, so your inventory records are always up-to-date. Better still, you get much more information about the sale than you could gather with a manual system. By running reports based on this information, you can make better decisions about ordering and merchandising.
- You can analyze sales data, figure out how well all the items on your shelves sell, and adjust purchasing levels accordingly.
- You can maintain a sales history to help adjust your buying decisions for seasonal purchasing trends.
- You can improve pricing accuracy by integrating bar-code scanners and credit card authorization ability with the POS system.
There are plenty of popular POS software systems that enable you to use add-on devices at your checkout stations, including electronic cash drawers, bar-code scanners, credit card readers, and receipt or invoice printers like Storezigo point of sale software. POS packages frequently come with integrated accounting modules, including general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, purchasing, and inventory control systems. In essence, a POS system is an all-in-one way to keep track of your business’s cash flow.
Setting up presentable and optimized business website
If you’re not running a brick-and-mortar store your business website should be your display window. It is perhaps the most important way to reach those audiences who can’t visit your store or office. A functional website is also highly recommendable to physical stores. People tend to search for information about products, manufacturers, and service providers online before going shopping. For B2C sector, a business website isn’t as necessary as for companies operating in B2B since consumers can usually find product information from retailers’ online channels.
Especially in B2B your web presence should make you look like you’re an expert on your business field. So make sure your website design is at least at the same level as your main competitors’. There are services that let you design your own website, but if you hesitate whether your design and tech skills are good enough the best option is probably to hire a professional web designer/developer.
Also make sure your website is optimized for mobile browsing since there are already more mobile device users than desktop users in the world. If you want to ensure that customers find you it would be advisable to let an expert optimize your website so that search engines, such as Google, rank your pages as high as possible.
One way to get good search engine rankings is to provide relevant content on your site. Perhaps a corporate blog with interesting articles could help you to captivate customers. Your online presence shouldn’t be all about selling. Try addressing your customers in other ways, too. Show them that you care enough about them to share beneficial and entertaining content with them for free.
Selling your products online
Online shopping and ecommerce are growing fast, and nowadays you can order pretty much anything on the internet. This causes new kinds of challenges to marketers and sales teams. When entering the global marketplace you need to think over your selling strategies. Many traditional brick-and-mortar retail companies have broaden their customer base by opening an online store. In addition, the expansion of information networks has led software industry to distribute their products more and more as services downloadable in digital marketplaces or in the cloud.
Why restrict your customer base to those individuals who have time and means of transportation to visit your physical store? If you can sell it online, maybe it’s time to give it a try. It might be the best solution to hand over your busy customers an online shopping cart. There are various ecommerce platforms available, but you need to ensure you choose the right one for your particular needs.
A bigger question is, how are you going to distinct yourself positively from hundreds of online competitors? While recognizing this, you should try to come up with fresh ideas on bringing more value to your customers who are likely already adapted to the use of online shopping services. One of the leading ecommerce companies, Amazon, has put in use new innovative ways of making business, like offering a one hour delivery in chosen metropolitan areas and a new shop-by-TV feature on its Fire TV streaming box.
In order to improve your online sales you should develop a habit of analyzing your ecommerce statistics. Try to minimize bounce rates by thinking what you should do differently.
Engaging customers via social media
Socializing, and the fact that you can connect with people all over the world, are basically what make the whole internet so special. If you look at today’s leading companies with big market capitalization you will most likely be looking at a bunch of firms which understand their customers’ needs, have excelled customer service, and are providing digital add value.
Social networking should not be seen as merely another channel for commercial information, although social platforms have enabled paid advertising. Like the name states, social media are places where you ought to be social. The best way to be present on a certain channel is to be genuinely present there. If you are mainly operating in business-to-business sector then LinkedIn could be a good starting point. If you are doing more B2C, then you might want to begin with exploring Facebook.
The use of social media is a great means to keep contact with your clients, but you probably should not overwhelm them with your slick advertising. If you are using the social media in the first place you are implying that you would like to share something of yourself and that you are interested in connecting with existing and potential customers. If you get followers on Twitter, perhaps you could follow them back. When somebody likes your Facebook pages, you could reciprocally like theirs.
The rising popularity of services like YouTube, Snapchat, and Periscope proves that the role of audiovisual media is growing in inbound marketing. For starters you could try uploading product tutorial videos on your YouTube channel.
