Archives for June 2010

Be Nimble. Be Social.

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Jon Ferrara, the founder and CEO of Nimble. Jon is a true CRM pioneer, having started Goldmine back in the 1980’s on little more than a vision and a passion for connecting people.  In our conversation, it became clear, that passion still burns as bright as it did back then.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Jon and I to settle into what felt like a chat between a couple of old war vets reminiscing about past battles.  It wasn’t long before Brock Control Systems crept into the conversation.  It was at that point, we both realized we’d both been in this whole CRM arena probably long enough to know better.  (here’s a bit of nostalgia on Brock) Now, I’m not sure why I’m still here.  But, I now know Jon is here because there is still unfinished business.  The business of actually seeing the vision of relationships as the driver of good business be realized.  Ok, ditto for me on that point.

Relationships are the backbone of our existence.  Humans are social animals.  It’s trite, but people do business with people they like and people the trust.  So, for 25 years, since those days of Brock, CRM, as a technology and business process, has been trying to provide a platform to automate and scale one to one relationships.  It really is that simple.  Software companies have really made a mountain out of this mole hill; and have been selling us the same CRM tools over and over for the past two plus decades.

Jon believes he has finally cracked the code.  In his words, he’s built a “kick ass relationship contact tool”.  This is a solution who’s time is potentially right on.  It’s possibly the perfect storm.  The knowledge of relationships, the passion of a guy who’s been through countless wars and the proliferation of social media technology that has answered the relationship scalability question. 

This backdrop creates the ideal time for a software company to start with a blank white board and architect Social CRM into the core of its solution.  So far (and I haven’t seen them all yet), other solutions on which I’ve done due diligence are bolting social features onto their existing platform.  Let’s face it, you technical folks know how practical it is to rearchitect software.  Siebel learned this lesson the hard way back int he 1990s when Janna Systems figured out that investment bankers manage contacts not accounts.  Janna build its solution from the ground up with this understanding.  Siebel couldn’t change is architecture and got slaughtered in Financial Services.  Then Siebel bought the competition for 50 times revenue!  For the affable Tom Siebel, a small price to pay.  Ah! those were the days, my friends.

So, while the devil is in the details, if I were hitching my wagon to a Social CRM software horse, Nimble would be on my short list.  I plan to provide a deeper analysis after a road test and, to respect Jon’s confidence, after the product goes GA.

In the mean time, follow Jon Ferrara on Twitter.  Offer to connect with him and have a chat.  You will be hard pressed to find another executive…forget that…another human being in this space with the genuine passion and transparency Jon Ferrara possesses.

Twitter Follow Friday #7

Lucky 7!  Place your bets on these exceptional Twitter folks and you can’t lose.

@LindaIreland – Linda is the founder of Aveus, a global strategy and operations consulting firm.  I value Linda’s advice most notably because, when it comes to the customer experience, she understands the connection between it and bottom line profitability.  There is a lot of noise lately about higher-level relationships goals as relates to the customer experience and social CRM.  Profitability is not a dirty word and Linda is unashamed in her commitment to the connection between the two.

@BarryPeters – Besides having a great name, Barry is a colleague of mine and one of the most open and approachable people with whom I’ve ever worked.  Barry has been one of my most valuable sounding boards on many ideas.  He’s an amazing collaborator who goes out of his way to help others connect, shares his network freely with no expectations and genuinely wants to see others succeed.  World traveler, wine buff and all around enjoyable company.

Enjoy your weekend

Cheaper to keep a customer?

Not necessarily.

As part of our weekly #custserv Twitter chat last night (if you haven’t checked it out, and you’re itching for some great idea exchange on the topic, tune in to that hashtag Tuesday nights at 9pm ET), Marsha Collier, one of the hosts of the chat, pondered why companies continue to apparently spend more time, energy and money acquiring new customers versus retaining existing customers.

Well, it’s because giving profitable customers a reason to continue doing business with you is really hard work.  And when we don’t do those difficult things well; like delivering a superior experience, listening to our customers, committing to action and exceeding expectations, we are marginalized in our customers’ minds and the next transaction, if we’re even given the opportunity, boils down to a discussion about price.  And, with the knowledge your customer has gained about you, with the negotiating ammo you’ve provided him by not focusing on customer service, keeping that customer’s business is going to cost you, dearly.  

Take the following scenario:

You go to a trade show.  You find out one of your competitor’s best customers is looking for a new supplier.  You meet. You dazzle him with the “grass is greener” pitch at a time when he still can’t see the man behind the curtain (the dysfunction of your customer service).  You negotiate a decent deal.

Fast forward, to contract renewal time.  You’ve missed SLA’s.  Your technical support group has experienced a lot of turnover.  Your customer has had to escalate many issues that should have been handled by front line customer service reps.  Your invoicing is incorrect more often than it is correct.  Then, you sit down to ask for that customer’s continued business.  What do you think its going to take to keep that business?  Among other things, if you’re even given the chance, is a price point a LOT lower than was in the original agreement and other concessions that will erode those margins your customer granted you in the first place.

Meanwhile, during the term of that contract, you’re hottest sales people have been out there winning new customers, churning and burning, moving inventory and takin’ names.  You’ve rewarded those sales people for winning “new logos”.   And, within your sales and support organizations, you’ve handed over the management of your existing customers to your most junior account managers.

