Selling digital goods has become both harder and easier than ever in today's increasingly cloud- and hybrid-based markets. Accepted norms for processes such as sales, marketing, and delivery have been uprooted by the accessibility of digital goods, as well as the transparency required to function properly in these markets. Meanwhile, the barriers to entry have lowered considerably, giving small vendors access to the same audience as their bigger competition.
A slurry of services can help bring digital goods to market with less effort on the vendor's part. However, power has shifted toward the consumer. Services such as CRM, ERP, SFA, enterprise marketing automation, payment processing, and billing need to offer a consistent experience across the business and for the end buyer. Instead of piecing together the buyer/customer puzzle, businesses now must be able to engage and serve customers at every point of interaction they have with a brand, regardless of channel.
For the modern digital goods provider, the list of tools will likely look something like this:
- A CRM solution shared by sales and marketing
- An online shopping cart or e-commerce platform managed by the web marketing and sales teams
- Some form of payment processing and subscription billing solution owned by finance
- An ERP solution maintained by the finance, analyst, and procurement divisions
- A support solution increasingly tag-teamed by customer support and marketing
These services, spread across several business units, need to be transparent and deeply connected to support today's online customer - assuming that different business lines aren't running other systems in parallel. All those solutions are fairly modern developments and have been champions for the cloud in their own right, but separately, they have not been beholden to delivering on the cloud's customer-first premise when it comes to implementation in an organization. To truly address today's online market, these solutions need to expand their reach across the business, allowing them to go beyond just managing a subscription license, processing a credit card, or feeding accounting separately.
Individually, such solutions help their respective business units greatly and have proven their value. But when we look at efficacy from an overall perspective, there is far more value to be extracted from them when they can all interact with one another and allow buyers to purchase at any point on their terms.
Having the financial system offer a different experience with little data from the CRM system, for example, certainly made sense for the financial planner and the salesperson five years ago. But now customers expect pay-as-you-go models and self-service. That paradigm requires companies to expose what was once backend data (such as billing information and prorated pricing) uniformly across all channels. These systems need to have equal visibility at the front end for the buyer.
In its 2013 CRM Vendor Guide (registration required), Gartner calls e-commerce the fourth leg of CRM, along with SFA, call center/support, and campaign management. You can liken this new experience to not having to be transferred between departments when you call your phone carrier trying to resolve multiple support and billing issues. With new revenue models and implied new business models, more business functions are being enabled to drive visibility and make any customer interaction, from orders and refunds to discounting or upgrades, possible through any area a customer could possibly interact with the vendor.
Next week, I'll discuss how businesses that pursue this new customer-centric model must overhaul how they structure their operations.