Social Business Builds Brand Equity

27 06 2012

Social business has mainly been discussed in terms of what it can do for the company in terms of efficiency of Knowledge Management and Sharing and the impact it has on the organization and culture. One of the aspects of Social Business that so far is under-exposed is the positive (or negative…) impact on the way customers perceive the brand and thus the influence it has on their buying behavior. In this post I will briefly outline how Social Business and Brand Equity are related and help to reframe your thinking about Social Business and why it can be a sound market approach for your organization.

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Service Agility thru Adaptive Case Management

27 10 2010

Who hasn’t been there? After waiting 20 minutes on hold with Customer Service, then 15 mins for explaining your problem, the Contact Center Agent says she is really sorry, but can’t do anything about resolving  it because something first has to be done by some other department, or it the system won’t let her do what needs to be done as this isn’t in the process, even though it should be simple and straightforward to do.

The customer is frustrated because she need to call some other number and explain everything all over again, and the agent is becomes frustrated and may take it out on collegues, or worse – the next client in the caller cue! The example above is an issue of empowerment and system inflexibility, but also of process rigidity. The rigidity of the process has just killed the positive customer experience.

What happens when BPM breaks down?

Thanks to Taylorism we spend bucketloads of money to model our understanding of how things should work, hoping to recoup the time and energy in the long run thru process efficiencies. Although this may work well for Easily Repeatable Processes (20%-40% of the time), resolving Barely Repeatable Processes effciently and sustainably will be a key challenge to meet, especially as customers now have more choice and are more informed through their social network and are more sensitive to how their ‘experience suppliers’ cater to their needs.

BPM and Social BPM

Business Process Management (whcih is part of what I did in my previous role) solves a real business need by identifying, modeling and optimizing processes – cutting work into repeatable parts and adding decision trees to ultimately lead to a known outcome. It is characterised by heavy upfront investment in modeling which the company intends to recoup through efficiences in the long run. However, BPM is not a panacae as it can be a straight-jacket leading to customer and employee  frustration when exceptions occur (and inevitably they do), with little or no ability to adapt the model once it has been set. Especially not by those that go through the drill everyday such as your Contact Center Agents!

There is a good group of people and companies looking at at how to make improvements, gathered under the heading “Social BPM”. As Tom Allensen says: “Social BPM is basically just collaborative business process management utilizing a collective network environment – it’s about extending BPM access and decision-making to partners and select external parties without compromising the exclusivity of the core group.” Michael zur Muehlen adds: “Social is all about providing context, a rich environment of data points that a streamlined workflow would be lacking otherwise. The challenge is to make this context useful, both from a social networking perspective and from an unstructured data perspective.”

So Social BPM is about getting all those concerned involved (and why not the customer?) and about collaborating whilst taking the context of the task at hand into account.  Although this approach certainly has its merits to get people to collaborate effectively on process steps within a pre-existing model, it still does not add flexibility and agility to reaching the desired objective or outcome in case of non-modeled exceptions. If exceptions do take place, employees just revert back to email and the company could lose thread of what is going on, making it unable to capture insights for continous improvement and learn from them.

Adaptive Case Management

I’ve been looking at the potential of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) as a framework for guiding and structuring issue resolution (or even collaboration in general), relying on the insights and experience of knowledge workers (such as your agents), pulling together the right resources to make informed decisions at each step based on the context, and choosing and adapting next steps as necessary to reach the desired outcome.

ACM makes a distinction between routine and expert processes. Routine processes are prime candidates for modeling whereas expert processes are emergent and the domain of Knowledge Workers – they give the organisation the flexibility to adapt and respond to changes around it. ACM also aims to bring understanding, visibility and control to  unpredictable knowledge work and serves to make routine work processes more reliable. It doesn’t set out replace BPM or workflow, but adds to the tools that the organisation can leverage to be sustainable and resilient to changing expectations and conditions.

Adaptive Case Management sets goals that describe what must be done rather than how the process must be done. It provides guidelines and looks to Knowledge Worker experience on how to achieve the goals but does not dictate the work or the flow itself. Control is achieved through tracking deadlines and goals, and having a case owner responsible for the process results. The flow is organised around the context and content assets, and can be modified to bring in participants as needed based on the availability of information and expertise.

