12 Experts Explain the Significance of the New Front Office

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new front office joe pulizziWhen I first got into business, the term “front office” meant the executive or administrative office of a company. I was a sales rep, and I wanted to get past that front-office receptionist so I could talk to that front-office executive.

But language evolves, just like everything else in business. In most market sectors “front office” now signifies the various departments that interact with your customers. In general, it’s the coalition of sales + marketing + service/success (inside Act-On, we like to call it the Team Trifecta).

This new front office plays an important new role. Today’s buyers (of just about anything) are proactive, autonomous, and self-educating, and they may do deep research on your brand and your products long before you’re aware of them. Marketers who use technology skillfully can gather data at these early, almost invisible, touch points, and build individual profiles of buyers. When this data is shared across the aligned components of the new front office, everyone in every department can deliver coordinated, personalized service to those buyers. The buyer perceives this as a seamless engagement – and it’s a powerful incentive for them to remain your customer.

This new front office is using a collection of integrated technologies to keep up with our evolving, self-determining buyer. We think this is a good thing, but marketing technology is our business so of course we see it that way. To get a more objective perspective, Paige Musto (our communications director) decided to take this question to the street and ask industry experts, analysts, bloggers, and influencers to weigh in with their respective points of view.

So here is the question:

How do you see the front office evolving over the next two years? 

And here are the answers:

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Ankush Gupta

MarTech Advisor      @thelearnedman

Customer touch points pop up on an ever-more frequent basis and I think this is just going to fuel more and more front-office investments into marketing technology systems that encompass everything from email marketing automation to CRM, analytics to ad-tech etc. I think over the next two years marketers will demand and get served systems that allow them to create a unified or 360-degree view, allowing them to engage their prospects and customers across all the touch points.

Daniel Newman

Forbes contributor; President of BroadSuite, Inc. and V3B     @danielnewmanUV

With the rapid growth of Big Data, Analytics and Mobility, I see senior executives adding key roles in digital, data, and customer centrism. Roles like Chief Data Officer and Chief Customer Officer will find their way into the C-Suite. Almost any role that used to depend highly on intuition will now find themselves looking for validation through the use of data. The biggest risk and caution point here is we need people who truly know how to find the value in the mass of data because not all data is good and too often we can skew data to tell us what we most want to hear.

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David Raab

Raab Associates     @draab

I expect [customer-facing systems] to become more integrated with each other and with marketing, so that the experiences delivered to each customer are tailored to that customer’s needs and to meeting that company’s business goals. This requires continuous communication between the front office systems and the company’s core customer database and customer management systems, so treatments choices can be based on the customer’s past history (in the customer database), the current context (from the front-office system) and business goals (from the customer management system). By “customer management system”, I mean something that picks treatments using rules, predictive models, business goals, and whatever else is needed to figure out which treatment will yield the best long-term results. You can think of this as campaign management but the current notion of “campaigns” as more or less sequential sets of messages is really too narrow; modern customer management needs to be more flexible than that in order to adapt to the unpredictable nature of real-world customer journeys.

Douglas Karr

DK New Media, Marketing Technology Blog     @douglaskarr

Bureaucracy at companies – layers of middle management – must be removed if companies hope to be nimble enough to pre-empt the attack of both competitors and consumers. In the next two years, we’ll continue to see… we must see… a decline in middle management positions in the front office. Employees must be empowered to correct issues as they arrive with minimal supervision. Managers need to remove the roadblocks, inspire their employees, and steer corporations to productivity, efficiency, and improved customer experience.

John Koetsier

VentureBeat     @johnkoetsier

Today, marketing teams need omnichannel marketing tools that help them understand the complex and changing customer journey. They need to be able to recognize the customer wherever he or she comes in, even on multiple devices and different media, and present smart customized experiences that give both prospects and customers what they need at any given moment to engage deeper with the brand.

Joe Pulizzi

Content Marketing Institute     @joepulizzi

Everything today can be duplicated by another company except for how we communicate. That means that the front office needs to be fully immersed into how and why they communicate with customers on a regular basis. Communication is the way we will create new and different experiences for our customers. What does that look like? More companies will look and feel like media companies that just happen to sell products and services.

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Laurie McCabe

SMB Group     @lauriemccabe

50% of SMBs say “attracting new customers is their biggest business challenge,” according to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study, and this challenge is intensifying. As buyers conduct more research and evaluation online across multiple channels before they ever contact sales, businesses must evolve to build a stronger digital footprint. Connecting the dots between content marketing, social media engagement, search, email marketing, website upgrades and mobile marketing will become essential to capture mindshare and market share.

