The cloud certainly has changed the way we approach enterprise computing. Whether it’s e-commerce, social media, or just searching the Web, the cloud has become the binding force between business and customers, and it’s up to solution providers to show businesses how to harness the cloud to better understand their customers.
Cloud computing continues to grow at an astonishing rate, with no sign of slowing down, largely because businesses are seeing such a high return on investment. Forbes reports that, in 2016, revenue from infrastructure as a service is expected to reach $38 billion and will grow to $173 billion by 2026. Revenue from worldwide public IT cloud service will hit $127 billion by 2018, and managed services will reach $256 billion. The cloud is an ever-expanding pie, and more businesses are claiming their slice with the support of resellers, because of the value that cloud computing brings to customer sales and support.
The Birth of One-to-One Sales
In the days before Web commerce, retail and sales strategies were about catering to the mass market. Merchants would develop profiles of their target customers and use advertising and other strategies to broadcast their messages. With the coming of e-commerce, vendors have been able to adopt a one-to-one sales strategy.
Robert Rodin outlines the evolution of this phenomenon in his book, Free, Perfect, and Now: Connecting to the Three Insatiable Customer Demands: A CEO's True Story. What Rodin discovered through his electronics distribution business is that, thanks to the Web, today’s customers expect the best price (free), exactly what they want (perfect), and delivered immediately (now). With the entire Web to choose from, businesses need to adopt a more personalized approach to compete. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers offer a similar strategy in their book, The One to One Future, which discusses how successful marketers will abandon the old strategies of mass marketing in favor of a customized approach that promotes a one-to-one dialogue and sells using personal appeal.
Distilling sales and marketing into a one-to-one strategy requires more computing power and more analytics, which is partly why the cloud has become increasingly important. Through the cloud, businesses can interact with customers and store terabytes of customer data, as well as to power analytics.
Gathering More Customer Data
As consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce, it becomes easier to track their areas of interest and determine what appeals to individual customers. All customer interactions can be tracked and assessed to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Hosted stores provide the ideal means to track customer behavior. Every move can be captured from the time a customer enters an e-commerce site, including what areas of the site attract him or her, how long he or she stays, and what goods tend to generate the most sales. Tracking customer activity also shows where sales are lost. For example, shipping charges are one of the most cited reasons for abandoning online shopping carts. Armed with data about customer patterns, online stores can be refined to increase sales.
Customer support is another cloud-driven strategy for revealing more about customers. Consumers are increasingly seeking self-help through online knowledge bases that can be monitored to identify problem areas. Chat support services save time and resources for call center staff while capturing customers’ interactions. Online surveys are used to gauge customer satisfaction and call center effectiveness, providing important insight into customer satisfaction. All these services are hosted in the cloud.
Other cloud-driven services also can provide consumer insight. Social media, for example, is becoming an increasingly valuable research tool, revealing consumer attitudes and providing a way to interact directly with consumers. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and other popular social media destinations are being harnessed as marketing channels to attract new customers and understand their areas of interest.
Turning Data into Insight
With the growing amount of data stored in the cloud, it’s up to solution providers to help businesses harness that data for analysis. The amount of raw customer data available from online tracking, purchase histories, social media activity, call center records, and other sources is beyond the analytics capacity of most enterprise networks. However, the elasticity of cloud computing makes it possible to add data storage and other resources as needed to drive analytics, including big data.
As businesses come to appreciate that the more they can learn about their customers, the larger their profits can be, more organizations are turning to big data. Using big data techniques, companies can bring together historical sales data, call center data, social media, and other data sources to identify customer patterns that can be crucial in promoting successful one-to-one marketing.
And as businesses strive to better understand their customers, it’s the cloud purveyors who also profit. Integrators and solution providers that can support cloud-based computing and big data analytics are in growing demand. As businesses continue to struggle with new e-commerce and one-to-one sales strategies, they need technical expertise that can be provided by independent consultants. That’s the ray of sunshine that solution providers are seeking in cloud-driven e-commerce strategies.