Connect with your clients to co-create new value

Connect with your clients to co-create new valueThis past week I attended Salesforce.com’s Customer Company Tour in Paris, where they showcased the various products and services that form their Customer Company vision.

During the introductory keynote presentation, Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris laid out 5 questions that companies must answer in their quest to become a customer company.

Viewed more broadly these issues are about becoming more relevant to clients by connecting, listening and collaborating with them through direct, interactive relationships, leading to the co-creation of more relevant and unique customer value propositions.

1 – How can you reach your customers regardless of where they are?

With the proliferation of digital channels and social networks, customers of all types are spending more time online reading, learning, discussing and exchanging with others on all sorts of topics. Any company that wants to go where its clients are must figure out what are the best channels to reach them and how they can be leveraged in the best ways to strengthen links to customers, and offer new forms of value. This can in turn lead to tangible business results such as new prospects, cost savings, incremental revenue opportunities and increased client advocacy.

Cisco began using an online-only strategy for its product launches in 2010. Its marketing team uses a combination of social network sites, online communities, videos and viral campaigns that create buzz and build a community of interest around many new products. Its first such launch resulted in one of its 5 most successful campaigns at 1/7 the cost of a normal campaign, but with 90x the reach. The event itself was followed by over 9 000 attendants in 128 countries, and generated nearly 250 articles across over 1 000 blogs, receiving over 40M impressions.

2 – How can you sell better through teamwork?

Today’s customers, businesses and consumers alike, have access to unprecedented levels of information, and are able to easily research companies to decide what to buy and from whom. At the same time, a significant part of relevant knowledge is available as unstructured information, often in the minds of a company employees and clients.

To be more relevant, companies must identify what’s really important to their customers; they need to facilitate cross-functional collaboration between any employees involved in the customer experience; to remain relevant to customers they need to implement new and useful ways to collect and deliver relevant market and client knowledge, which includes pulling together information and insights from multiple sources and packaging as structured, knowledge products.

Like an increasing number of companies, Salesforce.com organizes a variety of online communities for its clients, developers and partners, with the goal of offering them new value and strengthening their relationships. Users can ask questions to their communities, seek answers, and post new ideas. Salesforce provides useful community-driven information, including how-to documents, best practices, details on known practical issues and relevant news. Ultimately this helps forge deeper relationships, it increases Saleforce’s client relevancy, and leads to new business opportunities.

3 – How can you serve your clients better over all channels?

Once a company has figured out how to reach its customers across different channels, the next step is finding the best ways to connect with and serve them according to their individual preferences. Such relationships should be based on providing value to customers, which requires a deep understanding of their desires, needs and specific demands.

As a leading Web retailer, Amazon also uses mobile apps to provide customers with an easy and timely way to discover new products; to perform instant, in-store price comparison; to access full product descriptions, including customer recommendations, and make real-time, 1-click purchases; and receive products the very next-day.

In the US it also offers its Amazon Locker service enabling convenient delivery and pick-up for any clients who are not sure to be available when a delivery is made.

4 – How to innovate using a customer-oriented platform?

Innovation is a broad and far-reaching topic, based on implementing new ideas to create value. By leveraging customer-driven platforms, companies that generate innovation of various types (ex. new ways of engaging with clients; creating revolutionary products and services; constructing new business models) have the potential to deploy it with a wider scope and scale, creating a virtuous circle of success.

Apple’s iTunes was originally designed as an online consumer music store.  It has since re-purposed it for selling and delivering a broad range of digital products including movies, books, apps, and educational courses. In doing so it matches the demands from a wide range of consumer, business and institutional customers, with the always evolving offers from of media publishers, software developers, businesses, and educational institutions, while taking a 30% cut in any revenues generated.

5 – How can you revolutionize collaboration?

Collaboration is a critical ingredient for innovation, as it is often the seed of new and timely ideas that lead to value creation. Most of today’s companies have access to technologies that enable different types of collaboration, but in many cases they have not even scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Companies striving to become more innovative must establish collaborative capabilities, not only across functional groups using tools like collaborative enterprise intranets, but also with clients, partners and even with “the crowd”.

Quirky, originally an industrial design firm, now uses a crowdsourcing platform model to determine which products to design and manufacture based on external inputs. The company solicits ideas for new products via its website; new ideas are voted on by readers of the website, as well as by employees of the company. The products that are chosen get designed, manufactured and marketed by Quirky, while the inventor and other contributors get up to 30% of any resulting revenue.

To stimulate further innovation the company recently signed an agreement with GE to leverage its broad library of intellectual property for use by any new inventor.

These examples show how by learning to collaborate more deeply with clients and partners, companies can become more relevant and offer new forms of value to their customers, while in turn benefiting in diverse ways.

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