Louis Columbus has over 20 years in the IT industry, specializing in product management, sales and marketing. Immediately before joining Cincom, Mr. Columbus was a Senior Analyst at AMR Research. He earned his MBA from Pepperdine University and completed the Strategic Marketing Management Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He has published 16 books on operating systems, peripherals and integration technologies.

Steps To Creating Your Own Marketing Manifesto

There are signs of life in the economy.

Bright glimmers of hope are starting to radiate from what had been some ominous, dark clouds of an economy that looked to be in retreat. Jobs continue to be created, industrial production is nearly back to its pre-recession levels, blue-chip stocks have re-couped their losses, and consumer confidence is finally climbing. These are the glimmers of hope that show an economy on the rebound.   You can see the data that backs up these points in last week’s Wall Street Journal column, The U.S. Economic Recovery Shows Signs of Accelerating, but Still Has Lots of Ground to Cover.

Make no mistake, a recovery is on the way.  It’s time for each of us, as companies and people, to get up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and get back in this fight.  Fear still has many companies and people frozen however.  But the best way to kill fear is to completely commit yourself to your goals, plans, objectives with intensity and passion.

The best strategy of all is to double-down on what you stand for and who you are.  It’s time to revisit your marketing manifesto, both at a personal and corporate level.   Why?  Because when the rebound gathers more momentum and hits, it will be too late.  It’ll be like trying to get in shape for a very long, fast race when the starting gun goes off.  Now is the time to get in shape for the rebound.  That’s why you need to consider your own marketing manifesto for You. Inc.  And even if you work for a company today, your own marketing manifesto is even more relevant – because in the end each of us are actually in business for ourselves, regardless of who signs the check.  Here are five ideas on how to get started:

  1. Define yourself by your competencies, expertise and passion and forget about titles. When economic growth hits full stride and this rebound fully takes hold, the people who will be excelling and benefiting from it will be the ones paying the price right now of working to excel at their jobs, not hunkered down in a bunker somewhere. Continually learning, striving to excel, working to create value for customers, that needs to be part of anyone’s manifesto right now. The best marketing is based on  solid, real results.  The results of people who are now choosing to pay the price of extra effort will be the ones way ahead when the rebound fully takes hold.  Titles come and go, but who you are and what you stand for, and your willingness to excel – those last a lifetime.
  2. Kill Fear With Passionate Goals. It amazes me, how many of the students  have in classes have exceptional analytical and writing skills.  Yet they sit in class, silent, not sharing what their brilliant minds are thinking.  The majority of them are Asian and Middle Eastern young women who, being new to the United States and from cultures that taught them to be silent in groups, are afraid to say what they think.  They have such potentially amazing careers ahead of them if they could just crush the fear of speaking that holds them back.  Go find your passionate goals in your career, and in your life, and use them to kill fear now.  Life is too short to go around being so afraid.
  3. Be relentless in your pursuit of intelligence and knowledge.  Make no mistake, when the rebound hits the people that will be getting paid the most and progressing the fastest made the decision months or even years ago to pay the price of being experts in their fields.  In whatever shape the economy takes in the coming months and years, your titles from this year or years past will not nearly be as important as what you know.  How quickly you can solve complex problems, the value you deliver, your ability to avert problems for your customers – all great skill sets that come when there is a passion for continual learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s not where your diploma is from either, it’s how passionate you are about learning over the long-term and your ability to translate that into results that matter most.
  4. Hit the gym and start training for the rebound – you’ll think better and be stronger. The excellent article this week in Scientific American How Exercise Jogs the Brain makes many outstanding points about how increased energy supply allows the brain to work faster and more efficiently.  As part of any marketing manifesto, there must have energy to propel it forward.  Working out and making yourself stronger for the rebound is key.
  5.  Realize economic fatalists and pessimists love company – choose to say “no” to them and “yes” to your goals and the vision of the future you want to make a reality.  A truly great marketing manifesto makes the decision to say “no” easy because there is a much bigger, compelling, valuable and important ”yes” waiting to get done.  Say “yes” to your goals and define yourself by them.  The fatalists want to see economic failure to make their theories correct.  Refuse to ride on that train of thought, find compelling goals, objectives and create a manifesto you can be totally committed to instead.

Bottom line: With an uneven yet promising recovery on the way, now is the time to define who you are, both as a company and a professional, creating a manifesto that gives you many more reasons to say “yes” to your goals and “no” to the naysayers, negative, pessimistic people who may drag you down.

 

Predicting 2012: The Year Quality of Customer Experience Becomes King

The next twelve months will see a greater focus than ever before on the quality of customer experience permeating strategies, systems, applications and initiatives.

An efficiency and transaction mindset is driving many industries including airlines into a churn-based business model that is tough to escape from.

In 2012 many businesses will need to step up their efforts to make better use of internal systems that are not integrated to CRM, analytics and customer service systems so they can deliver higher quality customer experiences immediately.  Integrating these systems together and making the quality of data and intelligence a priority will increase the quality of customer experience delivered.

 With these thoughts in mind, here are several customer experience predictions for 2012:

 

  •  By combining quality monitoring, analytics and social media, many companies get a true assessment of the customer experience they are delivering for the first time.  2012 is going to be about measuring and improving the quality of customer experience first, increasing the speed and efficiency of interactions second.  Quality monitoring is going to get beyond just measuring activity-based and high-end customer satisfaction metrics.  Behavioral analytics, real-time feedback from social networks , integrated to sentiment analysis will give customer experience and customer service managers instant visibility into how effective their strategies and programs are.  For many, it will be the first true reading of customer satisfaction and quality of customer experience.
  •  Consistency of customer response across all channels gets measured, monetized, and rewarded internally and externally.  One of the quickest ways to increase the quality of customer experience is to make responses identical, synchronized and complete across all channels.  Surprisingly, according to Forrester in a recent study, 90% of companies can’t do this.  Customers however expect this to be like a dial-tone in their interactions with you and your company.  In 2012, there is going to be a much stronger focus on this area, with more measurement, monetization (through upsell and cross-sell) and greater spending on this than ever before.  The bottom line is that delivering a consistent response across all channels is no longer optional, it’s required.  2012 will show how companies who did the hard work of making this happen end the year with higher gross margins, retention rates and customer satisfaction scores.
  • Knowledge management and the use of configuration and constraint engines to streamline its use in Web self-service and agent-based applications goes mobile, accelerating across all channels.  Having real-time access to the knowledgebase of their companies further increases the quality of customer interaction and experience for service reps, driving up quality monitoring scores in the process.  Smartphone and tablet integration via Android and Apple iOS will begin to provide richer data sets and greater analytics application performance, giving customer service much greater ability to respond in real-time regardless of location or time.
  • Using social media and online communities, customers will make it known which channels they are most and least likely to use for service and support – the migration between channels will be more fluid than ever before.  Using analytics, data mining and real-time quality monitoring is going to be essential for customer experience and customer service teams to stay on top of.
  • Customer experience becomes more dependent on ongoing content development, management and personalization than ever before.   No longer will customers be satisfied with only a quarterly or bi-yearly update on what’s going on in the user communities they are members of.  It’s an always-on, real-time world right now and the companies who deliver a consistently high quality stream of content will emerge from 2012 with more profitable customers than they began with due to their focus on this area.
  • Big Data, Hadoop and MapReduce will deliver on the promises of greater customer insight and intelligence through advanced data mining and business intelligence.  The insights gained from these initiatives will be a strong catalyst of change in many companies  stalled in their CEM strategies today due to lack of legacy data integration and analytics.   This is one area where quality will become king in 2012, as companies quit being satisfied with simple data integration and start pushing for higher quality of data analysis and predictive modeling.  Integrating Big Data with sentiment analysis and customer satisfaction data will yield insights many customer service, marketing and executive management teams are lacking today.

