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Bridging the gap between social media hype and business value

March 2, 2010 6 comments

This is a cross post – with the primary post being my first on the CRM Outsiders blog. Since the location is different, I am altering the introduction a bit (you know content is king and context is queen and all that).

I do lots of different things for SugarCRM, among them is the beat up the regular author of the CRM Outsiders blog, asking him to write about this or that…So, Martin said in his best mannered Philadelphia tone – “Mitch, if you think it should be said, then start typing” (For those of you who know Martin, that might not be exactly what he said, but we are trying to keep this PG-13).

It is interesting that my first post (on CRM Outsiders) is about an upcoming event in Boston. The interesting part is who the keynote speaker is at the event is, and if I read and understood his book, my job is to make this post as interesting as possible, without being too pushy. I am confident that I can do that, and even went so far as to interview him for this post. Throughout the next couple months, I will be joining Martin more frequently to help set the stage for some of the events SugarCRM will be attending or hosting. Call it the pre-game show if you will. I have been know to bring March madness into the commentary for the US folks and maybe we can even weave a little World Cup into the discussion as we get closer to June.

I am not sure if I will cross post all of these, but I felt an interview with Dharmesh is a worthy post, given just how much he has to offer!

The first stop on the journey is Boston, MA on March 23rd. The event theme is bridging the gap between Social Media hype and business value. I am excited about all of the upcoming events, but this one in particular is a great way to kick things off. Keynoting the event is Dharmesh Shah, Co-Author of Inbound Marketing and Founder of Hubspot.  Full details of the Agenda and other presenters can be found here:

As a lead-in to the event, I conducted a few short, informal, interviews with the presenters, which I will intertwine with my own thoughts through a few blog entries. First on the list is Dharmesh Shah, who I was able to catch-up with prior to his trip to the SXSW conference in Austin. I suppose that I am a bit jealous, SXSW would be a great time! But, I digress, back to the topic at hand:

It is about business value, it always has been and it always will be!

Since the objective is always to derive business value from all investments (make no mistake, people and time are investments too) we make as a company, it is important to understand where investments can and should be made. Some of my peers in the AC might suggest it is really about helping customers get jobs done, and preparing to be an outside-in organization. Yes, that too, but I will address that in another post ( or reference yours).

Being on the ‘bleeding’ edge is not always the best place to be, nor is being a laggard. With this in mind, I asked Dharmesh where on the traditional Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm) adoption curve businesses are with respect to acting (culture) and being (tools and process) Social. Here is what Dharmesh had to say:

“I don’t think we’ve quite hit the early majority quite yet as it comes to social media marketing.  Though there are millions of users joining services like Facebook and Twitter, much of this activity is still individuals making connections — often with no commercial agenda or motive. Many businesses are discovering the potential of the new media and the more ambitious ones are already finding ways to connect to their prospects and customers through these channels. Forward-thinking businesses will capitalize on the shift and encourage their employees to interact online. “

Next I wanted to explore a bit more on the specifics around sales, sales process and engagement. Here is my (long winded) question:

Inbound Marketing (getting found) and leveraging Social Networks (alerts, notifications and process) seem to be two sides of a very important coin. In the context of business to business, the process from getting found, to Prospect, to Lead, to Opportunity, to Customer is not always simple. Since trust is such a big factor, how do you envision a hand-off from Marketing (team) to Sales (team)? In BtoB Lead nurturing might need to be a little more personal 1 to 1 than other consumer types of business, no?

“Absolutely.  In a B2B selling environment, the need to allow the prospect to move through the sales funnel at a pace that makes sense still exists (with or without Inbound Marketing).  My position here is:  Online channels can be used very well to “educate” the prospect in a non-threatening way.  This helps build trust and allows the person to engage the business in ways that are comfortable.  For example, in the “old” B2B selling context, the sales professional would often hold much of the power and release information slowly and deliberately to help “push along” the process.  It was very one-sided.  Now, people expect to find much more information about a business and its offering on the web — without the need to have to go through a gatekeeper.  Whitepapers, customer testimonials and case studies are all content that helps the prospect make a more informed decision.”

