The Business Continuity Imperative: The Product Experience for Buyer and Customer Delight in 2020 and Beyond
Products and services are the foundation of every organization, regardless of its industry or size. Products are essential to an organization’s overall business health because they generate revenue and engage buyers and customers. In a black-swan event, demand for a product may spike or dip, so in these situations it’s of the essence that products get the attention they deserve as they are marketed, sold, serviced and enhanced with innovations. In challenging times, a “customer-first” mentality tends to take hold — this is not unreasonable but in a rush to satisfy customers, business leaders too often forget that the product experience is essential to fulfilling on the customer experience and satisfying customers and buyers. An organization’s agility and ability to invest adequate time and resources into products is essential for its sustainability and operational effectiveness.
Operating under duress during a crisis such as a global pandemic and achieving business continuity is a challenge for any organization’s skillset, particularly if digital transformation investments did not make it to business areas that needed it most. In fact, Ventana Research asserts that through 2021, one-half of organizations will realize that digital transformation investments have not met the organizational readiness requirements of business continuity, leading to a new focus on innovative digital technologies that more reliably sustain operations.
The business continuity imperative requires that organizations make it a priority to examine areas that are often overlooked but that make a meaningful impact on the customer experience and revenue objectives. One such business area is products — not the manufacturing or development process, but presenting them to customers and buyers in a simple yet sophisticated manner. This is a product process that provides digital and virtual information that’s consistent no matter the channel, from digital commerce and the company website to marketplaces where products are being merchandised.
It’s critical that organizations provide a product experience that exceeds expectations and this requires information that is accurate and reliable. The sustainability of every organization hinges on an effective product experience and technology investments that enable it. This, as I have pointed out, is essential to your selling experience and sales performance.
Building Continuity through Product Experiences
Every organization should start by assessing all short- and long-term efforts related to the product experience and any product information management (PIM) approach already in place. No matter where an organization manages product information — whether from a dedicated approach such as an ERP or CRM system, or worse, from a tangle of spreadsheets — it must continuously improve the product experience.
Furthermore, organizations that haven’t yet moved PIM to the cloud must make this an immediate priority. It’s more difficult to readily access product information when it’s managed on premises and this approach doesn’t provide an acceptable level of resiliency for business continuity. It is essential to go beyond conventional wisdom; applications in the cloud are basic steps in digital transformation, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be just fine. We have all witnessed the peril of this mindset. Many current approaches lack agility and require significant improvements in processes and technology.
Organizations should cultivate product information that encourages buyer and customer engagement, whether in the physical world or through digital commerce and websites, to bolster more interactive experiences. Doing this requires more intelligent, streamlined and automated product information processes so responsible parties can focus on areas that need immediate improvement, whether velocity and volume of interest and sales or outdated product information. The product information include the price and promotional aspects that determine if the items will be purchased or subscribed.
An organization’s investment in its products will always determine its success and is impossible without high-quality, seamless digital experiences. In fact, Ventana Research asserts that by 2022, one-half of organizations will determine that the digital experiences they provide are not intelligent or automated and fall short in maintaining business continuity for organizational readiness, resulting in lost customers and workforce instability.
Product success is about more than just merchandising and maintaining product information; it’s about more than increasing levels of productivity and even sustaining those efforts in best and worst of times and under pressure and over time. Product success is about increasing effectiveness and bringing new value to the process itself. Applications should do more than just enhance productivity in managing product information and provide insights into usage such as new product introduction (NPI) and end of life (EOL).
The product experience unifies an organization’s efforts to not just sustain continuity but bring new value to digital merchandising and marketing efforts, helping exceed buyers and customers’ expectations. Optimizing the product experience is more than just a nicety; it’s essential for every organization that looks to make the most of buyer and customer engagement and relationships. This effort is especially important when depending on digital commerce to sell products and services. Without an optimized product experience, an organization won’t be able to elevate the customer experience; I recently discussed why this is a critical part of your mission for business continuity and beyond.
Digital Product Communications is Essential
Managing product experiences requires not just the right applications but ones that enable unified digital communications and collaboration that supports the work experience, which I recently wrote about. Challenges such as a global pandemic or natural disasters demand digital communication across a distributed workforce and to customers, partners and suppliers; however, crises often shift priorities and engagement can suffer. Being collaborative and responsive in communications is important and organizations must design a program that’s comprehensive across all channels and valuable to all parties. This is what resiliency and business continuity is all about.
