Allison Hartsoe

It’s been a historic year for women. There are more women serving in Congress than ever before, and a record number ran for president in 2020. But even with these significant gains, women—both in the U.S. and around the world—can still find gender equality elusive. The situation is further exacerbated in the tech sector. According to a study published by the European Union, only 17% of people working in technological fields (specifically, ICT) are women. Worse still: according to the same study, those women earn 20% less than their male counterparts. Despite the efforts made in elementary schools, high schools, and universities, little progress has been made if we look at recent trends these past few years. There are still invisible barriers and glass ceilings which discourage women from studying STEM fields at university and hinder professional equality between men and women in this industry.

Despite these setbacks, women are increasingly making their mark. Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, "Google-ing" is possible due to Karen Sparck Jones’ discoveries, and Hedy Lamarr’s secret communication system inspired GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. Today, women are doing amazing things in tech, such as Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, and YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki. Drawing upon history Allison Hartsoe, Founder and CEO of Oregon-based Ambition Data, elaborates, “The challenges faced by women are numerous but that never stopped us from fulfilling our ambitions. I am particularly fascinated by Elizabeth the First. Despite the kind of world she lived in, where women were constantly looked down upon, she helped lay the foundations of one the most powerful nations on Earth. She established an English church that helped shape a national identity and remains in place today. A modern example would be that of Sally Krawcheck, co-founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. Even though she was the CFO at Citibank, she was subjected to the kind of discrimination which women are usually subjected to. But that didn’t stop her, did it? Today she runs the Elevate Network, a global community of women committed to fostering and promoting gender equality in the workplace. They do this with the help of online webinars, online networking, and career advice on topics like creating a personal brand, growing a business, finding a mentor, reinventing your career, and finding balance and fulfilment. I personally benefited from the opportunities created by her organization. I find leaders like her very inspiring, who faced discrimination and turned it around into a very powerful mechanism for women to rise.” beams Allison.

Indeed, today women are taking advantage of such mechanisms. It’s a welcoming space for women entrepreneurs, where collaboration, consensus, and diversity rule. Much of it is virtual, as more and more women opt to do business online. The number of women founders and owners has increased dramatically in recent years, and the impact of businesses with women at the helm is significant in terms of revenues and hiring.

A 2019 report by the SCORE Association, which provides free mentoring service for small business owners, shows that between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses climbed 21% to a total of nearly 13 million (12,943,400). Employment grew by 8% to 9.4 million. Revenue rose 21% to $1.9 trillion. Over the past five years, the annual growth rate in the number of women-owned firms has been more than double that of all businesses. This is a cycle that must continue, “So many women today are becoming leaders, business owners and CEOs, what I am looking forward to is to see these leaders become the next venture capitalists. The ones who fund the next exciting idea. Because that can be a force multiplier for those who are denied opportunities just because they do not fit the model of what a leader should look like,” affirms Allison.

Modern women leaders are utilizing strengths like effective networking, empathy and an inclusive, holistic mindset to grapple with issues as universal as the future of this planet and as personal as the day-to-day challenges of being a woman, “There is a big expectation for women CEOs that in order to be successful you have to work yourself to death. It is tragic that so many people believe it to be true. I see all these male CEOs being celebrated for putting in punishing hours at work, but when you look closely you find out that their personal lives are hanging by a thread. Want to be successful? Work smarter, not harder”, affirms Allison.

“So many women today are becoming leaders, business owners and CEOs, what I am looking forward to is to see these leaders become the next venture capitalists. The ones who fund the next exciting idea. Because that can be a force multiplier for those who are denied opportunities just because they do not fit the model of what a leader should look like”

Work smarter, Not harder
Implementing the strategies necessary to work smarter, not harder, however requires thinking things through and using the right mix of tools and practices. The same advice can be applied to organizations making the smart decision to transition to a customer-oriented strategy.

Companies in all industries are ditching traditional business-driven and product-driven strategies as they're starting to embrace the idea of customer centricity. Although being company-driven, product-driven or sales-driven is natural, no longer can brands afford to think only about what’s good for the company without considering the impact on the customer.

