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How Marketing and Sales can use cognitive computing to unlock the value of data

Cognitive computing could be one of the most disruptive forces ever for marketing and sales functions. Armed with insights about customers at every touch point, marketing and sales professionals who use cognitive computing are able to deliver the personalized experiences that customers have grown to expect.

However, are Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and the heads of sales departments ready to embrace cognitive computing?

Marketing and sales professionals increasingly find themselves drowning in data.

A study by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) on adopting cognitive computing to unlock value for marketing and sales, found that 64 percent of surveyed CMOs and sales leaders believed their industries were ready to adopt cognitive technologies within the next three years.

Yet only 24 percent report having a cognitive strategy. Additionally, the study found that while both CMOs and Sales Leaders agreed that “customer satisfaction” is the number one reason for adopting cognitive solutions, many of them aren’t sure their organizations are currently set up to make a successful transition.

The study, conducted in cooperation with Oxford Economics, was based on a global survey of 525 CMOs and 389 heads of sales across various industries to determine the extent that marketers and sellers are willing to embrace cognitive technologies.

Cognitive computing systems are able to build upon knowledge and learn, understand natural language, and reason and interact more naturally with human beings than traditional systems.

While traditional analytics can provide data for businesses to draw insights from, cognitive computing can more easily predict outcomes and turn the insights into actionable recommendations. Cognitive Technologies don’t replace human intelligence; they augment it.

There are many ways to take advantage of the full potential of cognitive computing for marketing and sales functions. Here are four actions to consider:

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1) Make room for cognitive solutions in a business’s Digital Reinvention strategy: Many companies in multiple industries are in the midst of reinventing the customer experience with a variety of digital technologies, from mobile apps to the Internet of Things (IoT) to virtual reality.

These digital customer touch points produce new sources of structured and unstructured data that is well suited for cognitive computing, which can inform companies about customers’ individual preferences, behaviors and attitudes.

In fact, marketing executives listed “customer insights” as the primary way they could use cognitive computing to enhance their customers’ experiences. Instead of seeing cognitive computing as a wholly separate initiative, CMOs and Sales Leaders should consider it as one component of an overall transformation strategy.

2) Enhance employees’ business skills, not just their data analytics skills: People with analytical skills are in high demand. However, with cognitive technologies providing data and insights, what marketing and sales may need the most are people with broad perspectives about their company’s strategy and processes. These employees can more easily discern business implications from cognitive insights. Such employees need to have strong decision-making skills, as well as an empathetic understanding of their company’s customers.

3) Use cognitive computing for collaboration and innovation: Implementing cognitive solutions for marketing and sales departments calls for close alignment among members of the C-Suite: the CMO, Sales Leaders, Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer. This approach ensures that the necessary technical requirements are met and mapped to the organization’s strategic goals.

When used by marketing and sales professionals, cognitive computing initiatives could also align to the customer service, supply chain, product development, human resources and training, operations and finance departments, which could help to introduce new processes within organizations that have traditionally operated separately.

In order to present a consistent authentic face to your customers, organizations need to be hyper-connected with every area of the business that interacts with the customer.

4) Start small, if necessary: Many marketing and sales executives fear the shift to cognitive computing will require them to replace the tools and processes they have used to analyze customer data and create customer experiences. Instead, there are numerous types of cognitive solutions, from improved capabilities for personalization to content tagging, that marketers and sellers can implement in stages to target specific challenges. They often can be integrated into companies’ existing cloud platforms and data management systems.

By starting small, companies can begin to enjoy the benefits of cognitive computing and determine how best to expand over time. Companies that embrace continual reinvention as a necessary component of growth will be better positioned to take advantage of the widespread opportunities that cognitive computing can offer their organizations.

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By Eunie Khimulu Nyakundi, East Africa Marketing Leader- IBM.

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