 

 

 

If You Want More Influence, Find More Passion

Measuring online influence using Klout, PeerIndex, and analytics from many other firms competing in the emerging influence management market is growing fast and getting the attention of large investors.  Klout raised $8.5M in January, 2011 in a funding round led by two prestigious venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer (KPCB) sFund™ and Greycroft Partners. From a marketing, selling, and service standpoint the value of influence scores is being debated daily on Quora and Focus and will be a big part of the future of e-commerce.  There’s no question about that.

Yet there is the question of how a person chooses to either define themselves with these or ignore them. The same goes for companies.  It’s troubling to see the level of angst about these scores, both in people and across companies, and how former SEO consultants are jumping in to capitalize on the confusion.  I’ve seen at least a dozen SEO companies offering services to drive up Klout, PeerIndex or any other score – with you guessed it – little if any real work being done to actually improve content or deliver real value.

Real influence is based on trust, not how many times you were re-tweeted or someone liked your update on Facebook.

I’m not here to debate the value of these metrics.  What I am saying is that it’s time for a gut-check of what real influence is, how it can be built to last, and most of all, how it needs to come from who you really are, as a business or as a person.

Where Real Influence Comes From

  • Being passionate about what you write, deliver and do is all that really matters. Only write about what you are most passionate about – everything else will sound forced and flat.  It’s your choice, and why not be as passionate and committed to what you are saying on your blog, your company’s blog, on Facebook or Twitter?  So much of the advice about gaming these influence scores deals with attempting to manipulate posts, follows, likes, and all other measures of activity.  The people who influence you and me are the most passionate about what they do.  They are galvanized – sold out, all in – to their beliefs and values.  That is what makes them so interesting to listen to and be around.  Sometimes I don’t agree with them, but you have to admit, they deserve respect because they are completely committed to what they are doing.
  • Really care about your readers and give them as much value as you possibly can. It’s one mindset to do a blog post that is a status update – and many of them are very interesting, especially if you’re at an exciting event or place.  But get yourself in the mindset of really giving it all for your reader, just overwhelm them with value.  Paul Greenberg does this in every blog post he does for example. Really make every post just reverberate with your commitment to enrich them.  That is where the most influence really is.  Serve others with a passion to enrich them.
  • Think like your reader and ask yourself what more you could give. Add in links at the bottom of a blog posts that give them access to related materials, hard-to-find infographics or presentations that illustrate your key points.  Lavish attention on this and really serve the reader.  You get what you give on social networks.
  • People don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care . In the enterprise software industry there is a tendency to equate long, complex, intricate blog posts, podcasts, and all other manner of content to technical prowess.  These people doing these excessively long and complex posts may impress each other with how much they know. They reach maybe 1% of the total audience available as a result.  Escape that echo chamber, be passionate about what you write – don’t write or get on social networks to impress, write to serve, strengthen and enrich others instead.
  • Your undivided attention is the greatest compliment you can give someone, online or off. Think about it, the people who make you feel the best are those that stop what they are doing and give you their complete attention.  The same goes online.  Allow comments, and if you’re a business, no opt-in screens for downloads.

Bottom Line: People need to quit having so much angst about all these scores and get on with being passionate about what interests them, not trying to change just for a higher score.  If you really want influence, become passionate about enriching others and delivering great content, insight and value first.

 

Are You Failing in Social Media?

Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing. The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs. The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.

What does Success Look Like in Social Media?

Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for. That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve. We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others. What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs. It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions. Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.

1. Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals. The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance. Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.

2. Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.

3. Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information. Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation. Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.

4. The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories.
This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies. The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.

5. The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.

6. Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems. Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through. Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.

7. Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed. Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement. It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.

8. Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media. The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor. Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.

9. Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well. Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application. It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.

10. Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs. It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.

Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies

Ten Ideas for Increasing Performance of Your Social Media Strategy

Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing.  The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs.

The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.

What does Success Look Like in Social Media?

Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for.  That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve.  We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others.  What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs.  It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions.  Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.

  • Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals.  The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance.  Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.
  • Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.
  • Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information.  Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation.  Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.
  • The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories. This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies.  The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.
  • The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.
  • Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems.  Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through.  Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed.  Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement.  It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.
  • Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media.  The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor.  Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.
  • Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well.  Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application.  It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.
  • Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs.  It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.

Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies.

Nine Strategies to Tie Your Social Media Efforts to Sales and Customer Service

By Louis Columbus

Social media is enough to make any Marketing VP think they’ve found the Promised Land. Online global communities with easy access, no cost to participate and literally millions of people and companies joining every month, driving traffic estimates to the stratosphere. Social networks and their blistering growth is everything a marketer could ask for.

Yet is it?

Companies need to stop an ask, “How can our existing marketing, selling and service processes be strengthened by social media? Can they be strengthened, or is this a distraction?” Where companies have challenges is when they jump into social-media strategies complete with Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and executives blogging with very broad, difficult-to-measure goals, if they have any at all. With so much potential to improve each marketing, selling and service processes, it is better to take the time and define a set of goals first. The following strategies have proven to be successful at helping companies do just that.

  1. Dedicate a person to making social networking work for your company. It requires constant focus and ongoing strengthening of relationships — either online or in person. If you want to succeed with social media, give someone the role full time. This is not a task that can be spread across a cross-functional team or given to someone to do only part of the time. If you want measurable results, get a person dedicated full time and also give them the authority to make decisions for customers quickly. Set them up to win in this role, and as a result, your company will come across as much more focused and responsive. The bottom line is that social networking is also all about connecting with people. Make sure your company is presenting a person — not just a logo — to interact with.
  2. Benchmark the strategies that you plan to integrate social networking with. This will give you a baseline of how each strategy is working prior to integrating them into social networks. Common approaches to do this include creating landing pages that have specifically been designed for social-networking sites. Isolating the effects of Facebook or Twitter, for example, on a landing page optimized for the audience your company has on these social-networking sites will quickly tell you if you are converting clicks to prospects.
  3. Match up individual social networks to strategies based on compatibility with goals and markets. Twitter has found a home in many companies’ customer-service strategies due to its rapid conversational pace and ability to make discussions private through direct messages if needed. Facebook fan pages work well for those brands that have a strong fan base — like Apple, for example. Services companies are using on Facebook put more of a human face on their customer service to make themselves more approachable and easier to buy from in the future. Choose which social networks best compliment a given strategy for best results.
  4. Create a social-media road map that shows when and how each will be used in each strategy. This is important because it will be another data point you can use to measure performance of having social media involved in each strategy. Trending of each strategy’s results will show whether or not social-media strategies are paying off.
  5. Use Google Analytics to get real-time results of strategies using social media. Once a given social media platform has been chosen to match the unique needs of a given marketing strategy or campaign it is time to measure the results. Google Analytics is excellent at this. Using this free analytics service, you can measure landing-page performance by campaign — tying back to the original social-media platform you chose to use. Google Analytics provides free codes that are inserted in websites, microsites or landing pages.
  6. Never stop adding valuable content to your microsites, websites, blog and Facebook pages. Offer free advice and over-deliver value. The companies that are excelling at social-media strategies and generating prospects do this with a passion. Just as it takes a dedicated, full-time person in your company to make social networking happen, consider how you can get your most prolific writers and content providers motivated to deliver content regularly. Be generous in the content you give away and get the annoying opt-in screens that have so many options out of the way. Be a thought-leader and freely share knowledge and insight; don’t force prospects to fill out a massive opt-in form; it no longer works.
  7. Don’t fall for the popular metrics including follower counts or just looking at Web traffic alone — both are incomplete. Influence is based on trust, not popularity. The ability to change a person’s perception then action really defines the meaning of “influence.” Follower counts, if anything, are a measure of churn. Pay no attention to this metric; it is really irrelevant to actually building a connection with customers and prospects. The same is true of Web traffic. Taken in isolation, it is meaningless, but in the context of landing-page analysis based on a targeted strategy, it means much more.
  8. Lead nurturing in social media needs to focus on engaging and helping a prospect to solve problems, not sending them more white papers or collateral. This is why having someone dedicated full time to social media is so critical. The segments or groups of followers your company interacts with on each social-media platform will change over time, often becoming uniquely different from each other. Staying on top of this and devising ways of keeping your company relevant can be an excellent way to keep these target segments focused on what your company has to offer.
  9. Use Google Analytics to link opt-in pages by strategy and campaign to lead conversion. Tracking landing pages that are dedicated to each specific media platform being used in your strategies can in turn be linked to lead conversion rates. An example would be the Twitter-specific landing page promoting a 15% discount on any follower who downloads the coupon in 24 hours. Using lead management and escalation systems, it’s possible to make this link between landing page opt-in and lead conversion. Tracking this also shows the effectiveness of the promotion in each social-media platform. From that, it’s clear to see which social-media platforms, running which promotions, are generating the greatest potential sales.

