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C-suite leaders (CxOs) say changes in technology are dramatically affecting their operations and forcing them to overhaul every aspect of their business, according to a new report by IBM.

In the next three to five years, the vast majority of CMOs want to integrate their cross-channel touchpoints (87%), enhance their use of analytics to capture customer insights (83%), and use social networks to foster collaboration (78%), the IBM Global C-suite Study found.

CMOs aren't alone: Four-fifths of CIOs aim to digitize their front offices within the next few years to sync with customers more effectively, and 84% plan to add new mobile means of interacting with customers, according to the research.

However, despite recognizing the importance of technological changes, C-suite leaders are struggling to strike the right balance between the social, digital, and physical worlds, IBM said.

An analysis by IBM supercomputer Watson of the interviews with top leaders found that businesses are grappling with creating cohesive social media plans, balancing competing priorities, and measuring investment returns.

Below, additional key findings from the study, which was based on face-to-face conversations with more than 4,000 C-suite executives (CxOs) worldwide.

CMOs Feel Unprepared

  • CMOs' top priority this year is to design great customer experiences for mobile apps.
  • Using social media to engage customers is second, and using integrated suites to manage customers is third.
  • CMOs are struggling to keep abreast of the rapid pace of change in the digital and online worlds; they feel even less prepared to cope with big data than they did in 2011, and they have made little headway in coming to grips with the social media landscape.

Customer Interactions

  • In 2012, 57% of CEOs expected digital channels to become one of their company's key means of interacting with customers within the next five years. In 2013, 52% of CxOs say they are already there.
  • CxOs say this trend will continue: 88% say they will interact digitally with customers even more in the next three to five years.

Rise of the Customer

  • More than half of CxOs say customers now have a considerable influence on their enterprises.
  • In fact, CEOs say customers exert a bigger influence on their organization's business strategy than all but the C-suite itself.

  • However, despite this increased influence, one-third of CEOs worry that the rest of their C-suite is out of touch with customers.

External Forces

  • CEOs consider technology the most important external force shaping their organizations, and the rest of the C-suite agrees.
  • However, CxOs vary on whether market factors or macroeconomic factors are the second most important external force.

About the research: The Global C-Suite Study was based on face-to-face interviews with 4,183 top executives covering more than 20 industries in 70 countries.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Ayaz Nanji

Ayaz Nanji is a digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Media, a marketing agency specializing in content and social media services for tech firms. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji