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The most important integration in any company, because it drives all revenue and profit, is the one aligning product development, marketing, and sales with the personal preferences of customers. Long-term success depends on product development delivering what customers want, marketing motivating customer consideration, and sales connecting to each individual’s unique buying motivations. Customer preferences, at the individual and segment levels, are the sole definition of the perfect sales pitch, the optimal marketing campaign or ad copy, and the next category-conquering product.

This concept is simple, but implementation is complex. For product development, marketing, and sales to integrate most effectively they must be driven by customer preference knowledge that is:

  1. Comprehensive (across products, marketing campaigns, and sales calls)
  2. Multi-Channel (brick-and-mortar, Web, call center, kiosk, etc.)
  3. Real-Time (adapting as customers constantly change)
  4. First-Hand (directly from customers, without statistical guesstimates)
  5. Detailed (measuring precise levels of preference)
  6. Automated (captured, represented, and analyzed at high speed and scale)

Certainly, any integration strategy through customer preferences is better than none, but optimal results are achieved only when all six objectives are met.

This challenges today’s enterprises, which are frequently replete with transactional and demographic data, but devoid of comprehensive, multi-channel, real-time, first-hand, detailed, and automated preference knowledge. The answer is to turn every sale into a market research event, every market research event into a product development request, and every customer’s preference for a product feature into a bullet point on the sales pitch he/she will receive.

Collecting customer preferences is easy. Every salesperson asks questions such as: What colors do you prefer? How much are you willing to spend? The problem is that this is done in too ad-hoc and too isolated a way to integrate the enterprise and derive maximal value.

Leveraging customer preferences can be thought of as constructing a map. Both need to be done in a quality way. You could ask a few questions around the water-cooler about the geography of a place you have never visited and then sketch a map, but it would not get anyone from place to place. Correspondingly, a salesperson can ask a customer what color he/she prefers and how much he/she wants to spend, but that’s not enough of a preference-map to prove a product’s value and close the sale. Customers must be absolutely confident, especially in today’s tight economy. So, the preference map must be detailed enough to navigate through every objection, identify the full utility the product offers this individual, and discover hidden “hot-buttons” that will trigger a sale.

Also, these maps cannot just exist on thousands of pieces of scrap paper in hundreds of salespeople’s files, because these preference maps of individual customers need to be aggregated across the whole customer base and various customer segments to monitor changing perceptions. It is this enterprise-wide map that is the authoritative guide to integrating everything the enterprise does to drive customer satisfaction, revenue, and profit at every point in the value chain.

About the Author

With his understanding of technology underpinnings, products, and services needed to function and evolve in today's rapidly changing market, Dr. Bradley S. Fordham bridges the gap companies face in marrying technology with business needs. Prior to being CTO of Online Insight, he held several key leadership positions in advanced technology and product development with Oracle Corporation, NIST, AT&T and GE and is a lecturer and advisor to U.S. government agencies and global technology companies. Dr. Fordham received his Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Furman University and his Masters and PhD from The University of Maryland.

More by Bradley S. Fordham, Ph.D.

About Online Insight, Inc.

Online Insight, Inc., is the only provider of solutions designed to help companies consistently sell complex products and services more quickly, predictably and profitably by providing real-time insights into the personal preferences of customers and aligning products that match stated preferences. Online Insight helps companies improve their sales and marketing effectiveness, enabling them to close more business, in less time, at a lower cost. As most relationship management solutions make assumptions based on dated demographic and historical transactional information, only Online Insight answers the crucial "WHY" question behind purchase motivations. Customer and partner alliances include Accenture, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, BB&T, Etrade, Millennium Chemicals, WestWayne, Net Bank and ProAct Technologies.



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