This post is a collaborative effort, not interview style, nor highlighting individual perspectives. While attending the VRM+CRM conference, we decided that if we were really going to build a bridge, it needed to be done together. Lauren Vargas and Mitch Lieberman
There has been a lot of talk, ‘he said she said’ unproductive sort of talk with respect to the different perspectives people take when talking about new technologies, buzzwords or business themes. There have even been some attempts to try and show people the other side, their perspective, the dark side (nope, not saying which is which!). We had the opportunity to spend a few days in Boston, at the VRM + CRM summit and decided we would try and do our part. The image below speaks so well to the issue at hand. The Flipper Bridge (part of the in-construction Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, link below) connects Hong Kong; where they drive on the left, with mainland China; where they drive on the right. Our goal here is not to talk about the differences, left or right, right or wrong, but what it will take to reach business harmony. We are not expecting people to join hands and join in singing a rendition of kumbaya, but different departments (sales, marketing, support) along with vendors, consultants and partners working together to understand each other and place the needs of the customers above petty in-fighting.
When you go to a meeting to state your position about a product, are you carefully listening your own words from the perspective audience? Are you considering what others could bring to the table, how they might approach the situation, problem, objective? What is great about the picture above, is that it not only needs to help drivers get across; pragmatism, but the bridge needs to put the drivers on the correct side of the road, safety. If the architects and designers did not consider the perspective of the drivers on the other side, this project would have failed. We know that seems obvious, but we believe in your daily work lives, the issues are equally obvious.
VRM + CRM Taught Us a Few Things
We each had the opportunity to attend the VRM+CRM conference hosted by Doc Searls and a few others at the Berkman Center. Our attendance was an explicit gesture by the VRM leaders to reach out to the CRM side of the house and implicitly state ‘we can try to solve this on our own, or we can do it together.’ CRM is Customer Relationship Management, while VRM is Vendor Relationship Management. To some, they are mirror images, to others, they are hand-in-glove. One thing became clear, to move forward they need eachother.
VRM + CRM illustrated that this is not a problem unique to CRMers, marketers, PR folks and technologists. Having the opportunity to be a part of the work that is happening in the social business space is extremely invigorating. However, as hard and as much we push for faster development and evolution, we need to juggle the hats of a historian and an anthropologist. It is important to know where we have been, the mistakes made and lessons learned that have occurred over time, before we can progress to successful future. And in this future, it is essential we progress with caution and learn about the new developments and behaviors that have become reality in this online dimension. Bottom line, we need to understand the basics of history and current business functions before we can rush full speed ahead. Without such perspective, we risk jumping the shark and the maturity growth of our own industry and customers.
Can you put yourself in their shoes? Are the buzzwords, acronyms and terms helping or getting in the way? Acronyms and industry lingo were established to define processes within our specific business functions, but when carried to the extreme, such terms box us in and limit growth. We become so caught up in the term we have coined, we are oblivious to the walls we have build up around us and exclude others from experiencing the term as we do or exploring it in depths we could not. Throughout history there has not been one word or function that all people have agreed upon or experienced the same way. Diversity in thought and definition is how we evolve. This should be no different in business evolution. We are not advocating the extreme abolishment of acronyms and industry lingo, but encouraging all to be open and accepting of other interpretations, as well as, stepping outside our own comfort zone and learning the terminology and context surrounding other business functions within the organization and industry.
Let’s Lead By Example
We are all trying to accomplish the same thing. Goals and Objectives are the same (or they should be). You (company) cannot solve this problem in the best way possible without help and input from all sides. Your customers come in all shapes, sizes, gender. They have different needs, and they offer different perspectives, shouldn’t you do the same? We need to keep in mind each department within our organization, just as our customers, will adopt social business functions at different speeds. Sniping at each other about definitions and roles of responsibility will not replace the need to put theory into practice. A culture shift is evident, but it does not occur overnight. It is essential we each support the discovery process of our sister departments or industries. It is only in this collaborative approach we can truly see what will succeed and fail without being at the expense of our customers or community.
