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May 29, 2009

Smart Lights

There have been a number of things I have been hoping to make happen in an effort at putting that proverbial silver lining on this nasty recession. One of these has been an attempt at finding a vacation deal. So, I contacted the travel agency that I have been using lately and told them what I wanted to do. They gave me back some options and some prices and I was surprised. What I wanted to do was not being discounted all that much. There are some serious deals out there. The cruise lines are just about paying passengers to get on their ships in the Western Caribbean right now, for example. No deals for me. So, I asked the travel agency to monitor the situation and let me know if a deal comes along. They said no. What? I know that the software exists to set this up easily – most of the dot.com travel companies make it available. I was flabbergasted.

This is the same thing as approaching an intersection late at night when there are no cars on the road and having to sit at a red light while all the other lanes, with no cars, get their turn at green. The invention of the smart light has been a great thing for people like me with no patience. Why should I sit and wait for absent cars to pass the intersection? The smart light solved this problem – it detects my presence and knows I am there alone and allows me to pass blissfully through. My travel company needs a smart light (in fact I bet they have one and choose not to use it). With little effort they can program my interest and when what I want comes along they can let me know – and they don’t need a traffic cop at the intersection to figure it out – it can all be done with automation.

This is great stuff for the consumer e-commerce space and I believe it has served as a significant component of the web 2.0 revolution. Now it is time for the B2B folks to get on board.

The smart light is also the roadway analogy to the concept of trigger marketing. When I approach an intersection a magnetic sensor buried in the pavement senses my approach. It sends a signal to a computer chip that has been monitoring all the lanes, including turning lanes, and determines if I should have the opportunity to go out of order. There are certain rules programmed into the decision making, and if I meet the criteria, I got a green light, literally. I can’t tell you how much I value this invention. The same exists for your marketing department, if you set up your intersections with smart lights.

Trigger marketing tools monitor your customer traffic. They detect certain traffic situations, such as do they stop at a white paper and then do they stop at a webinar? If so, you might set up your sensor in the road to trigger that behavior and send a lead to the sales person who would manage that account. Nobody has to wait for anybody. The trigger does the work of letting you know about the traffic. It is just as fantastic as the smart light. I really dig this stuff.

Of course, there is the challenge of driving the traffic. I find that triggers are easy to explain and convince my clients of their value. The harder topic is the effort needed to drive traffic to the intersections where the triggers are buried in the road. This requires campaigns.

It is still somewhat of a mystery to me why so many organizations resist the concept of conducting marketing campaigns. Some believe it is only for consumer marketing. Some think that their customers won’t respond or don’t read e-mail (you have got to be kidding). Some have tried a campaign but have experienced poor success. My perspective is that these are all unsatisfactory reasons for not using the marketing function to drive customer interest and enable the customer to tell you when they are ready for contact on a topic that fits their needs. Campaigns that drive traffic (to a website, to an event, to reply to a survey) are an extension of the company’s ability to deliver messaging to customers and prospects about your products and services that they require. The great advantage of the trigger is that it allows your customer to determine when they are ready for a contact.

Then there is the marketing function that is fine with running campaigns and regularly sends leads to sales, but the leads are largely ignored. This is another great value that can be derived from the use of triggers. With the creation of a bit of sophistication, such as through behavior scoring, you can set up the triggers to only detect interest after all the required criteria is reached. This scoring approach increases lead value and ultimately sales acceptance. No more leads based on who stopped by the trade show booth just because they wanted whatever free goods you were pawning.

Frosty Bicyclette

The next time you are sitting at a stoplight and getting irritated with the delay, think about that missing sensor in the road. If you are not using trigger marketing, you are basically doing the same thing with your marketing function – unnecessarily delaying traffic.

Happy Driving!

May 22, 2009

Are You Sure You Want To Do That?

As we think about Memorial Day Weekend and the official start of summer here the states I have to reflect back on Labor Day Weekend last year, the official end of summer, and the official end of our boat of 19 years. We gave it a proper burial over the winter and then followed the rite of spring by shopping for a replacement. Having narrowed it down to two previously skippered vessels, we set out one Saturday morning in late March to examine the finalists up close. We had looked all winter long, made a number of flip flops, and finally settled on a particular model that seemed to fit our needs. Within a couple hours radius of our place there were two that seemed to stand out.

The first was waiting for us lakeside, just having been unwrapped from its winter blanket. It was spotless and gleamed in the early spring sun even while there was still a bit of rogue snow on the hillside overlooking the marina. Nevertheless, the prospect of summer enjoyment exuded from this candidate. It had everything we wanted and was in pristine condition as if just from the factory.

