After the gentle lift-off of a mid-week start to 2019, it’s time to focus on the year ahead. Here are a few predictions of what’s to come based on signals we started to see by the end of 2018.
1. More Market Mashups
Companies are realizing that in order to become truly customer-centric, they have to do things differently. Software vendors are one step ahead of them. Anyone and everyone who thinks they have a better way of managing customer interactions or building customer insights will get into the action. Some already have. For the most part, this is blurring the lines between existing markets rather than creating new ones, but that could change.
Customer service meets sales and marketing. In November 2018, Zendesk announced new offerings in CRM and marketing automation, expanding beyond its stronghold in service desk. Expect others to follow their lead. While the jury is out on the strength of these capabilities and how successful Zendesk will be, the move represents an important addition to the market mix.
Service desk is inherently customer centric, so vendors coming from this space bring a fundamentally different philosophy to managing sales and marketing activities. This is good news for companies trying to build consistent customer experiences across marketing, sales, and service. Tools that provide a consistent view of customers but the flexibility to adapt to specific business practices across all three have tremendous potential.
Customer experience becomes just another enterprise app. SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics offers more than an example of the multiples to be paid for expertise in assessing customer and employee experience. Perhaps most significantly, it’s an indication of the potential value of incorporating these insights into operations throughout an enterprise. That’s a very good thing. Marketing, sales, and customer service most obviously benefit, but insights straight from customers can (and should) influence just about everything a business does.
The full impact of tracking customer experiences (tracking is not the same as “experience management,” more on that here) lies in consistently operationalizing those insights. The first step is gathering them. The second is disseminating them appropriately. The third is doing something with them.
Workflows get specific. This is where things get interesting—and complicated. To design compelling and consistent experiences, especially across departmental silos, you need to create workflows. Those workflows, with customers the central focus, cut across departments, teams, and types of work.
While most of the large enterprise suite vendors would argue (with varying degrees of justification), that they already make such workflows possible, this isn’t their heartland. A wide range of vendors with different origins and backgrounds are tackling the challenge with various approaches. One example, Totango, describes itself as a customer success software provider. Using a data-driven, customer-centric approach, Totango provides the tools for analyzing customer data flows and building workflows to enable “success blocks.” These blocks are designed around specific outcomes and KPIs that describe success for both customers and the companies working with them.
Ring Central comes at the challenge from a different perspective. The call center vendor is building on its background in customer service and collaboration to unite (the theme of its 2018 event) customer experience and employee experience. In principle, by reducing the number of tools that employees use to work together and manage various channels of customer interaction, companies can significantly increase both employee engagement and customer satisfaction simultaneously.
Yet another example comes from robotic process automation (RPA). Ushur has built a system to combine workflow automation with engagement automation. The vendor offers a templatized approach and AI tools to analyze unstructured text and automate conversations based on content. Workflows address different types of conversations, such as customer service, claims processing, and billing, and can be tailored for specific requirements.
The scope and scale of workflows that impact customer experience are vast. They range from specific types of conversations on a micro level to customer lifecycles on the macro level. Some technology vendors will have the flexibility to address both. The biggest question is on what level companies will choose to tackle the workflow challenge first and where they go from there. As a result, expect this to emerge as an increasingly crowded (and confusing) market in 2019.
2. Specialists Rise to the Top and Bring the Biggest Value
Workflows provide a great segue to another important prediction for 2019: the rise of specialists. If you’re trying to achieve specific objectives, generic workflows and generic data management systems won’t cut it. Objectives and priorities vary from sector to sector and business to business. They’re integral to competitive differentiators.
As best practices get further baked into technology tools and automated workflows, it’s important to make sure they’re the right practices for you and your organization. Increasingly, that means going to vendors who really understand the particular challenges you face. The advantages included better tailored solutions and significantly faster time to results. That’s true across a broad range of technology areas, but here are just a few examples of specialists that are proving their worth.
MakerSights focuses on “decision-enablement” for the fashion sector of retail. They support the unique needs of fashion brands with a structured approach and process to product testing. Through a combination of the brands’ own customer contacts and a proprietary respondent community, MakerSights helps to close the gap between what brands think customers value and what customers really want. The vendor effectively combines data collection and analysis tools with forecasting that's accessible to a range of employee roles and genuine market expertise. The team at MakerSights is keenly aware of the financial risks of accumulating debt inventory, the need to align to the retail calendar, and how to streamline decades-old decision processes for testing and launching merchandise. Though the company’s customer base started with online retailers, established fashion retailers navigating brick and mortar and online are its fastest-growing segment.
Kahuna has tailored marketing automation for the distinct requirements of online marketplaces. Managing both sides of a market requires different approaches for buyers and for sellers, as well as a recognition that it’s possible to be both at the same time. Kahuna provides both the technology platform and AI tools to manage both audiences. The vendor also brings expert knowledge of managing the lifecycle of a healthy marketplace—the priorities during initial launch and growth aren’t the same once a marketplace is mature.
Mindtickle, a software and services company, specializes in sales onboarding and training—what it calls “sales readiness.” Through a combination of tools, including AI, and expertise in effective training techniques, Mindtickle works with sales organizations to make sales teams more productive. Beyond providing the most effective materials, approaches, and tools, the company tracks individuals and teams. By assessing their currency and proficiency—their readiness—Mindtickle believes it can help companies understand their capacity to sell as a predictor of revenue, not just assign sales targets.
All of these examples illustrate that the real benefit is in solving specific problems—and that’s where specialist knowledge is invaluable. As companies of all ilk reset their focus on understanding customers, expect them to turn to specialists for help.
3. The Scythe Comes Out for MarTech
Exciting as it is to find new providers of useful tools, there are way too many MarTech vendors out there for any reasonable marketing organization to come anywhere close to evaluating. Close to 7,000 at last count, according to Scott Brinker and Anand Thacker. And though the last several years have brought even more expansion in the competitive landscape, this might just be the year that the Grim Reaper sets his sights on all that fodder.
The possibility of a recession in 2019 will drive (much needed) consolidation in the MarTech sector. At a macro level, recession or reasonable fears thereof will put pressure on marketing budgets, reducing available spend on new technology tools. Simultaneously, marketing departments will more closely examine the comparative return on all of the tools they use. Those that don’t deliver meaningful value will be cut.
Companies will evaluate where specific tools provide critical capabilities and deliver measurable returns across KPIs tied to customer engagement and understanding. Technologies that address multiple areas and integrate easily are more likely to make the cut. So are the ones that—wait for it—provide specialist capabilities that incorporate relevant best practices.
Yes, we’ll undoubtedly see a fair bit of merger and acquisition activity. But if fears of recession prove concrete, many vendors simply won’t find a reasonable exit. That should worry the thousands and thousands of MarTech vendors out there.
What's your view? What do you anticipate in 2019?