I am torn between two topics this weekend – one is the subject line above, the second is is the fun topic of “Creepful”; the awkward combination of being insightful and sharing so much information with the person you are speaking with that they believe it is actually creepy. I will come back to that one, and post it over at CRMOutsiders, as a follow-up to Martin’s great start to the conversation.
Are you Listening, or just Hearing?
I am hopeful that most of you who are reading this post realize that there is a difference between hearing and listening. It is possible that it is one of those topics that you do not think too much about, but now that I am bringing it up, it makes sense. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of hearing is “the faculty of perceiving sounds” whereas listening is to “take notice of and act on what someone says.” So, hearing is the physical part, but listening is a cognitive or conscious response to what has been heard. Said simplistically, for those of you with kids, we know they heard you, the question really is did they listen to what you said. In the age of the Social Web, I will suggest that hearing be extended beyond just sound to include what is ‘said’ via the written word, on both standard (mail, email, fax) and Social channels (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs).
The mirror image to the listening versus hearing discussion is the open versus transparent discussion. I made my feelings pretty clear on that topic, Transparency is a Characteristic, not a Goal. In this post, I suggest that transparency is the ability to witness with an unobstructed view. Suggesting further that these organizational characteristics will lead to an increased level of trust, or the ability for people unfamiliar with you, or your organization to build trust more quickly. To me, transparency is a little bit like hearing (but a little more sophisticated), it is important, it needs to happen, but in isolation, it will only take you so far. So, what is the listening equivalent? Being open. Open is transparency plus participation, which leads to trust and value creation.
How do these pieces fit together?
There are hundreds of Tweets and Blogs, presented by ‘experts’ where listening is ‘strongly recommended’ as the starting point. While I agree that listening is important, I fear that what is actually happening is not really listening at all. If you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? Does Social Media monitoring really start with listening? You could say that all I am doing is playing a game of semantics, and you might be right (but, I would disagree with you). In the world that Social Media, is there such a thing as ‘Social Hearing’? Yes, it is called Social Media Monitoring. That said, monitoring and hearing are pointless if you do not plan on doing anything about what you find. What is really needed is Social Media Listening. There, I said it – but I am not going to suggest another TLA. What I am going to suggest is that if you plan to monitor, then prove to people that you are listening, not just hearing.
There are two ways to prove that you are listening. One way is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing. The second, more interesting way to prove that you are listening is to be open. As I have stated previously “Open suggests that I can not only see through the window, but I can walk through the front door and participate.” I am not suggesting either that this conversation is over, I am suggesting that you need to make sure that you are doing more than just hearing, and that in order to do that, you might need to be more than just transparent. Happy Sunday – please do let me know if I have missed something big (or even little).
The dynamic of Twitter has changed, it is different, and I am struggling to put my finger on exactly what that change is about. It is possible that I am different, or that my needs and wants from Twitter are different. But, Twitter must be more to people than just a place to whine, or vent, unfortunately, that seems that is what makes the news. Twitter is an acquired taste. You cannot tell someone to like it, they just have to figure it out for themselves, find their own best use. This does need to be an active decision. Twitter is the bridge between Social Media and Social Networking and the recent change, the new dynamic, seems to have made that chasm wider, and that bridge harder to cross.
Twitter was my introduction to Social Media. I joined and starting using it about the same time as Facebook and the time I started blogging. Yes, I watched and maybe created a few YouTube videos, participated in instant messaging, but this was the real start. On Twitter, I started slow, asked me wife to look at my Tweets, just to be sure someone was watching, isn’t that how everyone starts? I was not an early adopter, by any stretch, but I think I was an early adopter from a collaboration perspective, eh, maybe.
Is Twitter for Sales, Support or Marketing?
There is no really good answer here, ask 4 people and you will get 5 opinions. There is certainly value for sales people to leverage Twitter. Specifically, it can be a valuable intelligence tool even research tool. But, it could also be a monumental waste of time. A sales person will not close a deal on Twitter, not in the B to B space anyway. It must be part of a broader strategy, and caution is advised. I believe sales people need as much, or more guidance than others to use it effectively.