This is an edited excerpt from Louis Columbus’ ebook “Using Social Networks to Increase Channel Selling.” Louis Columbus has nearly 20 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in market and industry analysis, sales, product management and development. He’s held senior positions at Toshiba America, Lockheed-Martin, Intergraph, and immediately before joining Cincom, as a senior analyst at AMR Research. Mr. Columbus is a frequent contributor to industry publications and has published 15 books on operating systems, peripherals and industry analysis. In addition, Mr. Columbus is a frequent lecturer in Webster Loyola-Marymount University’s graduate program on International Business. He writes for these blogs: http://softwarestrategiesblog.com, http://productconfigurator.cincom.com and http://acquire.cincom.com/blog.

Great Customer Management Lessons from Our Moms

Moms have a knack for making learning so fun and real that their lessons just stick with you.  They teach through brilliant, hands-on examples.  Moms have the advantage of using life as their textbook, what happens to you as the lesson plan, and their absolute, unwavering loyalty as the foundation for growing.  Moms know what makes relationships tick, how to get you out of trouble, and best of all, the gentle art of diplomacy with Dads and other parents when things go awry.

It’s often said that those who excel in life are lucky enough to find the intersection of their passions and their expertise.  I’d say Moms are at that intersection; they give it their all, everyday.  And in giving so much of themselves they deliver some great lessons which so applicable to customer management.  Here are a few:

Listening and focusing on a single person at a time is the ultimate compliment. Making eye contact with people when you speak, really tuning in to just them – is the ultimate compliment. In this era of social networks the same holds true.  Focusing and concentrating only on one person is more important than ever as there are more than enough distractions online.

Earn trust by doing more than you say you will. Delivering more than is expected, regardless if it’s in a work or social situation, delivers a positive payback every time.

Always look to those excluded and be the first to welcome them.
This is about being outward focused, looking to bring others into your class, group, company – and in the case of customers –  into your community.  Be the one who extends the hand first, be friendly and bring others in and try to always make people feel welcome.

Making a point of helping those less fortunate and always look for ways to build them up. Excellent advice and why corporate philanthropy exists today, because Moms taught this lesson. This is also great advice for nurturing collaboration, information and knowledge sharing too.

Deliberately challenge yourself to grow and find new strengths constantly. This is great advice for a company and a person too, and especially the case for customer management strategies where there has to be continual improvement, continual change to stay in step with customers’ needs.

Stay true to what you are passionate about instead of just picking a profession for the money. Instead of just chasing the hot career or job of the day stay true to what you care the most about, she would say.  It’s the same principle for companies always chasing the next big market instead of staying true to who they are and what they excel at.

Hard work never goes out of style, neither does humility. Always strive to work as hard as you can and serve those paying you or relying on you, always seek to be kind instead of trying to exert self-importance.

Practice kindness and believe in the power of the second chance. The day I finally received my first BB gun and promptly shot out the back porch light by mistake and watched in awe as my Mom, with tact and diplomacy, got me off the hook with my Dad I was sold.  Second chances, for those of us who have gotten them, are like getting pure oxygen.  Can we do that for our customers?  Can we give that pure oxygen-like second chance experience?  I think we can.

Bottom line: Our Moms may well have been the very best teachers we’ve had about customer experiences and customer management and their lessons I am sure resonate through each of us, getting louder today, their day. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/858339201/sizes/m/

Why A Company’s Loudest Critics Could Be Their Best Innovators

The knee-jerk reaction of many company execs is to silence the loudest critics their companies have.  From the diplomatic to demanding, the approaches vary but the message often delivered to critics is the same: be gentle in your criticisms and generous in your praise – or go away.  Even in 2010 when blogs get much more traffic that newspaper websites, more time is spent on the Internet than watching television, and Facebook and Twitter both have more users than some nations have populations, companies are still ignoring their customers’ voices just because they are not positive.  What an opportunity to connect with customers and learn to improve.

Critics Can Be A Great Catalyst For Growth

The natural inclination of any one in marketing, product management or PR is to “fix” any customer criticism fast and even gloss it over. But what about digging a little deeper and looking for patterns and trends in critical comments?  It could be possible that customers, and this includes channel partners, are seeing broken processes, innate weaknesses no one can see from the inside.  It’s like having an early warning system of problems not visible internally that need quick resolution.  Shutting down the critics is shutting down insight on how to improve.

Where listening to your most critical and passionate customers can really pay off is in the new product and service development process.  A good friend works for the Walt Disney Company where she manages an area of their market and customer research function.  It is astounding the depths to which Disney strives to understand where they have failed to live up to customers’ expectations.  They are assiduous in trying to figure out where they did not deliver – what were the big disconnect points – and what could have been improved.  There is a passion in that company to make sure every experience is a great one, and if they fail an equally strong passion to understand why. My friend tells me the story of how during a field interview a parent complained about mouse ears being too easy to bend and snap on the famous black beanies, and the feedback went all the way to supplier management.  Today if you look at the mouse ears on the famous black beanies, you’ll see reinforced stitching and on premium models, double-width plastic as a result.

Open The Door, Don’t Shut Them Out

Reflecting on how seriously Disney takes criticism and the rapid changes they make as a result, the potential for using social networks to truth test new products became clear.  Here are some take-aways from watching Disney capture criticisms and works very hard to redefine experiences daily.

  • Go find your most passionate users, whether they are bloggers, the most vocal customers on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and get them dialed into product development earlier than the beta testing phase. Find users who are passionate about your products to blog about them and also have insight into how the system is designed and produced.  This takes some courage but imagine the benefits.  These people spend much of their days thinking about your products, your company and the promises it makes, how well it keeps it promises or not.  They’re your community and what a valuable foundation for early stage product feedback.
  • Set ground rules for engineering, product marketing, product development and management to keep the peace. This is essential, because chances are your most passionate users are the extroverted type and don’t hold back very much.  Getting some ground rules can keep the peace and keep it positive.
  • Go after unstructured feedback and use online collaboration tools to scale globally. The payoff of having a collaborative platform to gather feedback is that your customer community begins to gel and get tighter, more cohesive when everyone can see each others’ comments.  This could be exceptionally valuable as the feedback shared could bring a much more concise, focused direction to product development.  At the worst you’ll get a clear signal if development has been on the right track of not prior to inviting users into the process.
  • Make it Matter. Microsoft has a global online panel of approximately 60,000 who provide feedback on new products and operating systems.  They have no doubt segmented this very large online panel to the most insightful contributors. Imagine the ownership these customers have when their features are included and how this just strengthens their commitment to deliver critical insights of value.

