Marketing and the service-oriented enterprise

As the economy shifts ever onward from manufacturing toward services, how do marketing and market-relationships need to change with this shift? And what enterprise-architectures do we need to support this?

[In part this is a follow-on from Dave Gray‘s excellent Dachis Group article ‘Everything is a service‘: I strongly recommend to read that post first before continuing here.]

As Dave Gray indicates in his article ‘Everything is a service’, many people in and around business are seeing a ‘Great Reset’ – a fundamental shift in the nature of the economy, and with it a fundamental shift in the nature of a viable business: a change in focus from products to services.

In a product-oriented economy, an organisation’s market is built around transactions, exchanges of goods and services. Within this metaphor, services are quasi-products, another type of ‘thing’ to be ‘consumed’ by a passive marketplace of ‘consumers’. Financial services, for example, are packaged as ‘products’; so-called service-organisations sell ‘solutions’ to often-unspecified ‘problems’ that a ‘consumer’ is presumed to face.

Producers produce, consumers consume: the roles are explicit, and explicitly separate and distinct. The role of marketing there is to create a market ‘want’ – often entirely artificial – for whatever product the producers want to sell. The role of enterprise-architecture and the like is to support creation of the maximum volume of product for the minimum necessary effort and cost.

The overall view – perhaps still illustrated best by the implied left-to-right flow in the structure of the Business Model Canvas above – is a linear structure of processes. A supply-chain (‘Key Partners’) feeds into the business-processes of the organisation (‘Key Activities’), the results of which are then sold on to ‘consumers’ (‘Customer Segments’). The sequence ends at the ‘consumer’, or more specifically at the moment that the customer has paid for the ‘product’; and everything is centred around the organisation, as ‘the enterprise’.

This view of the market is also often possession-based, with very unequal power-relationships assumed between the organisation and everyone else: we talk about ‘capturing’ a market, ‘owning’ market-share, and so on. This often leads in turn to a very combative relationship across the market, both between organisations competing for ‘possession’ of market-share, and between an organisation and its customers, employees and broader communities – all of whom, perhaps unsurprisingly, may well object to being treated as possessed ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ of the organisation.

In business terms, one of the key drivers behind the ‘big reset’ or ‘big shift’ that Dave Gray describes is that this model of the market is rapidly becoming less and less viable. Most markets are either at or approaching saturation-point; the hidden-costs are becoming more visible, and harder to externalise; and the supposed economies of scale of mass-production and mass-marketing deliver steadily lower returns, especially relative to smaller and more adaptable technologies and business-models. And in bald economic terms, there are practical limits as to how much ‘stuff’ we can continue to make and sell on a finite planet – limits which in many cases we’ve already overshot. Some real problems there… – and yet they’re inherent in that model of the business-market.

A service-oriented economy is radically different, in that the market is built primarily around relationships. As Dave Gray put it:

A service is at its core a relationship between server and served. Service is work performed in support of another. At every point of interaction, the measure of success is not a product but the satisfaction, delight or disappointment of the customer.

Within this metaphor, products are best understood as proto-services, typically as part of the means for self-delivery of some service. Everyone in the market is both ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’: the roles blur, and are inherently much more equal or peer-based in nature than in the product-oriented economy.

This view of the market is also based much more on mutual responsibilities: we talk about co-creation, about partnering in a shared enterprise. The power-relationships are much more equal, and necessarily focussed on building and maintaining mutual trust – rather than the combative contracts of the possession-model, which mostly reflect an absence of trust.

The overall model still has transactions and processes and supply-chains, but the perspective is different. As Verna Allee describes it, that linear ‘supply-chain’ is actually one view into a much more nuanced ‘value-network’; and a product- or service-transaction is merely one phase within a much larger market-cycle:

Importantly, the fundamental focus of relationships is inverted, from organisation-centric to customer-centric: as Chris Potts puts it, “customers don’t appear in our processes: we appear in their experiences”. The sales-focus also shifts from ‘push’ to ‘pull’, from manipulating or even forcing the ‘consumer’ into a single once-off ‘the sale’, to building a continuing long-term mutual relationship. All of this requires radically different approaches to sales and marketing, but it can be done – and increasingly, is much more profitable than the ‘push’ model.

