Every organization has customers - either prospects on the edge of becoming customers or existing customers on the edge of going somewhere else. This site focuses on strategies for acquiring and retaining good customers. Please take a look at what is here and do share your own insights regarding what you have learned about a Customer On The Edge.

February 24, 2012

Choosing Sides

While it is winter on the calendar, it is a bit hard to tell around here. We have flowers poking through the ground in mid-February when they aren’t really supposed to show themselves for at least another 6 weeks. Much of the folks I know have headed up to the mountains this week anyway, making me a bit jealous that I am still down among the pre-mature daffodils and jonquils. There is snow above the right elevation, and there is a sufficient abundance to keep the holiday crowd happy.

If I were with them, one of the things I would be experiencing is the interesting riff between traditional downhill schussers and the new-school snowboarders. The former refer to the latter as knuckle draggers. The latter mostly ignore the former. Each tends to take sides on the split in the sport – one looking at the other in disdain and the other looking back with indifference. I understand it, but I don’t participate. I actually prefer both. I’ll choose two boards for some conditions and go with a single board under other conditions. I get enjoyment from pairing the right equipment with the right condition, like a good wine with the right entrée.

Sutton Retro Dodo

In the technology world there is something similar developing, but perhaps with less enmity. We have some folks who are all about the Enterprise 2.0 thing, and then we have another set of folks who are jumping on the Social CRM bandwagon. They tend to have different blog sites and on-line communities for sharing articles and case studies. Yet, I don’t get the need for the split.

Enterprise 2.0 seems to be all about the new age of collaboration within the organization, and the technology that supports it. You can find stories about how product development is improved with more creative input through better collaboration; customer issue resolution happens faster and better with similar collaboration; and the pursuit of deals are accelerated and converted more often again due to the collaboration of the right people at the right time.

Social CRM is more directed at customers, attempting to leverage the evolution of societal behavior onto social web platforms. As more people spend more time on Facebook and LinkedIn, it makes sense to manage brand value through social monitoring; drive prospecting through social networking; and perform in-platform customer service issue resolution right at the point where people are ranting within a tweet.

Why have these two disciplines formed as separate interests? Combined they are much more powerful. So, I my suggestion is to combine the two and call it Social Business. Harnessing both internal and external collaboration tools and processes combines the benefits of both and leverages the entire organization in the pursuit of customer business outcomes. Becoming a social business means that you utilize better collaboration internally and engage with customers on social platforms externally. The two together are the perfect combination and are starting to be combined technically within the more powerful CRM platforms.

So, don’t take sides – swing on both sides of the plate. It provides more flexibility and delivers better results. Develop your social business competencies internally and externally and harness double the power to achieve CRM program objectives more effectively.

Enjoy the snow while it lasts.

February 17, 2012

Shower Curtains & Chatter

Have you been traveling much recently? If so, you have probably noticed the propagation of those bulging shower curtains of late. Bathtubs are a pretty confining place to take a shower, especially when you throw in those nasty safety bars on the walls. However, somebody, who I hope has been very well rewarded, came up with the idea of the bowed curtain rod, virtually extending the width of the tub a few critical inches up high where it counts. It is a lot like getting that upgraded economy seat on a plane. That little bit of extra leg room really makes a difference.

Yet, not all is good. While the concept is fantastic, for most hotels the execution has been dismal. There are two primary problems. First is the shower curtain rod. The physics are different – the rod does not extend simply from point to point. Rather, the arc that the rod travels from wall to wall puts immense pressure on the wall mounts because of the lateral weight of the rod bowing out sideways. Simply stated, the rods in most hotels where I stay are barely hanging on, with screws pulling out of the walls ready for catastrophe. The maintenance folks replaced the new rods with a few screws pushed into the drywall and expected everything to be fine. Don’t be surprised if you have a shower curtain crash around you some morning while in the middle of an otherwise pleasant shower.

The second problem involves the curtain. The rod travels further away from the edge of the tub as it bows out, which requires that the curtain has to travel a further distance to safely drop into the tub, especially in the middle. Those same hotel maintenance folks who mounted the new rods placed them at the same height as the old rods to prevent splash and spray. However, if the hotel purchasing folks did not buy longer curtains when they acquired the new fangled rods, it is likely the old curtains don’t completely reach, or stay neatly tucked into the tub as they encounter a brisk shower spray. I you wake up to dripping from your hotel ceiling it just may be that the guest above you is not paying attention to this curtain deficit while showering.

