Understanding Customer Feedback

You already know that your customers are at the heart of your business. The smartest strategists understand that an outstanding customer experience leads to loyalty, brand evangelism and new business. But how can you find out what your customers are really thinking — or what they really need? After all, data only goes so far. The key is to ask the right questions. Then, you can adapt your strategy to answer the voice of the customer.

Where to Start

“Customer feedback” is a broad term. Known formally as Voice of Customer, VoC could apply to any area of the business, from an unsatisfactory experience with a website or a call center to a positive one with a product or service. You could gather data from older measures such as sales data, through newer routes such as social listening or use a combination of these — and other — tactics.

An effective approach to gathering customer insights incorporates the following methodologies:

  • Qualitative storytelling backed up by data. Qualitative analysis provides a nuanced picture, especially when supported by quantitative question sets. Your VoC should capture relevant data but also tell a rich, insightful story. Your customers are human beings — and human beings are complex.
  • A fluid approach to data mining. Do you anticipate finding one story but learn that the data won’t validate it? A flexible approach that accommodates a change in direction can help reveal deep learnings.
  • A scientific approach. One data instance does not mean it is a trend. A scientific approach to VoC analysis will track results over time, validating findings and informing a more thoughtful approach.

Why You Need to Analyze Customer Feedback

Customer feedback doesn’t live in a vacuum. It speaks broadly to how others — including your competitors and critics — view your brand. If you aren’t listening to what your customers are telling you, you’re allowing your competitors access to a bigger share of the market. Every action your business takes, from production to messaging to support, influences customer experience.

Long story short, feedback is a gift, and it comes in a variety of forms. Here are questions to ask while analyzing customer feedback:

  • Net Promoter Score. Have you turned your customers into brand evangelists? If not, why not? What is the industry leader doing to succeed, and how can you do it better?
  • Social media and customer reviews. What do your customers say online? Have you incorporated social listening into your VoC analysis?
  • Sales data. Do your sales data trends make sense when compared to your brand metrics? If not, why not?
  • Competitive analysis. What are other businesses doing in your space? Do you make time to review their press releases and employment listings? What direction are they going in, and how can you differentiate your products and services?

Proactive Worldwide can help you mine these rich resources to uncover the message that your customers are sending you.

Contact Proactive Worldwide

Proactive Worldwide’s customer-centric approach to strategic planning and analysis can help you better understand customer feedback. For more information on how stronger market intelligence can drive your business forward, get in touch with us today.

What Is Strategic Planning?

Regardless of the industry where you compete, data-driven insights will help you drive customer loyalty, win new business and gain market share. However, to really understand the competitive landscape, you’ll need competitive intelligence to gain a holistic view of what’s happening in the marketplace. Your strategic plan is your roadmap to sustainable growth. Without one, your competitors will uncover and capitalize on opportunities faster. But with one, you can effectively model scenarios, solve customer pain points and find the angle that will separate your business from the pack.

Proactive Worldwide helps established businesses evaluate the competitive marketplace to uncover hidden opportunities and plan a path forward. Our customer-centric strategic planning services will help you determine how, who and where to compete. With Proactive Worldwide, you can transform and energize your organization sooner — and that means you can look forward to a stronger return on investment later.

Effective Strategic Planning

Proactive Worldwide puts the voice of your customer at the heart of your strategic plan. We believe effective strategic planning requires three key inputs:

  1. Customer needs and wants. Our research can help you validate suspected customer trends and unearth new ones, providing a clear answer to the question, what does your customer need that they can’t currently get?
  2. Competitor strategy. Proactive Worldwide will thoughtfully analyze your competition. What are they doing that’s working — and what isn’t? How can your business capitalize?
  3. Market intelligence. Identify areas of opportunity and right-size your market with Proactive Worldwide. What areas of opportunity exist? Are those opportunities changing?

The Strategic Planning Process and Deliverables

Proactive Worldwide will deliver a detailed report to your business that succinctly summarizes the project scope and its conclusions in a format suitable for presentation to senior management. At a top level, the process incorporates:

  • Qualitative storytelling backed up by data. We’ll deliver the message that the voice of the customer shares, using metrics to back up our findings.
  • Analytic expertise. We don’t just gather data — we unearth findings and analyze them carefully to highlight trends.
  • Small-batch research. Instead of relying on call centers staffed by underqualified employees, Proactive Worldwide employs highly-educated researchers with years of relevant experience.
  • Adaptive fact-finding methodologies. Our approach lets us pivot quickly when necessary, allowing us to adapt our approach based on research outcomes.

Defining Specific Objectives

Proactive Worldwide’s adaptable approach allows us to align our methodologies with your specific objectives. Our customers turn to us for competitive intelligence on:

  • Brand awareness
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive insights
  • “What if” scenarios and concept testing
  • Needs assessment
  • Customer sentiment analysis

Years of working with some of the business world’s most impactful brands tell us that when organizations put the customer’s needs at the center of their strategic plan, they can significantly increase their success rates.

Contact Proactive Worldwide

Proactive Worldwide can give you the strategic intelligence you need to make thoughtful, well-planned decisions. Get in touch with us to discuss how our team can design a strategic plan customized to your specific needs.

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Tips for Improving the Customer’s Experience With Your Business

Improve Customer Experience with your business

Customer experience (CX) is inseparable from a brand’s reputation. Discussions of one will invariably lead to the other, as improving customer service interactions and offerings should result in a directly enhanced company reputation.

Strategizing exceptional customer experiences doesn’t happen overnight. Businesses must first uncover what makes their customers tick — what deeply held beliefs, assumptions, motives and stories fuel the buyer’s journey, leading them to interact with one business over another. In short, you can’t exceed expectations if you don’t know what those expectations are. A customer insights research strategy ensures that you do.

What Is Customer Insights Strategy?

Customer insights strategy definition

A customer insights strategy is a tailored set of research activities that help gather and analyze actual customers’ thoughts and feelings as they interact with your business. These perspectives as a whole comprise a business’ CX reputation. Everything from brand awareness to product or service familiarity, purchasing motivators, content marketing tactics, touchpoint amounts and even the design and navigability of your website influences your CX reputation. A CI (customer insights) strategy provides qualitative data to these often subjective sentiments so that you can make the most of your transactions across platforms.

Why Use Customer Insights Research to Enhance Your Customer Experience?

Benefits of customer insights research

Performing CI research is essential to making savvy, customer-centric business decisions informed by real data, not broad trends or guesswork. When tactfully implemented, the insights from your CI analysis can allow organizations to achieve the following goals.

1. Reduce Customer Churn

Customer churn is a key performance indicator (KPI) that reveals how many customers you lost in a given time frame. Churn rates are a vital business metric to track because they influence a business’ returns on acquisition investments (ROIs). For the vast majority of businesses in new and mature phases, the tactics required to acquire new customers are far more expensive than those aimed at retaining loyal ones. When customer churn rates are high, acquisition costs are also high, meaning a business sees lower ROIs on marketing endeavors as they constantly cycle through consumers.

Customer churn data is also somewhat fluid. While most organizations categorize churn according to an exact number of lost customers, others may calculate churn based on the value of their lost business or the percentage of reoccurring lost or loyal customers.

CI research complements churn rate calculations but goes one step further: It reveals why customers have stopped doing business with an organization. Businesses can then make changes to remedy the identified pain points causing them to lose business, reigning in high acquisition costs and realigning ROIs on marketing budgets.

2. Increase Sales Revenue

Returning customers are prized customers because they spend more. Industry research proves that just a five percent annual increase in customer retention generates a minimum of a 25 percent increase in annual profits.

This positive correlation is due to the fact that repeat, hyper-loyal customers spend more than novice ones — up to 67 percent more per transaction. Repeat customer segments are especially open to cross and upselling opportunities since their brand trust and product or service satisfaction are already solidified.

3. Spur Emotional Engagement

Brand reputation and customer experience are emotion-based processes. They’re built upon intrinsic, intangible and subjective reactions that real, diverse people have with your business, both in-store and online. Because of this subjectivity, improving the customer experience often devolves into trial-and-error-like tactics. CI research ensures that a methodical, quantitative approach is taken using proven research methodologies, grounding all findings and subsequent decisions in hard data.

4. Turn Passive Buyers Into Loyal Customers and Loyal Customers Into Brand Evangelists

A thorough CI research strategy can account for the entire customer journey, from the awareness stage down to brand advocacy. It gathers real-customer data and insights for business leaders to learn what truly matters to customers. By integrating these exact findings into their websites, stores, e-commerce and social media platforms, they stand to attract and retain raving, emotionally gratified fans.

The Difference Between Customer Service and Customer Experience

Customer service vs customer experience

Customer service and customer experience are similar but not synonymous:

  • Customer service encompasses the direct, initiated help or assistance provided by a company’s support team to a current customer who has already purchased products or services. Its either a single touchpoint or touchpoints focused on remedying a user problem or pain point.
  • Customer experience (CX) incorporates all the interactions, information and sentiment a customer, current or prospective, holds for your brand. It’s both tangible and intangible, measurable yet personal. It’s the driving pulse of an organization’s overall customer relationship management strategy.

Note how both customer service and customer experience are accounted for in a customer insights research strategy. Businesses untangle two strategic goals through one initiative, analyzing research findings and applying changes to the end-to-end customer journey.

What Goes Into a Great Customer Experience?

How to create a great customer experience

Great customer experience can be broken down into five servicing phases, which together complement the overall customer journey: awareness, engagement, acquisition, servicing and advocacy. A complete customer insights strategy customized for your brand should include research on each of these five domains.

1. Awareness

During the awareness phase, potential customers recognize a question, problem or inconvenience in their lives that they want remedied. That question or issue is informed by a list of “symptoms,” which trigger generalized research conducted online, increasingly via mobile devices.

The point of the awareness phase is for consumers to name their problem or answer their question. Brands that deliver well-rounded, relevant and precise explanations to these problems now sit at the center of a prospective customer’s radar. They’ve delivered powerful, problem-solving information and begun to differentiate themselves from the competition. This point is the first stage of the customer journey and the first chance to build a brand reputation known for generating great customer experience.

2. Engagement

During the engagement phase, a consumer has named their problem or found the answer to their question. However, their interest is now piqued on solutions — something that’s tangible, actionable and effective for their exact situation.

Consumers will begin to “engage” in more specific research on all the methods or ways to solve their problem. They’ll begin to compare products, read reviews, watch videos and search business’ websites to determine the best solution for them. All the while, they’re deepening their emotional attachment to the brands illustrating ideal resolutions.

3. Acquisition

Acquisition is the decision-making point in the customer journey. It’s the first time a consumer makes a product or service purchase, as well as the first time they experience your brand’s purchasing or sales pipeline, in-store or online.

Acquisition involves comparisons and benchmarking. The customer is likely weighing the information gleaned during awareness and engagement to assess a brand’s reputation, product and service ratings, customer service testimonials and the navigability and user-friendliness of its website. Yet there are additional, subliminal motivators at work during acquisition as well — things like lifestyle, self-image, age, geography and more further effect the CX-centered acquisition strategies that businesses take on.

4. Servicing

As its name suggests, servicing is the active, ongoing relationship management between a brand and the consumer. It involves the traditional definition of customer service, which entails singular touchpoints typically initiated by the customer to solve a specific product or service issue. Yet the servicing phase of the customer journey is more expansive than this support.

The best servicing brands are those asking how else they can add value to their customers’ lives: What kinds of resources, media, content and demos can they create? What kinds of product features or add-ons can they develop? How about creating customer reward programs or loyalty perks tailored to key demographics? The more a brand undertakes strategic, ongoing customer servicing efforts, the more they improve their brand reputation and CX.