There are lots of great ‘nuggets’ in his answer, but there is one that needs highlighting. Online channels absolutely need to be used to educate in a non-threatening way. In other words, we are working to create buyers not sell to people. This approach is what allows you to build and create trust. Gatekeepers, command and control are things that get in the way of building trust. Help people to find what they need, do not simply tell them what they need. This is what the Social part of CRM is about – treating people with respect, as you would a friend.

I would like to thank Dharmesh for his time. If you are in or around Boston, I hope you can join us. We will also be having very similar conversations at SugarCon in April – more on that soon!

Wow, that deserves a standing ovation!!

February 28, 2010 14 comments

Huh?! What?! – Certainly not my last run down the moguls this past week, that is for certain. I was lucky enough to enjoy some time on the slopes, time with family as well as some time to read from actual books, not even an e-reader. I stayed at a great Bed and Breakfast, in Waitsfield, Vermont (near Sugarbush) with my family (minus one).  Somehow, a book on Complex Adaptive Systems ( John H. Miller and Scott E. Page) made it into my overnight bag, and I began to read.  Before long there was a particular area which I wanted to dive a bit deeper into, an interesting phenomenon called ; The Standing Ovation Problem (SOP). Creative Commons

Staying true to my electronic hiatus of sorts, I decided to do a bit more research when I got home. The SOP, at a qualitative level, is straightforward, easy to understand and has relevance in modern business. Specifically, the SOP can be used as a real world metaphor of outcomes often generated by the tools and technologies which are used by modern businesses, who are trying to be ‘Social’. A better understanding of the ‘why’ or ‘how’ could help  to explain some of the issues encountered by a Social Business, both externally (Marketing, Support, Communities) and internally (Enterprise 2.0 tools). I am not saying I will be able to accomplish all of that here, but it is a start, and I so welcome your opinion.

What exactly is the Standing Ovation Problem?

To help me to understand the problem at a deeper level I found a 2004 research paper, The Standing Ovation Problem, by the same authors. The timing of the research and paper is interesting, as it predates the explosive time line of the Social Networks we know of today. The paper takes a very mathematical approach to the problem. However, a dissection of the problem, approach and theories makes extending the metaphor quite interesting. As the paper states:”The SOP has much to offer as it (1) is easily explained and part of everyone’s common experience; (2) simultaneously emphasizes some of the key themes that arise in social systems, such as learning, heterogeneity, incentives, and networks; and (3) is amenable to research efforts across a variety of fields. These features make it an ideal platform from which to explore the power, promise, and pitfalls of complexity modeling in the social sciences.”

Stated simply, a standing ovation is at the end of a lecture, presentation or performance (stage or athletic) certain members of the audience stand up and clap for a long(er) duration, which leads to other audience members doing the same. While a 10 year old might be able to explain what it is (mine did); why it happens, is another issue altogether.  The reason this phenomenon is intriguing in the context of Social Business, is because there is a Social Media equivalent to the phenomenon . Actually, there might be more than one. Via Facebook, Twitter and Buzz, we make public proclamations of likes and dislikes. Whether is a good or bad experience with a company which we make make public or an article or YouTube video which we Retweet. Within an organization, this type of ‘public’ opinion are certainly commonplace, now more than ever.

What are the components, and who are the Actors?

From a systems perspective, Use Case modeling may not work all that well, but I could not pass on giving it a shot. Though trying to ascribe mathematics to SOP, modeling is required: “In modeling the SOP, one must explicitly account for many aspects of social interaction. Here, we shall discuss just three: the spread of information, the timing of events, and the behavior of the agents.” (to simplify, I will treat an agent as a person in the SOP). Is the author talking about SOP, or could it be Twitter, Google Buzz or Facebook?  I believe that there are definitely social media equivalents, therefore understanding why these events occur is worthwhile.

I am not a marketer by trade, nor a social scientist, but the picture in my mind of the audience, is very similar to how Twitter is organized, maybe Facebook or Buzz, not sure. In the real world, we are all there to watch something, our interests are close enough that we came to the same event. We may or may not be ‘friends’ with the people in the audience. We might be very much in alignment with some members of the audience, though not sitting next to them. How does this relate to articles we read, videos watched or experiences we have, which are then forwarded or shared?