[For example, compare your experience of the usual soulless time-driven ‘customer-as-product’ sales call-centre – such as that which interrupted me just now whilst writing this, and who cut me off in the middle of saying “Thank you, but no” – to an intentionally relationship-oriented call-centre such as that run by US retailer Zappos, which focusses much more on respect and mutual trust. Which approach would you prefer to deal with in your business day? The answer’s fairly obvious: which is why the conventional call-centre model is becoming less and less viable, no matter how much pressure is put upon the long-suffering staff.

Another first-hand example: a couple days ago I was looking at cameras in the local branch of a medium-sized national chain of camera-stores. The absence of pressure was really noticeable; and the saleswoman’s quiet passion for photography per se shone through. The change in energy of the place was very noticeable, compared to the last time I’d been there, a year or so ago: more like an Apple Store than a ‘normal’ sales-obsessed high-street retailer.

Talking with her, it became clear that the company had made that crucial shift from product-orientation to service-orientation. The key was that they’d come to understand they made most of their money not from selling cameras as such, but from the ongoing photo-print service. Camera-sales became viewed as a means to support that service: it needed to be profitable in its own right, but it wasn’t the primary focus for profit. Hence it became much more important to match the camera to the client’s actual needs – and that emphasis on matching real needs itself became a key foundation for mutual trust, and hence for long-term relationships that would be profitable to all parties.

Contrast that with the usual high-street high-pressure retailer, where the emphasis is more likely to be about offloading the highest-margin object that the ‘consumer’ could afford, then dropping the attention instantly so as to move on to the next ‘punter’ as quickly as possible. “I worked in a place like that for three months”, she said, “and I felt like I aged ten years while I was there. Soul-destroying, for everyone. So I know why I’m working here! – because I want to be here.”]

So what kind of enterprise-architecture do we need for a service-oriented enterprise? How does it differ from the conventional product-oriented architectures – particularly in its business-architecture and process-architecture? Probably the key requirement is an awareness of the implications of one simple statement:

A service exists to serve.

But what does it serve? And whom does it serve? Architecturally, those are not trivial questions…

In the highly unequal power-relationships in the conventional product-oriented model, the answers are very clear indeed: there is often a thin pretence of ‘customer-service’, but in reality the ‘consumer’ is deemed to exist solely to serve the organisation and its perceived ‘need’ to sell.

[And the organisation in turn is deemed to exist solely to serve the ‘needs’ of the stockholders, but that’s another story…]

But in a service-oriented enterprise, there are two fundamentally-different types of service going on: and the architecture needs to support both of these.

One type – which we might describe as ‘horizontal’ – is the conventional ‘supply-chain’ structure: the service-producer serves the needs of the service-consumer. The issues here that the architecture needs to support are that:

  • the relationships between producer and consumer are essentially peer-to-peer
  • the roles of ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ will often blur or even swap over, especially in the ‘co-creation’ relationships that are common in a service-oriented model
  • the overall relationships are built via the self-reinforcing loop of the full ‘market-cycle’, as above

The other type of service is more ‘vertical’: within the context of those ‘horizontal’ supply-chain service-relationships, every player in the shared-enterprise serves the same overall vision and values. The market exists within the context of a broader shared-enterprise, defined by a distinct purpose or ‘vision’ and its associated values.

Remember Chris Potts’ point above, that “we appear in customers’ experiences”: there’s a crucial difference here between the organisation and those with whom it interacts. Architecturally speaking, the organisation chooses the vision and values to which it will align. When customers’ experiences – and, for that matter, suppliers’ experiences – happen also to align with that same vision and values, there is then a basis for a shared connection. Serving the same ends – the same vision and values – creates the basis for mutual trust, which then starts the market-cycle rolling.