Bottom line: Your company’s critics could save your products from being mediocre and transform them to being great.  Organizing the most passionate, critical customers can make a huge difference in the success or failure of your next software app, product or service.

Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xakaxunknownx/46196787/

How Early Adopters Help To Define New Software Applications

There are an outstanding series of videos  sponsored by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.  One in particular is outstanding in the area of early adopter’s contributions to a start-up trying to sell software over the Internet. It features Eric Ries, co-founder and CTO of IMVU, best-selling author and board member for several companies.

In this segment he discusses how early adopters can often deliver excellent insights and help more effectively tailor a new application to specific market needs.   It’s well worth the time spent watching.  If you have time his entire talk given at Stanford in 2009 is worth checking out.

 

Getting Results From Your Social Networking Strategies

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Socialnetworks We’re all getting reminded every day to take ownership of our digital brands and jump on social networks. For companies the pressure they put on themselves is enormous.  So strong in fact that I’ve heard of CEOs monitoring follower counts on their corporate Twitter accounts a few times a day. It’s no surprise that in the past six months there have been more companies joining Facebook, Friendfeed, and Twitter, starting executive blogs, podcasting and videocasting than ever before.

Many of these companies have no idea if these efforts are paying off or not.  Some have no idea if they are actually helping their brands to be seen as more knowledgeable and trusted.  Best case they are educating prospects and consumers, worst case they are quickly earning a reputation for spamming their followers.  It’s time for a reset of expectations on social networking strategies as a result.  The initial excitement any company’s marketing and PR departments generates by creating accounts and blogs quickly gives away to tracking popularity-based metrics instead of ones that can lead to long-term results.  This is a major problem for companies attempting to get results from their social networking strategies today.

Social Networks Are Not a Popularity Contest

Unfortunately many companies including the CEO of one I know of check follower counts like other CEOs check their stock price – religiously and often.  I’ve noticed this popularity contest mentality in companies I’ve been tracking for years as they venture into social networking.  They get a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, YouTube Channel, LinkedIn account, get Wikipedia pages done, even a Flickr account, and maybe even have an executive blog or two set up.  Once created all of these social networking accounts never gel together; they stay separate and often send confusing, even contradictory messages.  It’s easy to tell what’s going on internally. Social networks are being evaluated only on one metric: popularity.  The longer a company only relies on that single metric the longer the social networking efforts fail to deliver.

Making Social Networks Relevant To Strategies First

Conversely there are those companies who take a different approach to social networking and use its innate strengths to better communicate with and serve customers.  They realize customers own the experience, a great point that Paul Greenberg makes in his latest book, CRM at the Speed of Light, 4th Edition.  I highly recommend you pick this book up and read it. Paul does a great job of showing how companies who are getting the greatest value from participating in social networks are customer-driven. They create entire strategies based on the strengths social networks give them to connect with customers and aren’t afraid to be accountable for their customer service performance.  Paul’s book is a great framework for learning how to transform your company using social networks to better connect with customers.

Making It Happen Now

After having read Paul’s book and also from the observations of companies as they move into social networking, some attaining success while others struggle, the following lessons emerge:

  • Begin with the customer in mind first. If you are going to bring lasting change  into your company where social media is concerned, this is the point to get  really passionate about.  Be strong and keep the customer at the center of every social networking strategy, because in the end, serving them is all that really matters.
  • Get your company to quit spinning its wheels on popularity metrics.  Best case this is a measure of upper funnel marketing and PR performance or interest.  Worst case it is a measure of how well you are imitating your competitors who may also be evaluating social networks on popularity-based metrics alone.  This goes nowhere, get away from this metric and get more focused on how your strategies can be strengthened through social networks.
  • Accountability is King.  You have to admire the courage of companies who have had problems with customer service in the past yet they get on social networks with the intention of being accountable.  Transparent. Real.  The buck stops with the managers who run these customer service accounts on Twitter Facebook and other apps.  I suspect there are those B2B and B2C companies who lack the courage to do this, to be accountable for their customer service performance in real-time over social networks.  Yet it is only a matter of time until one of their competitors decides to target their customer base with exceptional support, service and introductory offers, no doubt winning many over.
  • Drive and measure metrics by strategy not by social network.  This mindset needs to dominate companies who are adopting social media.  It is the only way to see if the investment is paying off or not.  Measuring customer satisfaction by which support channels most contributed to its growth instantly shows the relative value of staffing Twitter and Facebook accounts with support specialists and managers for example.  Using metrics to measure engagement and interest rather than just extrapolating click-based activity is a far better predictor of a sales lead. Segmenting audiences using social networking tools for list and audience management are far more effective in generating feedback on new product ideas than broadcasting it to an entire Twitter follower base.  Define your strategic objectives for the year and then map in social networking strategies where they can make the most contribution.  This is a great way to make sure social networking initiatives and strategies don’t go off on their own tangent.
  • Staying ahead of the content curve by finding passionate contributors, using collaboration systems is critical.  On social networks it’s been shown time and again that you get what you give.  When it comes to content, the fresher and more relevant, the more valuable entire marketing, selling and service strategies become.  Consider using collaboration technologies internally to get all the relevant content in your company organized, and use unstructured data analysis tools to fully use this content as well.

Bottom line: Strengthening your marketing, PR, selling and customer service strategies with social networks deliver more measurable and relevant results than focusing on social networks alone.

Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/silvertje/3582297307/

What Customer-Driven Manufacturing Looks Like Up Close

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems
Walking through the doors of the Siemens Energy and Automation Plant in Norwood, Ohio you immediately get a sense of the legacy this manufacturing plant has and the intense, even obsessive focus on customers driving it into the future.  This plant has been in continuous operation for over 100 years at this location and is the leading producer of electric motors in North America.  There are plaques just outside the front door older than anyone reading this, and inside there is this obsessive focus on excelling at each engine manufacturing task to delight customers.

What amazed me about my visits there was how obsessed the culture of this manufacturing plant is with their customers. In literally every conversation, from manufacturing supervisors to product specialists and production engineering, everyone sees their jobs from how it contributes to meeting customers’ expectations.  This plant reverberates with a customer-centric focus.

Defining Their Own Destiny with a Passion for Customer-Driven Manufacturing

My second visit was during a low point of the recession.  You’d expect morale to be low and a pessimistic mindset to pervade the plant.  But I didn’t find that at all; what I did find were manufacturing teams that had an incredible intensity about quality.  They were obsessed about quality and customer satisfaction. This plant continually strives to improve its quoting, product configuration, pricing and production processes, they never stop. You literally cannot have a conversation in this plant with anyone where the word customer does not come up within five minutes. It’s no wonder they won 2009 Plant of the Year from Plant Engineering Magazine.  Be sure to watch this video and meet the folks who saved a plant by being obsessed with quality and customer-driven manufacturing.

Bottom line: Customer-centric manufacturing is more than a manta; it’s a process-driven strategy that is transformational and can keep manufacturing plants over 100 years old still fighting and winning customer deals daily.

Disclosure: Siemens Energy and Automation Plant is a Cincom customer and we congratulate them on winning 2009 Plant of the Year. 
Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44431572@N00/4042504006/sizes/l/

How Social Networks Are Re-Writing The Rules of Sales Collateral

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Trustisking Social networks are re-writing the rules of what best practices in marketing are. Brands are laid bare in front of millions daily. It doesn’t take long for just one customer to make a major statement about how they feel about a brand and make a major impact on sales too.  Using Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, blogs or YouTube, customers can make their voice heard immediately.  United Airlines’ wake-up call last year is a case in point as is the recent controversy Southwest Airlines faced.  