While I might actually know some of the others in the audience, for the most part I would suggest that I am not heavily influenced by them, with one exception. In a pure social sense, if everyone begins to stand and I do not, then I it might be ‘awkward’. Social Media has its equivalents as well. I might be trying to both impress (a Retweet), influence others AND there is less of an ‘awkwardness’ if I do nothing. This is referred to as simply conformity, however, this is not too interesting, but does occur. There is also an interesting difference between the people at the front of the theater, and those at the back. Those at the front are not influenced by others (they cannot see them), while those at the back can see everyone else. The analogy to Twitter would be people with lots of followers and those with fewer. This simple concept could be a whole post in and of itself.

Get with the flow, audiences exist within the enterprise as well.

The paper has a nice section on mathematical theories. The suggestion is that by using the SOP as a “backdrop” many different agendas can be addressed. These might include information aggregation, conformity and information cascades (I think of information flows). As practitioners, vendors, consultants and influencers expanding horizons and pushing back on businesses who claim “we are unique” just a little, is important to help them grow. A deeper understanding of why people – peers – act or react in certain way when new ideas are presented. As businesses work hard to become social, what are the impacts to other groups and departments as the silos are broken down?

Will you be the first to stand, sending a strong signal, when an idea is presented? Are you at the back of the theater, or the front (Leader or Follower)? The comment about being awkward is interesting as well, as one can be awkward in the beginning, by being the first to ’stand’, while it may be equally awkward at the other end to be the only one sitting. In an enterprise, if you are the first to stand then you are taking a risk, no? If you are the last to stand, then you might be taking a different kind of risk, yes?

Without diving into the mathematics, it is a little tough to do justice to the sections regarding information cascades. My reasoning for even addressing them at all, is that an understanding of the social dynamics within the company/enterprise are important. Within a theater, a person can send a limited number of signals, stand, sit and applause. Within a company, you can send these as well as many others. Even in the public timeline, you are able to send extra signals. Studies show that words such as “Great”, “Read” and “Loved” enhance the Retweeting of something, most often pointing at some form of content.

Where does that leave us, is there a conclusion?

The model and this discussion would certainly need to be extended, but the social aspects of an enterprise cannot be ignored. Words such as ‘transparency’ and ‘open’ mean that more and more people are making their opinions known in a very public way. This will change the culture within an organization. My sharing this blog, and the research behind it is a way of suggesting that the foundational research may already be there, if we look around a bit.

Here are a few of the conclusions reached by the authors. The fun question is how do these relate to a Social Business?

  • Most people might be standing, even though they do not necessarily agree with the extra praise offered by a standing ovation;
  • There is a greater pressure to conform, which leads less “efficient of information”. Could this be considered group think problems?;
  • People in the front may “have a large impact”. Is this the follower count issue? Just because you are in front, are you smarter?

There are lots of interesting places to take this type of conversation. I am inclined to ask some friends very specific topics, but will wait to see if people find this line of thinking interesting. Are there other areas we can all learn from this type of application of research to the ‘Social’ world? I am a firm believer that we all need to reach out and learn from other disciplines. Basic, sound research can be applied so many ways.  What do you think. Have I gone astray….?

Is B2B the new B2C

January 7, 2010 6 comments

A friend asked an innocent question on Twitter a while back. “Who has a good B2B iPhone app? Anyone?”. In typical fashion, I Tweeted, then thought (the reverse order is usually recommended). My response “The actual phone part, where I dial and talk, best B2B part of the iPhone! ” This is probably not what she had in mind, hope I did not offend; though it did get me thinking. B2B, or B2C, that is the question. What is the difference?

I put my thoughts away for a while, thinking that I was just not getting to where I wanted it to be. Then this post appeared this morning. The context is that some brands express concerns about using Social Media. There was one section which caught my eye, related to the topic at hand:

There is no difference between B2B and B2C – This one drives me crazy.  What is the difference between B2B efforts and B2C efforts?  Nothing other than the target and the message.  We are all consumers at some point in the day unless you are that famous young cult hero thief, Colton Harris, living in the woods.   The person you are trying to influence to buy is a person and a consumer.  The only thing that needs to change in your efforts is your message not the platform.  Again, quality messages lead to quality fans/followers/friends/connections, all of whom can help you to build you(r) Influence Stream.