So the service is delivered through the ‘horizontal’ connection; but the connection only exists because both parties share ‘vertical’ alignment to the same vision and values.

Note that the customers’ experiences – or even supplier’s experiences – may only align with the organisation’s chosen vision for a brief period: think of a restaurant at lunch-time, for example. But whilst that alignment exists, there is the basis for conversation and connection – and hence the first stage of the market-cycle already in progress.

[Back to the camera-shop. The focus throughout the conversation was photography, what kind of photography I might need to do, about cameras in general. Firstly, there was a conversation – which in some stores doesn’t even happen at all; and the conversation didn’t have an all-too-obvious undercurrent of ‘how can we sell you a high-priced camera that you don’t need?’ – which I’ve had all too often in the high-pressure stores. Instead, I felt listened-to, respected, safe, served – all of which increases the likelihood that I’d go back there when I am ready to buy another camera. In other words, that first part of the market-cycle is already in progress; and I feel safe in the belief that the closing ‘post-sale’ part of the market-cycle would be there, too.

Yet note that I wouldn’t go there to buy a sandwich, or clothes, or anything that wasn’t about cameras – because that isn’t part of their vision or purpose that they present. They’re clear about what they do and what they don’t do, and demonstrate their vision and values in practice: so I know when to go there, and when not to go there. Sounds obvious, perhaps: but some organisations are so sales-obsessed that they give the impression that they’ll sell us anything, whether they have it or not, just to make up their sales-quota – and that’s really confusing, for everyone.]

Architecturally, the vision and values are the core of a service-oriented architecture: everything in the organisation needs to be understood as serving that vision.

Hence, for example, the value of a service-viability checklist that explicitly includes tracing of support for each of the values as they touch on every aspect of the enterprise.

Hence also the importance of ensuring that that same vision is carried across any partner- or outsourcing-relationships – especially where key customer-facing connections are handled by outsourced others such as an external customer-service centre.

And hence also the importance of keeping the focus on those shared-relationships overall, such as with Chris Potts’ aphorism above. As enterprise-architect Pat Ferdinandi put it, in a comment on an earlier post here:

That’s a brilliant line by Chris. It’s the corporation’s adjustment between customer service and customer loyalty. Customer service is viewed as a “fix” of problems. Customer loyalty is earned by the customer’s experience with the corporation but not necessarily from the corporation. The experience can be from word of mouse of a trusted friend. The experience can be from reviews by “specialists” in the area.

There’s a lot more on these themes scattered around on this site, and in the various books. For example, take a look at the post ‘Where marketing meets enterprise-architecture‘, or any of the articles here on Enterprise Canvas; and the books ‘The Service-Oriented Enterprise: enterprise-architecture and viable services‘, and ‘Mapping the Enterprise: modelling the enterprise as services with the Enterprise Canvas‘. The chapter ‘Step 1: Know your business’ in the book ‘Doing Enterprise Architecture: process and practice in the real enterprise‘ also describes the practical processes needed to set up the initial architecture-models for a service-oriented enterprise. It’s all there: all we have to do is do it.

It’s simple, and straightforward: yet it’s often not easy at all. And the reason why it often isn’t easy is because it does require a real shift in perspective, a paradigm-shift – and no-one should underestimate just how hard those shifts are in real-world practice. Yet also don’t doubt that, as Dave Gray says, it is the way that the business-world is moving: so as enterprise-architects we do have to support our enterprises in that change, in whatever ways we can.

Enough for now, anyway: comments, anyone?

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2 comments on “Marketing and the service-oriented enterprise
  1. Jack Doyle says:

    Nicely put. I fully agree with the assessment of service orientation and its centering on the vision. The line sight is often forgotten, but remains a key principle to follow.

  2. Thank you for that Tom, some nice food for thought.

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