IBM VP describes the 'empowered consumer era' at SugarCon 2013

Laughlin argued we've placed so much enabling in the hands of customers for both B2B and B2C purposes that we've entered a new era.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

NEW YORK -- Businesses -- regardless of industry -- have to reconsider how they are going to transform their go-to-market strategies, asserted Steve Laughlin, vice president of smarter commerce for IBM's Global Business Services unit.

Speaking at SugarCon 2013 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Tuesday morning, Laughlin pointed out that this isn't about advancements in technology solutions.

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Laughlin said "we've placed so much technology that is so enabling in the hands of consumers," whether for B2C or B2B purposes, that we've entered a new era.

He dubbed it "the empowered consumer era."

Laughlin acknowledged that some companies have already reached this point, but he predicted that most are heading towards it -- if at all.

"There will be those that leap away and are fine innovators," Laughlin described. "There will be those that are very thoughtful, but determined to go slow, or in some cases, assume this will never happen to their industries."

Piggybacking on comments made by SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin earlier on Tuesday, Laughlin posited that social, big data, and other technologies are impacting how customers shop and how companies must respond.

"These enabling technologies allow us to have personalization and efficiency," Laughlin remarked.

From a consumer perspective, Laughlin used the example of Apple's retail stores, describing that he can walk in and buy a MacBook Air for $1,500 in under 90 seconds.

"Expectations are being raised by these customer journey innovators," Laughlin reflected.

Citing an IBM survey about external forces impacting organizations, Laughlin argued that CEOs do realize that these technologies will force a real change in their go-to-market approach.

"They want you to make offers to them -- not blind offers," Laughlin quipped.

To paint a picture, "technology factors" was cited as the sixth most important external factor in 2004. By 2012, it was number one with 71 percent of the vote, slightly above "people skills" and "market factors," respectively.

Laughlin hinted that the key to taking advantage of these technology factors is to take action on the idea that most "customers are quite willing to share information with businesses they trust if they believe they are going to get value in return."

"They want you to make offers to them -- not blind offers," Laughlin quipped.

Laughlin admitted he couldn't keynote goers what to do or what their roadmaps should look like.

But he said he could offer some areas for focus. Those tips included social listening, seeking out customer-created content, creating a single view of a customer across multiple channels, and engaging consumers through personalized channels and empowering them to operate as advocates for a brand.

He concluded that the reality is if you build a trusting relationship and use data to interact with customers  -- consumer or business -- it reinforces loyalty and collaboration, creating economic value over a lifetime.

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