Ultimately, this all boils down to the challenges of installing new technology onto an old structure. If you do not accommodate the requirements of integrating the old with the new, things may not work out all that well. When I see these new curtain rods in my hotel rooms I cannot help but think of Chatter, the new collaboration tool on the Salesforce.com CRM platform.

Mardi Gator

When a company turns on Chatter (or similar collaboration tools) it is much like installing these new rods - most of the time it involves new technology being placed within an old structure. And similar to the problems introduced by the new rods, Chatter as well does not always work out as intended, especially if the organization does not take appropriate steps to adopt the new technology to the old structure.

One of the big misconceptions surrounding the use of Chatter is with regard to the belief that all you have to do is turn it on and everyone will flock toward utilization with wonton abandon. This could not be further from reality. Yes, over the last decade, the general population has embraced many collaboration sites in the social ether-sphere. But this has been accomplished through the process of naturally affinity – people group together over common interests. Unless you form similar interest groups that fit your business users, your Chatter application will not be viewed by most users as useful or beneficial. This is like mounting the rod to the wall without taking into account the change in physics. You need to assemble it with the correct hardware, which in this case means that you need to introduce Chatter with the correct connections built in. You need to form groups from the start, such as customer accounts, target opportunities, or priority service cases. This leverages the natural affinity around which your people collaborate, and serves as a tool for easier collaboration, which drives utilization.

Additionally, the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality also leads to dissatisfaction because it assumes that people will not need attention for the proper use of Chatter. Yes, it is simple and intuitive, not something that one might expect will require a whole bunch of instruction. But, it does require direction. It requires expectations to be set uniformly. For example, if 75% of those who need to collaborate on a topic or issue use the tool, but 25% don’t, this will lead to 25% of the problem or task unsolved. Expectations for use need to be set, communicated, and reinforced with frequency. It cannot be a casual thing if you want success. This is a change after all, and, similar to the length of the shower curtain, if we do not make changes to the existing process, things will come up short.

The bottom line is that you cannot just turn on Chatter and expect great things. It requires a certain amount of intervention to get right – it needs to be properly connected to the old structure. It is worth the little bit of effort required, because the results can be powerful.

I truly like having the extra space in the shower these new rods provide, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that I am not the one who pulls back the curtain and ends up with a curved rod at my feet.

January 27, 2012

Football & Opportunity Management

Missed Kick

Death threats!

A dropped ball and a missed kick led to death threats. Last week during the title matches that produce the participants for the Big Game in American football, two players suffered season-ending miscues. As a result, two teams went on vacation. Those with a stake in the outcomes were devastated, and a tiny fraction displayed their contempt in a seriously anti-social manner. With so much at stake and such great visibility, it is not a big surprise that these high-profile bungles received so much attention.

So my question is, what happens when your sales guys fumble? My guess is that they don’t get death threats if they drop the ball on an opportunity. I am fairly confident that most dropped balls go unobserved.

I don’t think it is unfair to compare your sales team to a football team. The selling process is often discussed in sports metaphors, particularly hunting – the thrill of the chase, and all that. In fact, it would be pretty interesting if sales SVPs could pick their fantasy sales team and compete with each other on a weekly fantasy forecast.

But, getting back to botched plays, it would be great if sales reps were monitored with as much visibility as football players. In fact, the concept of Moneyball, borrowed from the statistical analysis performed by some baseball teams, makes even more sense when it comes to sales as a sport. It would improve overall sales performance if we could track more information about sales activity and compare that to results. We don’t need to see the sales rep up on the Jumbotron in slow motion replay, but it would be better if we knew more about what happens along the way.

It is possible to make progress when it comes to improving sales rep performance. I believe it starts with a formal approach to opportunity management. Deals should be tracked and the activities that go into moving deals along should be tracked as well. Opportunity stages should be defined, and key activities for advancing deals should be outlined. Sales managers need to enforce the discipline of this method, primarily by measuring and reviewing results.

All of this gives us a better chance to coach, another sports metaphor. When a sales rep does make a misstep, it is best to know what went wrong, and what will make it right next time. It is much harder to self-correct than it is for a sales manager and a sales rep to work as a team to make improvements. This is why teams review game video footage – the equivalent of tracking sales activities by opportunity stage and discussing once or twice a month.

