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Companies Still Struggling with the Digital Path to Purchase

January 3, 2014


Susan Gunelius, President & CEO at KeySplash Creative, Inc., reports that a recent report released by the Chief Marketing Office (CMO) Council concludes that overall “enterprises [deserve] a D- in customer sales intelligence.” [“Companies Failing in Data-Driven Customer Sales and Marketing Intelligence,” Corporate Eye, 16 November 2013] She notes that the report “offered the following call to action”:

“Organizations must shift their cultures and platforms to become a market-sensing, alert enterprise, ready to capitalize on moments of opportunistic engagement. These universal customer sales intelligence systems must be at the ready with on-demand, real-time updates on key customer accounts. They should be filled with market news, social intelligence and aggregated customer account, service, and support details to enable all customer touch points to operate in unison and to access intelligence when and where is most opportune and through the right channel.”

Gunelius indicates that a second report released by Domo supports the low grade given to enterprises by the CMO Council report. She writes that the Domo report “reveals that less than half of marketers believe they have sufficient access to the data they need to be successful, and at least 50% are not able to effectively calculate marketing return on investment.” The touchpoints mentioned in the CMO Council report represent key markers along the digital path to purchase. As I’ve noted in past posts, today’s digital consumer finds it easy to jump on and off the digital path to purchase at any point along their journey. That means that companies must be prepared to engage the consumer wherever he or she might jump on the path. Analysts at Tibco Spotfire assert, “The customer journey is increasingly complex as customers interact in stores.” [“Mapping the Customer Journey with Data Analysis,” Trends and Outliers, 19 November 2013] The Tibco analysts make an important point. Too often when a person hears the term “digital path to purchase” they think only about online purchases that involve only the internet and mobile technologies. Increasingly, however, the digital path to purchase is moving into traditional brick-and-mortar stores as well. This shouldn’t be too surprising since the vast majority of purchases are still made in physical stores.


Harald Fanderl, Dorian Stone, and Alfonso Pulido report that consumers may virtually engage with companies several times before they ever cross a traditional store’s threshold. “Back when there were a handful of channels, interactions between customers and brands were relatively simple,” they write. “Today, by contrast, more than half of all customers move through three or more channels to complete a single task.” [“Don’t Let Data Paralysis Stand Between You and Your Customers,” HBR Blog Network, 4 November 2013] They go on to indicate why so many companies are still struggling with the digital path to purchase. They write:

“Those steps leave a long and complex digital trail. That multichannel complexity, combined with the scale of the data — US companies store at least 150 terabytes of it — makes divining insights into customer behaviors a serious challenge. Parsing this data, however, is critical to improving the customer experience and growing your business. In our experience, the most productive way to get there is not by fixing individual touchpoints but by improving the entire customer journey – the series of customer interactions with a brand needed to accomplish a task.”

McKinsey and Company calls the path to purchase the “consumer decision journey (CDJ).” McKinsey analysts Nicolo Galante, Eric Hazan, and Pierre Pont remind us, “Outside of the retail store, consumer-brand interaction along the CDJ was once limited to a catalog and an 800 number. Today, multiple channels make up the end-to-end shopping journey. … The trend toward multichannel CDJs is accelerating as additional enabling technologies mature.” [“The multichannel journey: Profitably shaping the path to purchase,” Telecom, Media, & High Extranet, 20 November 2013 (subscription required)] Fanderl, Stone, and Pulido, who all work for McKinsey, report, “McKinsey analysis finds that companies acting on journey insights have seen a 15-20% reduction in repeat service visits, a 10-20% boost in cross-selling, and a drop of 10-25 basis points in churn.” They indicate that companies should keep the following three things in mind:

“1. Focus on the top journeys: Companies may feel they need to study all the bits and bytes available to them. Our analysis across industries shows, however, that three to five journeys matter most to customers and the bottom line. They generally include some combination of sales and on-boarding; one or two key servicing issues; moving and account renewal; and fraud, billing and payments. Narrowing the focus to those journeys allows companies to cut through the data clutter and prioritize. …

“2. Don’t wait for the data to be perfect. Companies often hesitate to take action for fear their data is missing or a mess. In our experience, however, successful organizations tend not to over think all the details and instead just roll up sleeves and get to work. Most companies, in fact, already have the data they need. The challenge is pulling the data together. Companies need to figure out where that data is stored, and what it takes to extract and aggregate it so they can understand the customer journey across multiple touchpoints. Since data often lives in systems managed by various functions, bring the necessary operations, IT, in-store sales, and marketing people together to identify the touchpoints. We’ve seen companies create small ‘SWAT’ teams from across functions to break through bureaucratic logjams. Track performance from the outset, mistakes and all, since that experience helps teams test, refine and learn and ultimately accelerate the benefits. …

“3. Focus on analytics, not reporting. Companies tend to focus on generating reports from their data about what has happened. Much greater value, however, comes from analyzing data to pinpoint cause and effect.”

They conclude, “Big data harbors big opportunities to improve customer journeys and value. What it requires is a commitment to focus on what really matters.” Gunelius adds, “Is your company effectively bridging the gap between collecting data and actually using it to drive ROI? If not, you’re already missing significant opportunities.” Nestor Bailly insists that the digital path to purchase doesn’t end when a consumer enters a brick-and-mortar store. He believes consumers want the same kind of tailored experience from store personnel that they can get online. [“Improving Retail Service With Access To Shopper Data [Future of Retail],” PSFK, 17 November 2013] He explains:

“Imagine helping store staff better meet the needs of shoppers on a personal level with on-demand customer profiles and preferences gathered from a number of channels. What if insights built from these interactions could then be added to an evolving customer profile that ensured they were always relevant to the customer? These informed interactions not only offer value in the moment, but can build lasting relationships over time. Taking digital insights and applying them to the human context … can offer better services and create better experiences. … Leveraging multichannel data in the brick-and-mortar retail environment is the direction brands should seriously consider to survive and thrive.”

Galante, Hazan, and Pont conclude:

“The growing influence of digital retail channels is changing both the ways companies sell their products and the expectations of the consumers who buy them. Managing and profiting from this new multichannel reality requires companies to gain a detailed understanding of today’s changing consumer decision journey and develop the insights, strategies, and execution capabilities to surprise and delight their customers.”

You notice that none of the experts cited above indicate that developing the deep insights, strategies, and execution capabilities is going to be easy — just that it will be worth it.

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