5. Advocacy

Customer advocacy represents a crowning achievement for brands: A customer is so satisfied with a product or service that they decide to publicly promote the company on their own time.

Advocacy is best encouraged when context, immediacy and intent align. A consumer is far more likely to write a glowing review, share a video testimonial or recommend your brand to others if they see others facing similar problems (context), can do so conveniently (immediacy) and can connect their advocacy to a larger purpose or reward (intent).

How to Improve Your Business’ Customer Experience and Brand Reputation Through Customer Insights Research

Improve brand reputation and customer experience

The best way for brands to improve their CX and overall reputation is to initiate a customer-journey-focused CI research strategy. Here are suggestions for what that strategy can involve across the five customer journey phases.

Phase 1: Enhancing Your Business’ Awareness

During the awareness phase, the consumer is passively engaged with your business. Your CI research should help identify customers’ first impressions with your brand across mediums as well as the exact variables influencing those first impressions, be they positive or negative.

Boost business brand awareness

1. Conduct Channel Evaluations

Channel evaluations measure how effectively your consumer-facing platforms take leads from initial brand introduction all the way to ordering (acquisition), payment and ongoing servicing. Research is tailored but intuitive. Topics like website navigability, browser consistency, content architecture, load times, page performance, web design, lead generation and more constitute effective channel criteria to measure. Channel evaluations also help brands devise their channels’ core objectives, then optimize interfaces and features to reach those goals.

2. Create Buyer Personas

Buyer personas represent your ideal customer or user. Using customer segmentation research strategies, brands create personas to better understand what makes their target buyers tick — their wants, needs, fears, lifestyles and purchasing histories. Without persona segments, your content, channels and branding messages turn shapeless, speaking to everyone yet solving no one’s problems.

3. Benchmark Against the Competition

What customer experience tactics and tools are your main competitors using — and to what effect? CI research can conduct custom analyses comparing any or all of the following variables to determine how your platforms’ awareness strategies size up against competition:

  • Sales funnel operations
  • Marketing campaigns and channels
  • Competitor buyer personas
  • Product or service offering structures
  • And more

4. Conduct Brand Perception Surveys

Consider sponsoring advanced, in-depth interviews like video-recorded user focus groups and Voice of Customer (VOC) surveys to learn what real-life audiences think of your brand. Tailor questions to cover brand awareness, brand recall, product perception and overall business impressions, using both open-ended, qualitative discussions as well as quantitative questionnaires.

Phase 2: Improving Your Business’ Engagement

Once a consumer is aware of your brand as a potential answer to their pain point, the insights from CI research strategy can funnel their interest from passive to purchase — incorporating positive CX moments along the way.

1. Journey Map Your Ideal Customer Experience

Imagine the ideal, end-to-end scenario you want a lead to experience upon first hearing of your brand: What’s the very next step you want them to take? Where do you want them to go? What products or services are most appealing to them, and how do you send those their way? Over what platform? How many touch points are appropriate pre- and post-sale? Most importantly, how do you want consumers to feel during those touch points? Leave no stone unturned in outlining your ideal customer journey pipeline, as it provides the scaffold to improving overall CX.

2. Up Your Brand’s “Personality”

Research shows that our brains make the majority of purchasing decisions based on emotions, then justify those decisions via logic. Yet when a business looks and sounds like everyone else, it gets lumped in with everyone else. By infusing brand visuals and messages with distinct personality — authoritative, witty, contrarian, conversational, etc. — businesses better tap into emotional consumer reactions, therefore establishing deeper recall and engagement rates.

3. Deploy Personalized Content Marketing

Utilize specific traits and interests defined within each buyer persona to create custom content marketing funnels. Organizations can use their customer relationship management software to trigger unique content pipelines, such as a different three-part email campaign sent to customers depending on what web page they initially viewed. Tailored content marketing makes it seem like your brand is speaking directly to the consumer and only that consumer, differentiating their customer experience.

4. Conduct User Experience (UX) Studies

What is it like for a prospective customer to explore your website? How many clicks does it take to get to a particular sales page? What is your average page load time? Are websites clean and inviting or cluttered and outdated? Consider live VOC or video-recorded feedback of test user groups navigating your website and social media platforms, hearing first-hand and in real-time their impressions and observations on digital UX.

5. Build a Better Online Customer Funnel

Customer funnels, or corridors, incentivize specific actions or behaviors from the customer. CI research can conduct personalized corridor analysis to determine what a business’ current funnel strengths and gaps are, then harmonize those digital platforms to better move a consumer toward acquisition, all while they feel like they’re undergoing a personalized CX.

Phase 3: Improving Your Business’ Acquisitions

Improve business acquisitions

Acquisition rates indicate how successfully your business courts consumers along their CX journey. Without CI research, organizations can’t identify the specifics on why a customer was motivated to make a purchase — or if they’ll do so again.

1. Test Direct User Programs

Direct user programs apply direct research methodologies to longer-term UX groups. Rather than holding single sessions where volunteers use and then critique customer platforms and channels, direct user programs can be morphed to present prototype customer personas with particular consumer circumstances, then review how they work through transaction decisions. Insights from these CI direct user programs funnel into improved acquisition strategies for your website, stores, offices, sales touch points, customer service interactions and more since they set the stage to prompt ideal consumer behaviors.

2. Elicit Post-Sales Feedback

Gathering feedback on a customer’s purchasing experience is imperative to devising more user-friendly and profit-maximizing sales conversion strategies. Organizations determine — in a customer’s own words and often immediately after purchase — what motivated their buying decision, how easy the purchase was to make and any details or features they want next transaction.

Post-sales feedback is often collected using traditional, direct feedback methods such as online surveys, emailed questionnaires or simple polls hosted on a sales pages. Consider questions like:

  • How did you first hear about this product/service?
  • What attracted you to this product/service?
  • What do you most look for during shopping experiences?
  • How do you feel using this product/service?
  • What three words would you use to describe your purchase experience?

3. Calculate Acquisition Costs

Tracking actual acquisition costs allows businesses to discern which marketing channels and campaigns are most effective yet court the lowest launch and upkeep costs. They can then invest more resources into successful acquisition platforms or create similarly cost-effective content to drive further acquisitions, all while simultaneously supporting a more personalized, persona-based customer experience.

Phase 4: Enhancing Your Business’ Servicing

Customer insights research assists in creating ongoing, value-adding touch points and interactions between brands and consumers, moving the relationship beyond mere transactions and into true lifestyle alignment.

1. Funnel Content Based on Purchase History and Web Browsing

Customer relationship management software and plug-ins can automate persona-tailored content funnels for your marketing team, adding a new layer of “non-salesy” touch points to your operations. Tailored content sent to customers’ inboxes or appearing on their social media feeds keeps your brand top-of-mind. Customer insights research can analyze what content receives the highest clicks, shares and engagement rates, plus what landing pages convert into the most returning sales.

2. Strategize Customized Cross and Upselling Opportunities

CI research can also wield user experience groups to sharpen the effectiveness of current product searches and comparisons, then target new cross or up-selling suggestions based on activity. Businesses once again improve their CX by promoting a more tailored set of product or service offerings, triggering further personalized sales funnels and seeing greater ROIs on marketing campaigns.

3. Track and Maintain Multiple Customer Service Platforms

Different buyer personas will respond best to different customer service platforms. For example, the 25-year-old female who’s just downloaded your mobile app may appreciate a live chat box allowing her to message quick questions or concerns to an online representative. However, her 55-year-old father may want a traditional, real-time phone call to a dedicated customer service line.

Both your customer service reputation and your overall customer experience are enhanced when you support multiple, persona-researched servicing platforms, then track their usage and satisfaction rates with clients.

4. Reward Employees Who Wow Customers

Employees who go above and beyond to service your customers during live interactions should be rewarded for their work. Small bonuses, monthly prizes and even creative tokens of thanks can inspire your organization’s customer service reps to wow customers with creative problem-solving or add-ons during each touch point, enhancing your overall customer experiences.

Phase 5: Improving Your Business’ Advocacy Rates

Improve business advocacy and customer loyalty

Like the servicing phase, brand advocacy should be seen as fluid and ongoing — not the end of the CX line. Organizations can use CI analyses for many advocacy benefits, pinpointing how to encourage brand loyalty, boost the quantity and quality of repeat sales and maximize organic brand evangelism, all to compound their internal brand reputation efforts.

1. Calculate Customer Equities, Then Tailor Customer Experiences to Them

Customer equity calculations are a useful metric for an organization to determine its highest-value customer segments. Customers with high equity represent a purchasing loyalty that, with the right CI-informed content marketing insights, channel data and consumer feedback, can be further catalyzed. More specifically, high-equity groups should receive unique content and rewards thanking them for their loyalty, differentiated from the content and rewards middle and lower equities receive. This strategy sets the stage to create tiered loyalty programs further distinguishing your great customer experience.

2. Leverage an Emotional Impact

Consumers are more likely to advocate for brands they feel a personal connection to. As noted earlier, purchasing decisions and brand connections are emotion-based, not necessarily logical or factual. Improving your business’ organic advocacy and therefore brand reputation means identifying the emotional motivators of your customer personas, specifically high-equity ones, then tailoring advertisements, marketing messages, website copy, landing pages, emails and more to them.

3. Prioritize Two-Way User Engagement, or “Digital Care”

Social media platforms make real-time, two-way engagement between brands and customers easier than ever. More than half of consumers are motivated to write social media reviews after exceptionally good or exceptionally bad experiences. Companies that respond to such posts — both positive and negative — will see customers return to spend 20 to 40 percent more on subsequent purchases.

What’s more, social media presents built-in analytics to track KPIs like positive versus negative customer sentiment as well as engagement loyalty. Changing customer service expectations can be studied and analyzed using user test and focus groups compiled by CI research teams, measuring reactions to various social media customer support response tactics, user-generated campaign strategies and more. In short, it pays to be proactive with customer experiences over social media.

4. Conduct More Surveys, Get Additional Feedback

Your high-equity customers are a unique, prized resource to glean feedback from. Use a variety of means to elicit their perspective on your website, products, services, social media practices, content marketing resources and more.

Get Started on Your Custom Customer Insights Research Strategy for an Improved Customer Experience — and Brand Reputation — Today

Customer insights research company

CI research allows businesses to know their customers better. Yet it goes one step further: CI reveals those “little” differences that make all the difference in the world to actual people.

For more information on evidence-based customer intelligence, explore Proactive Worldwide’s resource repository, which includes blogs, podcasts and more on how to improve customer experience in today’s evolving markets. Then, contact the CI analysts at Proactive Worldwide to learn about our evidence-based customer and user experience research, voice-of-customer interviewing services and digital experience consulting.

Best Questions to Ask Customers to Gain Valuable Feedback

Your customers are one of your most important assets as a business. Without them, profits cannot grow, and the concept of expansion becomes impossible. With this realization, your business can communicate with customers to determine what you’re doing right and where you can improve.

Speaking to customers is the first step in the right direction toward implementing effective strategies and improvements.

How to Ask for Customer Feedback

Assuming you know the customer experience inside and out is a huge mistake. When there are ways to ask customers for support, your business has to make an effort to try them. Reaching out for feedback regularly will help your company identify strengths and enable you to correct a problem before it becomes a larger concern.

