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The Future State Is the Finish Line

Why planning is essential for a customer-centric transformation

Customer-centric transformations, much like running marathons, require commitment, determination, and discipline. Both appear to be lengthy, grueling, iterative, and laden with uncertainty and risks every step of the way. They both require setting “stretch” goals, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and demand flexibility and persistence to adapt, change course, or simply continue moving forward when unexpected obstacles arise. Transformations, similar to marathons, often start full of momentum and energy, then lose steam and become difficult to sustain.  

Whether you’re trying to master a competitive sport or trying to drive a cultural shift in your organization to become more customer-centric, having a well-defined strategy and game plan up-front is a critical ingredient for long-term success. Yet, many organizations deprioritize the importance of planning when considering a transformation initiative. A common myth investigated in Merkle’s 2016 research study with Adobe (“The Case for Change: Exposing the Myths of Customer-Centric Transformation) is that companies often feel they “don’t need to waste time (and money) on planning.” They know what they want to do. Such shortcuts can be dangerous and near-sighted. Our transformation research shows that 40% of transformation initiatives are likely to be successful when a formal planning process is in place. Our research indicates that companies with a successful transformation track record were 2.8 times more likely to require a business case and 2.5 times more likely to develop and adhere to a multi-phased road map that helped them prioritize and plan out their efforts.        

Four Components of Planning a Large-scale Transformation

So what might a comprehensive plan look like for organizations seeking to evolve into a customer-centric, people-based marketing model? Merkle’s transformation approach is grounded in a Vision, Value, Roadmap (VVR) methodology which sets the foundation for any broad-scale transformation effort and can be leveraged irrespective of industry type, company size, B2B or B2C focus.

The transformation planning phase can be organized as four key components.

1. Current-State Assessment and Customer Vision

Defining and aligning key stakeholders around a future-state customer vision is a major first step in the planning phase. This is typically preceded by a series of discovery interviews with key stakeholders that aims at identifying business, technology, and organizational barriers and gaps in the current-state environment. Many companies don’t wish to invest the time in current-state discovery, but the value of this exercise is that it forces the organization to identify and prioritize key pain points in the current customer experience and the underlying enablers (e.g., data, technology, analytics, people, and process) which contribute to a sub-optimal experience. Our research indicates that high growth companies were 2 times more likely to have a formal process to assess current state.

The customer vision ultimately becomes an alignment tool for the organization to create a sense of urgency regarding the need for transformation. It bridges organizational silos by bringing together stakeholders who otherwise may not collaborate, and it builds ownership and buy-in across different business units, as they are brought into the visioning process during the early stages of the transformation.

2. Experience Narratives/Use Cases

Once the vision is defined, “bringing the vision to life” through tangible illustrations of the future state customer journey is the next step. These use cases typically involve key interactions with your target customer segments across digital or traditional touchpoints (site, social, display, mobile, email, call center, branch/store, etc.). While you cannot address all possible scenarios in the customer journey, the goal is to prioritize those that are most representative of high value or high impact interactions and leverage the use cases as a vehicle for distilling the underlying technology, data, analytics, or other marketing enablers needed to support the desired experience.

3. Business Case

Building a rigorous and detailed business case that quantifies the total expected benefits and costs of your transformation initiative is a critical third step in the planning phase. Keep in mind that transformation benefits may be both qualitative (strategic or experiential) and quantitative. Engaging the right stakeholders across functions such as finance and marketing early in the plan phase, establishing and iterating on a focused set of value drivers will facilitate the benefits quantification exercise. A successful business case must be closely aligned to the future state customer use cases and supporting capabilities. The business case should also be revisited and refined over the course of your transformation journey, as you begin to implement initiatives and capture results from improved marketing technology and capabilities. The business case often serves as an executive stakeholder alignment tool within and beyond the planning phase, as it can help secure additional funding for the build phases of the transformation.

4. Blueprint and Roadmap

The fourth and final component of a successful transformation plan is the future state blueprint and roadmap, which provides a logical sequencing of initiatives, organized and prioritized based on business value, in-flight initiatives, and technology inter-dependencies. The blueprint and roadmap not only represent a culmination of all the ideation and planning work done prior to this step, but also lays the groundwork for the implementation phases.

Most of us wouldn’t consider running a marathon without some level of preparation, training, and “strategizing.”  Runners can spend hundreds of hours preparing for a race that lasts only a few hours. Why wouldn’t organizations do the same for a multi-year customer transformation program?

Preparing for customer-centric transformation requires a fundamental shift in mindset, from how you go to market, to how you operate and collaborate with internal and external business partners. Many companies know what they want to achieve out of their transformation efforts. Establishing a structured, comprehensive planning process allows you to not only validate and expand your initial transformation goals and vision, but also produce very tangible outputs that subsequently serve as socialization and consensus building vehicles that broaden the transformation messaging, buy-in, and adoption journey across the enterprise.

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