If you ever wanted to give yourself a nice, easy job you probably would not pick on-line retail marketing—the pseudo-math alone will kill you. Consider the algorithms that keep the balls in the air. You need to track and predict customer behaviors of all sorts like what was previously bought or even looked at, who the customer is demographically, as well as the vagaries of your own products, promotions, locations, people and who knows what else.
Ironically, these are the kinds of things that human beings can do rather well. I once went into a Nordstrom store to buy a shirt because a business trip went long. The woman who greeted me in the men’s department sized me up immediately and directed me to the color I wanted and my size all in about 10 seconds. I was amazed.
But people are finite resources, don’t scale well, and they are relatively expensive. My sales associate had a lot of colleagues and they all had the advantage of seeing customers to size them up. Today’s retail environment is not often that simple and we find ourselves dealing with thousands of customers at once who are often online and not subject to visual inspection. Consequently, we need software that not only does the sizing up, but that also figures out what we want or need, sometimes before we do. That’s the goal that modern retailer software vendors have set for themselves and something that Salesforce this week signed up for when it introduced Salesforce Marketing Cloud Predictive Decisions.
Like other products in this niche, Predictive Decisions analyzes customer engagement and proactively delivers recommended content, products, or offers, to create personalized customer journeys across channels at massive scale. It is hard to analyze this offering and to say whether it is better than a competing brand or not but that’s not the point.
Predictive Decisions is a great example of how companies can take the next steps in solving for the customer. In my recent book, I make the observation that empowered people + adequate computing + well-tuned processes are the secret to future business success and Predictive Decisions is a great example of this “rule” in action.
This is really the old People, Process, and Technology mantra turned on its head to great effect and if you break down my little formula you can reach a startling conclusion. Consider this: people and technology are in a dead heat today. Organizations understand that they can’t simply recruit and hold onto only the top talent and therefore they have to succeed with rank and file employees—that has always been true.
Likewise, technology per se (let’s say hardware to be specific) is not the game changer it once was because great, fast computing is now ubiquitous and cheap. So it’s really hard to steal a march on your competition to gain market advantage through hardware.
But in process we have access to an almost infinitely variable set of competitive advantages if we can adapt and leverage them. This is what Predictive Decisions promises to do in my view. With analytics and algorithms running at the speed and scale of technology rather than that of a person’s brain, a vendor can process huge numbers of variables and synthesize solutions that result in content, products or offers that are relevant to each customer.
But, don’t be confused, this isn’t about the offer or content—this amounts to building custom processes for each customer on the fly at the exact moment the process is needed. I know lots of vendors, and maybe even Salesforce, will disagree with me but the most important output of products like Predictive Decisions is not the recommendation whatever form it takes. What’s most important is that the system, by generating a unique process for each customer, remains authentic to the situation.
I use authentic when others might be comfortable with personal or similar words. But there is no such thing as personal anything when dealing with a set of algorithms; if the algorithms are good, they generate a facsimile of reality and that’s authenticity. Truth be told, most customers don’t want personal relationships with every vendor and attempting the personal might even hinder what ought to be a straightforward and professional interaction. That’s why I use authentic.
When my shopping experience is over, I am not having a beer with the associate or the computer. My highest goal is to interact with someone or something that gets me and therefore enables my success and that’s all about process. So congrats to Salesforce on yet another product release but this one isn’t about technology, it’s all about process and Salesforce customers should be glad about that.
(Cross-posted @ Beagle Research Group)