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Business Wellness: The customer has escaped

Every company makes choices about the channels it will use to go to market. Traditionally, the decision to sell through a discount superstore or a pricey boutique, for instance, was guided by customer demographics.

A company would identify a target segment of buyers and go with the channel that could deliver them. It was a fair assumption that certain customer types were held captive by certain channels--if not from cradle to grave, then at least from initial consideration to purchase.

The problem, say Nunes PF, Cespedes FV. Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, is that today's customers have become unfettered. As their channel options have proliferated, they've come to recognize that different channels serve their needs better at different points in the buying process.

The result is "value poaching." For example, certain channels hope to use higher margin sales to cover the cost of providing expensive high-touch services. Potential customers use these channels to do research, then leap to a cheaper channel when it's time to buy. Customers now hunt for bargains more aggressively; they've become more sophisticated about how companies market to them; and they are better equipped with information and technology to make advantageous decisions.

What does this mean for your go-to-market strategy? The authors urge companies to make a fundamental shift in mind-set toward designing for buyer behaviors, not customer segments. A company should design pathways across channels to help its customers get what they need at each stage of the buying process--through one channel or another.

Customers are not mindful of channel boundaries--and you shouldn't be either. Instead, they are mindful of the value of individual components in your channels--and you should be, too.


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