Engaging the customer in a positive way comes from giving them a platform to share their story. Know why you’re asking for feedback, and develop the best approach based on your audience. Depending on customer preference, this process may happen on any of the following outlets:

  • Social media polls
  • Customer online surveys
  • Live chat options
  • Help centers/customer support
  • Feedback forms

Implementing these tools for customers will allow you to know their thoughts, wants and opinions related to your practice. However, these methods must be accompanied by the best questions to ask consumers.

Asking Your Customers the Right Questions

The most important questions you can ask your customers relate to what you provide. Naturally, you want to know if your business is meeting the customer’s expectations. Use this desire to influence feedback by asking:

  • What can our business do to best serve your needs?
  • What do you like about what we do? What don’t you like? (if applicable)
  • Is there anything we can do better to provide the best experience?

By giving the customer the platform to explain their story, your business can learn from this feedback. Picking up on what your customers would like to see will help you focus efforts accordingly.

Recognizing the Customer Experience

A key component of feedback is discovering how your customers feel when they’re doing business with you. Regularly checking in on customer satisfaction will give you insight on feelings and attitudes. Customers typically file feedback after a negative experience, but you can change this fact by honing in on customers who want to share your service.

Ask your customers the following questions to enhance their experience:

  • Would you recommend our service to a friend?
  • Tell us about a time when you were happy about our service.
  • Would you shop with us again/renew your service?

Seeing Value and Improvements

Feedback gives your business a chance to see why you matter to your customers. Deciphering whether your product, employees, sales or online store is attracting customers will show you where you can make improvements. Your customers value your services for a reason, and you can receive helpful feedback by asking:

  • What values do we provide that keep you coming back to us?
  • What challenges (if any) do you experience when shopping with us?
  • If you choose not to shop with us, where are you going?

Customer behaviors, values and intentions contribute to sales for your business. When you’re conducting surveys, social media polls or feedback forms, remember that you’re nothing without your customers. Seeing what customers value and where they think you could improve will help you to make changes where necessary.

Ask for Feedback — Don’t Just Wait for It

If your business only receives feedback for a negative experience, you have the power to reframe the process. Increasing how much feedback you get and what the customer data tells you comes from providing the proper platform. Feedback is not an optional business activity.

Make feedback outlets easy for customers to find, and your company will be amazed at what you discover. For more information about business solutions and strategies, contact Proactive Worldwide today.

Risks of Not Doing Thorough Market Research

Risks of Not Doing Thorough Market Research

Customer buying habits, needs and motivations are in many ways measurable, not mysterious. Today’s companies have more tools than ever to ground their innovative ideas with real market information — information revealing the feasibility of a new product or service as well as its roadmap to implementation.

Understanding the importance of market intelligence is the difference between strategic, competitive organizations turning their ideas into profit and those playing a continual guessing game. Before committing substantial resources — indeed, the future of your business — into the launch of a new product, service or branding endeavor, you must conduct intensive research into how customers will respond to that endeavor. Targeted market intelligence is how.

What Is Market Research?

Simply put, market research is when an organization identifies a specific set of information or questions they need to have answered to implement a successful and profitable business change.

This is a broad definition, and purposefully so. Market research is an expansive activity with numerous methodologies that can help a business do everything from launching new product packaging to picking music for commercials to converting customers away from the competition. Yet the purpose of performing market research is the same — to research and analyze the variables of a target goal or question, then create a business strategy informed by findings that’ll pave the way to that goal’s realization.

Benefits of market research

Using the benefits of market research, a company can better interpret:

  • Customers, current or prospective.
  • Markets, new or established, domestic or abroad.
  • Competition, prevailing or up-and-coming.
  • Products or services presently offered or in-the-works.
  • Technology, public or private, emerging or existing.
  • Entire industries, accounting for many of the variables above.

What Goes Into Thorough Market Research?

Steps for completing market research

While the goals behind conducting market research vary for each enterprise, its overall process holds the same core steps:

  1. Outline the enterprise goals: Every good market research initiative begins by identifying your market research needs and goals. Organizations need to determine what information they truly require to answer a question, clarify indecision or better understand a business concept. Once compiled, that information helps build the roadmap for your market research methodologies.
  2. Bring in stakeholders: Identify the individuals and teams who have an interest in achieving a specific enterprise goal. Consider stakeholders those conducting the research as well as those who must receive, interpret and implement market research findings within their own domains to achieve that enterprise goal.
  3. Review budget allotment: Budget allowance influences what kinds of market intelligence methodologies can be conducted practically, as well as the length of analysis and additional resources or outside consultants to bring onboard.
  4. Identify necessary facilities and additional resources: Can market analysis be performed completely in-house, using internal information like company sales reports or accounting ledgers? Will surveys need to be drafted and disseminated? Do actual customers or the general public need to be brought in for a live focus group? Account for all facility and technical resources as early as possible.
  5. Conduct the research: Perform the market research methodology that gives the best chance to extract relevant, goal-solving information.
  6. Interpret results to make a business decision: Market research can unearth reams of quantitative and qualitative data your key stakeholders then chisel into actionable, effective enterprise solutions, levering market intelligence for its true function — better-run businesses.

What Industries Use Thorough Market Research?

Market research industries

It’s no exaggeration to say in today’s commercial world, nearly all industries deploy thorough market intelligence to their advantage. However, a handful of sectors see strategic gains in conducting continual benchmarking, monitorization and market entry or defense research:

1. Consumer Goods

From shoes to showerheads, smartphones to hair-styling products, everyday commercial goods make the consumer’s life tick. Retailers glean the vast benefits of market research to assist with new product testing, development, consumer segmentation, distribution benchmarking and more retail-centered market strategies.

2. Pharmaceuticals

The pharmaceutical industry is a heavily regulated, cost-competitive sector that undergoes near-constant evolution. Pharmaceutical companies keep pace by performing keen healthcare market intelligence studies into operational profitability and cost advantages, consumer beliefs, new treatment commercialization plans, current treatment and drug therapy development and by maintaining competitor profiles.

3. Technology

Our lives are increasingly dependent upon and tethered to software and hardware. This Internet of Things (IoT) reality drives the hyper-competitive tech industry to perform fluid research and development (R&D) initiatives, conduct pricing analyses, monitor product warranty and servicing metrics, understand their brand’s public perception, optimize consumer retention and user experience (UX) and much more.

4. Banking and Finance

Advances in financial technology, also called fintech, and other industry disruptors have catapulted financial service companies into a new era of competitive undertakings. Differentiation in banking and finance has never been more essential, with market research and intelligence providing service and operational advantages for retail and corporate banks, lending institutions, insurance providers, investment firms and more.

5. Manufacturing

Industrial and commercial manufacturing companies navigate an increasingly complex and profit-volatile industry. From performing threat assessments on domestic and international competition and profiling changing consumer material tastes to undergoing supply chain, production and distribution analyses, the disadvantages of not doing proper market research could spell life or death for those in this industry.

6. Energy

From petroleum-based oil and natural gas to the rapidly advancing renewables market, the energy sector carries both traditional and alternative offerings set to define how future societies run. Energy companies have a long list of reasons for conducting marketing research, beginning with understanding shifting consumer energy attitudes and tastes to developing profitable go-to-market strategies, fuel sourcing supply chains, brand and product evolution and much more.

7. Food and Beverages

The sheer variety of packaged foods and beverages available to today’s consumer alone warrants thorough market research. From individual convenience stores conducting layout analyses to see which shelving designs boost average basket sales to the beverage and snack manufacturers expanding their own consumer taste R&D studies, there’s no shortage of opportunities for market intelligence in the food industry.

Primary Versus Secondary Market Intelligence

Primary research vs secondary research

While there are many market research methodologies for organizations to adopt, there are only two general categories those methods fall into — primary research or secondary research.

1. Primary Market Intelligence

Primary market research is studies or reports created by your organization, for your organization, using propriety information and specific research criteria aimed at addressing a focused business goal.

Proprietary information is the basis for overall analysis, allowing an organization to get precise, pinpointed answers on products, services, sales cycles, profitability and more. Examples of primary market intelligence research include:

  • A mining equipment manufacturer conducting efficiency and output assessments on all its plants.
  • An outdoor apparel label reviewing quarterly sales reports to identify the most successful product lines.
  • An all-natural cosmetics company determining which new logo idea is most appealing to its customers.

2. Secondary Market Intelligence

As the name suggests, secondary research is non-proprietary, non-customized pieces of broad market research and industry analysis. It focuses not on a particular business’ products, services or brand perceptions, but instead on the larger trends and variables affecting an industry.

Trade associations, the government and third-party groups interested in industry activities are most often responsible for publishing secondary market research. Common secondary market intelligence examples might include:

  • A report on Millennial smartphone browsing habits published by the Mobile Marketing Association.
  • Public transportation ridership data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
  • Data on the top leisure spending habits in your state according to income bracket, published by the Pew Research Center.

What Are the Types of Market Research Intelligence?

Types of market research intelligence

Organizations have many options at their disposal to conduct thorough primary and secondary market research.

1. Consumer Brand Awareness Research

Brand awareness encompasses how widely recognizable your business is to target customers, as well as prospective consumers and desired markets. It’s an important tenet of a business’ overall marketing strategy and business growth likelihood since poor brand awareness correlates with smaller market shares and diminished growth outcomes.

Consumer brand awareness research identifies variables like:

  • Brand identity: The words, phrases, descriptors and associations the general public ties to your company, positive or negative.
  • Brand recognition: How quickly a consumer matches branded collateral — logos, color schemes, audio branding sounds, and more — to your business.
  • Brand recall: The ability for the average consumer to name your products, business or collateral when discussing your industry.

2. Market Segmentation

Customer and market segmentation allow organizations to understand their customers better — plus identify segments with higher profit potential. Surveys and interviews with current and prospective consumers give insights into the values, habits, preferences, likes and dislikes of target populations, enabling an organization to morph their products or services to meet these motivations.

3. Research and Development (R&D)

R&D market research encompasses all the ways an organization tweaks and tailors their products according to market segmentation demands, cost-profit calculations and their overall brand identity. It allows a company to produce a superior product at a superior price point without sacrificing basic, profitable operational efficiencies.

R&D market research incorporates activities like:

  • UX design
  • Packaging design and testing
  • Product features and enhancements
  • Actual product testing
  • Product launch or re-launch improvements
  • Post-launch product support

4. Advertising and Marketing Intelligence

Advertising market intelligence

Marketing research is pivotal to understanding what advertising channels, messages and platforms are your strongest, meaning they connect with audiences, generate the most leads, nurture the most loyalty and imbue the most brand identity. Advertising market intelligence lets you create campaigns and marketing tactics with proven, positive customer impact, saving significant time and resources.

5. Satisfaction and Loyalty Testing

Satisfaction and consumer loyalty are coveted — and measurable — markers that a consumer will return to your brand, time and time again. Loyal customers are also more likely to recommend your products or services to others, browse your website, make repeat purchases, interact with your social accounts, give positive online reviews and be open to cross or up-selling opportunities.

You can measure customer satisfaction and loyalty using surveys, focus groups and interviews identifying:

  • Brand trust: How much consumers view your company as authentic, admirable, socially conscious and committed to its customers.
  • Brand messaging: Are current advertising and marketing methods imbuing customers with the “personality” you want to be known for?
  • Product or service appeal: Understanding what’s most important to the satisfaction of your customer — be that price, convenience, status, trendiness, safety or something entirely unique.

