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Top Client Questions for 2020

Derek Heiss

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January 7, 2020

“What are we focusing on and working towards with our clients as we head into 2020?” 

That question was put to me by our Head of Marketing at the start of December, in the few moments prior to the start of another meeting we were both joining. I smiled when I told him that that was going to be tough to answer in one to  two minutes. He smiled back and, in-turn, asked if I would then use that question as the prompt to the blog post he had been begging me to write for several weeks.

I will give our marketing guy a lot of credit; the question is a good one and one that leads to many more questions to consider. 

When I think about the questions clients ask us to answer now within the context of the future, I am always compelled to consider what frameworks and structures could be put into place to provide for our clients. 

I work in a team of consultants after all, and we do a lot of strategy and planning with our clients, so the answers and advice that we provide are almost always valued equally in terms of:

1)       The answer itself;

2)       What that answer means within the context of the decision they want to make; and

3)       How that answer provides them with the conviction needed to feel good about their decision.

The year is just getting started, so I’ll outline ‘Questions our executive clients are asking us now about 2020’ as well as ‘Key activities to consider in 2020’ with the intent to discuss them again in the coming weeks and months.

So, for our readers looking for something new to follow this calendar year, I encourage you to stick with us and keep an eye out for additions to this post that I’ll be making throughout the year.

Questions our executive clients are asking about 2020

Outlined here are some of the more recurring and compelling questions that we’ve been asked about the coming year:

Market Dynamics

Foreign market uncertainty – The trade war with China and Brexit are the top issues I have been concerned with for our business globally, but now with the UK election a few weeks ago and a trade deal being phased in with China, are both of these issues dissipating?

Recession – Manufacturing in the US has been in recession for most of 2019, but I am not seeing that elsewhere in the economy in a way that would impact my business. Do I need to take a more conservative approach to 2020 if there is going to be a downturn?

VC funding – Total venture capital funding hit a ‘post-dot-com’ high from 2000 and did so in three of the past five years. Where should I be looking to see if that will continue to slow next year?

Competitor Dynamics

M&A success – My main competitor made a major acquisition last year and I am starting to wonder what will come of it? What should I be looking at to understand how that is progressing and what it will mean for us?

Adding value in commoditized markets – We have several comparable competitors and our customers have long been sophisticated in terms of applying bargaining power when purchasing from us. What strategic options are available to bring new value to my customers?

Monitor for disruption – My organization has long been the market leader and so we have traditionally not given a lot of thought about our competition, however, we are seeing new threats emerge. How do we spot threats early on and monitor them before they become a challenge to us?

On-Demand Webinar – Expect the Unexpected: Preparing for Market Disruption

 Key activities to consider in 2020

In response to the questions outlined above, as well as in response to more recurrent demand signals we see, here are the recommendations we consistently put to our clients:

Make your strategy routine – Scale and complexity make coordination a challenge. While most organizations have the best intentions to create a strategy and roll it out across the organization to ensure everyone is working towards a common goal, this rarely happens with any degree of measurable success. This can often be attributed to the fact that organizations will revisit or remake a strategy every few years or with new leadership. 

We see strategies thrive in places where there is not only a commitment to reviewing them annually, but where the strategy itself is entrusted to individuals as their jobs and the strategy is given a seat at the table and a line-item on the agenda every time. 

Remember that question about ‘spot threats early on’ that I mentioned? There are numerous free and low-cost tools available to keep your finger on the pulse of the marketplace. An easy decision organizations should make is to invest time/resources into something that will provide monitoring support for strategic decision-making and drive the organizational strategy down to more operational levels. This will ensure that there is alignment across the organization and iterations are in place to continually review the strategy.

Look past your horizon – Managers consistently struggle to understand what will succeed and what will become a priority in the future. To attempt to answer these questions, leaders often look to methods of validating assumptions, like surveys or market studies, but what about a prediction market?

Today’s prediction market technologies are more dynamic and accurate than the crowd-sourcing of the past. The leading prediction market technologies are built upon complex algorithms and a gamilfied user experience where knowledgeable participants place bets on future outcomes. 

Rather than ask a group of consumers or industry professionals more traditional survey based questions, prediction markets rely on a projective tone and ask participants to make a judgment on a future event or outcome. Using digital currency, participants are asked to place bets on trends, disruptors, innovations and other topics.  

What results is a proven research method that blends a hybrid of System 1 thinking (fast, instinctive and emotional) and System 2 thinking (slower, more deliberative, and more logical) prediction technology and analytics, powered by the most fundamental elements of behavioral science. 

We are continually impressed at how prediction markets can improve the impact, accuracy, and ROI of insight testing and encourage organizations to consider applying predictive intelligence to foresee trends and disruptors, gauge product successes, and even prioritize innovation activities.

Stop adding just tools to your Martech stack – Organizations are always looking for more efficiencies when it comes to how teams work together and use technology. We are often approached by clients who believe they need to choose between adding to their teams or investing in a technology. 

Our response to this is always, why not both? Make investments in technology with human analytic power. 

Increasingly, technology providers - particularly those who serve the marketing, sales, and strategy teams of organizations - are dedicating analysts to the clients they serve as a way to extend the manpower of the client team and deliver technology expertise right away in order to decrease ramp-up time. This combination should be a requirement for organizations looking to make this type of investment.

Looking Forward

My hope is that these questions and answers serve as both a confirmation of priorities that your organization is looking to start the year, as well as inspiration for additional questions and activities that you should look to address next year.

Please keep an eye on our blog this year and we will ensure that we further this discussion through our own team’s experiences in 2020.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

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Derek Heiss
Derek Heiss

Derek Heiss is the Director of Cipher’s Consulting Practice and is specialized in competitive intelligence and market strategy consulting. Cipher is a consulting and technology firm, based in Annapolis, with a 20+ year track record of delivering solutions to the Fortune 500 and Global 1,000.

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