Talk to Frank Ellison (@comcastcares) and Twitter is good for customer support. Or at least for customer complaints, there is a subtle difference. Is Twitter really good for Customer Support, or do companies simply tolerate it? There was a good discussion on the Social Pioneers Google Group, feel free to peruse the discussion there. If your customers are not likely to be on Twitter or using Twitter for support type issues, no reason to encourage them to move here. Martin Schneider wrote an interesting post about whiners on Twitter, Jacob Morgan talked about the issue as well. but, at a higher level, Social CRM not just Twitter. Support needs to solve this problem, of the whiners, and not reward them. But, if you really want to solve problems, you need to take the conversation somewhere else.
Marketing, of course, loves Twitter. It is a way to broadcast messages, first and foremost. The ones that are doing it right, are using it as part of a multi-channel strategy, to engage with the ecosystem and participate in conversations – listening more and talking less. If they are talking, then the hope is that they are talking about something else other than themselves. People are doing this, brands not so much. I am not going to go deep on the marketing use, hundreds of articles have been written and read. Twitter is a place where Marketing can begin the conversation, but is not the place where a relationship can be built.
Twitter is for Collaboration, and it is where things begin
I asked my Tweeps (Friends on Twitter) what they thought, and the answers support my thesis (statistical sample is small and skewed, but work with me). Collaboration is my favorite use for Twitter, it is very powerful. I have met fascinating people, and have continued collaborative relationships which extended much beyond Twitter. Brent Leary had a great way to put it. “@mjayliebs I like 2.0 and what it allows us to do, but 1.0 is still where relationships began w/ 2.0 become 3D – richer, more meaningful…”
- Allen Bonde, a management consultant and marketer said: “Twitter is great for alerts, listening and offers for followers. It’s a good discussion starter – but a poor discussion finisher”,
- Jason Falls, a thinker, blogger and consultant in the media relations domain said “Twitter is for Conversations”,
- Esteban Kolsky, an analyst and consultant, said:”twitter was the blueprint to evolve collaboration platforms… can it continue to be relevant now? time will tell – gut says meh”,
- Venessa Miemis, a futurist, philosopher, thought architect, metacog said:”Connecting, sharing resources, network weaving, learning, expanding consciousness, growing, discovery”,
- Heather Margolis, a Channel Management and Marketing Maven using social media in a B2B world said: “Connecting with those in your industry/eco-system but maybe not in your direct circle of contacts”,
- Brian Vellmure, a Customer focused strategist said ” 1) People Sampler 2) Learning Tool 3) Relationship/Conversation On ramp 4) Info distribution channel”,
- Ann Hadley head content, editor Marketing Profs, said “Twitter is for connecting. Also, whiter teeth.”
- Mark Frazier – President, Openworld – said “a) scans of torrential innovation, w/links to dive in b) sense of ‘whole person’ via their tweet traces c) map of influence nets”,
- Mike Boysen, a CRM purist, said “Twitter is a novelty. I found new friends. We quickly moved to another medium. Nothing left to say”,
- Mark Tamis – with a Enterprise 2.0 and BPM background a said “finding and exchanging information and insights relevant to my interests and further the thinking around them”,
I might be hanging with the wrong crowd, or the right crowd, my preference of course. But no one said “whining”, why is that? Is it because the people who responded actually listen, as well as talk? Of course Esteban Kolsky wrote a great post just yesterday, helping me to formulate my own thoughts:
“Twitter is a microcosm. Twitter is a world in itself, and it has dramatic representations of what happens in the real world as well.” He then goes on to say “Twitter is a representation of the real world, no more and no less, and it requires the same commitment to get value out of it as you do from the real world.”
This is crucial to those of you out there that just love to yell and scream when something happens. Just ask yourself, if you were at a cocktail party, or at a neighborhood BBQ, would you broadcast as loudly? Has it changed for you? Are your teeth whiter? Just asking….