Another way to engage customers, and to gather information from them to your customer database, is to offer newsletters for them to subscribe to. Product forums are good places for customers to discuss about products and for companies to give them product related advice. On discussion forums, companies may also get valuable feedback from their customers that can be utilized to further develop products.
On Instagram and Pinterest you can share your ideas, visual material, or content that presents your company’s values, and perhaps the lighter side of making business. Presence on different channels could have a positive effect on the overall customer contentment. One way to view the social media is to see them as platforms where you can deepen the customer engagement. Your customers may even want to share their own content of them using your products.
Keep in mind that your customers likely want your social media content to be either useful or entertaining. You can improve your findability on social media networks by choosing the right keywords or hashtags. And it’s a good idea to attach a call for action to your posts occasionally, where applicable, to get measurable convergence. Eventually, your goal is to make people buy your stuff.
Increasing efficiency and customer loyalty with mobile
Nowadays about two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and it doesn’t seem likely that the popularity of smart hand-held devices is going to fade any time soon. In fact, people spend more time using mobile apps than with other forms of digital media.
For companies that are trying to figure out new, more exciting ways to create customer value and engagement and offer new services, the creation of their own mobile app might be worth consideration. For instance, with localized apps businesses can build specific customer bases and offer them real value. Mobile apps are also a great way to increase brand awareness and loyalty among audiences.
Launching a mobile app shouldn’t ever be about bringing your corporate website into your customers’ pockets. Rather, you need to seriously think about how to utilize the different features of mobile devices to make your app more useful. Some ecommerce companies have even shut down their traditional websites and concentrated on app-only platform. Why? Because the great majority of their traffic and sales come through mobile devices.
The main attribute linked to mobile devices is that they are, in fact, mobile. Among consumers, some of the most commonly used mobile device functions, besides web browsing and gaming, are media streaming, social networking, and personal information and time management applications.
Mobile devices have many built-in features that can be utilized in mobile development: GPS navigation, WiFi connectivity, cameras, motion sensors, etc. Those kind of technologies have many possible implementations for your business app. You could build an app which notices when the customer is inside your store and pushes marketing notifications to display. The main point is that your app should solve an existing problem that your customers face, while creating an exciting user experience.
Although consumer apps have been the cornerstone of app development business, there are signs that enterprise apps are surging. IDC has forecasted that mobile enterprise apps will quadruple in number by 2016. Many organizations have awaken to realize that mobile apps help increase worker productivity and make field workers’ life easier by providing them with tools and information they need to accomplish their jobs.
For example, integrating a mobile time management app with a shared calendar to your company’s daily practices helps your employees to carry out tasks more smoothly and allows managers to monitor the process. With mobile cloud document management services it’s easy for team members to share information.
Improving data management to help steer the boat
The emergence of the internet of things starts a new era in the on going process of digitization. We are now at a point where nobody even thinks that internet is something special. It just is what it is. While in the mid 90’s, most people hadn’t even tried logging into the World Wide Web. Market information provider Gartner has estimated that in the year 2015 there are 4.9 billion devices connected to the Net. In 2020, the number could be 25 billion devices.
So, basically we are standing at the crossroads of another industrial revolution. Some 150 years ago we started to build machines which could manage simple tasks more efficiently than manual labor workers. The next big thing is that all the devices that nowadays make our lives easier are connected together over networks. We may not be able to quite grasp the amount of information that is going to flow around in the near future, but one thing we can be sure of is that who ever finds the best ways to convert all the data into finding new business opportunities is going to be one step ahead in the game.
The growing need to be able to navigate through vast amounts of data and make commercially useable observations out of them will put strain on enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management solutions. Organization’s capability of managing information and analyzing data, or number-crunching, will set course for its ability to steer the business processes in the future. Large amounts of data are quite useless if you can’t make conclusions out of them and turn this into practical business development.
Mastering the business intelligence management is going to be crucial in the future. Companies should be able to utilize the data that they get from multiple sources, such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning software, or from website, social media, and ecommerce analytics. Sure, everyone makes a bad decision once in a while and we all know that predicting future is difficult, but still, it’s common sense to back up your decision making with statistics and other hard evidence.