I commented and suggested that there are few nuances, and that Social Media is a platform, with many channels. Funny, they have the same conversations as we do in CRM – but I digress. Getting past that, there are some great points here, worth exploring. Has the Social Individual, whether it is for business, or personal become the Social Customer – period!

If you put this in the context of one of those selling seminars we have all taken at one time or another, some interesting things pop out. As a buyer, people are more likely to trust someone who they feel is an ‘expert’ – oh and someone they know. In the eyes of the buyer, the seller must display professionalism, an understanding of the need, empathy. Finally, the seller needs to understand what is in it for them, the buyer, personally. OK, am I talking about a personal consumer, or a business consumer? Does it matter?

Even (Especially?) in a Business to Business environment, there is a significant emotional component to the sale. Do not take my word for it, there are many others smarter than me saying so. So, if you combine that with my post – Social Just Is – what do you end up with? People buying from people – people who are like them, have similar values and people they trust. The emotions might be different, but so what?

OK – so that is a bit of sales, not really touching on CRM. One of the best posts recently on the topic of Social ‘this and that’ (CRM, Business, Media) is by Esteban Kolsky. I am not sure if Esteban intended this or not, but a wonderful part of the post is what is not there; is it meant for a Business to Business audience or a Business to Consumer audience? He does not specify – because he does not need to specify. The lines are blurred.

So, such is life in the age of things move really really fast. As I was preparing to simply post this, a mostly stream of consciousness set of connected thoughts, Graham Hill, a person I have the utmost respect for posted a comment on my Posterous Blog Feel free to take a look (last comment), but my take is that the relationship side of B2B versus B2C is most definitely not the same. Will have to explore that one later.

Back to a quick conclusion: Sure, your strategy needs to consider what you actually sell. Assess what channel makes the most sense, I know that. But the end-game is the same in the decision on strategy.  What are your thoughts? Where else has the consumer market had a significant impact on business purchases and how is Social ‘this and that’ a part of it?

Do the pundits practice what they preach?

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

I am not a Social Media Guru nor an expert in Social Engagement. That said, I do spend a fair amount of time working through the issues related to these topics, as they relate to Customer Relationship Management. In a sense, I am a customer of the many folks who are more knowledgeable in Social Media, and Engagement. Learning, so I can bridge the gap. I guess you could say I am an unsatisfied customer. So, I figured I would put the shoe on the other foot, and blog about it!

I find it curious that the very people who are constantly talking to us, telling us to engage are not practicing what they preach. This is of course not true of everyone, and I would be remiss in not pointing out those who have day jobs, many many followers yet somehow manage to engage. The ones I am not happy with, seem rather full of themselves, using Twitter as a bullhorn, not a conversation tool (“look at me, read my blog”). I am not talking about the spammers, nor the ‘follow me and make $10M’ folks. I am talking about the ones who talk about engagement, yet forget to practice it.

It Can Be Done!

My favorite answer to the fabled “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Is: “To prove to squirrels and skunks it can be done” So, with that in mind,  I would prefer to share those that are truly impressive and engaging, first, to prove to the others that – It can be done!

Anne Handley – @MarketingProfs – I met Anne once (face-to-face, the old fashioned way), at a Tweetup in little ole Burlington, Vermont – Very gracious, smart and a offers a whole lot of value, in her own writing and those that she suggests. Every once in a while I will reply to Anne, ask a quick question – Anne responds, engages, asks me what I think. Wow, impressive – really! with 50k people following I am honestly impressed.

Jeremiah Owyang – @jowyang – I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jeremiah. But he puts out some really great content. Oh, and he responds, willing to admit when he is not 100% correct (he is usually close though!). He engages and practices what he preaches, open and transparent – again impressive.  He responds to comments on his blog posts as well, all this takes time, but Jeremiah engages – again, over 50k.

There are certainly others, lots for sure. Please feel free to point out the ones who you think do it right – please, they deserve it! I have debated whether or not to call people out by name who are not as engaging, actually, not even close to engaging.

