Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Don’t let your Digital Strategy fail; align to execution on the ground

I have been searching for replacement tires for my car for the last few weeks; so I traveled from search engines, to websites of popular manufacturers, to social media groups, to for purpose automobile portals to find where I can get genuine, reliable tires at a good bargain. Search results pushed me towards aggregators and marketplaces who probably do better SEO but did not carry the product I wanted. That is when I realized that the specifications of my requirement are unique and will require me to invest more time and effort.

In the digital world with every newspaper carrying multi-page advertisements from popular internet marketplaces to hoarding on roads, I believed that everyone is hungry for business. So painstakingly I filled all kinds of forms on various manufacturer websites and portals giving them the information they wanted – personal details, car make/model, tire specifications, timeframe for my requirement, and waited for a response. I was hopeful that between 8 portals and manufacturers I will be able to fulfill my need.

Patience is a virtue and the portals/manufacturers were colluding to prove that I am not that virtuous after all. Days passed with no response from anyone, big name global and local internet shopping sites as well as global and local big brands who collectively invest ridiculous amounts on advertising enticing consumers to choose them or shop on their sites over others (barring one who regretted that they did not service my location). Wondering if my email id or phone number had a problem, after a week repeated the process while expanding my search to the physical world.

Many years back I was involved in setting up an internet portal for a large retailer; we evaluated multiple technology solutions wanting the best option within our affordability. The team was excited and it was the beginning of the new cycle of euphoric expectations that subsequently resulted in obscene investments being thrown at virtual retailers and marketplaces. Conservatively we focused on process: how we will receive queries from customers, check orders for completeness, inventory availability to promise.

As we went live and the site picked momentum, we learned the ropes spending frugally on SEO, SEM, PPM, PPC, social media, steadily increasing traction. We exercised care to respond to every message received, suggestions, bouquets and brickbats, and fulfil all orders. 93% order completion was a sore thumb while 99% response to queries offered solace. Enviously we observed the investments into the perceived bubble with no focus on customer or end to end process while we toiled to create a profitable, sustainable business model.

The market expansion based on the promise of low price ensured that remaining wisps of customer loyalty disappeared into thin air fueling a race to burn money faster than others. Abandoned carts increasing and returns crossing the teens, some believe that they are too big to fall and moneybags will continue to prop them with the fear of losing their investments. What does it take for someone to become irrelevant ? Someone with deeper pockets and money to burn to eventually starve the other to oblivion.

Checking around with friends I discovered a few contacts with some of the manufacturers and portals; so I send emails to my connects describing my need and predicament. Prompt came the responses apologizing for the lapse and the offer to help connecting me to relevant people. This is where things started to get interesting. One manufacturer advised that they do not manufacture the specific SKU and that it would be figuring on the website by error. Another offered an attractive price but could not guarantee availability.

The portals/marketplaces feigned remorse that they did not control their partners who listed their merchandise; they were only a technology provider and offered fulfillment services as a value add. The merchant claimed they were out of stock and did not know when the new consignments would arrive. In comparison the store that I visited courteously offered alternatives to choose from explaining the finer nuances of my choices making me wonder why I spent so much time attempting to buy online.

Digital marketing strategies work, they attract customers, create a pull, help customers choose, and then they need the real world to take over with real processes that will stand the test of time without failing. Success requires alignment to create customer satisfaction, repeatability ensures delight and repeat purchases. The future belongs to those who unflinchingly focus on execution, right first time, every time. Invest in technology and also in process and execution, they will collectively stand by you.

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