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Struggling With Omnichannel? You’re In Good Company

Last month I moderated a session on commerce strategies at an event called NG Omnichannel. Hosted by conference company GDS, this event brought together senior executives from a variety of industries and regions in the US and Canada. They were an eclectic mix of marketing, operations, and technology leaders, with the common challenge of adopting and implementing omnichannel strategies in their companies.

Whether the attendees worked in financial services, media, retail, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, or other industries, the most common refrain I heard was this: defining and executing an omnichannel strategy is really, really, really difficult.

Or at least, it certainly feels that way for the attendees, especially for those in long-established brick-and-mortar businesses in mature industries. There are no models or best practices to follow, no benchmarks to measure against, no experts to consult. As one attendee put it,

The KPIs that mattered ten years ago are not the KPIs that matter today.

And it’s not just that KPIs need to be redefined. Other common challenges that attendees cited included:

  • How do you connect online and offline experiences, and deliver a “human” experience in digital?
  • How do you start selling online without alienating your existing channel partners, and the direct salespeople that manage those partner relationships?
  • How do you leverage existing assets for new experiences and innovation?

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, this event didn’t devolve into a pity party: in addition to there being vendor sponsors present who offered solutions to some of these problems, the value of the peer-networking opportunities at event was that attendees were able to share some ways they had managed to address or overcome challenges.

Here’s a few examples of how the attendees shared their experiences. A media company executive found that staging live events helped his company better understand specific target markets, such as teens, better than if they just used data on online viewing habits.  A marketing VP at an online retailer found that the channel partner conflict he feared did not materialize as long as his marketing team shared its promotions calendar with partners so as not to offer competing deals at the same time. And a financial services executive explained how she ran a part of her organization whose mandate was to find and experiment with new technologies and see how they might be applied to the business. 

I would add to this that there is one additional thing that need to be in place for omnichannel to not just begin, but to scale. The very top of the organization, the CEO or equivalent, has to buy into and champion any initiative, and to have a cross-functional view monitoring how it develops. This ensures that the right people, processes, and technology are brought to bear, for omnichannel is not just adoption of new technology, but also a change in the way you do business and engage with your customers. Time and again I have heard from companies and service providers and vendors who work with them that the right support at the top is an absolutely essential ingredient for success.

After two days, my overall sense from this event was a positive one. The question I heard just a few years ago of whether or not to adopt digital technologies and processes has changed to how to adopt digital technologies and processes.  And organizational leaders and their teams are finding that taking incremental steps, experimentation, and a willingness to get out of the office and share experiences with peers in other industries are some of the ways to stay in, or even ahead of, the game. 


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