My focus is on the customer and customer experience and ACM applies to non-routine Customer Service, but is equally valid for for example Sales Processes (such replying to an RFP, customizing a product to a client’s need), Loan Management, Financial Audits, Innovation, Strategy Implementation : basically anything that requires collaboration and negotiation. As another more concrete example, who knows beforehand how a patient will be treated when entering an Emergency Room? The flow of events that lead to the patient leaving the hospital in good health is highly unpredictable but is guided by fragments of processes (diagnosis, CAT-scan, medication, operation etc.) that are assembled as the situation evolves and more information becomes available.

This is a quick (certainly not exhausive) introduction to the concept of ACM, which in my opinion can be a valid framework for guiding emergent Knowledge Work – which Enterprise 2.0 is ideally suited to facilitate! In my opinion, E20 has been putting a lot of emphasis on devising the tools to improve information flows within an organisation to the detriment of actually helping the employees do their task at hand better. Where it can add a lot of value is by organising the content assets, identifying the people with the right expertise at the right time, and facilitating information flows and sharing, as well as tracking and consolidating lessons learned by capturing fragments as templates and distributing these. Social CRM – through Social Analytics – can help by providing a better insight into the context which can then be used by Knowledge Workers as information inputs on which to base their decisions, choose the next steps and who could provide the right expertise, which can include partners, suppliers and of course customers!

In my coming post I will discuss Adaptive Case Management in more detail as I think this has great potential to for linking Enterprise 2.0, social CRM, business and social analytics on the road to Social Business and the Collaborative Enterprise. Together they provide framework for work in an agile organisation.

I’ll be at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara (8-11/11 2010) to participate in a customer panel on social CRM. I’ll be happy to meet and exchange ideas on the above subject when I’m there. Drop me a note and we can arrange to meet!





Enterprise 2.0 And The Different Flavours of Social CRM

20 10 2010

Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 are a natural fit. In an endorsement for the Enterprise 2.0 book, Leo Apotheker (now heading HP) said that “McAfee clearly understands the role of IT in creating superior customer value…”, and indeed, I very much agree with this statement. However, where I believe software vendors have put too much emphasis in their interpretation of what needs to be done, is that they have focused too much on the pure IT side of the equation. This is where the social CRM approach can bring balance to the discussion by looking at how innovative customer engagement strategies – enabled through employee participation and collaboration – can help deliver the sought-after superior customer value.

In order for a social CRM programme to be effective, it cannot just be assigned to and run by a single department as many other parts of the company can add value to to overall customer experience and help achieve goals of innovation, loyalty and advocacy through customer interaction and participation. For example, if customers wishes to contribute product or service improvement suggestions through an ideation platform (or some other means such as through surveys, letters, email…), these need to be filtered, prioritized, and dealt with by the organisation. The  right stakeholders and expertise within and outside of the company need to be identified and brought together at the right time to collaborate together, and during the course of its evolution the context (information, discussions, insights, documentation etc.) may need to be transferred to different people as the idea is matured into a “deliverable” . This is where Enterprise 2.0 concepts and tools can play a pivotal role in enabling customer engagement through employee engagement.

Social CRM comes in many different flavours, and your approach will depend on what your company’s objectives are and level of organisational maturity is. A company cannot become customer-driven overnight, and most companies will just dabble in the basics to get their feet wet rather than jump straight into the deep end of the pool. It also requires an alignment of the company culture and possibly push the company to take another look at roles and tasks of its employees, as well as revisit current processes and workflows.

For example, I previously wrote about the changing role of the Salesperson, moving from gatekeeper to coordinator. The salesperson will have much more contextual background information on leads and prospects through Social Network Datamining before first contact. She may also go out and actively contribute to online customer communities, blog and tweet for lead nurturing to improve the company’s (and personal…) reputation. Moreover, as prospects that are researching your offer increasingly turn to their peers for advice and information, the salesperson can observe and facilitate the right connections between internal and external resources as required and proffer the right information at the right time.

As Marketing Guru Peter F. Drucker said: “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer”. Social CRM aims to promote loyalty and advocacy for this purpose through customer interaction and engagement, in order to understand and cater to customer needs and providing the experience the customer expects. However, the experience you provide may not be only dependent on you, but also on your partners and suppliers. For instance, your company may provide excellent customer service, but if your suppliers do not provide adequate and timely support when something goes wrong (such as product repairs that take months), this can reflect badly on your own business. Patronage can actually be lost due to negative Word-of-Mouth that spreads like a wildfire through the social channels. It may also be that your partners and suppliers have additional insights about your customers that you can then combine with yours and capitilize on.  By using social concepts to break down the barriers to collaboration to meet desired outcomes together, the customer experience can be greatly enhanced to the benefit of the customers, your company, your partners and suppliers.

