Digital Disruption and a Great Gap

You can tell when the economy is doing well, because instead of worrying about how you’re going to make the next mortgage payment, you worry about the next disruption in business. It looks like the big worry on the horizon now is the digital disruption, a nice piece of alliteration designed to make you question your worth.

The “DD,” as I’ll call it, is the confluence of a lot of wonderful new technology that enables us to run our business lives better, faster and cheaper. In no particular order it includes social, mobile, and especially analytic tools for big data, as well as other components that have emerged over the last decade and that increasingly are deployed in tandem to improve business life and quite possibly personal life too, if you still have one.

Exploiting the Gap

The DD is often described in terms of a deficiency — something that you don’t have that you must have. Its antecedents run back through the “generation gap” of my childhood and JFK’s missile gap between the Russians of 1960 and us (he thought they had more).

Kennedy perfected exploiting the gap to advantage in an election. We’ve been making and exploiting gaps ever since. Interestingly, later scholarship showed that while the Russians had more missiles than us, they also had more missiles than nukes. We had more nukes, but ours were deliverable on B-52s. So much for gaps.

However, gaps — or “divides,” as we now call them, have a wonderful capacity for quantification. You can quantify how big a gap is, or at least you can assign a number, which looks very official. The other party is left saying there is no gap and trying to prove a negative proposition, one of the hardest things you can try in the world of logic.

How hard is it? Most times we don’t try. In court, the accused often doesn’t have to prove a negative (I didn’t do it!). Instead, the onus is on the prosecution to make the case beyond reasonable doubt or by the preponderance of the evidence, depending on the matter at hand. See the difference?

Back to digital disruption. Digital stuff is rocking your world, and it has been doing it for most of your life, so why the anxiety-provoking talk now? More to the point, we’re consciously launching ourselves on another leg of the Gartner Hype Cycle. Must we?

Jump In With Eyes Open

People are publishing books and giving lectures about DD, and some are making a lot of money at it. The vendor community might like the attention to the gap, which provides a certain self-sustaining quality to the discussion.

Whenever we talk about a gap like this, common sense talk about how a product category might be useful goes away to be replaced by mindless discussions of speeds and feeds. We start trying to project market uptake based on budgets and ability to pay rather than answering hard questions about utility and need.

The other day, I saw some vendor content that said, “we have an XYZ system so that you can XYZ.” There was no discussion of the business process involved in XYZ, or whether your business would be better served if it could XYZ. In the best tradition of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), it was assumed you already knew the answer.

This is pure early market talk in which the need too often is assumed to be already in the mind of the customer, when the need in fact has been poorly articulated, giving plenty of support to later hype-cycle disappointment.

So, a little Q&A:

Is the DD real?

Yes. We are advancing the state of the art of front-office business so much and so fast that most businesses will need to rethink their customer engagement strategies or risk losing share to more nimble competitors.

What should I buy to prevent this awful loss of market share?

The first thing you need to do is examine your current processes, not your technology. Start by asking your customers about current approaches and whether they meet customer needs. Ask how you can do better for them and if this or that technological approach matters to them.

The best way I can think of to do this is to build a community of customers and ask them what they think, and plan accordingly. The money, time and effort you invest will reward you later when you buy the right technology for your business.

What’s the ROI on this?

Nada, maybe more, maybe not. You might save something if you can retire an older approach, and the new one might get you into a new channel that attracts more customers because it reflects how they want to engage with you. You will know this if you do your primary research.

Don’t be surprised, though, if you can’t prove the ROI. No one ever proved the ROI of putting phones or computers on every desk. It was just the right thing to do and you knew it.

So be careful. Don’t go by what some analyst like me says about what another business did. That’s certainly important, but your business is different — if it’s not, then you are selling a commodity and competing on price, and you should be seeking products and processes that provide a competitive advantage.

So, why am I doing this again?

Because you need to in order to stay competitive — but the point is to jump into the digital disruption with both eyes open. Make good decisions about how you’re going to deploy based on knowledge of your needs, so that you can avoid the missteps of the hype cycle.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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