Next Best Action and the impact on Sales

Written by

Niccolò Ciuffreda

We live in a context where digitalization and the continuous exposure of individuals to promotional messages have increased the value of time spent by customers with the sales force and digital advertising. In addition, the new possibilities opened up by digitization have reinforced the need to interact with customers in an increasingly efficient manner, ensuring greater consistency of quality standards. As a recent McKinsey study showed, 71% of customers expect a more personalized engagement experience. 

Finally, the multiplication of communication and sales channels has, on the one hand, expanded the opportunities for consumer engagement, but on the other, it has also raised competition in the marketplace both between companies and also between different channels.

For these reasons, the NBA concept has been pervasively introduced by companies in several areas: from marketing campaigns to sales strategies as well as on the most important online platforms where personalization of the user experience is at the core of their business model. The companies that are most successful in terms of sales are those that manage to use a multiplicity of channels in a synergetic manner while maintaining a focus on the customer.

A new approach to sales 

In order to identify the best sales strategy and thus choose the best action to take at each moment of the funnel, reference is often made to more traditional communication techniques, involving various disciplines from behavioral psychology to neuro-linguistic programming, as well as loyalty and discount programs.

However, these solutions are traditionally standardized, i.e. the same for different market segments, and their success is closely linked to the degree of brand visibility and the skill of individual marketers.

The new AI and ML tools and the now very rich data assets that companies have or can buy, offer new opportunities and tools to identify potential customers, the best communication channels, and the most relevant messages to communicate to each consumer. The vision behind the NBA is therefore to be able to identify the best action that maximizes the effectiveness of the commercial negotiation and balances the communication and promotion needs of the company and the interests and preferences of the customers. As in other disciplines, therefore, the NBA concept seeks to answer some fundamental questions:

Who are our customers? What are their needs and desires? How can my communication and products satisfy these needs? How can I effectively engage the customer and enhance the product in their eyes?

However, available technology and data allow us to go beyond the generality of these questions, whose answers are usually based on market analysis and segmentation, and potentially target them to each individual customer or potential customer. 

Who is John Doe? What does he need, what are his interests? How can my communication be interesting for him? Which sales strategy is most effective for him?

NBA Enablers

A basic requirement for effective communication is knowledge of one’s interlocutor. This translates into the need to exploit the data and information available about our customers to create a 360° view of their behavior and interests. 

The second fundamental requirement for an effective sales strategy is the identification of customer needs. From an NBA perspective, this means defining a structured approach to collecting feedback, which is essential for assessing the effectiveness of each individual action, as well as for adapting the strategy to an ever-changing context. Digital channels, for example, make it possible to gather essential feedback on customer activity, being traditionally “pull channels” and offering user activity tracking services on each individual section of the site.

The last key requirement is that communication must have an impact, i.e. it must capture the interlocutor’s attention. This aspect is perhaps the most complex because, on the one hand, it requires a high degree of flexibility in the construction of communication strategies and communication materials. On the other, it requires tools capable of improving the personalization of communication for an ever-larger pool of consumers. Therefore, tools that are capable of analyzing large amounts of data and that are easily scalable are needed.

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How to use the NBA template

Companies that manage to implement and refine this approach will gain numerous advantages in terms of both sales and savings in marketing campaigns. In fact, the NBA approach can be used for:

1. Improving the relationship between sales agent and customer:

  • Optimize the sales force’s tour by identifying the highest priority customers in the same area to maximize the effectiveness of the interaction and at the same time improve the coverage of the target audience
  • Choose the best sales opportunities, using models that identify those most likely to succeed
  • Define specific offers, using a recommendation system to suggest the best offers for each customer
  • Identify the best channels on which to perform actions, based on customer preferences and purchasing behavior
  • Choose the best reasonings to support the commercial negotiation, based on the specific needs and characteristics of customers

2. Improving the effectiveness of campaigns and digital communication:

  • Deliver personalized messages, to maximize the impact of campaigns and deliver the messages of most interest to the customer
  • Prevent churn, i.e. abandonment of a product or service, by personalizing interactions and content visible on digital channels. This also allows agents to deploy the necessary actions in a timely manner in an evolving environment

A further side effect of NBA models is to provide the same tools to the field force, which through a recommendation system and complete visibility into the preferences of its customers can implement the best sales strategy. In this context, NBA tools must be easily usable, so that they can be used by both users with a high affinity for technology and agents with more traditional approaches.

Next Best Culture

For the NBA model to show its full potential and impact on sales and communication strategies, a radical change in processes and corporate culture is also required:

  • The definition of the business strategy must be based on the systematic analysis of the data and feedback collected. It must therefore be constructed dynamically with respect to the market context and also taking into account market and customer needs.
  • It is necessary to define processes that are cross-functional, i.e. involving different areas and departments:
    • Marketing departments have to analyze feedback from the sales force and effectively define the communication strategy
    • IT departments have to provide tools useful for the management, accessibility and usability of information, as well as develop platforms that are easy to use for business users and sales force on a daily basis
    • Data scientists must design AI models to suggest the best actions to each agent and for each customer, as well as develop tools for monitoring results with a perspective of continuous learning
    • Sales agents have to participate in the strategy definition process, thus pooling their knowledge of the field.

While these tools are widely adopted in digital channels, the use of AI tools and recommendation models is viewed with circumspection by some employees with more traditional approaches. It is therefore important to support all teams in acquiring a culture of data and technology designed as a support tool, primarily for the sales force. This technology should not be perceived as a prescriptive and imposing tool, but as an advisor and secretary to make each agent’s work easier, more effective, and time efficient.

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