• February 25, 2021
  • By Darek Tasak , head of strategy and commercial operations, CloudBlue

From CX to EX: How Customer Experience Will Evolve as Ecosystems Take Hold

The recent acquisition of Slack by Salesforce is the most recent example of companies coming together to form stronger ecosystems to generate more revenue. If completed, a merger would combine Slack’s ecosystem of 2,200 apps with Salesforce’s 3,600—a combination that analysts say could help the two companies compete against Microsoft, which currently has one of the most extensive software-as-a-service (SaaS) ecosystems. 

Introduced by James F. Moore in the early 1990s, business ecosystems are communities of organizations (for example software vendors, third-party marketplaces, or channel partners such as managed service providers) that “coevolve their capabilities and roles” to align with shared goals. 

With the inception of cloud computing, the evolution from direct sales to indirect sales through partners and their go to market ecosystems has skyrocketed. In 2007, analyst OPEXEngine reported that just 5 percent of SaaS companies sold via channel sales. By 2018, that figure had jumped to 55 percent. 

What’s more, the rapid digital acceleration in business brought about by COVID-19 lockdowns is expected to accelerate ecosystem growth. Forrester predicts that companies will outsource non-core functions to ecosystem partners and remain more agile and resilient to threats by orchestrating resources from ecosystems. 

As ecosystems play a bigger part in SaaS, companies must react to how this intermingling of disparate partners impacts the traditional customer experience. Organizations must progress from a customer experience (CX) mind-set to an ecosystem experience (EX) mind-set. Below are some recommendations for how to go about this. 

The One-to-Many Mind-Set 

Linear, customer-to-end-user experiences are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. With the rise of ecosystems, the customer’s journey is interspersed between numerous ecosystem partners. If an end customer has a problem with a company’s SaaS solution, they could be directed to any number of partners in the nonlinear digital ecosystem.

With so many moving parts to the customer experience, firms must zoom out for a bird’s eye view of the whole digital ecosystem to map it out properly. They’ll see that the one-to-one interaction with customers has switched to a one-to-many interaction between everyone in the value chain that ultimately influences the end user’s experience. 

Seen from this perspective, customer experience most certainly applies to a company’s channel partners and IT service providers, marketplace partners, and even other software vendors. Organizations must nurture and empower these ecosystem partners just as they would their end customers in order to keep them happy and engaged. 

Shifting focus from one to many seems daunting, but businesses can make operational changes and leverage technology to help the process. 

Busting Down Digital Knowledge Silos 

One such operational change is busting down knowledge silos. Even at the organizational level, knowledge is often siloed between departments. The problem is exacerbated with the addition of multiple ecosystem partners. 

According to Forrester, 80 percent of companies across all industries silo their approach for direct and indirect channels, causing expensive inefficiencies and redundancies. These silos also negatively impact customer experience. 

For example, if an end user is having trouble with a specific software that was bundled into a full suite of enterprise IT services, it could take that customer multiple calls and emails to get in contact with the software vendor who has the knowledge to provide assistance.  

Companies must actively encourage information sharing with external ecosystem partners. To aid this effort, firms should restructure their organizations to give trusted ecosystem partners a stakeholder role in the company’s customer experience goals. This includes robust bonus systems for meeting customer acquisition and retention metrics and bestowing upon them the authority to work with internal customer experience teams on overall strategy. 

As organizations accumulate dozens or even hundreds of ecosystem partners, the knowledge-sharing process becomes increasingly difficult to scale manually. Companies must invest in technology that will help centralize and automate the information sharing process.

From a sales enablement perspective, using technology to automate the interchange and ongoing management of contractual documents, marketing collateral, and product information between the ecosystem members becomes essential to unlock the ability of the partner network to create market interest in the company’s offering. Once the demand is generated, automation of the fulfillment process, order tracking, usage collection (for usage-based products and services), as well as billing reconciliation with the partners are absolute must-haves to be able to really grow at scale.

Aligning Ecosystem Partners with the Brand 

A big part of the overall customer experience involves content and how end users interact with it. According to a recent survey from the Content Marketing Institute, 51 percent of enterprises with optimal customer experiences reported they have highly successful content marketing as well. 

The ecosystem experience naturally lends to multiple third parties interacting with customers and sharing content with them on a company’s behalf. It goes without saying that firms should do their due diligence and choose ecosystem partners with trusted reputations, but many challenges with content sharing still remain.  

Dispersing up-to-date marketing materials or new product information to scores of different ecosystem partners manually isn’t scalable. And making sure ecosystem partners are engaged and thoughtful about marketing a business’s product can get more challenging as the number of partners increases. 

Companies again must look to incentivize ecosystem partners with bonus schemes and stakeholder roles in marketing and sales strategy. They also must make content sharing as seamless as possible for partners who often have very busy schedules. 

To simplify the process, organizations should leverage through-channel marketing automation (TCMA), Product Information Management (PIM), and Master Data Management (MDM) tools to centralize and automate the deployment of sales and marketing assets across all ecosystem partners. 

With 76 percent of business leaders agreeing that ecosystems will be the main “change agent” that will make their current business models unrecognizable in five years, companies must act fast to secure a strong position for the future. Shifting from a CX to EX mind-set will help them ensure that end users are not lost in the ecosystem abyss.

Darek Tasak is head of strategy and commercial operations at CloudBlue, a cloud commerce platform provider. 

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