So Many Social Networks and So Little Time

With so many powerful social networking platforms, applications and tools available why are marketers still not getting to their lead generation and sales goals? 

Why do companies who have such a strong passion for their customers lose their way to delivering exceptional experiences?

Why does their sales collateral promise so much and at times fail to deliver? 

Because product marketing, product management and marketing teams fall into the trap of believing you have to inundate the prospect with features, in-depth data and tons of documents to prove you know what you’re doing.  Carpet bombing prospect’s in-boxes with e-mails to send the message you know what you are doing is ironically proving fatal.

Why?  Because you and I respect people so much more when they listen to us and talk with us instead of talking at us. Too much technology marketing, specifically in software, talks at the prospect, instead of with them.  That is the heart of the potential of social networks – to engage and talk with prospects instead of at them.  And it takes hard work to make relationships count. You can’t earn sales through a deluge of content; it has to come from being genuinely interested in helping a prospect over a major problem. 

The First Step: Find the Passion of your Company

There are dozens of excellent software applications out there for managing lead generation and follow-up but unless it reflects the soul – the passion of a company – it is meaningless. What makes all these lead generation apps really work?  It amplifies, projects, makes more visible the passion a company has for owning a problem prospects and customers have.  

No software application can compensate for a company that has not decided what it is passionate about. 

But for those companies who have chosen a mission – a vision of what problem they will own for any prospect or customer – then lead generation becomes real for them.  Companies struggling to produce leads may not have a software problem; they may have a passion problem.  Defining that passion for service will go a long way to finding good leads, not those captured through attrition from lists. How much more powerful passion is for solving a problem over just endlessly listing off features and data.  Passion puts all that intelligence into motion and makes it relevant.

Lessons Learned

Social networks and the customer immediacy they provide make it imperative that marketing focus on what they have a passion for and what a company can deliver in terms of products and services.  From that vantage point consider these lessons learned:

  • Sales collateral, both in-print and online, must have a very clear customer it is aimed at.  Surprisingly so much is produced aimed at the “enterprise buyer of IT solutions”.  I have never met anyone who called themselves that.  Get real and if you can’t define the customer, consider canceling the collateral. 
  • Urgency to own the customer’s pain now and provide a proven solution. Marketers who are making social networks generate leads get this and get their company’s passion for owning the problem out loud and clear.  Features matrices don’t come close; re-think that strategy and go own a problem to gain leads and sales.
  • What is the collateral’s goal and how does it fit into the marketing strategy?  An excellent question to ask when there are many, many open projects in a marketing department and there seems to be little shared messaging.  Collateral, both online and offline needs to resonate the passion a company has to serve.  It has to be so strong that there is no doubt your company intends to be the global leader in solving the problems and pains you target.
  • Answers the question of how your products and services are different and proven. Differentiating at the benefits level, not at the speeds and feeds or features level is critical. What odes your company’s passion make it especially good at?  That is the most powerful differentiator there is. 
  • Does your collateral teach or preach?  Go after teaching, and share your insight and intelligence freely as a company to gain thought leadership over time.  Your company will get what it gives when it comes to sharing insight, intelligence and knowledge.  Blog regularly. Give away insights from studies free.  Be open.  All of these tie back to a passion to own a customers’ problem.
  • Is your collateral evangelist-compatible?  Consider that if you are selling a complex system or service that your sales cycles often involve dozens of people in a variety of roles.  Is your collateral designed to make it easy for those championing you inside a company to carry forward what makes you unique?  Can the online collateral move quickly through social networks?  These are all relevant questions to this point and to evaluate your collateral on.
  • Design to Inspire and Educate.  The simplicity and clean layouts of social networks are the result of years of usability testing in some cases.  Make sure your offline and online collateral reflects these design criteria.

Bottom line: Social networks are making companies confront what they really stand for and what they are the most passionate about. It’s best to start thinking about these issues and make your collateral all coordinate to what your company truly stands for.  Owning a problem and being passionate about it will generate far more leads than any other strategy.

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15923063@N00/3438245123/

Rolodexes Are Social Networking Roadkill

Louis Columbus

 Sales people live and die by the relationships they make, not by their histories of contacts. 

Rolodex Like archeological finds, rolodexes preserve the past.  Some can tell you the entire career of technology buyers over twenty years.  Rolodexes are a fine research instrument but a selling tool inching towards irrelevance. 

Kick Some Life into Your Selling Relationships

Whenever some senior sales professional proclaims “I’ve got a killer Rolodex and I can sell millions of dollars in enterprise software!”  Inside I immediately call B.S. on it.  A Rolodex belongs in a museum, relationships are what matter today.  Can a Rolodex lead to someone buying more? No.  Can a Rolodex inspire trust?  No. 

How many times have you gotten a call from someone you haven’t heard from in years and all the want to sell you something?  Congratulations! You have just been excavated from a Rolodex. This is no way to sell in an era where trust is more valuable than gold. 

Social Networks and Investing In Relationships

So if you’re in sales and you haven’t gotten on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to connect with your prospects and customers – it’s 2010 – what are you waiting for? 

It’s time to wake up and realize everyone, even technology buyers, are changing fast. Social networks are a big part of that shift.

Authenticity, honesty, transparency and trust, they are the fuel of social networks that make them work.  Sure there is a ton of deception going on out there, but imagine how powerful it is to be the one person in another’s network who is real and can really help them?  Powerful indeed.  You will never get a selling relationship to these levels sitting at your desk thumbing through a Rolodex.  You have to engage and be real. 

If you are in sales there is no excuse for not having a calendar full of appointments and lunches with old contacts you’ve reconnected with through social networks. If they are not on Facebook, Twitter or the social networking platform of choice, you need to get them there.

Key Take-Aways

  • If you aren’t earning trust you aren’t selling. It’s time to take that bold step and take accountability for your own selling network, your own selling brand. Ultimately it’s your reputation on the line, regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of who you work for. Social networks unleash your brand as a sales professional.  Making social networks work for your selling strategies does a lot more for your career than any amount of whining and complaining ever did.
  • Pick 50 cards out of your Rolodex now and make the relationships live again.  Call each of these people, your top 50 contacts, and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and talk to them.  Make the relationship alive again.  Real selling is about tackling problems for customers even if there isn’t necessarily an immediate sale – it’s about building trust by freeing giving insight, intelligence and help.
  • Playing the Blame Game is a cop-out, work your network instead. I deeply respect the salespersons in enterprise software, computer hardware and electronic components that nailed their quota in 2009 and are kicking butt right now even though the economy is tough. They were smart enough to build their networks early on using social networking apps, worked the networks to understand how the economy was impacting their prospects and customers, and in short – have a passionate interest in what is going on with each of them.  Not just monthly for a filing their status reports.  Daily. With intensity and focus. They are 110% committed to their prospects and customers. These people are too busy working their networks to play the Blame Game.  


Bottom line:
Imagine if all the sales teams in your company decided to make the most important relationships cataloged in their Rolodex come alive again. That infusion of intensity and customer focus can change a company – and no sales team ever accomplished that going card after card in a Rolodex dialing for dollars.

Flickr image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roach-family/182395939/sizes/t/

The Growing Social Network Credibility Gap

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Much praise has been heaped on social networks for their ability to streamline customer connections, making it possible to hear the voice of customers much clearer, and serve as a means for everyone from CIOs and CEOs to interns to better listen to customers.  I agree, social networks in general and Twitter specifically have opened up the floodgates of customer centricity and hopefully it will change company’s cultures for the better, fast.