What we need is more visibility into fumbles, but what we don’t need, however, are death threats.

January 13, 2012

To Be or Not To Be (centralized)

We just finished a presidential primary race in our neck of the woods. It is interesting to watch, but the television advertising gets quite fatiguing. Another interesting element of the process is that it will eventually end with one winner – first for the party, then for the entire country. It is an evaluation process that has some pretty wild criteria along the way to the final selection.

On a regular basis I will go through this with a client. Not to select their president but to select their CRM platform. It doesn’t always happen for the entire company, like a presidential election works for the entire country. Most of the time it is more like selecting the governor of a state. We pick the best technology for a division, a country, or a function. But, every once in a while we go for the whole enchilada – one platform for an entire multi-division, multi-geography enterprise.

When is it a good idea for a large complex organization to rely on one technology to run all or most customer interaction management? From my experience, not all that often, but it is possible.

Size Matters

As your organization grows and becomes more complicated, it starts having more parts with needs that differ from other parts. Getting the organization to use one ERP is one thing. CRM is a different beast. Geographies have different business models; business lines sell to different segments. Acquisitions cause more differences, in some cases that should remain, in some cases that should not. If you are not too complicated, it might not matter. If you are big and complicated it probably does.

RamBandBuckets

The first question to ask, if you are big and complicated, is why would you want to go to one system? There are common answers:
- Executives want one pipeline and forecast
- IT wants to manage one system instead of 20
- Many groups don’t like what they have, and just want to change
- Clients are irritated that they are treated differently by different groups that can’t communicate
These are fairly valid reasons, but might not necessitate one technology platform. The easiest way to kill an initiative looking into a single technology approach is to request a business case. Can you justify the expense of migrating everyone to a single platform in order to resolve one or more of the above issues? That kind of business case is usually a quixotic endeavor. The other challenge is whether you can satisfy everyone with one system. Looking back at recent elections, it is hard to get a country to accept one president.

The other question to ask is whether the conditions that drive you to investigate a single technology approach might be satisfied with another approach. There are a number of things that must be accomplished to satisfy most of the issues raised above. For example:
- You probably need to standardize your data. If you can agree on data standards, you will solve much of the need for bringing together technology.
- You probably need to standardize some processes, in order to have the chance of achieving data standards. Again, this will possibly take you much of the way there.
- The final component of getting this all to work is the connection of platforms, although this can be a challenge under the wrong circumstances. Integration can be more expensive than migrating to one platform, but in many cases it is a better solution, especially when one platform will not satisfy every group.

So, when does it make sense to go with one platform?

The biggest condition is when each customer-facing function across the whole organization is willing to perform most processes in a similar approach as each other. The sales team in one group is willing to perform similar process steps as a sales team in the next group. Timing is another condition, when the majority of the business is ready for a technology upgrade or change. The business case is much stronger when there is a need to change many groups at one time. A third major condition is when moving to a single cloud environment enables you to reduce technology management costs to offset the migration of business units that don’t need a change. If you can stagger your migration over time, the business case gets even better. Don’t make everybody change all at once, but get there eventually.

Still, all in all, I don’t see this all working very often in big and complicated companies. Business units get frustrated that they are performing processes in a way that satisfy another business unit’s needs (or at least that is their perception). Regions feel they are different and can’t conform to the region that the system was built to satisfy (in their perception). The technology gets thrown under the bus and the business unit or region goes rogue – they go out and get their own CRM and disconnect from the mother ship. I see it continuously. It is just like an election.

We have to go with the majority vote but there is always a new majority that wants to change, sometimes very four years.

November 11, 2011

You're Requirements Aren't Good Enough

Motivational speakers have a great job. They get paid wicked amounts of money and have no accountability. Plus, people listen to them, actually listen and heed their advice. I had the wrong major in school, so did not get the training for the motivational speaker career track. But, I have learned some things about the typical content of a motivational speaker’s pitch, and one element at the core of that content is the concept of stretch. Not Spandex, but the ability to push one’s self toward an objective that is a stretch of the capabilities. There are gazillions of examples of what is a stretch, depending on the motivational speaker circuit and audience, but stretch is key.