Customer centricity is often seen as a catch-all for ideas like customer satisfaction, customer experience and customer feedback, but being truly customer-centric is about more than that. It’s about more than just making your customers happy. And it’s not enough to assume you know what your customers need. Above all, customer centricity means putting the customer at the core of your business. When done well, companies can listen, learn from and then lead innovation by listening to customer data connected to customer lifetime value. The best companies never ignore any customer based on this analysis, but seek to grow the right customers. This creates a groundswell of customer equity which is quantified gold for any business.

Now for the bad news. In many companies, growing organizational complexity, anchored in strong product, functional, and regional axes, has clouded decision making. The reduced cost of communications brought on by the digital age has compounded matters by bringing more people into the flow via email, Teams, and internal knowledge-sharing platforms, without clarifying decision-making authority. When you combine that with the massive influx of customer data, organizations start to struggle to make good customer-oriented decisions. Too much "company" and customers who desperately need human contact are routed to endless call center menus. Too much "customer" and companies find they are losing money too easily.

For Allison this influx of information and data presents an opportunity as well as a challenge. “In today’s customer-oriented era, digital data is overflowing with insightful consumer information. Analytics can unfold evolving tastes and preferences, helping you reshape products, solutions, and buying experiences. However, handling complex datasets is not everyone’s cup of tea because it requires expert skills and knowledge,” acknowledges Allison.

In an increasingly customer-oriented era, organizations have amassed wealth of information and data. In order to remain competitive, it is imperative for organizations to use these insights to shape their products, solutions, advertising and buying experiences. If only it were that easy. So, what to do? Use Artificial Intelligence? The hottest technology of today?

For Allison while AI may be helpful in certain areas it remains woefully inadequate when it comes to strategy, “Artificial Intelligence is not something that should be dismissed out of hand. However, AI is not particularly well suited for making strategic business decisions, especially when it comes to your customers. AI is very good at refining existing customer strategies but not exactly good at picking up all the subtleties that go into the “gut feel” behind a new strategy. I see it as augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence,” elucidates Allison.

It was this pressing need to streamline decision making at the highest level that led to the shaping of Ambition Data into what it is today. “Though I started this company as a consultancy firm, it wasn’t long before we turned into a tech house. Sitting on the board of a venture backed start-up, I witnessed first-hand how leaders have become reliant on information and data for making their business decisions. I realized that if this data and the insights gleaned from it are delivered in a format that is simple and understandable, it can lead to better business decisions,” shares Allison.

This led to the creation of Rubano, their bespoke customer intelligence platform which can be customized to the needs of their customers. “My team and I understand how frustrating the digital data universe can be. We see the value of customer data; we know what should be there and how imperfect data can limit the impact of a leader. We’ve watched measurement initiatives fail and campaign spending spiral out of control because no one understood the people behind the numbers. Rubano takes all of your customer- centric data and allows you to query it in a way that is simple and powerful. For example, you can direct Rubano to diagnose your entire customer base and know whether your strategies are working or not. It creates a feedback loop that tells you who you should be reaching out to, what, why, when working behind a particular customer group, was it a particular product or service mix, was it your advertising message. It helps you understand what worked and what didn’t. It is simple, fun and easy to understand and customize,” shares Allison enthusiastically.

With tools as useful as these it is no surprise that the response to Ambition Data’s services and products has been enthusiastic. Firms such as Abbott, Dagne Dover, FSA Store, and J&J are among those who have availed the services of Allison and her team at Ambition Data. The future looks bright for organizations who want to put their customers first and at the core of their business in order to provide a positive experience and build long-term relationships.

*Look out for Allison’s book which talks about the ideas and insights that she has learned on her journey leading Ambition Data. It is called The Age of Customer Equity and will be available for pre-order September 20, 2021 on Amazon and bookstores. The book provides valuable knowledge on how to use data to create a sustainable customer-centric company.