6. Market Pricing

Successful market pricing allows you to pinpoint how much target consumer segments would pay for a particular product with particular features. It involves a complementary blend of both primary and secondary research methods:

  • Primary market-pricing intelligence gleans what aspects of your products, services or branding customers respond best to, and will, therefore, pay a premium to experience.
  • Secondary market-pricing intelligence reveals what industry competitors charge for similar products or services, as well as generalized shifts in consumer tastes and values which inform product pricing. For example, the growing desire to be an eco-conscious consumer means certain segments will pay a dollar or two more for “green” goods compared to cheaper, non-green merchandise.

Top Marketing Research Methods for Businesses

Marketing research methodology

The way an enterprise chooses to collect information, conduct research and compile data is known as its marketing research methodology. What type of methodology an organization adopts — as well as if it’s primary or secondary leaning — is a direct reflection of the strategic business decisions it wants insights into.

Organizations can conduct their market data collection using any of the following approaches:

1. Experimental Studies

Controlled experiments let researchers manipulate specific product, service, advertising or environmental variables, then measure how those manipulations affect the whole. This approach works particularly well during product R&D or pre-launch preparations and for advertising and market intelligence research.

For example, researchers can present multiple versions a piece of software or variations of a commercial, then let test participants fill out response surveys. Overall, measuring such variable differences in controlled settings helps signal what works well for a product or brand and what doesn’t.

Experimental market research can be done in two settings:

  1. Laboratory studies: Laboratory-tested market intelligence allows researchers to control nearly all product and environmental variables, therefore unearthing more quantitative, consistent findings. It works particularly well for commercial products, technology, food and beverages and is most often done with the assistance of a third-party research firm.
  2. Field studies: Field-testing market research takes place in real-life environments, such as in a retail store, manufacturing plant or an entire city. It’s great to test actual market conditions and feasibility of certain products, services or branding mechanisms, as well as experiment with price points and buyer intent before applying to larger settings.

2. Focus Groups

Focus groups are large, group interviews made up of pre-screened, volunteer consumers in target segments or relevant subject matter experts. Focus groups are a primary market research methodology ideal for extracting subjective or qualitative information about a brand or good — information that cannot be replicated in a trial-and-error lab setting.

Focus groups can be split into two categories:

  • Quantitative-centered focus groups, where group members receive pre-written surveys or tests with standardized, numeric-based questions evaluated together after completing.
  • Qualitative-centered focus groups, where group members are asked open-ended questions or given open-ended tasks for researchers to glean more subjective reactions and insights.

3. Primary Interviews

Primary interviews are one-on-one interviews conducted directly between researchers and a pre-screened candidate online, over the phone or face-to-face. That candidate has been selected for their congruence to your target consumer segments because they fit a market demographic or because they’re a subject matter expert who can lend interesting insights on market criteria.

4. UX Groups

User-experience groups are a subcategory of focus groups relevant for software, technology and some physical products. Members of UX groups are tasked with actually using a new product, often during the R&D phase. Using a mix of surveys, journals, individual and group interviews, researchers amass quantitative and qualitative data on the appeal of a product, from its user-friendliness to its actual task-enhancing ratings.

5. Benchmarking

Benchmarking research for key performance indicators KPIs

Market intelligence benchmarking allows an organization to identify and measure targeted key performance indicators (KPIs) within their operations, then compare those to competitors. Nearly all businesses benchmark, but not all leverage benchmarked data into formal business growth plans to account for:

  • Organizational structure comparisons
  • Improved supply chain management
  • Enhanced retail experiences and initiatives
  • Refreshed sales strategies
  • Overall cost reductions and maximized profitability

6. Internal Analyses

Completely internal market research turns a company’s attention inwards. It elevates static enterprise information into compelling and actionable ideas, ensuring your organization doesn’t collect data for the sake of collecting data — it wields it as a tool for innovation.

Internal data analyses can uncover trends and insights from:

  • Sales data
  • Product line data
  • Accounting and financial planning spreadsheets
  • Website and social media platform traffic
  • Content-marketing analytics

7. External Analyses

Pure external analysis lets businesses understand the broader context behind an industry question or concern. Using only government publications, industry trade research and commercially available data, external analysis can review topics like:

  • Regional or national market conditions, for risk-adjusted entry and defense.
  • Emerging industry technology.
  • Growing consumer trends, fears or behaviors related to their industry.
  • Overall market or industry threats and disruptions.

Disadvantages of Not Doing Market Research

Disadvantages of not doing market research

The importance of conducting market research goes beyond a few feel-good assessments. Market intelligence hands organizations a blueprint for creating the best version of themselves. Market research offers many benefits, and neglecting to do market research can hurt your company in several ways:

1. Never Learning Your Competitive Advantages

Businesses that know their strengths, capabilities and pain points are far better equipped to make strength-maximizing, risk-mitigating business decisions. It’s a form of self-awareness critical to creating strategic growth outcomes.

Market intelligence allows organizations to craft nearly every operation to their competitive advantage. It spotlights what processes or activities are currently on-brand, lean and successful while also identifying things your competitors might be doing you can integrate, siphoning customers, expanding your market share and furthering your competitive momentum along the way.

2. Forgoing Customer-Centric Marketing Models

Market intelligence lets organizations know what makes their customers tick. When done consistently, thorough customer and market segmentation become both an art and a science. Through customer-focused market research using focus groups, surveys, interviews, field studies and more, companies can glean new sales strategies, devise more impactful brand messages and advertisements and overall make keener investments into customer-facing platforms and touch points.

3. Increasing Strategic, Operational Risk

Instead of making decisions in the dark, performing market research grounds business decisions and reduces the chance of plans going awry. Organizations have precise insights into what works and what doesn’t, both internally and externally. Backed by this information, they can tweak processes and allocate resources to:

  • Improve budget cycles
  • Enhance decision-making ROI
  • Speed up product or service times to market
  • Develop stronger market entry or product launch strategies

4. Can’t Make Data-Backed Enterprise Decisions

Just because something has a number to it doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Yet data-backed enterprise decisions inspire more confidence since they’re composed of real-world, reliable data. Stakeholders, therefore, have more confidence in making business decisions, decisions which:

  • Contain more preemptive, not reactive, plans, patterns and activities.
  • Better predict the competition’s motivations and behaviors.
  • Better predict customer’s motivations and behaviors.
  • Mitigate risk and respond more effectively when market anomalies do occur.

5. Leaves Business Stones Unturned

It’s impossible for businesses to control every variable across all the inevitable changes in consumer expectations, technology, facilities, product and service lines, marketplace health and general society. With market research, though, business leaders can rest assured their organizations have done due diligence, keeping a pulse on these things as they happen — not after the fact.

What’s more, this “pulse” is scientifically validated, analyzed and put into effect in equally measurable installments — no cut corners, no sloppy implementation. Simply a well-run business crossing and T’s and dotting I’s before making significant strategic moves.

Gain the Advantages of Thorough Market Research With Proactive Worldwide

When an organization seeks new ways to be the best version of itself, Proactive Worldwide provides answers through globally renowned market strategy and analysis services committed to your exact goals.

Proactive Worldwide provides enterprise intelligence services and consulting in three core domains:

Contact us today to see how intelligent market research can propel your organization to be where it should.

Why do market research

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How to Plan and Execute Shifts in Business Planning

Planning and Implementing changes in Business Strategy

Let’s cut to the chase — over half of all enterprise strategic plans fail the same year they’re born.

Downstream risks aren’t accounted for, objectives go unmonitored, budgets are misappropriated and accountability is left static. The result is an organization acting as its own worst enemy, unable to execute on business opportunities before and while they strike.

However, you don’t need more apocalyptic reminders aggrandizing what’s risked without agile business strategy execution. Instead, org visionaries need clear, actionable templates that translate business planning concepts to reality — yet can adapt when reality decides to keep you on your toes.

That fluid implementation template starts here, with actionable steps, tools and insights into successful business planning and execution.

The True Objective of Continuous Business Planning

Once institutionalized, continuous business planning enables organizations to quickly and strategically act on business growth opportunities — even ones it didn’t forecast.

True continuous strategic business planning also means all personnel, at all levels, across all departments, are familiar with the strategic business plan. They also know what goals are prioritized, their execution timelines, implementation stages and, most importantly, what they as staff are individually responsible for every day that contributes to that goal becoming tangible change.

Enterprise-wide tools — namely, strategy management or resource planning software — and workflows are available to temperature-check organizational processes continually with goals. Data measures the effectiveness of goal execution. As a result, the entire organization has clear visibility into the business plan as its happening, in-situ, regardless of time or place. Or, put plainly, your organization can now recognize what’s working and what isn’t, then make the appropriate shifts in plan execution — all ensuring you’re not another business whose strategic plan failed before it began.

Strategic Planning Business Models

Business strategy planning

Successful business plans are often tied to a strategy planning framework. These frameworks are a competitive and preemptive assessment of your organization’s readiness for strategic planning, delivering historical and market data informing your current strategic positions.

Enacting a strategy planning model at your organization delivers data-driven, researched foresight into the internal and external variables affecting the outcomes of your ideal business plan. Reviewing such data ahead of time prevents risky business strategies from being implemented without proper parameters — or launching the wrong strategy altogether.

Your organization can use several business strategy planning frameworks to begin shaping appropriate business plan opportunities.

1. Transformational Business Modeling

Business models are used to document and share the fundamental operations of an organization — its products, services, customer base, finances, revenue streams and more.

However, few organizations leverage the same cohesive documentation to communicate its vision for a business plan. Instead, they rely on ad-hoc departmental meetings and individual leaders to relay core priorities and expectations, without giving staff the resources to help ground that information.

Enter the transformational business modeling strategy. Organizations with an effective transformational business model learn how to create visual tools to communicate a strategic business plan, plus its implementation steps and balanced scorecard methods. This increases business plan buy-in and creates a clear, collaborative and accessible road map for everyone at the organization to follow.

2. Scenario Planning

Scenario planning imagines future circumstances that could jeopardize the fulfillment of your business plans. Organizations can then better prepare for these scenarios, analyzing and comparing best and worst-case trade-offs in costs, resources, employee capacities, profit margins, customer values and much more.

There are intuitive benefits of scenario planning before creating and executing a business plan. Scenario planning is one of the only frameworks that truly creates detailed risk summaries before a plan launches. Organizations that partake in scenario planning preempt many unforeseen challenges and discrepancies in the implementation of their strategic plan, preventing risks from hemorrhaging into fatal wounds.

Business Scenario Planning

3. Business War Games

Don’t let the name fool you — wargaming is an approachable and actionable business plan model for organizations across industries to understand their competitive marketplace better and therefore adapt appropriate strategic goals.

Using actual marketplace and competitor data, businesses participate in workshops that identify a competitor’s future endeavors as well as their own responses and countermoves to those endeavors. Ideal wargaming strategies then allow that organization to funnel resources and investments into truly competitive differentiators — differentiators which become the core tenets of their new strategic plan.

Creating an Agile Strategic Business Plan

As the famous Abraham Lincoln quote reminds us, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

So it goes with creating your agile business plan. After conducting an appropriate business planning model — and reaping the data and insights from its findings — your business is ready to begin outlining its actual business goals and strategies.

Consider these best practices when drafting that strategic plan, as each is an essential preparatory step before plan execution.

1. Know Your Why

Understanding your organization’s driving “why” goes beyond its mission statement. It’s even beyond your list of corporate values, which are often noble and promising but locked in the abstract.

Instead, strategic business planning must be driven by objectives, advantages and outcomes. These are your plan’s true “whys” influencing what ideas you choose to execute. Determine, with detailed granularity, your target objectives, the competitive advantages of those objectives and how you’ll measure their success outcomes. Doing so sets the framework for an actionable and value-adding strategic vision.