There is a strong relevance regarding the concept of stretch to your CRM program, and even though I am not a motivational speaker, I am going to tell you about it.

Every CRM program needs a strategy – it provides the guidance and direction for the program to deliver results. There is pretty strong evidence that links the presence of a CRM strategy (and strong buy-in of the strategy) to eventual program success. One characteristic of a good strategy is that it pushes the boundaries. If you want to have your CRM program really deliver, don’t make the status quo your focus. Build your program around the future, and a future that is a stretch for your organization. Stretch leads to success.

However, it is not sufficient to set stretch goals. What is really necessary is to set stretch capabilities.

Every business analyst knows that you need to define business requirements in order to build a CRM technology platform. The identification of requirements is a critical path step along the way to delivering CRM automation to the organization. However, building business requirements based on the current state is not what we do in the critical path toward a great CRM program. Rather, identifying the capabilities needed to achieve stretch goals is. If you want to be successful, define what should be in place, don’t replicate what already is in place. Stretch capabilities takes you to a successful end state, requirements keep you locked into the status quo.

How do you define stretch capabilities? Great question, glad you asked.

I think there are two great stretching sources. First, building out business requirements based on best practices is an excellent start. This helps define future capabilities needed, based on historical precedent. Best practices guide you to create something that others have proven successful already. But, sometimes you also have to a take further step. A second source of stretch capabilities comes from differentiation. How do set yourself apart from your competition? Sources of competitive differentiation are always changing, by definition – everyone is always keeping up with the Joneses, so the bar keeps getting higher.

For example, a source of differentiation right now is to build out your social business capabilities. However, a year from now this will be simply table stakes. Two years from now we won’t even talk about social – it will just be endemic to how we work with customers. But, there will be something new that helps you differentiate. Stretching constantly stretches into new territory.

No, your requirements are not good enough – not if they are based on the way things are today. If you are going to go through all the trouble of investing in a new or upgraded CRM program, you deserve better. Get more for your investment.

Stretch.


Ram Rally

October 28, 2011

Just Get'er Done

We had our first snowfall in Southern New England yesterday. Yes, they have had snow in the mountains but for the rest of us flatlanders we finally got our punkins frosted. When this happens around this time of year you can hear the clock loudly ticking in our community – folks want to use their boats through the last good Indian summer weekend, but you also have to get it winterized fast so you don’t have anything burst unpleasantly. We are up against a deadline set by Mother Nature. Last year I pushed it and had to make some compromises. It is the old conflict between get it done right or get it done before the deadline. When there is a hard freeze coming, sometimes you have to be happy with just getting it done.

I have been experiencing this same situation with a number of clients lately. They have established a CRM program with targeted deliverables, a time frame for completion, and an approved budget to fund the implementation – the three proverbial sides of the “Scope Triangle”. The challenge with this, invariably, is when there is an immovable deadline. Deadlines are normal within CRM programs and don’t have to be problematic. Sometimes you have to get a release out by a certain target –before year end rush, in time for a global kick off meeting, within a funding window.

Meeting program deadlines is also normal, but success is completely based on the effectiveness of the original estimation. Poor estimations lead to scope negotiation – if too much was promised in too short of a window, something has to give. We all know the levers – push out the date, reduce the quality or quantity of the deliverable, or engage more resources and incur more cost. This is the traditional scope negotiation and tradeoff process. This is all fine, except when the scope is set arbitrarily such as a line-in-the-sand deadline or budget ceiling. There is no business reason driving the timeframe or the spending limit, just a threshold that is not to be exceeded. Period.

Sandlines

It is the period that causes the problem, especially when the original program estimation is a rough estimate used to establish a budget approval. Things like that are meant to be refined. Typically, large CRM programs are funded before all the details are ironed out. Estimations are meant to be directional. However, in some organizations they become a line in the sand not meant to be crossed, and that causes problems.

Three of my current clients have scratched this arbitrary line in the sand - each one with a different leg of the triangle –quantity of functionality, timeframe for delivery, and budget ceiling (less than funding). Invariably, once the more detailed analysis is completed, we find that to successfully satisfy business requirements the line has to be challenged. More functionality is needed for success; or the amount of effort will take longer than the targeted timeframe; or the budget ceiling will not enable the program to deliver on the promised business benefits.