So, while conventional wisdom tells us, if done correctly, its ‘cheaper’ to keep a good profitable customer than go out and continually find new ones, its not easier.

And given the choice, most of us will choose easier.

Round and Round

So, I admit it.  I’m a product of the MTV age.  How many hair bands did we have to see before they all blurred into one big Ratt’s nest of mousse, gel, spandex and eyeliner?

Being of that age (not sure what official generation I fall into), I’ve been through what I’ll define for argument’s sake here as four major cycles in which companies have been attempting to get closer to their customers:

  1. SFA
  2. CRM
  3. eCommerce
  4. Social CRM

(Feel free to thrash those categories.  But, that’s not really the point)

Here’s my point.  Haven’t we seen this social crm thing all before?  I think we have.  And, its not a bad thing.  In fact, the place where I think we’ve gotten derailed at each one of these stages above is where we’ve tried to take the same goal, the same strategic objective, and call it something different.

Bob Thompson nailed it the other day in a comment to me on CustomerThink where he declared that social CRM is not a strategy.  And, he’s absolutely right.  It’s not a corporate strategy.  As Bob noted, social CRM strategy is, at best, an implementation strategy of technology or business process; a “how to”, not a “what to and why”.

Each time over the past 20 plus years that we’ve relabeled the same objective, we’ve created opportunity, no doubt.  Opportunity for whole new industries of consultants.  But what’s the common theme throughout?  What is the actual strategic imperative that all of these initiatives have been striving to accomplish?  Create a more customer-centric business.  Focus on the customer.  Improve financial returns by putting the customer at the center of all the company does.

So, how is that different today than it was 20 years ago?  What goes around comes around.

Twitter Follow Friday #6

Number 6, and I’m no where near running out of great people to recommend.  This week’s theme (not that I’ve had a theme with any of these up to this point) is Geeks – These Folks Know Their Bit

@louisgray – I first saw Louis present at last years Blogworld in Vegas.  It was fun being in a room full of fellow techies surrounded by all the more journalistic types at the event.  In that talk, Louis laid out an elegant approach to managing one’s on line social channels that could be applied to various size businesses as well as individuals.  I was struck by how Louis had leveraged simple tools to make managing your on line social networks, work for you instead of consume you. This doesn’t even scratch the surface.  See what I mean

@andybeal – Andy is not exactly an unknown on twitter so you might already be aware.  An,d ok, he’s not exactly a super techie.  Andy started as an on line marketing guy.  And, now he’s taken that expertise and applied it to his latest project – leveraging tools to monitor and manage your online reputation.  Like Louis Gray, Andy’s expertise is valuable whether you’re a billion dollar brand or…..me.  Be prepared to spend some time poking around his blog.

And now for something completely different.

@shitmydadsays – Well, if you follow this twitter persona, I need say no more. With 1.4 million followers, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about…..and a t.v. show from a twitter persona? Nice.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Earn This

The dying words of Captain John Miller to Private James Ryan that he carried with him the rest of his life.

In business relationships, when do we earn it?  In this case, the “it” I’m referring to is the right to challenge.  The right to push back.  The right to expect that your customer or prospect owes you a quid pro quo.

How much value do you need to deliver in the sales process before it’s your customer’s turn to reciprocate?  As a customer, I say it’s my prerogative to decide when that happens.  As a general rule, sellers need to take their queues and signals from their prospects.

Of course, with every rule there are a slew of exceptions.  If a seller’s Spidey sense tingles with the feeling that his prospects or customers are taking advantage or being unreasonably demanding, he’s well within his right to back off or gracefully disengage.

But until you’ve built a trust, until you’ve earned the right in your prospects eyes, directly challenging him or expecting something from him in return for you doing what you’re supposed to do to earn his business is really not going to get you anywhere.

So, if you’re of the mindset that your date should automatically spend the night in return for that nice dinner, tell me up front.  Sorry, I’m not your girl.

Which Comes First?

This isn’t some long, drawn out research-paper-posing-as-blog-post.  I was just thinking about this on the way to work….for the past 6 months.

Which comes first? Social CRM technology, strategy or business process?  I’m assuming some are going to read this and think it a stupid question at this point.  “STRATEGY! You need a scrm strategy!” I can hear many of you yelling at your screen….you know who you are.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve argued the same thing)

Ok, so why?

What was the impetus for this whole social media thing in first place? Was it a business strategy?  A process map? Nope.  Discussion groups, forums, chat rooms; then Twitter, Facebook and on and on.  Technology, right?  If it weren’t for these social platforms, we wouldn’t be having academic conversations about business strategy or enterprise operating models, would we?

The second coolest word of advice David Alston gave at our panel discussion at the most recent SOCAP conference (this was the first) was to not over complicate this whole social crm thing.  To customer service people, the audience at this event, social media has been portrayed by many consultants and gurus (with a vested interest) as the three headed monster under the bed.  We’ve been talking to customers over the phone for how long?  Exactly!  So, what’s the difference?  Sure, social platforms are more public.  But, does the public nature of the channel automatically turn us into bumbling idiots that are going to trash our company’s brands in 140 characters?  Frank Eliason had a classic retort to an audience question about influencers and influencer analysis.  He said (paraphrasing) I’m in customer service.  I don’t care how influential they are.  I need to solve their problem.  Do you ask who your customer knows before you answer their question on the phone?

So grab some tools, throw them in the back of the pick up truck and get started down the road.  You’re customers are waiting.