In the end, it is far more important to recognize those whom I believe do it right, than to call out those that do not. Those that do not, you are starting to act a little like spammers. Before you say “it is hard I have 25k follows I cannot respond”, take a look at the two examples above. You might recognize yourself here, then I have done some good, Until then, you have lost serious Whuffie in my book…

Funny thing is this was started by a Tweet, which I responded to and never heard back on, oh well. Am I wrong? Let me know your thoughts.

Categories: Social CRM, Social Media Tags: , ,

Social Just is…

November 16, 2009 5 comments

Simply put, it is in our DNA to be social. We like sharing, engaging and having fun, cocktail parties, backyard Bar-B-ques, name your favorite. When something good happens, we want to tell the world, when something bad, we need a shoulder to lean on. We want to be heard, on our terms, in our voice. However, Social does not equate to group, it is more than that.

The Social Individual

We have been doing this for a very long time. Up until very recently, we only did this face to face, one on one and in small groups. We then we scattered; moved away from friends, moved away from family and it was/is a bit traumatic. We worked to fill the void, we needed the social part. We wrote letters, then we used the phone; good not great. Then the Internet happened,  email, chat, AOL, we were stuck behind our computers, 9600 baud and still struggling, getting closer… Then Web 2.0 happened, along with increased bandwidth, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter and everything became clear, or did it?

We are substituting technology for proximity. However, there is simply nothing like being there, sorry, it just is. A handshake, eye contact, body language and tone cannot be replaced, no matter how hard we try. It all begs the question, how close can technology get us?  Answer: It is a asymptotic relationship, we will progress, but there is a ceiling and we will never get there (Not until you can say, “beam me up Scotty”). To some, the direction we are headed is not quite correct.

Enter the Social Customer

Individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture. Starting with the social keeps us from working on empowering individuals natively. That most of the social action is in silos and pipes of hot and/or giant companies slows things down even more. They may look impressive now, but they are a drag on the future.  Doc Searls

Somehow in the Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 transition we moved from one on one interactions to a focus on many to many. Parts of the switch are good, but some need to work themselves out. Friend and colleague, Graham Hill, makes the following statement (In his Manifesto for Social Business).

No.1 From Individual Customers…to Networks of Customers

The emphasis for business today is still on managing customers as individuals. But we have evolved as social animals with highly developed and highly influential social networks. For example, research by Christakis & Fowler suggests that we are highly influenced by three degrees of influence – friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends. It’s not about ‘influencers’ per se, but the social networks in which influence happens. If we are to be successful in Social Business we must recognise the power of customers’ social networks to shape customers’ behaviour.

At first, these statements, made by very smart individuals, seem to contradict each other. But, read deeper, there is something more valuable here, from my perspective. While we struggle to manage the individual customer (we may or may not succeed), we must recognize the customer as an individual and empower them in everything we do, from strategy to design and then finally in execution – fostering the individual within the crowd, that sounds hard.

How can you empower the Social Customer?

The first step is to assemble your team – first empower yourself!. I am a big fan of Friendsourcing; Crowdsourcing focused on people you know and trust. I highly recommend this approach. In other words, this is complicated stuff, and no one person has all the answers, sorry, it just is… Friendsourcing can be accomplished either by leveraging your own personal network (friends) or by reputation (friends of friends). We are in fast moving, fast changing times, and sometimes it is just too easy to believe the hype about that shiny new object. My peers should certainly expect this to appear here, ‘there is no one size fits all answer to these questions’. You can only answer the crucial questions: ‘How’, ‘What’, ‘Where’ and ‘When’, with a combination of a deep understanding of your business, your value proposition, dedication to your customers and a better knowledge of your industry than anyone else. Fill-in the gaps appropriately, with people you trust.

I am leveraging people I trust, all the time. For example Esteban Kolsky is busy writing a 5 part series on the Roadmap to SCRM (Social CRM), which I highly recommend. Like Graham, Esteban is a friend and a trusted advisor. The following is taken from part 4 of his series.