2. Compile a Cross-Functional Team

Strategic business plans must have insights from every major department or domain at your organization. Consider the alternative — how can you expect to implement enterprise-wide strategy goals without input from across the enterprise?

  • Pick your change agents: Your planning team should include members of the board or other executive leadership as well as reps from major departments including marketing, sales, finance, accounting, operations and HR. It should also include IT staff as well, particularly if you intend to implement strategy management software.
  • Determine business process owners and overall strategy directors: The former spearhead the actual, tangible changes made in their teams during plan implementation, while the latter represent the top plan overseer or administrator and will often be someone in your Office of Strategy Management.

3. Create “Living” Timelines

Fight strategic fatigue by creating realistic yet prorated schedules for your strategic plan.

This means going against the traditional strategic planning timeline, the one where most organizations set annual business goals and then macro-review their progress only a handful of times throughout the year.

Timely execution of shifts in business strategy

Instead, consider allocating more meetings that are granular in topic and scope. Schedule these meetings as early as possible before you begin any official plan implementation, and share their agendas to keep focus relevant. Creating this kind of micro-timeline also equips your management team to respond more fluidly to business strategy changes that reveal themselves through benchmarked or scorecard data. After all, it does your organization no good if data tells you a process isn’t working, but you don’t address that issue for another three months.

4. Perform Competitive Research Analyses

A competitive research (CR) analysis builds an accurate profile of the strengths, weaknesses and overall operational health of your business compared to other companies in your vertical.

Similar to the business strategy models discussed earlier, your competitive research — otherwise known as competitive intelligence (CI) — gives you the most honest, quantitative assessment of where your organization currently sits versus where it aims to be. Many organizations opt to bring on an external consultant to perform their CR or CI assessments to enrich findings and paint a more accurate competitive portrait.

5. Assess Your Technological Infrastructure for Enterprise Harmony

How do departments communicate essential information with one another? Where are projects and progress tracked? Who has access to these resources, and could you expand that access?

Siloed departments are one of the most common reasons strategic plans fail. If your internal teams can’t communicate data reports, information and plan updates with one another, then goal execution will only go so far.

Technology like stratic management software and enterprise resource planning software provides a solution. These technologies serve as the primary repository for all reports, documents and information related to the status updates and benchmarked measurements of the strategic plan across departments, today and tomorrow.

6. Develop an Accessible Strategy Management Framework

Your strategy management framework will assign the individual activities and initiatives necessary to execute your business strategy. It will also set up those activities’ timelines, as well as outline team responsibilities and set up benchmarking scorecards to measure and report progress.

All these concerns must be represented and shared in a cohesive format. Each department will use the strategy management framework to gauge their own activities, relay and receive plan updates and pivot actions, when necessary.

Select the framework most suited from your operations. Once the cross-departmental strategy team finalizes implementation activities, you’ll create a graphic framework representation depicting every activity, in every team, across the implementation timeline. Have team leaders conduct training with personnel on how to access and read the framework so everyone is on the same page.

Business strategy management frameworks

There are dozens of strategy management frameworks on the market today, including leading models like:

7. Employ Technological Onboarding

At this stage in the strategic planning process, your organization should currently have — or be in the process of adopting — strategy management or resource management software.

These pieces of enterprise technology are pivotal for streamlined communication and collaboration across your strategic initiatives. The system houses all major and micro-projects that scaffold the complete business plan, plus designates who’s in charge of what, when and why. It’s also the portal all employees will use to make activity updates and signal status changes related to those activities.

Remember, strategic business planning must be a cross-functional endeavor. All representatives must plan and execute relevant training for new project or resource management systems within their departments, be that sales, HR, IT or operations. Failing to properly train employees on strategic planning technology is like handing a teenager the car keys and telling them to go on a road trip but never teaching them to drive.

8. Consider a Strategy Management Office (If You Don’t Already Have One)

Strategy management offices can be their individual division reporting directly to the COO or CEO. Other organizations wrap these offices into their finance departments.

Regardless of organizational structure, your strategy management office is the overseeing body coordinating end-to-end strategic plan design and implementation. They’re tasked with:

  • Facilitating the strategic plan’s timeline
  • Setting up and maintaining more granular meetings to review plan benchmarks
  • Updating documents, information and files within the strategy management software
  • Administering enterprise-wide updates on the strategic plan’s achievements and ongoing activities
  • Serving as the go-to resource for questions, concerns or directions when change situations do strike

9. Adjust Budget Allocations to Match the Upcoming Strategy Implementation

Strategic planning and budgeting cycles

Strategic planning and budgeting cycles are complementary activities that can easily run asynchronously. Business spend is known to proliferate across budget cycles, with forecasted expenses often ballooning on top of ad-hoc, unexpected costs that inevitably occur.

Review your budget structuring to ensure their alignment with the tenets and action items of your strategy framework. Of course, not every dollar will end up dedicated to strategic plan initiatives. Yet non-value-adding expenses should be analyzed and minimized, ensuring resource allocation is linked to your top priorities and adjusted routinely as you become more familiar with those purposeful contributions.

Implementing and Executing Changes in a Business Strategy

All the strategic planning in the world leads to this moment — implementing the business strategy and staying on top of its progress through completion.

Implementation centers on translating goals into smaller action items, with teams chiseling away at their assigned items, then consistently reporting performance for leadership to assess progress and adopt any changes. Those adaptations are then communicated swiftly and clearly back to the teams and departments executing them, typically through regularly conducted strategic planning micro-meetings and strategic management software’s project dashboards.

How do you create a fluid business plan that executes like clockwork? Consider these strategic plan implementation building blocks to successfully execute — and even change — your strategy.

How to create a business plan

1. Establish a Formal Change Communication Workflow

Automated communications provide the ideal solution here. No business strategy will come to fruition if teams and departments simply don’t know how they’re supposed to be contributing to the plan — or worse, if what they’re currently undertaking adds to or detracts from the organization’s strategic vision.

There are several ways to keep employees engaged and informed on changes with the strategic plan, from its origins through each phase of implementation:

  • Automated strategy status updates or reports: Created by the strategy management office and sent to key department heads or directly to employees.
  • Visual project trackers within the strategy software: Mimicking other project management software, with user-friendly dashboards relaying the current statuses and workflows of initiatives.
  • Multimedia announcements: Keeping employees engaged through print, video, email and other media on updated objectives, scope or deliverable, plus the wider impact of these changes.
  • Feedback channels: Ensuring all strategy is a two-way street, with employees’ thoughts, opinions and experiences valued.

2. Practice Prorated Report Timelines

Annual strategic reports don’t cut it. When business plans adapt, waiting months — or even just weeks — to officially announce pivots silos teams and makes employees feel left behind.

Any process or operational change to the business strategy will likely affect your staff within days anyway. Withholding status reports because you’re adhering to formalities should be done away with when you embrace living project timelines.

At a minimum, announce strategic plan reports every quarter. Even better, pick specific action items straight from the strategy management framework and hold monthly meetings reviewing its progress or fluxes, connecting how these changes will improve long-term business outcomes.

3. Institutionalize Reporting Software and Benchmarked Measurements

Tracking and measuring the progress of action items in the overall strategic plan is paramount to its continuous success — and one of the most cited reasons plans putter.

Without some digital repository centralizing project updates, it will be far more difficult for any member of the organization to gather and assess data, update project components, communicate horizontally with other departments and signal information to leadership. In other words, no one will be on the same page. Siloed communication is the bane of modern business planning and is best countered with a cohesive piece of reporting software that monitors progress and shares process changes with all.

4. Hold Regular Status and Accountability Meetings

Communication in business planning

We know, we know. Another meeting? We can hear the sighs from here.

Yet one of the most challenging aspects of shifting a business plan often involves communicating those changes downstream. What’s more, strategic changes must come with a compelling “why,” one relevant to employees and aligned with the company’s cited values and vision.

In-person meetings remain a meaningful way to review shifting business processes based in data, both for constituents within and outside the organization:

  • Amongst the cross-functional leadership teams: Executive decisions can be leveraged after reviewing performance feedback and benchmarked progress data in person, all while still maintaining the integrity of the overall strategy management framework.
  • Within individual departments: Regularly conducted status meetings let teams review resource allocations and process pain points in their daily activities against the cited outcomes of the business strategy. It turns the overall plan from a static, top-down set of directives to a collaborative endeavor employees associate and identify with their roles.

5. Avoid Corporate Speak

Business jargon can easily come off as insincere or out of touch. In fact, industry surveys find managers who use corporate speak during meetings and interactions with their teams actually make their departments less productive, less motivated and more likely to experience high rates of turnover.

When executing shifts in your business planning, it’s important to emphasize the human. After all, the whole goal behind continuous business planning is to be able to tweak and tailor processes fluidly after performance feedback, then funnel those changes seamlessly back into daily operations. Using technical language and corporate speak when explaining process shifts makes these conversations stiff and mechanical — the opposite of what’s needed.

6. Review Emerging Data Trends

Conducting regular reviews of performance feedback and data is the most objective way to temperature check the execution of the business plan.

KPIs and OKRs should have been established across multiple stages of the planning timeline, including during competitive research analyses and while drafting your step-by-step strategy framework.

Employees and managers may feel everything is being managed perfectly. But when performance metrics indicate otherwise, executive decision makers and the strategy management office can rectify inefficiencies or discrepancies, then use the established communication channels and management software to notify personnel of the “why” behind plan shifts.

7. Consult With a Strategic Planning Firm

Strategic planning consultants deploy personalized — and often proprietary — research methods with one goal in mind — to make their clients an industry poster child for growth, innovation and profitability.

Firm research directly translates into strategic planning by creating tangible goals suited for your organization. Their objective, external lens can be the difference between a generic business strategy plan and a comprehensive, substantive and fitting one.

Strategic planning firms offer many services that directly inform a fluid business planning system, including:

  • In-depth industry and market research
  • Competitive analyses
  • Transformational business modeling
  • Wargaming
  • Scenario planning and risk mitigation
  • And more services

Learn How to Recognize and Update Business Opportunities as They Occur

Organizations today can’t practice agile planning without first establishing a successful strategic vision. Doing so puts the proverbial cart before the horse — and prevents resources from aligning with daily actions to create a truly value-adding, competitor-busting business future.

Looking to get your business priorities straight? Proactive Worldwide provides one of the most renowned, substantive intelligence-based strategic planning portfolios in the industry. When you’re ready for research-backed insights delivering progressive strategic change tactics, you’re ready for us.

Explore our portfolio of strategy planning and execution consulting services, then contact us to begin strategizing your future.

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How Business War Gaming Can Improve Your Company’s Strategic Vision

Improve your company's strategic vision with business wargaming

Everyone has faced a difficult decision in their lives where they wished they could see the potential outcomes beforehand. In business, those types of make-or-break choices happen every single day. Decision-makers want to know what’s going to happen if they introduce this new product, acquire that business or enter a brand-new market. While the future is never certain, the good news is there is a proven way to take a peek.

You may have heard of war games for the military, where officers simulate the battlefield to predict outcomes. Business war gaming strategy takes that concept and brings it to the boardroom.

The Power of Foresight in Developing Strategy

Business foresight

Foresight is one of the most crucial skills to develop in the business world — strategists can use that foresight to detect and observe current activity, project potential outcomes and develop or alter strategies to combat or coincide with those outcomes. While this is one of the most powerful tools in a company’s arsenal, it’s a difficult one to develop and use in the real world.

Most often, companies develop foresight using strategic scenario planning. In these exercises, managers get together in large meetings to discuss current opportunities and run through scenarios. As a group, strategists use the information they receive to develop projections and plans based on current market conditions. However, strategists’ cognitive barriers limit this strategizing, namely the following.