In the midst of all this euphoria however, I think it’s important ask the harder questions.

Is all this great inbound customer data actually changing mindsets and philosophies? 

Is it changing how marketing and sales work together to define value propositions? 

Is it forcing companies to be more agile and customer-focused, changing themselves in the process?

Is it changing processes of how customers are brought into the new product development process?

Or are social networks seen as the poor man’s PR Newswire? 

How companies truthfully answer this question will determine if social networks bring lasting change or a just a fad.

Truly Getting Voice of the Customer Religion

Time will tell which companies actually transform who they are based on what customers are telling them on social networks.  Right now however there are plenty standing in the aisles claiming to have social networking religion.  Like any revival bordering on the spiritual, how many of these companies will stay strong in their conviction to be customer centered after the social media evangelists have rolled on to the next conference?  Most likely not many, because change is painful, hard, comes at a high price, and most of all, requires leaders to put their credibility on the line and bet on the future.

That is where I see the credibility gap. 

There are lots of CEOs, company founders, and industry celebrities lining up at social networking revivals, claiming to have customer centric religion yet not following through where it counts most, which is transforming their companies to be more customer-centric.  They are not walking the talk.

Dork  Give to Get versus Get What You Give  

The Give to Get philosophy is one where companies in social networks look to help you shorten your purchasing cycle before the figure out want your needs are, appeal to your ego needs and professional standing (the get thousands of followers approach) and are nearly ubiquitous with their public and private (DM) messaging.  The Give to Get group of companies and people use social networks like a poor man’s PR Newswire and aren’t interested in building trust or relationships – just getting their message out to as many as possible hoping the law of averages kicks in.  Yet you have to love the irony of being on a social network with this strategy, with social networks being predicated on building relationships and trust.   

The Get What You Give philosophy is easy to spot.  These are companies and individuals where the concerns, comments, interests, and values of customers has already begun to permeate how they operate across all areas of their business, social networks included. 

The Get What You Give companies have:

  • A passion to educate customers and share their insights regardless whether a sale is immediately made or not.  These are the companies on Twitter who open up and share vast amounts of information and data freely.
  • Provide honest product comparisons and analysis.  This is rare to find yet very powerful, and is an indicator that a company really is making changes in how they operate based on lessons learned.
  • They work extremely hard to earn a reputation of being Easy to Buy From.  Buying from Amazon.com, Expedia, Zappos, all easy, they get it, their cultures engrain the lessons learned from listening to customers quickly. 
  • A culture that cultivates the courage to be accountable for good and bad service. “Catch Me Doing Something Right” is an employee recognition program Embassy Suites has this summer.  It’s aimed at giving employees motivation to be especially accountable and helpful with many families whose members don’t travel all that much and as a result have many questions and needs beyond the typical business traveler.  When they credited me for three nights parking due to a mix-up on a coupon I filled out a “Catch me Doing Something Right” form right then and there.  In a sense this program is a form of immediate, real social networking.  The desk attendant beamed as I filled it out and did we ever get excellent service after that!  Kindness pays.


Bottom line:
If you really believe that social networks can fundamentally re-order companies by bringing the voice of the customer alive, do something about it.  Go beyond your daily routine in your job, tell your VPs and C-level execs it is time to change those areas getting in the way of serving customers.  Contribute to closing this credibility gap, and don’t let your C-level executives get away with saying how great social networking is and not changing their companies as a result.  Be the change and make your company stronger for it. 

Trust.Twitter.com

 Louis Columbus

Nearly every software company, from start-ups whipping out business plans looking for any money they can get their hands on to keep their doors open, to enterprise Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) companies looking to ride the social networking wave into new sales of their existing applications (for the most part) Twitter has become king of the hype cycle.  One estimate puts the media coverage attributed to Twitter at $48M for a month.   

Let’s just stop a second and ask a really fundamental question.  Can you still trust Twitter after all these security breaches?  Would you recommend Twitter be part of any CRM system after hundreds of pages of their documents ended up on TechCrunch?  Would you trust Twitter with just one of your credit cards, stored either on their internal servers or in the cloud right now?  Be honest. 

“The cloud ate my sales forecast…and deleted my kid’s must-read book next semester”

How about your customer data stored as Tweets on your sales cycles, or your sales reporting, even in the form of confidential Tweets only behind your firewall on an Intranet-based Twitter platform, even on internal servers?  I cannot imagine any CIO taking Twitter seriously right now.  Twitter is playing a dangerous game of trust with their potential enterprise customers.  They have got to nail this problem if they are ever going to scale into an enterprise solution, presuming that area of interest to them.  From all the hype you would think it is.

As if that was not enough, Amazon choosing to go Orwellian on their customers is humorous and a cautionary tale in the making about digital content rights and DRM in general.  Jeff Nolan’s post Cloud Computing and the Morning After says it all.  George Orwell would find it incredibly ironic his is the first book in the history of digital content to be en masse deleted.  If for no other reason to avert the irony why didn’t Amazon step away from the Delete button?  I find that fascinating.

Frameworks All Assume Trust Is There – Is It?

Reading Paul Greenberg’s blog today, Put TechRadar on Your Radar Screen includes The Extended CRM Application Ecosystem, a graphic from Bill Band of Forrester. The graphic is part of Bill’s report TechRadar for BP&A Professionals: The Extended CRM Application Ecosystem, Q3, 2009.  This framework makes one consider how essential trust is for making the entire series of processes work.  Trust has to be there for the model to work. Paul’s assessment that the framework doesn’t have social media monitoring, including text analysis, attitudinal and sentiment analysis is prescient.  Why?  Because the king of cloud apps today, Twitter, has trust issues and social media monitoring companies might even consider creating “trust” templates that quantify the level they are achieving with customers as a result.  Incidentally if you are interested in CRM, subscribe to Paul’s RSS feed. Paul is the best blogger in CRM, period

Why It Matters

Presuming Twitter has the goal of going after the enterprise it’s time to think about the lessons learned by Salesforce.com on managing cloud scalability and security.  Twitter management needs to study trust.salesforce.com and come away with two long-term questions answered.  First, do they want to play in the enterprise? Second, are they willing to publish stats by server that salesforce.com shows? I’d think they’d want to nail this second issue to support the exponential growth of every company trying to grow with them too and gain back trust in their app being more than a messaging platform.


Your Passion Is Showing

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

 One
of my best students, a manager of one of the largest Home Depot stores
in Southern California, just finished off his MBA thesis.  His research
centered on how Home Depot could become more customer-centric by
trimming back IT systems and processes to free up more time for
associates to focus on customers.  In his thesis he shows how cutting
out entire layers of management could make the entire company more
efficient and customer-driven.  Clearly this student has a passion
about making his store entirely focused on the customer experience.

Didhelivewithpassion Curious
to see if he had been implementing programs he discusses in his thesis
in his store, I decided to visit yesterday.  

Three Offers of Assistance in Seven Minutes

Every employee I walked past, even the ones rounding up carts just
past the entrance stopped and asked if they could help me.  When was
the last time anyone in a Home Depot did that?  Usually I am hunting
for help.  I have to point out that I never said a word about knowing
the manager or having him as a student. 

The floors of the
store glistened and the grouping of products for cross-selling in the
lighting area, where I went to get a replacement fluorescent bulb for
my laundry room, were within reach.  I recalled in his thesis how he
mentioned the studies showing that investing in better stock room
management systems to coordinate cross-sells and up-sells led to 36%
gains in comparable stores.  Clearly, he had pushed this to his store.