Enterprise 2.0 is all about getting the information flowing and collaboration going. Social CRM strategy adds the customers interaction to the E2.0 mix to ensure that we focus on understanding what is of value to them so that we can better cater to their needs whilst ensuring the sustainability of our business. Deciding just what approach to take, when and how and with whom will be the crux of the matter.

The above are just some ideas that illustrate the some of the many facets and flavours of social CRM, what impact they can have on the organisation and where Enterprise 2.0 can facilitate in helping a company become customer-driven. I will be participating in a customer and thought leader panel during Social CRM Track of the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara (11/8-11) to discuss in detail how theory matches with real-life examples. We with a great line-up; Sameer Patel (Sovos Group), Paul Greenberg (President, The 56 Group), Emilie Cole (LaunchSquad), Spencer Mains (BtoD Group), Chris Yeh (PBWiki), Manuela Farrell (TechWeb) and Vince Canobbio (Merced Systems) and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to exchange views with them!





Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM Converge towards the Collaborative Enterprise

17 06 2010

At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Milan where Esteban Kolsky and I presented the “The New Era of Customer Engagement with Social CRM“, I spoke with Emanuele Quintarelli of Open Knowledge who organized the event – and he did a very good job I might add!.  During our conversation Emanuele made the remark that Social CRM has now become an accepted part of the agenda in comparison with last year. Participants attending the previous edition found it strange to even mention customers when discussing E2.0 and preferred to focus on the software solutions – but this year this seems to have changed completely.
It was thus of particular interest to me to note was that the notion of the Social Customer and that we need to organise to engage is starting to gain traction from the protagonists of Enterprise 2.0 (see Bertrand Duperrin’s take on it here).  For example, Emanuele Scotti’s opening speech dealt with changing needs and behaviors of the Social Customer, followed by Sameer Patel‘s excellent Keynote who continued on by talking about how companies should organize for customers that want to interact with the company (and not only be passive buyers). And as a sidenote – on the vendor side, Jive Software for example is adding “Social CRM features” and repositioning itself as as a “Social Business” platform provider.

In my opinion the discussion around Enterprise 2.0 has been too internal-facing and focused on the tools, rather than what the objectives for collaborating actually are. The market is maturing though as we see the approach evolve from innovators to early adopters. This was especially evident when looking at the agenda of the Milan edition, in contrast to the Boston edition that is still more focused on the software “solutions” (go ahead and deploy this module and you are now a “Social Business”..NOT!). Could it be that Europe is leading the way in its understanding of what it takes (culture, organisation, customer focus, employee engagement…)?

Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0

Although collaboration in customer driven organisations in not a new concepts (albeit still exceptional rather than a rule), Enterprise 2.0 and Social CRM were meant for each other. a Social CRM customer engagaement programme that has no link back into the enterprise risks becoming cloistured in whichever department that decides to pick up on it first – thus risking incoherent experiences when a customer interacts with another department for whatever reason. Enterprise 2.0 on the other hand has been about collaboration, but  sometimes it seems that it is just for Collaboration’s sake. What Social CRM brings to the party is a compelling business reason, namely to collaborate for, around and with the customer to better meet desired outcomes.

Social Business as the Business Model

In my opinion the next step is the “Collaborative Enterprise”, organised around understanding customer jobs and collaborating with the ecosystem (customers, employees, partners, suppliers, channels) to deliver on the desired outcomes. This is not about about implementing Web 2.0 technology to make your organisation “Social”, but rather using the means available to facilitate communication and knowledge flows to get the customer job done. Furthermore, it is about organising the enterprise on its road to becoming a customer-driven, customer-focused extended company, and facilitating systemic integration to achieve this – as described by Ranjay Gulati in his excellent book “Reorganize for Resilience“.
It is not about introducing new tools to do business in roughly the same way – only more effectively and efficiently, it is about adapting our business model to become a Social Business so as to take into account changes in the business environment, most notably the advent of the Social Customer.

The Collaborative Enterprise

The “collaborative enterprise” is one such approach of adapting the business model. The basic premise is that it serves as an interaction and reference hub through which stakeholders can collaborate to match expectations with outcomes – mainly of customers, but also all other parties – by first and foremost understanding what these are and putting the mechanisms and processes in place to gather and share insights and act upon them. The idea is not only to “collaborate” with  your customers by interacting and engaging with them and thus glean actionable insights, but  also extend this by collaborating with other stakeholders to combine their understanding with yours so as to provide the desired outcomes such as a satisfactory end-to-end customer experience – presale, sale and postsale, or by shaping your new offering through collaborative innovation etc.