If Social CRM, Social Networking, Social Media or Social Business had the sponsor of a letter, it would be the letter ‘C‘. The reason however is not what you think, of course you need to be Customer Centric, but this post goes beyond that. This post aggregates and builds upon the work of others, who highlight this wonderful letter, as you should as well.
(note, this is my first post since starting Comity Technology Advisors)
Generation C (your customer, now or in the very near future)
Generation C – Cross-generation (source: Springwise and Paul Greenberg) Generation C spans from Boomers through Gen X and Gen Y right up to Millennial. From a customer perspective, this represents change, highlights peer influence and alters who I trust. Generation C is:
- Content-driven – We are producers; blogs, text, images, audio and video, etc.,…
- Connected – Phone, Email, Messaging, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, RSS
- Creative – We are able to choose the form of Content that allows us to express our thoughts
- Collaborative – We like working with Friends, Peers, Mentors, Partners…Oh, and Customers
- Contextual – What we say, do and think is highly dependent upon where and when we are
- Communicative – Sometimes without a filter, we say what we say
Organizations need to act, react or just prepare
In his book, (RE)(ORGANIZE) FOR RESILIENCE, Author Ranjay Gulati uses the following to describe the “resilience tool kit”. The book is a worthwhile read, an important theme is centered around why organizations are having trouble keeping up with the pace of change displayed by their customers. The following is my interpretation of the author’s “5 Cs”:
- Coordination – The alignment of people, process and technology within the organization
- Cooperation – Focus on breaking down silos, addressing cultural and behavioral issues
- Clout – Decentralizing power and allowing front facing individuals to act
- Capabilities – Education and training of all individuals to be, or become customer facing
- Connections – Create internal social networks which extend outward to partners and customers alike
My own additions to the list
During the course of my reading, implementations, discussions and writing, there are few more which you might want to add to the list. These do not represent a strategy, maybe not even an objective or goal, but focusing your time and energy around what these points mean to you, is time well spent.
- Conversation – Make sure you having conversations, not one directional monologues
- Co-Creation – Involve your customers in the process of creating value for each other
- Consistent – The message and approach should be as similar as possible with all customers
- Committed – Once you begin to involve the ecosystem, stick with it!
- Community – The creation of place where your ecosystem feels comfortable enough to hang-out and chat
- Cross-Channel – Engage with your customers when, where and how they want (and it may change mid-conversation)
Some words which require more thought
There are some words which begin with the letter ‘C‘ which are words to pay attention to, but be cautious about. I am not going to say they are right or wrong, they simply need some paying attention to, to make sure you are aware of their power.
- Command – no matter what the goal, an approach will likely have unwanted consequences
- Control – Just think through what it means to you and your organization, and be cautious
- Conversion – Many people focus on this metric, what does it mean to you and at what cost
- Convince – Work to create buyers, not convince people to buy your products or services
- Change – The only constant is change – be ready for it
What would you like to add to the list? Did I leave anything out? (Aside from the most obvious, Customer of course)
Starting with the basics; If Social CRM is about the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation, I suppose we should first ask: Does it matter that the customer is controlling the conversation? Of course it matters! However, your response to the conversation matters more.
Keep the ordinary, ordinary
As Paul Greenberg reminded us last week during his keynote at SugarCon. “Keep the ordinary, ordinary”. When conversations happen, there is a time to jump in and time to leave it alone. Listening in for while is important, to gauge trends and build up experience. If someone (Prospect, Customer, Partner) asks a question or makes a request in a public channel, answer appropriately. My point is simply that controlling the conversation is not the same as controlling the relationship and that sometimes letting the conversations happen without you is ok, really (please do not interpret this as ignore).
Are customers like your kids?