Glistening Barbeques All in a Row

Our
BBQ is getting a little worn out and I went to check out what they
had.  Amazed to see two dozen models, all dusted, shined, and perfectly
aligned, this was unusual for a Home Depot.  Others I had been in were
often covered in dust and helter-skelter in appearance.  If that was not
enough a person from hardware stopped by and asked if they could answer
any questions.  Now this is going on around seven offers of assistance
in less than 15 minutes.  I did not let on at any time I knew the
manager by the way; I was a regular guy walking through the store on a
Saturday afternoon.

Self-Service Checkout – Pain or another Opportunity to show A Passion for Service?

In
his thesis he had been really torn about the aspects of self-service
check-out and challenges to adoption. Home Depot corporate had been
telling managers they must drive a high percentage of sales through
these lanes, yet he felt this would detract from the experience.  I was
really interested to see if he took his own advice in the thesis and
staffed this area with three associates instead of one.  As I
approached these lanes, associates were coming into the aisles to help
get the automated process started.  I’ve never seen this before.  The
checkout process for the fluorescent bulbs went fine and at the end of
the transaction the lead cashier said thank you for coming in.

As I looked up to say goodbye I saw a picture of my student, the
manager of this store, in a poster-size picture with his pledge of
excellent service, his name, telephone and cell phone number, clear for
any customer to see.  I’ve never seen that in a Home Depot before
either.  Yet his thesis had shown that accountability and associating a
face with a store was critical to generating customer loyalty. 

Bottom line:
Your passion for delivering excellent customer
experiences is showing all the time, you can’t turn it on or off.  It’s
constant; it’s visible all the time.  When leaders get passionate about
change, they can revolutionize massive stores and companies with an
intensity to continually improve.

Flickr attribution: http://bit.ly/23oCT

Seeing the True Nature of American Freedom

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

The 4th of July's many festivities from parades, to fireworks displays, from entire blocks getting together to decorate in red, white and blue to even one story I heard of a daughters' friend painting the family beagle red, white and blue while he slept on the back porch this afternoon all make this such a genuine American experience.

Over the last several years I've taught more students in international business and strategy courses than any other time.  Like anyone, they love a good party that is nationwide, and the 4th is a reason from them to celebrate their freedoms here in America too. 

I am Learning From My Students What The Reality of Freedom Is

It is quite moving to be running a class in international business and have a young student under 30 tell you about how there were wars raging in her home nation of Bosnia and one wrong street selection on the way home from school could have gotten her killed. She is Serbian. 

There are students from China, some from Hong Kong, others from Beijing, who are remarkable in their writing abilities yet still afraid to speak.  Their tales of harmonization in Beijing and the tight lid the government has on businesses there, many of which are run by their parents and families, are moving. 

Or the students from the Middle East who faced persecution because of their religion and their families' beliefs and businesses.

I've had more than a dozen Vietnamese students, who as toddlers and even infants, escaped that nation on boats, drifting in the South China Sea waiting for the U.S. Navy to show up and rescue them.  Clearly, the Navy did a great job, they saved tens of thousands of lives in that region and I am sure they still do.

There are those students from Russia too. Some from parents who were members of the party and others barely scraping enough together to get out. Talk of how even party members must abide by rationing is fascinating.

Seeing Freedom In A New Way

Just out of curiosity, I took each significant speech in America in the last 217 years and quickly ran them through Wordle this morning.

Here's what I found out.  In the most troubling and most difficult of times in this nations' history, freedom is the catalyst so many of our leaders have turned to as our core strength, our catalyst.  It is what many have come back to as the reverberating strength of America.

From Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech The Four Freedoms given on January 6, 1941 to the many speeches that John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave, including Ich bin ein Berliner ("I am a 'Berliner'")
delivered on June 26, 1963 in West Berlin, freedom reverberates through these speeches.  Faced with an increasingly aggressive Russia who appears intent on war, President Kennedy chooses this speech to come back to America's greatest strength and contribution to the world, freedom.  Below is the Wordle of this speech.

 Slide1

 

The speech with the greatest mention of freedom in the history of the United States from this analysis isn't an elected politician, President, military leader, or a powerful cabinet member.  It is a southern minister who in 1954, became pastor of the Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Far from the media centers of the time, Dr. Martin Luther King showed in his life just how truly different this American brand of freedom is.  Below is Wordle from his I Have A Dream Speech

Slide1  

In the story of a minister from Montgomery, Alabama whose impact in America is still being felt today is the story of what American freedom is really all about.  Reaching out, inclusive, celebrating diversity and looking to strengthen others by building bridges out to them, this is America at its best.

Bottom line: No nation is without fault, but if you want to see the true nature of American freedom, meet eyes with someone today who had to fight to get here, or who is putting their life on hold to serve, or who has served earlier.  In that moment, you will know the true nature of American freedom.

Growing High Performance Teams with Dashboards

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

The greater the uncertainty about the future, the greater the intensity to quantify it.

As this economic crisis shows, a strict reliance on numbers alone is
short-sighted, and completely misses the point of what key performance
indicators (KPIs), metrics and ratios were originally created for to
begin with.

Measuring interprocess efficiency, collaboration, and giving teams
the opportunity to own their performance and shared results matters
most. Infusing ownership of results is far more important than the
flood of figures that many dashboards have.

Why Searching for ROI Is Relative

Return on Investment (ROI) is the Holy Grail of metrics.

Ironically so many companies chase it for their dashboards yet so
few can find the cause-and-effect relationships in their companies to
make it relevant. ROI is no change agent; but a dashboard that infuses
task ownership and accountability is. Anyone can create a portal or
Intranet site that is populated with a series of KPIs, metrics and
ratios, yet it takes a real leader to make all this data matter.
Especially now with fear running rampant through so many companies,
resistance to change based on measuring performance is running at an
all-time high.

Metrics That Deliver Are All That Matter

There are hundreds if not thousands of KPIs, metrics, and ratios
that can be chosen from in creating dashboards. Many industries and
companies create their own to match specific process areas, like the
entire set of processes in e-commerce for example.

What distinguishes the dashboards that excel and serve as a
motivator for those responsible for their metrics? Using only the least
amount of metrics that can be tied back to cause-and-effect matter most.

There is an analytics addiction going on in a few of the
manufacturers I've met with and visited over the last few years. Their
dashboards are impressive yet don't connect with critical teams and
employees, serving as the fuel they need to keep accomplishing, keep
collaborating, keeping looking for new approaches to get to their goals.

A New Mindset is Needed

Re-defining dashboards needs to start with an entirely new mindset.
Think of dashboards as a motivator for those that can make the greatest
contribution to your company's performance.

Here are a few take-aways from work completed on dashboards:

  • For each KPI, metric or ratio clearly define who owns its performance. Call it Return on Accountability (ROA),
    the top performing companies practice this religiously. They give
    employees an opportunity to compete against themselves in terms of
    measured performance. Some may consider this Draconian or even Big
    Brotherish (1984) yet of the examples I've seen, employees who have a
    clear line of sight and accountability for a metric crush their
    objectives regularly. It is all in how the dashboard is created and
    rolled out. Giving employees the chance to define this metric and how
    they are measured is a very strong catalyst. Let them own it.
  • Using a dashboard to micromanage is an insult to your employees' intelligence.
    Don't use a dashboard to regularly berate and humiliate your employees
    if they are not on plan. It's time to step up and be a coach, not a
    critic. Dashboards drive amazingly high levels of competition within
    employees who own the metric and strive to beat their own best
    performance levels.
  • Assign an owner to each metric and continually ask for feedback on cause-and-effect.
    High performing marketing, sales, product management and product
    development teams continually watch the cause-and-effect behind the
    metrics of their dashboards not just the trending of the figures. They
    constantly focus on how cause-and-effect is changing, and by what
    levels. Doing this just infuses ownership further.