Lisa Hoover McGreevy

FierceContentManagement     @lisah

In the next two years, siloed content will be – or at least ought to be – a distant memory as companies implement ways to free data for use across teams. Content management will [remain] a focus of the front office, thanks to its significant impact on customer experience management. Marketing in particular will enjoy the benefit of being able to access valuable data and analytics through the use of integrated enterprise systems.

 

The evolution of enterprise systems brings a lot to the table in terms of making workflows more efficient and organizing data to make it more accessible, searchable, and useful. However, technology is only as good as the policies and training that supports it.

 

In the end, the effectiveness of the tools and technology used in the front office will rely on strong worker training and enforceable policies that address the company’s compliance and information governance needs without restricting employees from using the tools to their fullest potential.

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Natalie Petouhoff

Constellation Research     @drnatalie

There will be no more silo’d departments. Companies can’t afford to not connect marketing, sales, customer service, eCommerce and other departments. If they do they will certainly be unable to provide customers with the best customer experiences possible, and as a result lose market share.

Matt Mullen

451 Research     @MattMullenUK

The biggest change we’ll see in the front office in the next couple of years is likely to be how it reflects context. Where the reflection of a customer’s context has been an area that through profiling, personalization and judicious use of data has been increasingly visible, the context of the organization itself has been somewhat lacking. For example, ensuring that offers being made to customers demonstrate a knowledge of the availability of stock, supply and proximity, or suitability of product; all data that exists within organizations, but is rarely being connected in anything like real time to the front end experience.

Paul Greenberg

ZDNet     @pgreenbe

There is a clear and consistent interest at the management and practitioner level at companies in customer engagement and strategies/programs/technologies that will support that. McKinsey did a study a year ago on digital innovation and the primary reason that companies innovated was customer engagement (69%). This is forcing companies to realign their cultures around how they are going to meet the customers’ demands in a way that is good enough to sustain ongoing interaction with that individual customer – and to develop the strategies and programs that make it feasible without driving them into bankruptcy. This isn’t just for the next couple of years but the next decade most likely – and even beyond.

Stewart Rogers

VentureBeat     @therealsjr

In terms of marketing technologies, the products that have had the most front office impact recently have tended to be in social media management. Yet social media as a whole is still not social enough, even in the front office. In my recent report on SMM solutions for VB Insight, I found that most big brands (close to 80%) use social media to broadcast, not engage. Why? Because broadcasting is easy to set up, and the results are trackable. Over the next two years, we’ll see more SMM tools that help businesses to engage more effectively, and help understand the more complex returns attributed to customer satisfaction, word of mouth, and referral revenue.

At Act-On, we see marketers serving as the main stewards of the customer relationship moving forward, for the unique role marketing plays throughout the entire customer lifecycle: from attracting prospects, to retaining customers, and all of the possible types of communication in between. We also see marketing technology playing a huge role in collecting and analyzing data, assuring consistency, and enabling businesses to deliver on their service promises.

We see much of this being made possible through marketing automation – which is quickly becoming the database of record for behavioral engagement data. CRM is, and in our view should always be, the customer database of record. But it can be overlaid with rich engagement data captured through marketing automation, giving deeper insight. With an integrated system, sales, support and marketing can now all have access to the same intelligence and be able to better serve their customers as a result.

What might this look like in action? Jonathan Moran, writing for CMSWire tells us (bold text ours):

“… I received a well-timed offer from an online tire retailer with a heavy discount. This retailer knew my purchase history as well as the current mileage of my vehicle. It was good to know that they not only understood what this data meant, but that they acted on it, helping me when my moment of truth occurred.

“As a result, my loyalty to that retailer has increased — so much so that they are now the only provider I consider when making a tire purchase (and yes, I have purchased a lot of tires recently).”

Connecting the Front Office Trifecta

Act-On has developed a Chrome browser extension called Act-On Anywhere that delivers key data across the front-office trifecta of sales, marketing, and service.

Imagine: Your customer support rep gets a call from an irate customer. Your rep works in a customer service application. Without leaving their digital workspace, the rep clicks Act-On Anywhere and looks into the customer’s timeline. They see this customer’s engagement from their first interaction with your website to the most recent email they were sent. This is data the rep can use to understand better who this customer is and what’s important to them, and solve the problem. Act-On Anywhere is a tool you can leverage to make the same engagement data on your customers available across your front office department members. That’s teamwork. That’s continuity. Most important: that’s a better experience for your customer.

What do you think will happen with the new front office in the near future? Are you finding ways to integrate your teams? Share your good ideas, please.