Before I get lambasted for suggesting such a thing, work with me for a minute. This is more about communications than anything else, I have a ton of respect for my customers (as well as my kids). I have 3 awesome kids, really! – I am a lucky man. Are they perfect? No. Do they complain about me and/or their mother (my equally awesome wife) to their friends or to each other? Yes. Why, because we are not perfect parents either (or, we are being parents and saying “no”). Now, when they are talking among themselves or their friends, should I jump in and try to make sure things are ok? Sometimes, I suppose, more often than not, ‘no’, actually, but it depends. Sometimes an immediate reaction is necessary, sometimes it is not.
(Yes, I am a bit of a geek, but no, I do not have neither a KRM or a Social KRM system – you can figure it out)
Taking a bit of leap, this begs the question ‘do you need tools to practice Social CRM’? My answer is the following: No, they are not required, but they will certainly help. The consultative answer is ‘it depends’. I would suggest that sometimes the tools are not new tools though. I can share with you the need to engage on the channels where you customers are talking. This is a lesson learned from my kids as well – My 15yo son shares a whole lot more with me (especially when I am traveling) via text messaging than voice (btw – email, NO WAY). Talk to your customers where they are comfortable!
Social does not demand a public conversation.
At SugarCRM, where I hang my hat, if someone writes something on our forums (4+ years of Forums BTW), answering there, or changing channels is fine. In other words, our forums are still quite active (we are thinking of making some changes though). If your customers are not on the new fancy channels, Twitter Facebook, yeah I am talking about you – then you may not need to be there either. This is a slight word of caution to companies – if the marketing group decides to jump onto a new channel, then you will need to listen appropriately on that channel as well.
A good practice would be for the whole company to agree on the social channel strategy. According to Denis Pombriant (someone who I have great respect for), the proper balance of talking to listening is around 25/75; plus/minus. As he states “The ratio of outbound to inbound need not be 50/50, in fact, most of us don’t want to provide input to our vendors most of the time, and vendors don’t want all of that input. ” Kira Wampler, of Intuit, shared the example that the most important Social Channel for Intuit is Amazon – where customer reviews happen. That channel has been around for a long time, it is where their customers are, makes sense to me.
In further reading Denis’s post; The Relationship Entity he also makes a great reference to the old CRM 1.0 world, and offers some sage advice: “When CRM was a new idea companies — large, respectable companies — ran out and bought Siebel for no other reason than it was what other large, respectable companies were doing. I know because I asked them.” Skipping ahead, I love this line from the post, so I needed to include it “I just reading the labels looking for nutrition” – As a vendor, the message to me is ‘I better be part of a balanced diet’
I do believe there is a difference though, this time around the customer is driving the change. Companies are put in a position of needing to change, exactly how is not 100% defined yet. The change is both cultural, internal processes as well as technology. Does this change mean Social CRM for everyone? No, probably not. Friends have said to me “If you are a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail” – point taken. From a Social CRM perspective, there is buzz and hype – I am on record as stating we need to get past that, but companies are already doing ‘it’. Sometimes the effort is organized, sometimes, not so much. The key question is, who is doing the organizing?
By the way, I most certainly did not answer the question – but control is a very strong word. I suppose you could say it was a bit of trick question, as I do not think there is a right answer because independent of the first clause, no one really controls the relationship, because ultimate control is ending a relationship, and either side can do that.
- There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t
- Stop Thinking in Two Dimensions
- No Beginning, No Middle and No End
- Rethinking the Customer Journey
- The Simplest Thing I Ever Had to Write
- Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions
- The Evolution of Customer Community
- The Fine Line Between Personalization and Creepy
- Experience Innovation
- Maybe We are Using the Wrong Words to Describe Collaboration
- @wimrampen Sigh...almost there. 22 hours ago
- @gahlord - Excellent - sometime mid week, Tuesday or Wednesday? (1st or 2nd) 1 day ago
- @gahlord How are you sir? Up for lunch discussion next week? worlds changing again for me, or in constant state of change 1 day ago
- Playing catch-up I suppose... thinkwithgoogle.com/interviews/ide… cc @PaulSweeney 1 day ago
- @dsearls @nitinbadjatia @PaulSweeney - Y'all should find a time to get together and chat - just connecting some dots #likeminds 1 day ago
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