I’d like to add here that your unique understanding of your customers and what their desired outcomes are, form the basis for your competitive advantage. The product you manufacture, I can build in China or wherever far cheaper than you can, the service package you offer I can copy very quickly, but the relation you have with your customers which allows you to meet their expectations – and which draws new customers to you – I cannot readily emulate.

I’ll look at the above in more detail in follow-up posts, let me know whether you want me to look at something in particular. Also please leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts, I’m keen to hear them!





Enterprise 2.0 Boston Bait and Switch

31 03 2010


Enterprise 2.0 concepts and tools are gaining more and more traction in “mainstream” Business Practices as this is seen as a good way to captialize on the human assets of organisations. To reflect this trend, and to spread awareness and understanding and also to provide a platform for exchange of expriences, a conference is being organised at the Westin Boston Waterfront on June 14-17, 2010.

Apparently it was felt that the base premise of the subject was not enough to attract attention that the organisers had to resort to Switch and Bait practices to generate Buzz and use Command & Control decision making (how very Enterprise 1.0…). I commented on the announcement to draw attention to the dichotomy between their message of “letting the audience decide” and their actions.

Apparently, my opinion did not go in the sense they wanted so I guess they decided against publishing it. Or they’re not monitoring and thus didn’t get round to moderating yet – in that case, why provide a comments area?

Let me elaborate on the dichotomy through the use ofPrem Kumar’s  Context, Content, and Intent -at least  in my opinion…

Context

For this edition the organisers decided to be innovative by enlisting the “wisdom of the crowds” to source Papers to be presented at the conference. They relied on the Spigit – which in my opinion is ideally suited for the task at hand (disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with them). The expectation that was set was that the all Conference Topics would be chosen through the principle of ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ as stated in the ‘How Things Work’ section, with the Conference Management just making sure that the tracks were balanced.  Proposals with the most votes would be part of the E2 Boston 2010 Conference.

Content

The Call for Papers had potential speakers expose the their subjects of predeliction in a short summary and supporting documents in attachments (UGC). They were then actively encouraged to get people to vote for their subject (WOM), directing traffic to the site and generating buzz. The target audience was asked to add comments to the entries to instaur a dialogue – level 4 in Mitch Liebermann’s Social Interactions post

Intent

The original intent was to get a Conference Agenda that reflected the subjects the participants would be interested in and that would be rich and varied in teachings and facilitate the exchange of experience to propulse Enterprise 2.0 concepts and usage into organisations.

Although the programme put up is actually a very interesting one - the original context, content and intent were not respected. Out of the 30-odd sessions, only 8 are community-sourced - less than a third.  The Conference Management or Advisory Board decided to disregard their own selection process and make their decisions in a completely opaque manner. To my knowledge, none of them interacted with the potential speakers at any time to get details, or a better understanding, either through comments on the community site or even through other means at their disposal such as blogging about the subjects put forward by the candidates, sending twitter messages, or sending email. Voting was started in January, and the speakers were informed on March 30 – with a long zone of no communication in between.

The Top Two community-voted Papers did not get in, the third speaker did, but just one of his subjects. Of the top 10, maybe 2 actually made the grade according to the Board. People put a lot of effort into coming up with interesting Papers, and their peers thought they were interesting enough to merit reading through, understanding, commenting and voting for (full disclosure - we had put in a Paper up concerning bridging scrm & e20). By neglecting the votes, the Board is showing an extreme disregard and disrespect for the candidates and more especially their audience - their customers.

The voting process turned into a popularity contests, with people actively asking to be shown ‘Twitter Love’ by their followers to get more votes – followers who potentially would not be interested in attending the event because their interests lie elsewhere. This all turned into a real buzz machine, driving a lot of traffic and awareness that this event would take place. While this is all fine and understandable and a good way to build interest for Enterprise 2.0, it was done with the wrong Intent  and thus under  false pretenses. Trust has been squandered.

Through their actions, the organisers have also seem to think that:

  • collaboration and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ is not a valid way of selecting Papers
  • conversation is good between the clients of their ‘product’ but decisions should be made by a ‘Management’
  • feedback and management participation is absolutely not necessary

Now what was the Enterprise 2.0 way of working supposed to promote again..?

