Q&A: Martin Shave, Retail Industry Lead, Microsoft Business Applications
Martin Shave is the Retail Industry Lead at Microsoft Business Applications, which works alongside companies to implement technological solutions to improve ways of working and understanding of customers.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
One of the great things about the Microsoft team is the diversity of background and experience and I am probably no different. I started my career in an accountancy practice, working and studying to become an accountant. Numbers were always my thing but it became apparent, as I started to work with more and more clients on their accounting and business software, that this was the thing that was really interesting to me. After moving into the higher education space as an accountant for a period of time, I was given the opportunity to join a great software company that soon became part of the IRIS Group.
I joined Microsoft in 2011 as a finance and operations expert before going on to lead technical teams across manufacturing and retail, followed by the public sector business. I now manage the retail, consumer packaged goods, travel, and transport business for Microsoft Business Applications, working with our most strategic customers in the UK.
What does your role within Microsoft entail?
I manage a team of Specialists and Technical Specialists whose primary goal is to work with our strategic customers to understand and adopt Microsoft Business Applications. This could be working with a customer’s sales, finance, operations, or service teams as examples. The team are there to help understand business challenges and problem solve to find solutions to those challenges through Microsoft technologies.
What’s special about the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights platform and your approach to building a customer data platform (CDP)?
Customer Insights is a really exciting proposition for the Microsoft team and is a great example of how Microsoft’s strategy to business applications has progressed over recent years. Previously, Microsoft would always be competing head-to-head with competitors in the business applications space, but Customer Insights takes a different route, enabling us to build on top of any solution or any data source. The other key area for enterprise organisations is that Customer Insights naturally builds on the data and AI capabilities of Microsoft Azure, aligning with the customer’s data strategy and accelerating deployment of a CDP using all of the scale, intelligence, and insights that can be gleaned from this wealth of data.
This is critical when you compare Customer Insights to other CDP platforms on the market. We aren’t just looking at data sets on customer acquisition or other silos of data. We are able to build a holistic, all-encompassing view of the customer base, from what they buy, how they use the product or service, how they interact with you physically or electronically, or what external factors may influence them.
What advantage does it add?
There are both business and IT benefits to our approach to CDP using Customer Insights. The Customer Insights solution will naturally increase the return on investment of a CDP by accelerating deployment and value realisation through an easily configured user interface, standard connectors and predefined insights, on top of the benefits that come from a sound cloud platform.
From a business perspective, the real benefits initially arise from the insights that can be gained from the solution – predicting what customer actions and behaviours will happen next or in the future. This becomes even more powerful when you are able to action from that insight. Imagine the scenario that a known customer has downloaded a retailer’s app and has visited a store. We could know that the customer is in the store and where they have spent the most time, what they have purchased before, what they have interacted with online, what products they have tweeted about. Using that information, we could predict what they may buy next and, based on that prediction, send them a targeted message with a very specific offer. This is game changing for our customers in this very competitive marketplace.
What does a product or service implementation actually look like and how do you measure success?
With any implementation of a solution like Customer Insights, it is important to define and set the measurements of success for the project early on. What businesses will want to measure will depend on their scenario, such as a reduction in subscription churn, increase in basket size, average annual spend per customer to name a few. In addition to the measure itself, the timelines to achieve these goals should be projected.
Ultimately, this will define what a good project looks like: meeting your business objectives in a timely and efficient manner. This will mean a high degree of control within the business, focusing on the key metrics that will deliver the most impact in the quickest time.
How are retailers using your systems to gain competitive advantage and what does best practice look like?
Personalisation is key. The most effective way of using a solution like Customer Insights is to focus on giving your customers a focused and targeted experience. We’ve seen some quite dramatic results and changes in customer behaviour based on these personalised interactions.
Clearly, gaining the insight into the customer is only the first stage. Being able to create specific action is next, but also action in that moment. So many shoppers now quickly compare the product with other retailers – if you are not able to acquire their business in that moment, they may be lost forever. Therefore, personalised, in-the-moment marketing will become the differentiator for successful retailers.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2021?
The main questions for retail are obvious: How do we reopen? How do we operate safely? How do we gain every possible penny of market spend? How do we keep our customers? How do we keep a fluid supply chain while minimising the impact on our business liquidity?
These challenges are complex and the only consistent aspect across all of these questions is data. Collecting, understanding and actioning vast amounts of data will enable businesses to meet these challenges and turn them into opportunities.
There are many businesses in the market focused on these challenges now, building out a digital strategy and investing in tools like Customer Insights to get that view of the data. Getting a head start now will mean the customers who invest early in meeting these challenges will be in a more mature, stronger position as we come out of the pandemic restrictions.
Learn more about the role of a CDP and how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights can take your understanding of retail customer behaviour to the next level in this report from Microsoft Gold Partner, Edit Kin+Carta.
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