Leading Through Connections: CEO Insight on Emerging Business Trends

Ducks in a RowIBM recently released Leading Through Connections, which compiles insight from 1,700 CEOs on emerging business trends and issues.

The report found that the convergence of digital, social and mobile is enabling customers, employees and partners to connect in new and exciting ways, and offering companies tremendous opportunities to innovate.

Below, we highlight the key takeaways from the 68-page report and what the findings mean for marketing agency professionals.

Technology Drives Change

In the study, technology was rated the number-one external factor to drive organizational change in the next 3-5 years. We’ve seen this evidenced by the growing impact of cloud computing, social networking and mobile technologies on day-to-day business operations, and how individuals find and communicate information. With the right technologies in place, companies can more readily:

  • Sense market shifts and respond nimbly.
  • Track performance and adjust strategy accordingly. 
  • Become more efficient and profitable.
  • Move beyond their office walls and become truly borderless.
  • Reach customers in new, more meaningful ways.

Most importantly, CEOs “now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships—those essential connections that fuel creativity and innovation.” By opening up their organizations for better collaboration (both internally and externally), CEOs feel they can better capture expert knowledge, and give individuals the opportunity to speak up, connect and innovate.

For an example in action, PR 20/20 has found great success in fostering transparency and openness through our internal social network, Yammer. Here, we share ideas and trends to promote social learning and collaboration.

Key takeaways for marketing agencies include:

  • Technology can help you do your job better, smarter and faster. It can also help you drive internal innovation and differentiate your brand.
  • New technologies (social, mobile, etc.) have a direct impact on the types of service clients will demand; you may need to evolve your offerings.

Insight into Action

In addition to technology advances, CEO demand for increased customer insight is also driving the need for evolved marketing agency services. Internally, CEOs are more readily turning data into insight, and insight into action. They will likely expect their partners to do the same. In fact, 73% of CEOs are investing in their organizations’ “ability to draw meaningful customer insights from available data.”

As a result, agencies (and corporations as a whole) must be able to:

  • Find connections and trends in the data.
  • Adapt in real time to performance and engagement metrics.
  • Customize messages to meet the unique needs of each prospect, rather than relying on mass communications.
  • Engage customers on a one-to-one basis.

As the report explains, “In our connected economy, data is a critical new ‘natural’ resource, and knowing how to effectively access, analyze and use it is crucial to understanding and engaging individual customers.”

The Talent Gap

Technology and the rate of change is making it harder to find qualified job candidates and keep training relevant, according to CEOs. In many cases, CEOs aren’t sure what skills will be needed in the future—as they may not even exist now. Instead, they opt for candidates that are comfortable with change, flexible, constant learners and able to collaborate (75% said collaboration is critical).

I’d argue that the marketing industry is more affected by this talent gap than many others. Technology impacts how consumers find information, connect with companies and purchase, which directly ties back to how we do our jobs.

To help with recruitment and training, the study recommends:

  • Create unconventional teams that mix specialties so that employees are exposed to a wider array of expertise and projects.
  • Focus on experiential learning, broadening employees’ daily exposure to different people and projects.
  • Encourage employees to network and create contacts that are knowledgeable in diverse subject matters.

For more on this topic, see Managing the Prototype Marketer: Starter Tips.

Innovation through Partnerships

According to the report, “extensive partnering is providing the edge CEOs need to take on radical innovation.” In fact, only 4% of CEOs plan to do everything in house.

The rest are looking to partnerships to expand services, revenues and competitive advantages, with 53% partnering mainly to innovate. In addition, it’s becoming more common for organizations to team together to disrupt their industries or create entirely new ones.

This is where we see the power of the Marketing Agency Insider community and similar networks. By getting in bed with the enemy, we are better equipped to respond to market trends, consumer demands and technology advances to really propel the industry forward.

What Trends Are Impacting Your Business?

Are you experiencing similar obstacles and opportunities as the CEOs in IBM’s study? Share your experiences in the comments below.

A special thanks to Marketing Agency Insider community member, Douglas Burdett (@artillerymarket), for sharing this report. Check out his take on the report in Why B2B Social Media Will be Kind of a Big Deal.

Image Source: Dawn Huczek

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