So, what do you? If there is a scope parameter that cannot be moved for very rational reasons, then you have to work within it. Find the trade-off that comes with the least baggage. However, when scope parameters are set without merit, then my answer is to push hard to satisfy the business need – don’t be limited by the line in the sand. Every CRM program that I have seen fall short of meeting business requirements ultimately ends in poor adoption at best, or getting the proverbial plug pulled at worst. Arbitrary scope parameters can be the demise of an otherwise good program.

Does this mean that you should boil the ocean with your first phase just to satisfy all the different business stakeholders? Not at all. However, there is always a threshold of business value that needs to be reached for every program and for every early program phase. If you find that the line in the sand does not let you reach that threshold of business value, you need to push hard to move it.

And, if you are an executive that has drawn that line in the sand, I hope you will listen to reason. Your investment is riding on it.

October 21, 2011

Social Business For Business

Autumn Ivy

The leaf peepers are out. New England, as happens this time of year, is awash in color and the tourists are here in droves. It drives some to Burlington and it lures some to North Conway. The Duckboats in Boston are jammed. Mystic is still attracting visitors even if they have to wear a light jacket while dockside. Cruise ships are lining up in Portland to discharge passengers into the Old Port. Portland, Maine we are talking about here, not Charlotte Amalie or Nassau.

Fall foliage time brings folks to New England and the tourism dollar pours in. In some of our states here it is the # 1 industry. But, a misconception surrounding this is that tourism is a consumer industry only. The New England economy swells this time of year, but the benefits are very broad. When those 17 story floating cities cruise into the Portland Harbor, many businesses kick into high gear, not just the trinket shops and restaurants. Business to Business activity also thrives as a result of the loss of chlorophyll in our leaves.

I am finding a similar misconception coming into play with the emergence of Social Business. Many within the CRM industry believe that the growing Social CRM scene is limited to B2C, but that is a myopic perspective. The power of Social Technology spans both universes and is ready for serious B2B exploitation.

Part of the problem with the misconception is that virtually all business folks’ experience with Social Platforms is from the perspective of a consumer. They have interactions primarily with B2C selling – they have not yet had a chance to receive an offer as a business person or get help as a business product user while within a Social Platform. That will be changing.

Another problem with the misconception that Social Business is limited to B2C is from those cloud vendors who are trying to sell their Social Technology. One key sales tool is the case study. Unfortunately the preponderance of Social Business examples is limited to consumer buying. It is perpetuating the myth and limiting the market. We need more stories about how and why the social B2B thing works.

Social Business Technology provides companies with the ability to reach their customers using a new and growing channel, the Social Platforms where so many prospective buyers and users are engaging. Social Business does not replace the marketing function, the sales force, or the customer service center. Rather, it gives each of those functions more reach – it helps them engage with customers and prospective customers where they are being active. There are current successes today and even greater potential for the future. For example:

Customer Service Experience – today in cyberspace users of business products are engaging with their peers on the use and adoption of those products. Physicians are discussing procedure difficulties regarding stents and titanium hip sockets. Engineers are discussing the use of reflective windows in skyscrapers and issues with solar gain. Human Resource Managers are discussing their challenges with insurance claims and benefits management. Customer service contact centers have the ability to monitor those discussions and offer point-of-discussion insight to help with resolution. Some contact centers are already employing these tools for improving the customer experience.

New Business Prospecting – likewise, there are business shoppers out there on the Social Sites performing inquiries and getting advice from their business peers. New technology enables sales professionals to monitor those activities of folks within their patch and reach out when the time is right with an offer to help answer some of their product related questions. Those discussions at the point of inquiry are bringing new business into the sales pipeline for companies utilizing these new tools.

Brand Management – going one step further, there is more ability today to both advance the brand and protect it from social erosion. It is common today for companies and trademarks to be named specifically when inquiring or ranting. Marketing functions now have the tools to monitor these social conversations as they take place. Depending on the situation, offers can be made when the conversation is focused on inquiry, or defense can be the action when the conversation becomes destructive. Companies that have started using these tools are attracting new prospects and helping to protect brand value.

What we need now is for more success stories involving these new capabilities to come out. As examples of effective B2B Social Technology wins become more mainstream, the misconceptions will fade and even more focus will be given to the real power of Social Business.