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Keeping pace with the customer in a tough digital setting – COO insights from ABM & Information Industry Summit

“It’s amazing how fast the information services market is evolving. Media, data and technology are merging at a rapid pace.” That’s how Ivelina Lambova, COO of A Data Pro, started her talk on the insights she got from the ABM & Information Industry Summit held in Washington last month.

It was a joint event of two units of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) – ABM, focused on business information and media, and IIS, on content and technological solutions.

Identify your target audience

“The competition in the sector is hotting up. The only chance to survive is to identify your clients in advance, study their needs and create a product or service that suits their purposes”, Ivelina adds.

Adjusting to a pre-defined audience in an industry or niche, eg construction, travel, IT, HR has been central to M&A, spin offs and vertical growth for most of the companies presented at the venue. “We play one market, we don’t play multiple markets,” said Peter Goldstone, CEO of construction-focused Hanley Wood, one of the ten largest business-to-business media companies in the USA.

“The companies no longer sell simply products or services but customer experience and support. The shift is felt in the way advertising and communication strategies are built nowadays – they try to win the attention of the people they later fight to keep engaged. New business comes afterwards and more organically,” Ivelina explains.

Data’s marriage to content brings value

The new money makers, or the new streams of revenue, will depend on how well an information services company can integrate into the client’s processes, Ivelina continues with her impressions from the conference. “It’s crucial to know what your customers have been using and willing to use and offer it. It is a win-win solution and ensures a long-term relationship.”

How have companies responded to the challenge? User analytics, product usage tracking, click streams have come in handy to provide a view of the customers, their demographics, measure their satisfaction, pain. Not surprisingly, the fastest growing database is that of search logs – every click, every interaction, every move.

Technology has enabled publishers to follow user behaviour on their websites (what they read, share, comment, how often they return) and get leads not only how to improve content but also how to generate advertising buys and link the data to their ERPs to better plan and allocate resources so that unforeseen project scale-ups are promptly met.

Integration works

“Nothing clarifies your thinking like imminent danger,” said Don Hawk, executive director of TechTarget, whose revenues come chiefly from selling deal data, which it aggregates by studying the behaviour of users researching and evaluating technology on its 120 websites of enterprise IT content. In 2007 when revenues from e-mail deal alerts spiralled down, the company made a turnaround by rolling out products which clients can integrate into their systems. The key to success is how you can make audience data pay off, Hawk pointed out.

Most of the presenters strongly believe in the merger of data, media, marketing and event solutions to deeply penetrate the workflow of their customers. The majority of the companies seek to provide end-to-end solutions – data that informs, media that connects to the market and marketing that helps customers activate prospects.

The executive dashboard

Having a platform of data analytics which brings together the overall picture of the company’s operations on the spot, parallel with the processes will give insightful information, said Jonathon Millman, president of Shift CRM, in a session dedicated to the new C-suite dashboard.

“It’s worth investing in such a platform, where you can see in real time how the processes are going, where you can anticipate delays, bottlenecks,” Ivelina says. “It will enable you to prevent things that will compromise your delivery. You can’t be fast with clients if you aren’t internally fast.”

Machine learning is the new black

The promises of artificial intelligence and machine learning are encouraging for the sector. Algorithms make content easily discoverable and processable. If a publisher creates a better audience experience with personalised content then it has solved the advertising problem, said in his presentation Tony Uphoff, CEO of Business.com.

“Fortunately, it’s not something new for us, we are already investing in it,” Ivelina says, “In general, artificial intelligence and machine learning will help the industry improve findability, eliminate duplicates and classify content. To a great extent the same functionality we are trying to achieve.”

Technologies were the focus of a number of discussions. What amused Ivelina were the mixed reactions of the participants. From the professional concerns expressed on the face of a veteran of the Wall Street Journal hearing about the generation of automated news stories to the C-level excitement about the potential of new technologies to make their companies more productive or their news products more profitable.

FTC concerns

The huge data banks aggregating highly-profiled consumer information, which can be sold, are worrying the Federal Trade Commission. Commissioner Julie Brill expressed the regulator’s concerns and its intentions to protect users from harmful marketing or discriminatory consequences eg adverse employment or credit decisions based on data records. FTC has also made recommendations for data brokers and users of consumer data to be more transparent about it.

The new face of leadership

A lot was said about audience, attention, technology, innovation and business models, and not less about the live and breathing core of every organization…its people. How employees can gain a broader context, how and where they meet cross-functionally.

Empowering people to make decisions, to have a voice came center stage in some of the panel discussions. “I was very happy to hear that, because at A Data Pro we talk a great deal and spare no effort to foster a culture of deeper client understanding, encourage creativity, innovations and flexibility, which boosts the learning curve,” Ivelina notes.

Key learnings

“The key learnings I have brought home from the conference center on how to make data more insightful, how to get to know our clients better, how to get to know the operations delivering the services better and how to get integrated in the client’s processes,” Ivelina sums it up.

Considering the challenges for the clients, their pain points, will help us anticipate them in our operation model. “Not just say ‘Give me a brief’ and deliver what they want. We want to be partners not vendors.”