I am not saying that the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ is the most suited way for selecting interesting presentation subjects, but using the Switch and Bait technique is a deceptive Business Practice and reflects badly on the event as well as the validity of the Enterprise 2.0 Business Case. Although this is not at the scale and will not have the impact of the Nestlé debacle, the organisers are showing a there is a disconnect between their actions and the expectations they have set for the consumers of their product. It is kind of like saying ‘What is good enough for the customers of the tools we sell, is not good enough for us - we still manage our business as usual!’. The Advisory Board reached out to the consumers of the E20 Conference product to engage with them through ideation, but has done only half-heartedly. You need to go whole full nine yards! Moreover, in the public arena there is no hierarchy or HR to put a muzzle on the people that voice their opinions.

Transparency and authenticity can generate a lot of Goodwill and potentially a high level of participant engagement, but can just as easily backfire.  You can’t only just ‘pretend’ to be transparent by putting in a tool and not following through with actions – or ‘living the culture’, especially if you expect to be trusted in return. Changing the rules and not informing people about that when the result does not meet your goals is just Bad Practice. And thinking that people would not notice is just silly. I already know of some that will not bother with putting in a Paper for the Fall edition of the #e20conf…

It would have been so much easier to have been transparent in the selection rules, once the expectations set you can then meet them – the math is easy. This would have avoided the Bait and Switch and would have allowed the Trust Relationship to be continued. This is actually turning into a case study in Social Business; the need to coordinate Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 Strategies - thank you #e20conf!

When you Talk the Talk, you should also Walk the Walk!

I hope this is seen as Food for Thought. What do you think, am I right to bring this up in this manner?





Social CRM and Social Business

18 02 2010

Last week had the privilege of attending the CRM Seminar on “Social CRM for Business” organised by BPT Partners, where Paul Greenberg managed to attract a large number the world’s thought leaders on Social CRM and market players during a two-day event in a snowed-in Westin Hotel in Washington DC. To the members of the #SCRM Accidental Community it felt like the culmination point (hence the term #scrmsummit ;) ) after many, many months of tweet conversation, blogging and commenting, skype chatting that have helped us shape our ideas of what a Social CRM Strategy could look like as well as the promise it holds concerning how business can be changed for the benefit of all parties involved. It was great to meet in person finally!

I won’t go and repeat the ideas that have already been put forward by other participants (you can find the links below), but I’ll cut through the chase and give you my takeaway.

The Social Customer is now a given (even though I believe the degree of which she is may vary per country…), and basically always has been around. Contrary to the past, these customers now have the ability to find, reach out and converse with like-minded souls from around the globe, it has exploded. They’re abe to join and leave such tribes and communities provides them with great flexibility to create firm or loose ties as they so please. They are starting to become more and more aware of their power they can bring to bear when they act as a group and are able to bear more pressure as a group, leaving many companies in disarray.

Stop shouting

Rather than turn to your company for their information needs about your product or services, they now turn to their peers who they overwhelmingly trust more than they do you. It is the End of Business As Usual (cf The Cluetrain), no more only Outbound Marketing (some would say “shouting”…), you now have to pay closer attention to what is being said about you, where it is being said, why it being said and strive to anticipate where the conversation is going: The new Marketing Logic is Customer centricity through engagement and collaboration, but on the customers’ terms. Authenticity and trust is what matters – more than even the “consistency” of the message.

What really stuck with me was the idea about the Collaborative Value Chain which extends the Enterprise Value Chain of Company, partners/channel, vendors/suppliers, external agencies to include the Customers. The Customer Experience is central, and the whole ecosystem contributes to providing one that is superb, and that includes “knowing what the customer thinks and involving her in your thinking on a systematic, ongoing basis”.

The main question for me following Paul’s seminar is how to organise our companies for Social CRM. As I’ve stated in my Twitter bio since I opened the account, I am excited about Social CRM as an organisational change agent. I believe it is the compelling reason for Enterprise 2.0 implementation whose mantra is to get people to collaborate across the width and breadth of the company. But all to often I get the feeling that the pitch has been about the tools and that people are asked to collaborate for the mantra’s sake (I will follow up on this in a later post).

Social CRM makes Enterprise 2.0 a necessity for “responding to the customer’s control of the conversation” (P.Greenberg) and extends it to include the whole Collaborative Value Chain. This brings me to Social Business, on which Esteban Kolsky tried to explain in this post on The Social Customer I commented that my idea is as follows : “Social Business is the optimisation of the Collaborative Value Chain for customer-centric business.”. Esteban said that there were too many fancy words, so we settled on it being when Customers, Organizations, Suppliers, and Partners work together to optimize the value of doing business together”.

