Although some business trends come and go, there are some are some that have proven timeless. For example, doing what’s right for the client will never go out of style, and the same goes for treating employees well and putting the company in a position to succeed. As companies experiment with different processes and report on their successes or failures, others may adapt them as a part of their own policies in order to improve internal or external business operations.
Here are 10 trends for CEOs and business leaders that various experts and writers have explored for 2016.
1. Customer Experience
The explosion of online commerce and marketing via social media has increased the already high-demand for excellent customer service. Laura McLellan discusses this in her article about marketing trends for 2016 on Gartner.com, saying that businesses must “look to new sources of differentiation.”
“Most companies expect to compete primarily on customer experience in the next two years,” she explains. “In 2016, customer experience will garner the highest level of marketing investment; it is one of three areas in which CEOs’ expectations of CMOs will increase the most; and bleeding-edge technologies to improve it will be the top innovation project marketers undertake. Marketers will lead the customer experience cross-functionally across all touch points in the majority of companies by 2016.”
2. Benefit Changes
When major companies make a big change to their benefits policies, like Netflix did in 2015 with its extended parental leave, it tends to make headlines. This trend should continue in 2016, as this story on ExecutiveForum.com explains, and serve as a recruiting tool.
“In order to compete for top talent, organizations will start looking at the overall competitiveness of their comp plans and identify the flexibility of paid leave time as an easy concession,” the story states. “The number of companies offering paid maternity leave now is disturbingly low, and paternity leave has been virtually nonexistent. But tech companies are quickly adjusting their leave policies in an attempt to retain their already limited female workforce, and that is creating a larger conversation in organizations across the U.S.”
3. Focus on Connecting Customers
Writing for Forbes, contributor Ian Altman describes “a connection economy,” which focuses on “building relationships and creating connections, rather than building assets by industrialism.” His examples:
- “Uber is the largest ‘taxi’ company — yet they own no vehicles and excel at connecting riders with drivers.”
- “AirBnB is the largest provider of accommodations — yet they own no real estate.”
- “Facebook is the largest media company — yet they create no content.”
- “Crowdfunding businesses like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are expected to surpass venture capital for funding in 2016 — yet they have no funds to invest.”
“Whereas it used to be sufficient to sell a product and receive revenues, customers now seek to connect with other like-minded individuals to get the most value in the long run,” he writes. “… If you want to build something that stands the test of time, you’ll connect your customers to each other and to valuable resources that extend beyond the sale.”
4. Big Data
This trendy phrase may still be vague to some, but the use of analytics in determining a business’ direction and outlook will continue to grow and become an important step in 2016. Tim Crawford, CIO of AVOA, explores its evolving role in information technology in a story for Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
“We’ve been talking about Big Data for a while, but what most people call ‘Big Data’ today is actually tiny data compared to what’s coming down the road,” he says. “More importantly, the term ‘Big Data’ alone doesn’t capture the full scope of its real impact on IT. CIOs and their teams can’t simply focus on managing the technical complexity of exponentially growing data in their data centers. We must become more data-driven and analytical in all of our decision-making and strategies, because that’s what’s happening throughout the organization. Don’t mistake data analytics for a marketing trend. Almost all company decisions — whether about mergers and acquisitions, growth markets, or new opportunities, products, and services — are increasingly made based on data.”
5. Innovations in Marketing
Innovation is one of those concepts that should be entrenched in any list of business trends. As McLellan writes in her Gartner piece, CEOs and CMOs should have a sharp focus on new efforts and directions with marketing in 2016.
“For the second year in a row we found that marketers are setting aside more than 9 percent of their budget for innovation,” she writes. “Leading a culture of change and company-wide innovation was the third-highest ranked increased CEO expectation of CMOs. More marketing executives have innovation in their title. An increasing number of CMOs manage product development as well as product management. Digital business transformation is causing many industries to shift their business model and offerings to digital vs. physical, putting marketing squarely in the middle of such innovation.”
6. Be Results-Based
Here’s a phrase that may seem obvious on the surface as an important part of a business’ approach. Clients and customers naturally expect results from a business. Investing in ways to make sure the company can deliver will be crucial to growth and repeat business, Altman writes for Forbes.
“By focusing on results, the seller and buyer will both share appreciation for the value delivered,” he says. “Once your clients see that your approach is likely to deliver better, measurable results than the competition, they’ll be able to see beyond price. As more companies focus on measuring results, this also spells trouble for those vendors who today compete as the low-cost service provider. As Seth Godin says, ‘Competing on price is a race to the bottom that you just might win.’”
7. Selling Through Social
It’s hard to imagine any businesses of significance that has yet to incorporate social media into their business plans, yet it still happens. The importance of having a presence on the various social networks increases a business’ need for content creation to “deepen and expand their messages,” Faisal Hoque writes for FastCompany.com.
“These trends will continue to grow,” Hoque explains. “Thought leadership content — from blog posts to videos — that create a sense of authenticity and excitement among consumers will only become more crucial. Businesses with the most compelling, original voices will rise above the noise. It can take a while to get that right. And as users’ activities continue to shift and evolve on social platforms, it also takes patient experimentation. That’s all the more reason for businesses to double down sooner rather than later on cultivating those personal, social media-driven relationships with their customers.”
8. Emphasize Fairness
Anyone can say that fairness is an essential need in running a business, but it can go a step beyond just the fundamental points. Mallika Goel describes fairness as “a new leadership model” in a story for DuctTapeMarketing.com. This involves “less hierarchy and looser boundaries,” she writes, which can lead to faster decision making and increased employee initiative. Other benefits include:
- Clarity: The emphasis on fairness can provide “clear explanations for decisions and keeping everyone in the team abreast of what is going on.”
- Communication: The employees have a voice, and can share feedback with the business leaders (including anonymous feedback).
- Support: Allowing the human resources department to assist in coaching and promoting company values.
9. Sales + Content Marketing
Here’s another example of how online shopping and social media have changed the way businesses and customers interact. As Altman writes for Forbes, customers can easily research the value of a product or service, which amplifies the need to integrate content marketing as a part of the sales process.
“Consumers value impartial input,” he writes. “When the customer goes silent in the middle of the sale process, it used to signal that something was wrong. Today, it often means they are doing their own research. You have two options: 1) Provide valuable, impartial content to support their research, or 2) Allow your customer to get their information from other sources. Smart companies will integrate impartial content to support customer decisions. This means not only sharing where you are the best fit, but also acknowledging where you are not.”
10. Workplace Flexibility
This will likely continue to be a big trend in 2016. The idea of workplace flexibility applies to the amount of hours we work, how it intersects with our time off and how long we stay at our jobs, as author and entrepreneur Dan Schwabel writes for Forbes.
“First, we work 47 hours per week now, and there is no longer such a thing as a 40 hour workweek,” he says. “Second, another study we did found that 64 percent of managers expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office on their personal time. As a result, another study we did found that more than half of workers feel burned out. Third, more employees are willing to either switch employers or stay at their current employer, based on their flexibility programs. With the rise of telecommuting, co-working spaces, globalization and new technology tools, workers are demanding flexibility.”