Remember when you read those “social media experts” and “social gurus” telling you to just try it? that if you start listening you will be ahead of the game?  I know you know this already, but they are way wrong.  Way wrong.  Just listening without a purpose can hurt more than it can help.  Biggest problem is that once you are committed to a channel (listening) it is very easy to get in, but extremely hard to get out.  You can lose reputation, trust, customers, and business if you pull out of a channel because you never took the time to figure out if it was the right one for you.

The key message here is to be cautious, all too often the “gurus” and “experts” pretend to be King, as did the the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Challenge the gurus with the Social Media strategies, not just to challenge, but to ask them how they did it. How many times have they done it, if they have done it. These experts need to have a solid grounding in Marketing, and Media (not necessarily ‘Social’) first.

The current hype cycle that is Social (Media and by extension Networking) is very much about creating that feeling of closeness (emotions) and changing behaviors, between your organization and your customers. Make no mistake, while there is some hype, there is a new bar, and expectations have been set and reset.

Your customers are building their trust networks, I have my trusted advisors, who are yours? No need to make the journey solo, after all, we are all Social, we just are….

Is it all just too easy?

November 9, 2009 6 comments

I was fortunate this past week to be able to attend a Cloud conference put on by the 451 Group, down in Boston. While I have fine tuned my focus during the past year, less on the infrastructure side, and more on the business application side, this was time well spent. I believe that from a maturation – ability to offer measurable business value – perspective, Cloud, Open Source, Social and Enterprise 2.0 are growing up together.  Sometimes they act more like siblings during a long car ride, suffering from “Are we there yet” and “Look at me, look at me”.

Even given my slightly different focus, I do try to stay true to the brief description I have on Twitter, “I am passionate about the intersection of people, process and technology”. Luckily, SugarCRM, where I currently hang my hat, sits right in the middle of that that triple witching point:

  • People/Ecosystem – Customers, Employees and Partners,
  • Process – Who speaks, When they say,  How to engage, What channel,
  • Technology – Open Source, Clouds, SaaS, Social (Yes, Social is technology)

Just because you can, does it mean you should?

Ok, now to the point – my theory is that the technology has made it is just too easy to do make bad choices – a crazy, maybe, silly statement, but tell me I am wrong – I dare you. There is a place and a time for the Nike moment – “Just do it” and then there is the ‘take time and think about what you are about to do’. What is the correct balance? Just because you can, does it mean you should? Some are probably saying that about this blog at the moment.

Back in the day (sorry, I love that phrase, my 18yo pulls it on me all the time), when you wanted to get something done, you had to do the ole ‘budget justification’, think through it, present to senior team members – Yes, ask for money, too! Part of this was also a required “Check with IT, I am not sure what you want to do is part of the standard”. This last one was especially hard for the Open Source applications.  Combine a pent up demand, economic pressures, getting tired of the perception of IT blocking progress with SaaS, Cloud and Online Social Media channels – and it is a perfect storm and excuse to just IGNORE the IT dept.

So, before anyone beats me up too much, this is not what I am suggesting, just saying what happens, what I have seen happen and the end result. I have seen many companies take the route of using SaaS – Take a Look at Phil Wainewright’s Blog He talks to Conformity – An interesting company who has the business model to help clean up this mess, but I am not going to deep here, just a reference to justify this post.

My key point is that it all just to dam easy. The ease of spending $20 to get a server in the cloud – yes, I said $20, standing up a system, setting up a blog, putting together a YouTube account, FaceBook group, Newsletter, Forums, Chat, Twitter. Awesome, let’s hope all the choices are successful, lots of people, lots of prospects, lots of eyeballs – Maybe some customers too. That would be great, right? Way too many times, I have heard the statement – “Hey that would be a great problem to have” – Really? Unless of course it is your problem to solve. Remember, once you are on a channel it is much harder to leave.

I do have to ‘tip-toe’ a bit, after all I do work for SugarCRM. A company that does make it very easy to get started, and take advantage of a structured CRM application. I am all for making things easy, but job one is success!  I also believe this is much more prevalent with respect to Social Media applications – too many people saying “Just do it”.  Is anything really free, no, as people and time are the most expensive part of running a business.

I am suggesting that a little bit of planning – just a little – is time well spent – Just sayin’