And this is why we assert that through 2023, one-third of organizations will initiate business continuity planning to realign the priority of technology investments required to operate seamlessly in a distributed and virtual manner in customer, product, supply chain and workforce processes. Organizations must ensure their digital communications can interoperate with the necessary applications and provide digital experiences that help engage not just those in the workforce for product processes but those across the partners and the supply chain. These parties can provide valuable information on the product experience as it is a collaborative and mutually beneficial effort.
Engaging an organization in new, virtual ways is essential to enacting work management methods that best support product processes. It’s important that an organization rally its digital communications efforts during a crisis such as a pandemic, because effectiveness in enhancing product processes requires collaboration among all parties to manage product information in an intelligent manner. To be effective, organizations should establish best practices and policies that guide improvement to product experiences, enhancing virtual interactions with buyers and customers for business continuity. And organizations must keep this axiom of business continuity in mind: Applications and systems must support digital product communications outside of normal operations.
Product Experiences Matter
Many organizations have managed product information across an array of business applications but few of these applications support a dedicated focus on optimizing the product experience across a range of business processes. A quality product experience requires the right technology, which currently we don’t find in the traditional ERP or CRM applications, or even in legacy PIM approaches or technologies designed for master data management (MDM). We assert that by 2022, one-half of organizations will have shifted to a modern product experience management environment to optimize efforts to improve product information. It’s important that an organization make investments into supporting product experience management that uses an automated and intelligent PIM system to optimize priorities and resources, simplifying the execution of product-related tasks and activities to improve outcomes. The current movement in technology for product experience management can help enhance the digital and virtual elements of products and use a common platform that can author and support endeavors to optimize interactions with customers and buyers.
Organizations must improve product experiences by assessing and prioritizing improvements to product processes to optimize engagement with buyers and customers. Using the right technology is foundational to success and creates opportunities for breakthrough growth that far exceeds mere productivity improvements. Sustainable growth in PIM and thus better product experiences are only possible when the organization is deliberate about the technology it uses to work collaboratively with customers, partners and suppliers. Organizations with a unified approach will find that it’s easier to achieve organizational agility when blended with digital communication platforms that can help increase the velocity of engaging in and executing product-related work.
Organizations also should prioritize investments that enable more effective digital merchandising and price management. They need a view of not just one product but the digital shelf, and should be able to virtualize products, from packaging to specifications, for buyers and customers. Just posting an image and description was possible a decade ago and does not provide an actual product experience. In cases where the product is equipment, extended reality (XR) technology can virtualize and augment the product experience, significantly enhancing buyer and customer engagement and often answering their questions without losing valuable time on a phone call. Embracing methods that use mobile devices to virtualize products in context, whether a facility or a living room, can further enhance the product experience, thus increasing likelihood of a purchase.
Organizations can better determine sentiment about the product experience by collecting feedback from customers and related parties at time of purchase or when it is used. If an organization is unable to capture and monitor interactions and online feedback from all relevant parties, then it’s probably missing the insights it requires to effectively improve the product experience. Continuous feedback can help increase productivity but, more importantly, the effectiveness of the organization. Organizations should seek to establish or expand a Voice of the Product (VoP) program with a set of processes and technology that uses feedback and sentiment along with analytics and machine learning to gain insights to optimize product experiences.
Smart Investments Matter
Organizations must consider whether investments in applications and technology that support product experiences can be utilized across channels and systems and if they’re built from a cloud-based product information management system. Ensuring the right open and secure digital communications, blended with PIM, can facilitate the enterprise and extended chain of partners and suppliers and even manufacturers who can help expedite a quality product experience. Investments should do more than automate tasks. We at Ventana Research assert that by 2022, one-third of organizations will require new technology to redesign product experiences to meet expectations of buyers and customers.
Smart investment requires an effective assessment of an array of applications and tools. A solid evaluation includes the following questions:
- Do your PIM technologies support the development and maintenance of product experiences that can be syndicated and synchronized across channels and systems?
- Do you have the PIM to optimize experiences and increase engagement of product information?
- Do you effectively present your products including subscriptions and services with peer reviews?
- Are you able to have digital product communications across relevant parties in the organization — to the demand chain of buyers and customers and the supply chain of partners and suppliers?
- Can you monitor and engage your customers with product experiences that you can measure and methodically improve?
- Do you have the ability to manage prices that are correlated with product information as part of merchandising?