This leads me to the last bit, the why of going down the Social CRM / Social Business Strategy route. If there is only compelling reason it is to ultimately to run your business more efficiently, leverage the customer experience to increase your customer base and ensuring that everyone involved is able to optimize the value they extract and exchange so they will continue to want to collaborate.

Products can be built in the World’s Factory at short notice. Services are easily imitated. Your competitive advantage will be your Customer Base and their ability to advocate your company and persuade their peers to do business with you.

So what do you think, is the idea of Social Business disruptive on the organisation, or a natural evolution?

Once again, thank you to Paul Greenberg for providing us with a platform that has finally allowed us to meet and exchange. It really felt like it was a defining moment for Social CRM as a Practice. Merci!

If you would like some additional points of view on the event, I suggest you take a look at the posts byattendees  Mitch Lieberman,  Michael Krigsman, Brent Leary, Kevin Paschuck, Mike Fauscette, Dr Natalie Petouhoff, Prem Kumar, Brian Vellmure, Kathy Herrmann, Mike Boysen





Rethinking Sales in a SCRM Strategy

18 01 2010

Before you start thinking “where the heck is he going to go with this, does he want us to ditch our Sales people?”, let me reassure you – it won’t happen so I won’t try to argue in that sense. All I’ll be talking about here is that we could take the opportunity that a Social CRM Strategy can offer to change the approach we have been taking to organizing for Sales activities. In this post I will concentrate on B2B Sales as this is what I am most familiar with (see Mitch Lieberman’s “Is B2B the new B2C” for more thoughts on the subject). 

To condense something that very complex, Marketing has been about getting the attention of potential customers to turn them into lead that Sales can then work with. Sales is about building a relationship with these leads and turning them into prospects and then into clients. To simplify again, Sales – especially in B2B - has come to mean an entity that is specialized in building the relationship between your company and its clients. Note here that I say “building” and not “building and maintaining”… The primary role of Sales Managers is to go out and generate revenue from these relationships. And, unless they have a stake in generating recurrent revenue, they will concentrate their efforts on building new relationships to fill their pipeline. Also, if the fish is not big enough, it may not be fed enough to grow…

Trusted Advisor

So what Sales people actually do? Some cynics would say “press the flesh and cash the check”…but hey! if it was that simple, everyone would be doing it, right? In my point of view, their main role is to establish a trust relationship so that when their prospect decides to invest their time, resources, effort and money, they can be fairly sure that it will not be in vain. The Salesperson serves as a proxy or go-between between the prospect and the company and she takes ownership of that relation (and will be held accountable when things go awry) as a Trusted Advisor, and it is for this that they get their commissions.

Educating the Customer

The way I see it  (at least for in the ‘traditional’ sense of Sales Management), the role is mainly about educating the customer about the benefits of the product or service that the company has to offer. Marketing activities will have generated initial curiosity and an interest to go out and obtain a better understanding to see whether the offer is likely to meet up to its promise, and that it corresponds to the Customer Job it pretends to solve. In Sales Management a there are a number of methods such as SPIN or Xerox’s Customer-Centered Selling and derivates are commonly employed to (try to?) manage the Sales Cycle. The Salesperson acts as an educator, but also as a gatekeeper to feed information and other supporting material into the prosepct’s Learning Curve according to what she believes is the right timing to do so. The Salesperson also serves as a coordinator between internal resources to come up with deliverables such as RFP responses, Presales demonstrations, references, organisation of visits to existing clients etc etc. Prospects rely heavily on the Salesperson, as she is the main touchpoint to get the understanding they need to build their purchase decision on.

The Social Customer

Then came along an itsy bitsy spider that spun its web…the ‘Social Customer’ as described by Paul Greenberg (see here for a nice writeup by Esteban Kolsky). The Social Customer will turn to her peers to exchange on what their impressions, experiences, disappointments and whatnot are. Their buying behaviour is now influenced by what what some call ‘Social Shopping’, so that rather than asking your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, you now have access to the opinions to help you decide of a virtually unlimited number of ‘people like you’ through the use of ‘social tools’.

Just as it has been the case for consumers that now look on multiple Social Media channels (customer communities, blogs, article, WOM, twitter, shop personnel etc.) to learn about the merits of a product they wish to acquire before going out and actually doing so, your B2B clients will increasingly look to the same tools to evaluate what the value proposition is of your company and, lo-and-behold, engage with other prospects to seek the knowledge they need! These same tools could change the way companies source their suppliers.