  • Mental filters: People see what they want to see. Instead of seeing the world for what it is, individuals tend to alter information to fit their existing worldview. If data doesn’t fit into their perception of how things are, they either ignore or change it.
  • Overconfidence: People are often too confident in their beliefs, thinking the current view they hold is correct.
  • Confirmation bias: If new evidence enters the data set, people will find information that confirms their beliefs more quickly than they will information that opposes them.
  • Preference toward certainty: Ambiguity is a state of being people try to avoid, especially in business. As a result, people express certainty where there is none.
  • Groupthink: It’s more comfortable to belong to the majority, and it’s easier to believe the majority see the world the same way you do. As a result, people tend to give into others’ opinions and go along with what other people say rather than investigate independently.

Because scenario planning involves the whole group working in tandem, it’s easy for them to hit these cognitive barriers. These can prevent strategists from working with complexity and uncertainty, so they’re less able to see new possibilities and develop stronger foresight.

So how can businesses develop powerful foresight for strategic planning? The answer lies in business war gaming.

What Is Business War Gaming?

What is business wargaming?

Business war gaming, also called strategic simulation, is a type of group exercise where participants role-play in a simulation of a dynamic business environment. It’s similar to a scrimmage match in sports — the whole team splits into two groups who compete against each other to test and hone their skills in preparation for an actual match. Business war gaming operates similarly, toward a related goal.

With business war gaming, an organization splits their team of participants in two or more groups, with one group representing their organization and the other group or groups representing the competition (or possibly one team representing a customer team, regulatory team or some other market influencer). Typically, these teams work against each other for several rounds, with each round having a specific time limit. In each of those rounds, the groups utilize research provided in advance via “briefing books” and make the best decisions for their team to succeed taking into considering he character, culture, and strategy of the company they represent..

Not only does this simulation game allow businesses to test their current strategies, but it also allows them to develop and adjust new strategies based on what happened in the war game. Competition helps stimulate creative thinking, and working with the market from the perspective of a competitor can help the team as a whole recognize new, hidden opportunities to seize or threats to blunt. With human-based simulation, executives can experience future events and develop foresight, which can help them make decisions on critical strategies.

Where Does War Gaming Come From?

Business wargaming

As the name suggests, war gaming originates from military exercises where generals and officers would compete against each other to help prepare for the unpredictable battlefield. Historical records of this simulation planning date back as early as ancient Greece, but militaries around the world have used it. These first simulation war games led to the development of war-game-based board games, which first appeared about 5,000 years ago in China. The first one, called Wei-Hai, which means “encirclement,” was the brainchild of military general and philosopher Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War.” Later, Go emerged in central Asia around 2200 BCE, and Chaturanga, the ancestor of modern chess, came about circa 500 CE.

Since the 19th century, war gaming has become increasingly popular — with the expansion of global armies and the rapid advancement of technology following industrialization, battlefields are more complex and deadly than ever, making thorough planning critical. While Prussia popularized war gaming during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the U.S. took the idea and ran with it, using it as an essential planning tool to this day. It caught on so quickly in America that people soon began to apply the concept outside the military.

The American Management Association first introduced business war games in 1957 with “The AMA Top Management Decision Simulation.” This game required teams of three to five, representing company decision-makers, to produce something and sell it in a simulated market. The simulation ran through about five to 10 years of company operations and used mathematical models to evaluate team performances. While effective, the idea of strategic simulation didn’t gain widespread popularity until the mid-1980s — since then, it has blossomed into a highly useful tool for business strategy development.

How War Gaming Works

How business war games work

A typical war game takes place over one to three days and will usually begin with a pre-game preparation stage. For example, professionally led war gaming exercises from Proactive Worldwide start with a planning stage where the game leaders determine who is participating, scenarios to play out, briefing book development, and where it will take place. We’ll also work with your leaders to determine what the objectives of the game should be and what strategies to test.

Having completed the initial planning stage, the event itself has all participants split into groups and receive briefing books on the company they’ll be representing, the capabilities and philosophies of that company, their role on the team and the fundamental information they need to know about the market landscape. The essential groups participating in the workshop include the following.

  • The home team: This team represents the company running the war game, operating with the same values and resources their company commands.
  • The competition: This group may consist of one or more teams, each representing a different company in the market. These may be existing, traditional competitors and/or emerging ones, but their goal is to succeed in the market, and they may choose to work with or against the home team, depending on the characteristics of their company.
  • The market: This team represents the market and the consumers, and usually consists of sales, marketing, and product development professionals. This team assesses the decisions of the home team and competition and determines the reaction of the customers and the market as a whole.
  • The team facilitators: In some ways, the facilitators act as the control team, and there is usually one facilitator per team. They can also introduce significant changes in the market, like policy changes or technological developments, changing the market environment to add real-life dynamics, and often pose challenging questions to the teams that those participants are not asking themselves.

Business wargaming process

Once everyone has received a briefing books (usually a few days before the event) and are assigned to a team, the game begins. The actual design of each game can vary as well as the exercises used, depending on the game’s objectives. War games will typically start in the present day, and each round represents the passage of time, usually a few years. Each round typically consists of the following steps.

  • Strategy formulation: The home team and competitor teams use the information to better understand the competitive mindset of the company they represent. They focus on assess their drivers, strategy, assumptions, and capabilities. The teams work independently and do not communicate with one another during the exercise — instead, they make decisions on what the think a company’s future strategy may be based on the information they have. Once they’ve developed an understanding of their company, each team will present it to the other teams. This then leads to addition forecasting of potential moves and countermoves of particular future scenarios.
  • Market reaction: After the home team and competitors present their plans, the next step is for each team, including the customer / market team to ask questions, challenge the strategies conveyed, and discuss how consumers and others will respond to the decisions, and how those reactions will affect the market and each team’s share or growth potential of the market.
  • Reaction and feedback: The facilitators take the strategies of the home and competitor teams to drive discussion with the participants around who wins and loses in the future market scenarios outlined. There will be discussion and debate on how the choices made will affect the world at large, and if any new dynamics, like technological advances or changes in government policy, will emerge and how they will impact the market.

During another round of exercises and discussion, the players gain a better understanding of their company and the competition, as well as how to react to the ever-changing market. The simulation allows them to experiment with new ideas and strategies and see how their choices could affect the world in the future. To wrap up the event, participants all put on the had of the home team to assess the key learnings, prioritize actions, and walk away with a new sense of foresight, and executives can use the data and ideas from the game to inform their strategies.

The Benefits of War Gaming

Benefits of business wargaming

Using business war gaming for strategic planning is an exciting and engaging way to get ahead of the competition. Unlike any other exercise, strategic simulations can provide insights and opportunities you couldn’t find anywhere else. Just a few of the benefits of business war gaming include the following.

  • Align leadership: War gaming helps your business leaders, from functional leaders to unit leaders, develop aligned strategies and priorities based on demonstrable data. By involving them in the simulation, leaders can see the market as a whole and gain a new sense of investment in the company’s vision. They can then take the information learned from the war games to create a complementary plan of attack, ensuring better company-wide implementation that can address the competitive landscape more effectively.
  • Improve success: By simulating the competition and playing out their potential future actions, businesses can better predict what their challengers are going to do and develop more robust strategies in response. These well-planned strategies are more likely to be successful.
  • Evaluate strategies: War games can run through any number of plans and variations, assessing them thoroughly so your business can be more confident in its decisions. This type of preparation also helps develop alternative plans of attack in the event of an unforeseen change of circumstance, reducing the risk involved.
  • Recognize opportunities: By viewing the market from multiple angles, participants are more likely to find hidden or unnoticed opportunities to exploit.
  • Enhance teamwork: War games bring cross-functional people together for the exercise, allowing professionals from all departments to collaborate and communicate. Doing so can help people see problems from new perspectives and gain a better sense of the company’s direction and mission as a whole.
  • Predict efficiently: War game simulations can cover several years of strategy over a few days, making it a highly time-efficient way of testing strategic initiatives and theories. Instead of spending years evaluating your strategies in the real world, your business can evaluate them in a safe, closed environment in days, saving time and money.

Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, war gaming is a proven way to develop effective strategies. With skilled war game facilitators and a perfect setup, your business will finish a war game workshop with several ideas and strategies you can use to win.

How Companies Can Use War Gaming for Business Strategy

Wargaming for business strategy

If your business is new to the idea of using business war gaming for strategy, you’re not alone. It’s a strategic tool that few companies use as they should, but by all accounts should be an essential part of any business’ strategic arsenal. Just like a carpenter would jeopardize their business by choosing not to use a tape measure, corporations are missing out on an incredible opportunity by not using war gaming in their strategic planning. Here are just a few ways businesses can use war gaming for business strategy development.

  • Assess strategies: War games can simulate how your current or proposed strategies could fare in the market, and how certain adjustments could improve your company’s performance. Participants playing the role of your competitors can also provide feedback, identifying any weak points that posed easy targets.
  • Investigate opportunities: In a war game, participants are looking at the same market from wildly different perspectives — while some are operating as stand-ins for your own company, others may be playing as competitors or as consumers. With so many different viewpoints, it’s much easier to identify potential areas of growth or opportunities in the market that may not have been apparent before. War gaming doesn’t merely allow you to identify these opportunities, however — you can also simulate how competitors may use these opportunities and what the potential outcomes could be.
  • Identify shortcomings: In addition to strengthening your strategy, war gaming can bolster your company as a whole. Simulation allows you to take a hard look at your established internal practices and strategies and identify how they might interfere with communication and collaboration internally and externally.

War gaming is a proven tool, and under the guidance of an expert competitive intelligence company like Proactive Worldwide, you can benefit from the key advantages of business war gaming. At the end of the exercise, your business will be far more knowledgeable about your strategies, capabilities and preparedness so you can be confident in your ability to out-compete your competitors.

What Industries Can Use War Gaming?

Business wargaming by industry

Industries of all types can use war gaming as a useful tool for developing business strategies. Using your specific industry landscape, your business can use war gaming to improve strategist training and test current and new approaches. A few of the industries that can use war gaming in their business strategy include the following.

  • Pharmaceuticals and health care: Competition is the heart of the health care and pharmaceutical industry in the modern era. War gaming can help companies in these industries uncover actionable insights that can help them stay ahead of the curve.
  • Financial services: Technology and productivity are two significant drivers and disruptions in the financial sector, and war gaming provides a solution that can help develop new strategies for handling these challenges.
  • Consumer goods: Consumer preferences are always changing, so foresight is an essential tool. War gaming can help develop your company’s foresight, helping evaluate strategies and predict market changes that can boost your success.
  • Manufacturing and industrial: Assess your strategies and principles from a new perspective with war gaming. If you’re looking for a way to edge ahead of the competition, war gaming exercises led by specialists with experience in the industrial and manufacturing sectors is an excellent way to strategize.
  • Technology: Technology is always changing, and it’s vital to stay at the forefront of development to remain relevant. War gaming can help develop your strategy with business war gaming, anticipating anything from your competitors’ next moves to the newest regulations.

At Proactive Worldwide, we’ve helped businesses within these industries and others develop their competitive intelligence through war gaming exercises. For over two decades, we’ve helped decision-makers and strategists use war gaming for business strategy, enabling them to recognize opportunities and assess policies in a way they’d never considered before.