- Are you able to collaborate on specific work tasks related to products to improve the quality of information and effectiveness of the experience?
- Are you able to assess satisfaction with the product experience and use feedback to make improvements?
A “no” answer to any of these questions indicates risk that could directly impact an organization’s potential with products. Every organization, no matter the industry, the number of its employees or the size, has an opportunity to significantly improve its product experience.
It’s critical that an application enable leaders and managers to adequately plan for and respond to needed changes, from black swan events to meeting typical business continuity obligations. Organizations are unwise to even consider any investments that aren’t mobile-ready and powered with collaboration tools. We assert that by 2022, one-third of organizations will determine that their business applications are not suited to support their business continuity needs due to ineffective collaborative and mobile experiences, which are essential to operate seamlessly in a virtual environment. Every organization must ensure it has technology that can operate on a mobile device and in a remote location, including from the couch and home office. Organizations should be ruthless about any operation that impairs the product experience. While organizations have spent significant resources and efforts on digital transformation in the form of automation and efficiency improvements, a far more important consideration is whether those investments provide the mobile work desired and can support a focus on PIM that enables product experiences.
In times of crisis such as the current global health pandemic, when business continuity is a top priority, organizations mustn’t neglect investments in the product experience, especially if it has not previously been a focal point of executive leadership or a team involved with product processes, whether marketing, selling and servicing. A superior product experience demands technology that supports processes that improve productivity and the overall effectiveness of product information. Leadership that invests in managing products can have a profound impact on buyer and customer engagement and an organization’s ability to reach expected revenue and financial performance.
Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility across business and IT leadership, and impossible to do without PIM designed to optimize the product experience. This approach is not about technology for MDM or better data integration, but a dedicated approach to PIM that’s focused on product experiences. Antiquated methods such as spreadsheets, databases and other tools or methods inside of ERP, CRM or digital commerce are not always designed for a modern digital product experience. They can decrease productivity, diminish accountability and increase risk. It is critical that organizations, especially in times of duress, use business continuity as a driver to improve planning for and the intelligent use of PIM and related communications and work, and thus should examine their investments in technologies.
If you are not sure how to approach improving the product experience — and thus revenue performance — through the lens of business continuity, there are specific steps that every organization should take, similar to the steps outlined in my perspective on the imperative for digital innovation in business continuity. The use of digital technologies to reinvent the product experience — from the outside in and from the inside out — requires the right lens that can support business continuity and not distract from it, which can ensure a more comprehensive approach. Most organizations have realized this and are making it a priority to be more prepared. We assert that by 2022, after a decade of concerted efforts in digital transformation, one-half of organizations will not have established business continuity as an investment priority and will not be prepared to operate in a future pandemic or crisis, which will lead to increased operational risks.
To achieve business continuity, optimize underlying product processes and technology for your organization as well as buyers and customers, suppliers and partners. This can have an immediate impact on top- and bottom-line results and reflects the priority you place on your product experience. Once your organization has an effective approach to digitally secure and open communications, along with the right tools for PIM and leadership committed to delivering an optimal product experience, you can be assured that your organization is built to last. Ensure that existing and future PIM technology investments are designed for effective engagement and a fantastic product experience, not just for automation and efficiency. Look how you manage prices and the related promotions for revenue management. The product experience is much more than just the physical usage of a product, the digital usage of a subscription or the user experience (UX) of software.
Every individual in the workforce matters, no matter what role they play in your organizational efforts to optimize information about your products. The entire executive team — the CEO’s staff, the CMO, CFO, CIO, CCO, COO, CRO, CHRO and the Chief Digital or Innovation Officers— should be aware of the strategy and plans for optimizing product experiences and especially for the chief product officer. Organizational leadership needs to ensure they embrace PIM and the discipline it entails throughout the organization. The future depends on the active involvement of those who see building sustainable product experiences as fundamental to business continuity.
Determining your path forward for 2020 and beyond requires an effective strategy and an understanding of how to best sustain the required business continuity for your organization. Make sure you are using applications and technology for product information that can truly provide an effective product experience that’s focused on engagement with your buyers and customers.
Partner, Head of Software Research
Mark Smith is the CEO and Chief Research Officer of Ventana Research and leads the firm’s global market agenda for business and technology as a subject matter expert in digital business and enterprise software. Mark is a digital technology enthusiast using market research and insights to educate and inspire technology buyers and suppliers.