Rather than go through their assigned Salesperson for their knowledge needs, they can now meet online and have these same conversations about the supplier’s offer. Sage’s Act! forum is a good example of giving clients a platform on which the Act! product can be discussed transparently. Good ideas as well as shortcomings are available for all to see, thus potential client can actually get a good understanding that will help them in their purchase decision-making process. Furthermore, through the integrated monitoring system (as they are managing this forum themselves, Sage has the ability to extract valuable insights), the company can feed information into the forum by encouraging its employees to partcipate, and in general facilitate the conversations and the e2.0 tools now make this possible. And once you recognize that that this has an influence on the Sales cycle, you can start getting creative by giving recognition to those that contribute to these conversations (such as through an e-reputation system with points that can be redeemed for vouchers, gifts, or even holidays). As an added benefit you maybe catching fish that would have fallen through the net initially and your employees will feel more engaged with your company…

Becoming a Facilitator

 To summarize, the Salesperson has less and less control over the prospect’s learning process and has been taken an inside-out approach. Now that the prospects are starting lose their dependence on the Salesperson for their knowledge needs, her role will change in order to provide the same amount of added value. The challenge will be shift from being an Educator to a Connector/Facilitator - taking and outside-in approach, understanding what is going on in the ecosystem and feeding it with relevant knowledge on which others can build - in a transparent manner and for all to see. And the role will not only be about connecting to the prospects and customers and facilitating customer interaction, it will also be about connecting these customers to Marketing, R&D, (Consulting…), Partners and Suppliers.

By understanding that prospects now have other options for finding knowledge about what you offer (including your post-sales performance…), you should be looking at adapting your Sales methods to incorporate this shift in balance in my opinion. What are your thoughts on the subject?





What I’ve discovered about Twitter

21 12 2009

Twitter has become quite centtral in the way that I go out and research subjects that interest me, and to exchange with people that have knowledge and insight about these. Before I used to turn to Google, but it was very difficult to find the nuggets of knowledge you’re looking for when you get 36 million search results (most of them irrelevant). Twitter has turned out to be an extremely effective tool as a community-based knowledge transfer tool.

I used to be a sceptic – proudly saying I did not tweet – as I did not see the value of telling the whole world that I was having double-twisted latté macchiato cappucino coffee or whatever at a Starbuck’s. Boy was I wrong! Twitter has been the most effective tool that I have found yet. I set up Tweetdeck and did one column that filters on the #scrm hashtag (my main interest), and another on #e20 (these are linked as Social Business, hopefully Esteban Kolsky and I can tell you more about it during the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Paris and Boston). Soon I found out who the most interesting tweeters to follow were (or is it twits? lol) and reached out.

Visually I represent Twitter to myself as a hub. People come together in the center to exchange bite-sized nuggets, links, comments of whatever, and provide links to information that allows you to dig deeper. Follow the spoke  to the rim of the wheel (usually blogposts) where someone provides their point of view and relies on others to comment in more detail to deepen collective knowledge even further.

Twitter is also a great way of arranging face to face meetings (tweetups), as there is so much more information that is passed as visual and behavioural cues, tones and variations in tones that you just cannot fit into 140 characters. Content is there, but context and intent can be missing (read Prem Kumar’s post on the Triumvirate). So far I’ve been lucky and honoured  to meet Paul Greenberg, Wim Rampen, Bertrand Duperrin, Ian Hendry, Nigel Walsh, Yadu Tekale in person, and in order to cross the divide I’ve been skyping with many others such as Mitch Liebermann, Kathy Hermann. Great people from whom I learn every day that I would have never known without tools such as Twitter!

Like for Wim, Twitter has brought me new friends, connections, thoughts, insights and ideas at a pace I could not have thought possible as little as one year ago, and I hope to meet with even more people in 2010. I feel like a whole new world has opened up to me :)





Social Learning and Customer Engagement

9 12 2009

One of the approaches to improving Customer Engagement and Experiences I’d like to explore is the potential to include customers, partners and suppliers in the Social Learning process. One of the drawbacks of an customer ideation platform/community is that more than 99% of the ideas are never looked at or implemented because they do not take into account the business context and constraints.

Whilst ideation may be a good source for innovation for companies, they can be a source of dissatisfaction for those customers who submitted ideas if they do not receive any acknowledgement for the effort they put into it. So rather than feeling closer to your brand and becoming advocates for it, the quite opposite may occur.