World Class War Gaming Services From Proactive Worldwide

Business wargaming firm

Proactive Worldwide’s interactive Business War Games combine our decades of experience in competitive intelligence with our expansive industry knowledge to provide you with the best strategic simulation experience. Our workshops involve thorough pre-game planning, briefing book development, a one- or two-day workshop and a debrief session where we help identify actionable insights for your company. We’ll help you use business war gaming for strategic planning, helping you test existing or new strategies while improving your understanding and insight into the market and your competitors.

Proactive Worldwide President David Kalinowski leads PWW’s Business War Game practice and has seen time and time again how this strategic tool can have an enormous ROI for corporations looking for an effective pressure test for their strategies. Since our inception in 1995, Proactive Worldwide has grown our capabilities to deliver the benefits of business war gaming to as many industries as possible, from consumer products to the pharmaceutical industry. Thanks to our commitment to our clients and quality service, we’ve provided tailor-made solutions to hundreds of businesses and plan to continue expanding our capabilities and honing our processes to deliver the best results possible.

If you’re interested in using business war gaming for strategic planning in your business, you can get started today. Fill out our contact form for more information.

How to Get Ahead of the Competition — and Stay There

Tips for Getting Ahead of the Competition

Organizations seeking to outpace the competition require ideas and strategies inspired beyond generalizations.

Broad analysis or pre-published, generic findings don’t cut it. To know how to beat the competition, businesses need growth-oriented, yet actionable, data-informing ways to get and stay ahead of key industry rivals. Such data needs to be tailored to that exact enterprise and its core competition, unearthing root opportunities for true market differentiation.

While many have heard of competitive benchmarking, few organizations have the roadmap — or the on-hand resources — to implement an immediate competitive intelligence and market analytics plan to their advantage. Read on to discover how your business can remedy this strategy gap and keep ahead of the competition, beginning today.

What Is Competitive Benchmarking?

Competitive benchmarking is when an organization initiates a systematic review of internal operations, structures and strategies, then compares its findings directly against top industry competitors.

Competitive benchmarking services

In other terms, it’s an analysis of vital KPIs of one organization against another’s, with the goal to temperature-check best practices to produce long-term, superior business results.

Benchmarked data comes from both external and internal sources. Most competitive analyses use a mix of methodologies to compare themselves with properly scaled competition, meaning others of similar size and stature. For example, it does a mom-and-pop diner no good to competitive benchmark against a national chain because the daily decisions necessary to run these businesses radically differ.

Competitive benchmarking strategies can measure and compare any of the following business domains:

  • Sales strategies, operations and resources
  • Marketing and advertising channels or campaigns
  • Product or service lines, launches and offerings
  • Go-to-market structures and timelines
  • Pricing analysis
  • Supply chain coordination and distribution strategies
  • Talent acquisition and management
  • And much more, all contingent on industry alignment, business scale and an organization’s outlined questions, concerns and goals

Business Benchmarking Strategies to Beat the Competition

The best business competition plans ground operational goals with actionable, practical data, drawing organizations their road map to unlock greater capabilities. Keep ahead of the competition by deploying any one of these top benchmarking and competitive intelligence strategies.

Business benchmarking strategies

1. Hire a Competitive Intelligence (CI) Firm

Firms specializing in competitive profiling research, analysis and implementation make it their mission to sharpen the operational tools organizations already have — plus mitigate risks they may not see.

CI firms can specialize in particular industries, such as pharmaceutical competitive intelligence or financial services benchmarking. Other firms apply targeted CI research methodologies for clients regardless of industry, using those tactics to generate personalized strategies to remain competitive.

In hiring a CI research firm, businesses receive objective insights and expertise across critical business questions and domains. CI firms aggregate internal and external information to create hyper-targeted, tailored plans to close competitive gaps, as well as identify current or future risk categories. From these reports, organizations can draft their sharpest, most actionable operations and output goals, all informed by comparative data.

2. Conduct User Experience (UX) Groups to Understand Brand Perception

User experience groups are a primary research methodology with one core focus: understanding how real users of your products or services, both current and prospective, think and feel about your brand. It prioritizes the functional as well as psychological factors influencing user decisions, with a goal to use data gleaned from real user surveys, voice-of-customer interviews and focus groups to tailor tomorrow’s products, services and branding mechanisms.

UX groups focus on many variables that influence overall brand perception:

  • Usability
  • Navigability
  • Findability
  • Desirability
  • Accessibility
  • Trustworthiness
  • Practicality
  • Brand “personality”
  • Overall perceived value

Armed with quantitative and qualitative UX data, organizations can implement new strategies to differentiate themselves from the competition — all with the task of remaining more relevant than their competitors in the eyes of the consumer.

3. Understand True Customer Expectations

Competitive benchmarking can assist in developing 360-degree profiles for various consumer segments.

How to understand customer expectations

Internally, competitive benchmarking allows organizations to understand their current customers better. More holistic customer profiles unlock what makes these consumer groups tick: what attracted them to your brand, what keeps them purchasing from you, their favorite products or services and — most importantly — why they picked you over the competition.

Externally, competitive consumer profiling research provides knowledge into your rivals’ customer segments. What draws them to others’ products or services? Is it price? Credibility? Market influence? Servicing affordances? Something intangible and different altogether? Keeping ahead of the competition means understanding them — namely, the consumer groups keeping them afloat.

4. Run a Structural Business Analysis

What makes the everyday operations in an office tick? Do people, processes and technology harmonize or hinder those operations, and where is there explicit process friction?

Structural business analyses provide the answers to questions like these, as well as outline action plans to see gaps and inefficiencies remedied. More specifically, a structural business analysis conducted internally or with the help of a hired CI firm can investigate the following compared to the competition:

  • Organizational hierarchies
  • Office technology
  • Intra-department businesses processes, or workflows within a single department or team
  • Inter-department business processes, or workflows across departments and teams
  • Business partnerships and vendor relations
  • Organizational policies and procedures

Key KPIs to conducting structural business analysis and comparing results to rivals might include:

  • Process cost as a percent of revenue
  • Process productivity increase percentages
  • Cycle time reductions
  • Unit cost reductions
  • Percentage of rework attributable to process requirement
  • Stakeholder and employee satisfaction rates

5. Review Sales Performance KPIs

Organizations measure sales performance according to their structure and goals. Varying departments will have diverging definitions, since each department has different levels of direct interaction and oversight into sales. For example, an IT department for a medical device company may not position every one of its workflows in correlation with boosting sales, yet the marketing and sales divisions rely on the technology and systems they support, so they are therefore related to sales performance.

Every function of a profitable business has some connection to sales. As such, performing competitive benchmarking helps determine processes and systems boosting overall profitability as it relates to sales.

Business competition studies can survey sales performance KPIs internally, then compare those KPIs with their competition, identifying ways to maximize operations and increase net sales profits. Consider measuring sales performance KPIs in a myriad of ways, from productivity rates to average lead costs, supplier operations, cycle times, working capital flows, customer value averages and many more.

Broken down even further, sales performance KPIs might include metrics like:

  • Sales touchpoints such as calls, emails, etc. per order or per sales representative
  • Sales by platform or contact method
  • Value per sales transaction
  • Quote-to-close ratios
  • Sales funnel, pipeline conversion rates
  • Customer lifetime value profiles
  • And many more

6. Compare and Contrast Buyer Personas

Use real, quantitative data gathered from consumer analysis and user test groups to create your organization’s buyer personas — in other words, character types representing the core demographic makeup of your customer base.

Consumer analysis persona data

Buyer persona data encompasses many factors. For example, a persona will have a set age, income, gender, education and geographic location, but also lifestyle information like hobbies, leisure activities, shopping habits, frequently visited websites, social media network usage and even internet search history.

Buyer personas help you further understand your market share and value differentiation compared to competitors. Through them, organizations identify the type of people their business is most likely to attract, as well as whom rivals attract, then integrating marketing strategies to convert personas away from those rivals.

7. Compare and Contrast Marketing Efforts

A business competition strategy would be remiss without competitive research and analysis into its marketing analytics, specifically exploring variables like marketing campaign metrics and channel usage strategies. Businesses can conduct side-by-side comparisons of key marketing metrics, including KPIs like:

  • Marketing spend as a percent of revenue
  • Marketing content performance
  • Marketing spend per customer or per campaign
  • FTEs per campaign launch
  • Customer equity calculations
  • Customer retention rates
  • Customer satisfaction rates or rankings
  • Marketing channel usage
  • Marketing channel market voice

8. Study Your Share of Market Voice

Market voice studies directly compare your perceived industry authority and influence to the competition. Your market voice accounts for qualitative and quantitative data alike, from the number of social mentions or branded hashtags people use during a given period to website traffic increases or decreases after an event puts your industry in the public spotlight.

Market voice analysis involves understanding your overall market landscape. Promoting your market voice consists of understanding its current strengths and weaknesses, as well as identifying what PR strategies and platforms your core competition uses most often.

9. Perform a Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analyses measure the tone of brand mentions on social media, blogs, other internet platforms and across general news and publicity outlets. More specifically, it compares how many negative mentions and impressions your brand holds compared to positive ones, allowing organizations to then interpret the root causes of each.

Customer sentiment analysis

Once analyzed, sentiment analysis integrates into a brand’s overall “social listening” strategy, providing competitive insights into how to manage and interact with real consumers across online platforms. These interactions are imperative for overall brand perception, as well as differentiation between your business and your competition.

A sentiment analysis tends to complement market voice and market share benchmarking. It’s an important caveat to understanding how actual consumers perceive your brand’s personality compared to others’ — and the likelihood your marketing strategies will elicit desired goals from target consumer groups.

10. Complete a Price Audit, Then Offer Price-Matching Policies

Competitive price audits create a list of indexed product and service prices compared to identical or near-identical products and services on the retail market. It is one of the leading methodologies to better understanding your organization’s share in both current markets as well as prospective ones it hopes to enter.

Information gleaned from a competitive price audit can produce profit-maximizing new strategies across product fabrication, distribution, programs and offerings, resulting in measurable market gains over target competitors.

Conducting a price audit opens the door for organizations to offer sustainable price-matching policies as well, a competitive pricing strategy many traditional retailers are wielding to their advantage in an increasingly e-commerce-driven landscape.

Business Strategies to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Once an organization implements strategies to beat out the competition, they’ll require steps to remain there — leading their market across targeted metrics and domains. Businesses can beat and stay ahead of the competition using these competitive intelligence practices.

Business strategies to stay ahead of the competition

1. Measure Smarter, Not Harder

Too often, organizations fall into the trap of measuring everything and anything taking place within their walls. All business processes, policies, workflows, supply chains, productivity rates, consumer personas and internal hierarchies become subject to data surveillance for surveillance’s sake, rather than for pre-structured, critically insightful plans with actionable end goals.

Metric-savvy organizations are those with the right finesse to know which metrics and KPIs to track. They use both ongoing competitive profiling tactics to unearth specific, pinpointed data sets leading to functional interpretations. What’s more, they assign measurable metrics to every new business initiative or idea — measurable metrics compatible with overall organizational goals, not out of sync or detracting from them.

2. Integrate Findings Into Executive Summaries and Employee Portals

Staying ahead of the competition relies on smooth, streamlined communication between all levels of employee stakeholders. From C-suite executives and the boards they report to down to the most recent hires, everyone should have access to high-level summaries of competitive intelligence and market intelligence findings.

Communication in business competitor analysis

Include key findings and recommendations from CI research in easy-to-access and frequently updated platforms. Ensure all published findings include targeted suggestions and references written using results-oriented, enterprise-wide business terms. This bridges information gaps between departments and teams, plus conveys the relevance behind much of the comparative analysis and hard data you are currently gleaning via benchmarking programs. Most importantly, they instill the value of measurable competitive intelligence, helping teach the gravity of research and profiling strategies within every department’s work.