Bottom line:
To grow a high performance team let them
own the KPIs, metrics and ratios on dashboards, and be a coach, not a
critic. Dashboards become a means to motivate, and in so doing become
alive with relevancy in an organization.

Social Networking Has Nailed Customer Satisfaction, Next Stop: Loyalty

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

You have to admire the social networking evangelists in industries that have high maintenance customer bases, but dove headfirst into the social networking pool anyway.  That took courage.  And many of them are turning it into a success.  They are redefining how service is done. Challenging their competitors to keep up that are NOT involved in social networking is turning their customer satisfaction into a competitive strength.  You have to specifically admire Comcast, a cable company, for biting the bullet and getting on Twitter, and the airlines who go after customer satisfaction in real time through social networking.

These companies are nailing customer satisfaction using social networking.  They are responding promptly to customer concerns, have a single point of contact for solving problems, have mentioned a process for managing customer problems and their escalation and attempt over and over again to set realistic customer expectations.  Many of them have all these strategies going at the same time.  One wonders how social networking is making the customer satisfaction needle move – and over and above the quantification of it, you can see it online every day.

Making the Transition from Satisfaction to Loyalty

Satisfaction
Given how loyalty has become a code word in this economic downturn for financial viability and recurring revenue, and customer expectations seem to be going up rapidly – expecting more for less, – I started digging into this area to learn more.  A video of Dr. Gail McGovern of Harvard Business School, who is speaking on Customer Satisfaction Traps illustrates what appears to be happening with social networking’s’ impact on customer satisfaction. She makes the point that expectations of postal service were met – and tolerated – with the U.S. Postal Service.  Yet Federal Express redefined expectations and led to delighted customers, re-ordering this service industry in the process. It’s only 4 minutes and worth checking out. 

I’ve also been reading Answering the Ultimate Question by Richard Owen and Laura L. Brooks, PhD.  It’s an excellent book for providing insights into how loyalty impacts profitability, providing pragmatic examples of how to integrate Net Promoter Scores into organizations.  What I find most fascinating about this book are the strategies the authors discuss about turning around detractors. The results achieved and then measured are worth checking out.  You can read the authors’ blog here

Loyalty
Potential Areas Where Social Networking Strategies Can Impact Customer Loyalty

First, social networking is great for going out and finding detractors – in fact social networking must be like a magnet for those dissatisfied with products or services.  Transforming these customers is even more critical to long-term customer loyally as it stops potentially damaging trends in ones’ customer base. 

Can social networking alone transform a detractor into a promoter? I’m sure the outstanding customer service efforts of those on Facebook and especially Twitter are making an impact.  Yet from what the experts seem to be saying is that any customer satisfied will still leave.

So how can social networking lead to customer loyalty?  From the initial research I’ve done on this, and I’m no expert, here are the key take-aways from what I’ve learned from reading what Richard Owen and Laura L. Brooks, PhD have found:

  • Even the most satisfied customers leave.  It’s apparent that if customers are satisfied, they still leave.  If there is a correlation between behavioral loyalty and satisfaction, it is weak.
  • The Net Promoter Score (NPS) delivers valuable insights into who detractors are, their relative weight on customer satisfaction, and influence on Promoters.  As was mentioned earlier, getting to know your detractors could be even more important than finding out who Promoters are.  This was one of the most valuable insights from the book, including the strategies companies are using to transform these customers into Promoters.
  • Delighting customers with exceptional experiences is far more important than getting rid of their reasons for being detractors.  The book Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs by Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott discusses some critically important areas in this area.  Personas of customers and the discovery of resonators are two of the many excellent concepts in this book.  It’s worth adding to your reading list this year as is their blog.   

How social networking can serve as a catalyst for customer loyalty is fascinating.  No doubt the authors mentioned in this post already have or will have frameworks that show how companies can get the most out of the accountability and transparency provides. 

Bottom line: Loyalty cannot be earned by satisfying customers, there has to be a focused, intense effort to transform them into Promoters. 

Flickr credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/serialkitten/78631537/sizes/m/

Given A Choice Of A Bail-Out or Knock-Out, Let’s Help Our Customers Deliver The Latter

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Just watching the companies fighting their way through the challenges of this economic downturn one can appreciate what it means to go after intelligence aggressively.  There is a small healthcare products manufacturing company in Los Angeles for example that has decided to throw down the gauntlet of transforming its supply chain, sourcing and marketing systems to be more focused on rapid response times to customers.  They decided that in the midst of an economic downturn, getting aggressive about how they used intelligence could make a huge difference in their ability to survive and grow. 

As it turns out their strategy of aggressive intelligence is paying off with increased orders from e-commerce sites the business development teams had been working with for years.  One of the senior managers of this firm is in my graduate-level course in International Business. Paradoxically, the recession forces his retailing customers to go multi-channel much faster than they had anticipated.  The result: an entirely new channel for his company as well.

Mr.Ali
Coming Out Swinging…With Knowledge
 
It’s time for more companies to get up and dust themselves off from this recession and start fighting back – with knowledge.  The easy strategies of using continuously dropping prices, sacrificing margins or even bundling products to the point of unprofitability are, to be blunt, weak.  How much better to fight the good fight of bringing the knowledge in our companies to the forefront of our customers’ unmet needs and knocking out their problems for them?  That’s the plan at this manufacturer and it is working.

Instead of complaining about how about how bad this recession is, there are those courageous companies who instead look at their customers’ knowledge and process problems as their own.  They attack these problems with an intensity they would in their own company.  The use intelligence aggressively to serve their customers.  That’s the key take-away from the small manufacturer I’ve gotten to know in L.A. from one of my students. 

Key Lessons Learned

After visiting my students’ company last Friday and hearing how pervasive the mission they are on is getting engrained into their culture, a few key take-aways emerged:

  • Everyone sees themselves as fighting for their customers’ victories, not just their own.  This pervaded the assembly areas, and certainly included sales and service.  Every person I talked to, from the manufacturing supervisors to the sales managers, directors and VPs saw the recession as a fight they would help their customers win.  It wasn’t about them; it was about helping their customers get through this too.  The term “we got their back” came up several times.
  • Using data mining to find patterns in special orders to create new build-to-order product configuration.  This manufacturer is taking their histories of special orders and looking for patterns in the data to create entirely new combinations of special order products.  While these special orders were costly to produce at the time, they do provide a glimpse of what is selling.  The result has been product line extensions quickly created with an increased probability of success. 
  • Looking for new ways to help their customers be successful in multi-channel management strategies including increasing emphasis in e-commerce.  This was a big one as the company acts as a light manufacturer for trading partners in China and Taiwan and has better availability on specific healthcare products than their competitors globally.  As a result of the decision to get aggressive about how they manage data, they can now provide price and availability across all healthcare products on a 24/7 basis in three languages, and two Chinese dialects.  This has been one of the key areas where they are helping their distribution partners open websites in specific Chinese provinces and throughout the Pacific Rim.  The result is their sales are growing in the midst of this recession.
  • Product catalogs customizable within hours for any given reseller’s needs in three languages and two Chinese dialects.  The online product catalogs are organized in an enterprise content management system so they can create specific subset catalogs and push them to a partners’ website within less than 72 hours if needed.  This is a major competitive advantage and further shows how aggressively this company is using intelligence.

Conclusion
What’s so unique about this company is that while the recession is certainly a major concern, there is no dwelling on it.  There is instead a mindset of using the recession as a reason to fight harder than ever for customers and get aggressive in their use of intelligence.

TKO
Above all, this company and the ones fighting back with knowledge exemplify this quote:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
President Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. "Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
 

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7320687@N02/3278783949/sizes/m/

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29210138@N04/2730152863/sizes/m/