The approach that I would advocate is to educate the customer about your brand and its environment, even let them actively get involved in your internal Social Learning processes of continously striving to gain new knowledge and insights. By infusing ideas from outside of the silos of your organisation, you may discover innovative ideas that will give your company a competitive advantage.

Crowdsourcing has lost favour a little due to the number of uninformed suggestions that bubble up and which generate a lot of overhead to percolate into useful innovations. Smartsourcing has been put forward as a better approach, relying on the ‘better elements’ in your community to exchange with for customer insights. As such I agree with this, but I believe there is an even greater opportunity for informed innovation through the education and deeper implication of those we wish to engage with for smartsourcing by implicating them in collaborative learning.

Education and customer collaboration has the potential to create a real and very deep level of engagement, and thus the germination of fervent customer advocates, who in turn entice others to join this process (and increase the smartsourcing base for qualified innovation).

As Harold Jarche points out in the comments below, I herewith add that the objective of this type of collaborative learning would be to close the loop, not only take the feedback but reinjecting it back into the customer communitites and so on with insights so that we get a virtuous learning cycle. And by being open with your social learning approach, you will lower the barrier for new entrants and thus new points of view and sources for innovation, as well as sending a clear signal to the rest of the customer base that you are listening and collaborating to take their needs into account.

There is of course the (perceived?) risks of competitors glaning information and using it to their advantage, but examples have shown that this risk can actually be a driver for more rapid innovation integration such as Sage has shown with its ACT! community.

To summarize, I believe there is an opportunity to create a collaborative community learning platform that will ultimately lead to informed ideation and nurture more fervent customer advocates.

Let me know your thoughts, am I completely off-track, or is this the TGV to Customer Engagement?





The Future of the Training Department

6 12 2009
In my previous role at BEA Systems/Oracle, I created and managed a Professional Services business unit for training clients on the implementation of Enterprise Portals (including Collaboration, Knowledge Management, Content Management, Integration of third-party products) and Business Process Management tools. I have been exchanging with many people on twitter, mainly on the topic of Social CRM, but I keep my eye open to the topic of Enterprise Learning, and from time to time I exchange tweets with Frédéric Domon (@fdomon). So I was happy to be asked to contribute to the Enterprise Collaborative Initiative :) Enterprise Collaborative - Ecollab 250x250

Social Learning seems to me to be an innovative approach to continuous learning (I am an eternal student of life myself). From what I understand, the idea is to use the web 2.0 to enable free-flow collaborative learning that builds upon the insights of others and leads to new ones. This is advocated in opposition to the more traditional, structured instructor-led top-down approach to learning (tell me if I’m wrong?).

Though I do believe that there is a valid argument to the collaborative approach, I believe there should be a juxtaposition with the traditional one.  In my opinion be, what is learned through collaborative learning should formalised, structured an made available as traditional learning. The main reason behind this thinking is that there is a risk to create barriers to new entrants to access and acquire the knowledge of the ‘regulars’. One could argue that the regulars could do knowledge transfer – which is great in theory – but who has the  resources to do so (time, effort, motivation)? I think it will simply not scale.

I would advocate the following schema for new entrance to empower newcomers to become active contributors.

Formal training

Baseline knowledge transfer (developed through a ‘community effort’, extracted from the results of collaborative learning process) to acquire the thinking patterns, guiding principles or just plain knowledge elements.

Skills and knowledge Transfer

Exchange with and guidance from the community to put into practice, get up to speed,

Collaborative Exchange

Continuous learning to further one’s own ideas and incorporating those of others, attracting newcomers to infuse new insights and ideas, and synthetisation, formalisation and diffusion of current knowledge to reduce barriers to entry

The training department can play an important role, especially in the the formalisation and diffusion area, assisting newcomers in their entry and identifying those whom they can help in improving their social learning skills in order to improve the collaborative learning experience for all.

When getting a customer or system integrator up to speed for successful project implementation, my experience has found that it was more beneficial to have everyone talking the same language and understand the base principles (base knowledge), and have this followed through by co-development with subject-matter experts (the Consulting department) to acquire the Best Practices. This I believe was a good basis for both the customer and integrator to effectively communicate and progress in unison towards the desired outcome of the project, whilst leaving sufficient leeway for collaborative learning to achieve improvements beyond the inital goals. Even though the primary subject of Entreprise Collaborative concentrates on internal-facing issues, the above ideas are valid in this context as well.

Would you agree with this point of view? Please leave your thoughts below so that we can all learn from this together :)








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