3. Maintain a Persona-Driven, Value-Based Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Successful USPs are innately contingent on market differentiation research. The findings from initiated user group surveys to market voice research to conducted price audits and market performance sentiment all inform an organization’s true USP, rather than relying on guesswork or projective desires for what their USP should be.

USPs should also speak to customer personas, the real people with real, measurable wants, fears, principles and pain points engaging with your brand. Staying ahead of the competition requires understanding what those target consumers genuinely want, then positioning clear and value-based USPs that speaks directly to it.

Distinct, persona-driven USPs are a key differentiator behind an organization and one of the leading ways to nurture positive brand awareness, recall and sentiment.

4. Monitor Competitors’ Repetitive Behaviors

Consider the core business domains and departments your organization — as well as your competition — relies on to achieve its principal day-to-day operations:

  • Product research and development
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer service and support
  • Finances
  • Talent acquisition
  • Supply chain, resource and vendor management
  • Information technology

These operations are the ones resulting in your ability to deliver the goods and services tied to your brand. As such, understanding what processes your competitors continually deploy to accomplish their work underpins your ability to outperform that competition. In other words, frequent competitor operational analysis allows organizations to forecast competitor activities better and results, then beat them to it.

What’s more, ongoing competitive benchmarking allows organizations to identify their opportunity gaps. Once equipped with this knowledge, enterprises can more readily tailor processes they currently court, as well as preemptively manage blind spots to adopt growth initiatives.

Monitoring customer behavior

Organizations that hire an independent CI firm have an innate advantage in assessing competitor repetitions. Competitive intelligence and competitive market agencies have more systems and resources in place to conduct repetitive behavioral analysis across target business domains, funneling their findings into intelligent and actionable reports.

5. Consider Entering a New Market

Proactive competitive benchmarking empowers organizations to extend into new business markets — markets it’s already had in sight as well as those it may have undervalued.

Locally, regionally or internationally, competitive business analysis scaffolds what a risk-mitigating market entry plan looks like. More specifically, these plans allow organization leaders and stakeholders to create and execute the following market entry steps with confidence:

  • Overall market landscape mapping, including size, risks, disruptions and segments
  • Key buyer personas in those market segments
  • Current competitors, both established and up-and-coming
  • Common competitor business practices and strategies
  • Blind spots and success patterns in a competitor’s business practices and strategies
  • Cultural values, norms and beliefs shaping new markets and its consumers

6. Perform Frequent Technology Audits

Technology audits allow organizations to survey the functionality of their current IT infrastructure. With technology increasingly defining both professional and personal activities, it’s imperative for enterprises to remain proactive in the efficiencies, optimizations and adoption rates of any new enterprise hardware or software.

Technology audit survey and analysis services

Frequent technology audits are also an underused competitive strategy. They ground any formal structural business analyses your organization performs, which study and measure competitors’ technology usage and provide a compass to orient your enterprise CI platforms. They can also help deter wasteful spending on trendy equipment and legacy systems alike, as benchmarked IT information reveals the financial and operational realities associated with each in your industry.

7. Support Continual Consumer Feedback Loops

Organizations have more methods than ever to support situational, structured or ongoing activities to understand consumers better. These activities are part of its larger customer insights strategy, which provides in-depth awareness of what real people think and feel about your brand, as well as problems they’ve experienced or stand-out, positive interactions they’ve had across touchpoints.

For example, businesses can conduct evidence-based customer feedback programs through:

  • Response surveys, online, over the phone or in person
  • User experience groups, in person or in the field, transactional or ongoing
  • Video-recorded observations of test user groups and customer reactions
  • Voice-of-customer interviews with individuals or groups

Quantitative and qualitative findings from these research methods funnel into strategic, customer-centric business decisions that further differentiate you from the competition. Whether devised entirely internally or with the assistance of a CI firm, consumer feedback studies and loops help pinpoint current strengths, in addition to weaknesses and growth opportunities for your products and services, all straight from those whose perspective on these matters means most. These measures directly influence positive, previously benchmarked metrics such as customer retention rates, customer satisfaction ratings, upsell or cross-sell conversion rates and customer equity calculations.

8. Support Professional Development Initiatives

Another overlooked business competition strategy involves little extraneous research or extra development to implement. It prioritizes something your organization already has set in place and relies upon each and every day to function: your employees.

The vast majority — 89 percent — of millennial workers rate professional development and learning opportunities as important when citing their overall job satisfaction. This number represents an uptick from the 69 percent of non-millennials, namely gen-Xers and working baby boomers, who place the same emphasis on these employee benefits.

Further studies promote the importance of satisfied workers with satisfactory outputs. Organizations that make a point to nurture their employees through career-enriching professional development opportunities will court a more efficient, productive, creative and motivated workforce — which, in turn, creates a more talented workforce fueling further competitive business advantages.

9. Promote a Healthy Workplace

In addition to professional development opportunities, research continues to prove the financial value of a balanced workplace culture.

To promote a healthy workplace, organizations must first understand what exactly their employees consider ideal office conditions. Your business should devise a similar approach to garnering employee satisfaction and retention feedback as you do to attracting and retaining customers. From anonymous surveys to hiring third-party CI consultants to conduct group interviews, businesses can gauge employee satisfaction with work policies, workplace flexibility, leadership, policy and process transparency, training, support and overall work/life balance.

These findings motivate organizational and environmental changes to maximize a workforce from the inside out, giving organizations another competitive advantage.

Contact Proactive Worldwide for Integrated, Specialized Strategies to Remain Competitive in Your Industry

As a global leader in intelligence-based strategic planning, competitive market intelligence and customer insights, Proactive Worldwide consultants have one goal: Help organizations refine and reinstate business competition strategies to not only get ahead of the competition — but to stay ahead.

If you’re wondering how to remain competitive in your market segment, contact one of our CI representatives to get started.

Remain competitive in your industry with Proactive Worldwide

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How Often Should I Perform a Competitive Analysis?

Since competitive intelligence is all about broadening perspectives and learning to look at situations from a competitor’s viewpoint, there’s no hard and fast rule as to when competitive analysis should be conducted. Nevertheless, it’s always better to be ahead of your competition’s plans with sufficient time to react, maximize your strengths and exploit your competition’s weaknesses. Performing a current competitive analysis is highly recommended on a quarterly basis — and on a monthly basis for ideal results.

For any successful company, protecting its place in the market is accomplished with far more accuracy and efficiency when it has the latest insights into what its competitors’ marketing, sales and new product efforts look like. And since industry trends and market landscapes are prone to volatile changes, it’s thanks to regular and ongoing competitive analyses that businesses can remain agile in the face of competitors’ challenges.

The “Why” Behind CI

To remain competitive in today’s fast-changing business landscape, it’s simply not enough for organizations to exclusively focus on their internal operations. Instead, to help executives make more informed strategic decisions, leveraging business competitor analysis provides fresh insights and perspectives that can result in stronger, more resilient business strategies.

Consider, for instance, a consumer electronics manufacturer getting ready to release the newest version of its flagship tablet. If the company merely focuses on the strengths of its product to guide everything from its marketing to its distribution, at least two opportunities will most likely be lost.

First, the company needs a recent market analysis that looks at its competitors’ products and strategies. Without one, it’s likely to experience a certain amount of complacency resulting from a limited viewpoint that only takes the attractiveness of its new device into consideration. Second, the company needs a wider perspective that examines how its device differentiates itself from competitors’ products. Without it, the manufacturer can miss out on the opportunity to build brand and product awareness by highlighting how its new device solves problems that its competitors’ products don’t.

While this example is by no means comprehensive, it demonstrates how much better-prepared businesses are when they take advantage of professional competitive intelligence — or CI — services from our team of experts at Proactive Worldwide. From deciding how and when to release a new product to anticipating competitors’ actions, there isn’t a moment along the lifecycle of a product that competitive analysis can’t help make more successful and profitable.

Clearly, competitive analysis can help raise awareness and yield better business strategies that anticipate and outmaneuver the actions an organization’s competitors are preparing to make.

Contact Proactive Worldwide for a Timely and Thorough Competitor Analysis

At Proactive Worldwide, we particularly appreciate the old adage that time is money, so we waste no time in putting our research and analytical skills to work for you when you need them. Since 1995, we’ve been delivering intelligent competitor analyses that are tailored to our clients’ needs. When you’re ready to grow and defend your place in the market, we’re here for you.

Contact us today to learn more about our full line of competitive intelligence services.

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Is Your Company Ready for Strategic Planning?

From Hannibal defeating the Roman army to the startup of Apple in the face of IBM and Microsoft, history is dotted with stories of David versus Goliath face-offs where an underdog competitor wins out thanks to a superior strategy.

But whether you’re looking at pivotal battles of opposing armies or the fierce competitiveness of the business world, one factor remains a constant. When an organization is faced with an external challenge, it invariably increases its chances of success when it gathers and leverages as many quality insights and implications as possible — and forms a strategic plan that adequately takes into account these early warning indicators.

What Is Strategic Planning?

In today’s hyper-competitive business world, a strategic plan is the process an organization employs in allocating its resources to effectively pursue and successfully meet its business objectives. In this manner, strategic planning serves as a type of enterprise-wide guide for the setting of priorities and the focusing of energies across the business so that common goals with intended outcomes are established.

In addition, it’s critical to consider that when businesses embark on costly campaigns and endeavors without the guidance of a strategic plan, they expose themselves to the likelihood of unwanted surprises and disruptions — from both external and internal sources — that can derail their ability to succeed in their market sectors.

Evaluating Your Readiness for Strategic Planning

To effectively conduct strategic planning, you need to first assess your organization’s readiness. Doing so involves evaluating whether or not you possess the historic and current data you need to accurately recognize implications. Only when you understand the implications of specific market conditions, consumer trends and competitor actions can you adjust your strategic plan accordingly.

The following intelligence sources are highly useful in readying your business for strategic planning:

  • Unlocking market research: Data from internal and external primary sources will enable you to take advantage of evidence-based intelligence that informs you about what your competitors are planning.
  • War gaming: Play out hypothetical situations based on pure fact that lead to in-depth insights and accurate predictions.
  • Leveraging competitive intelligence: From increasing your market share to cutting into your competitors’ margins, competitive intelligence based on primary research will allow you to plan for the future — with both your business goals and the changing needs of your customers in focus and balanced.

Strategic Planning Is an Ongoing Endeavor

Markets change, consumer trends evolve and competitors pursue new strategies and develop new products. To ensure you stay competitive and ahead of the pack, you need to embrace strategic planning as an ongoing part of your operations. By consistently ensuring you have the data you need to recognize the implications of certain developments, you can inform your strategy accordingly and stay one step ahead of the competition.

The end result is the creation of a business culture where opportunities for improvement are more readily recognized and the steps needed to enact positive change are more easily accomplished. It’s both a flexibility that extends to the very core of what makes a business successful and a commitment to always be on the lookout — even when things are going well — for the next disruptor and/or external warning indicator.

Proactive Worldwide — Your One-Stop Source for Strategic Planning Intelligence

With a combination of dedicated market experts and business analysts, our team at Proactive Worldwide is able to deliver the kind of timely insights and implications your business needs to effectively inform and guide your strategic planning for maximum impact.

Why wait until early indicators become a dire warning? Be successful by getting out ahead of your competitors — and staying there — with evidence-based strategic intelligence from Proactive Worldwide.

To discover what Out in Front® really means, contact us today.