Our second visit was to the sister ship sitting curbside a few towns away - the exact model and color, just in a different setting. However, immediately there was an obvious difference. The proud owner offered up a tour and explained every critical customization that lurked around each corner. We were flabbergasted. Why had he done these things? It was like having your teen come home with a nose ring or a tattoo covering an entire limb. We ran from this boat as fast as we could politely end our inspection.

Certainly one of the most significant learnings about CRM we have reached as a company is that customization can be fraught with danger. For many of our clients it really seemed to make sense at the time - building a cozy little addition to the code that made something easier or made it seem a bit better of a fit to an existing work process. But the dangers lurk and eventually emerge with time. Something changes, most likely a process, and you want to use the system a bit differently. However, that nifty little customization is now in the way. Your flexibility has been reduced and the repair will include a huge price tag – if it can be undone. When we stepped on that second boat, this was all I saw – those small changes that were irreversible and made the boat seem tainted.

This CRM technology snag seems to catch our SaaS customers most often. These systems can be appealing for their ease of administration, but there is a risk that too much is modified. Many of my clients wish they had not made some of the changes that seemed like such a good idea at the time. The system gets clunky and the costs add up. Ironically, these same packages often come with a boat load of applications readymade to satisfy those needs that otherwise would have required some custom bit of coding. Want to capture training requirements within your CRM platform? Would it be great to include expense tracking? Feel the need to do something really fancy regarding territory assignment? You will most likely be better off with the app that somebody else already built and tested. Some of them are even free!

Yes, we are back on the water again, and, yes, we went with the un-customized watercraft. There is one change we did choose to make, although there is a bit of a risk associated with this particular customization. Folklore dictates that changing a boats’ name brings bad luck, unless you through a coin in the bilge. With my luck, I should probably use a Krugerrand.


May 15, 2009

The Genius or the Fool?

Reportedly, of all the many quotes from his father, the favorite of T. Boone Pickens is: “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan.”

Now, a guy like me has to like a quote like that – it is helps give my job some credibility (my official title with my employer is Chief Strategy Officer after all, and that does involve a bit of planning here and there). There are actually a number of “fool” quotes that I have collected over the years, but this is probably my favorite.

Mr. Pickens is a pretty successful dude, but he is very much not satisfied with that success. Making billions from oil has not satiated his desire for achievement. But it is what he has set his sights on next that has really caught my attention. His desire is to help our country become independent from foreign oil (which means becoming independent from petroleum products in general). Most importantly he has a plan. His vision is huge and the challenge is daunting, and he is somewhat going it alone. Yet, he is doing it nevertheless.

When he demonstrates some success others will jump on his bandwagon and the greater initiative will prevail. We will have wind farms and hydrogen cell technology, and we will burn a lot less fossil fuels. At the moment his plan is a bit out there and there is the question of fool or genius?

I quite like it and I encourage you to consider this as a model for your CRM program planning. There are a number of elements to T’s situation that I think are worth emulating. First, he is not resting on his laurels. Many of you have run successful CRM programs and could stop now and declare victory. Don’t. No matter how successful you have been with your program, there is more to get back and you should go after it.

Second, he is taking on a big challenge. So what? Automating a salesforce is a big challenge as well. You don’t have to do it all at once, but you have to do it. We need to wean ourselves from hydrocarbons, but we will have to do it with a bunch of smaller connected initiatives, not just one big one.

Third, and most importantly, and this may be where the fool part may seem to appear – he is offering up his plan and going after it, even though he does not have a backing from the government or the oil industry or any other significant body. He is doing it anyway, but I believe others will join him eventually. Over the last quarter of a century I have worked with many divisions and business units of larger organizations who were paralyzed with the absence of a higher level corporate strategy. The more successful organizations finally break free of those perceptual chains and plow forward with their plan. This has been done not in defiance of corporate direction, but rather, in order to support it the best it can in the absence of a clear direction.

It is a common occurrence to be in a situation to build a plan when the direction is otherwise unclear. I suggest going forward, but I also encourage that you involve folks to provide input on that direction. Having consensus on what you are attempting to achieve is the number one predictor of program success – even if that consensus does not involve the highest levels of the corporation. Work toward a clear vision, demonstrate success, and you will achieve what I have seen happen many times. The folks from the corporate office will want to learn what you have that is working so they can import it back to the home office.

The one risk in all this is that you may have to spend a period of time appearing as the fool.

A Fish and a Prayer

May 08, 2009

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Recently, during a family holiday trip, I had the pleasure of visiting a corner of the world that is all about lemons. There is lemon in much of the cuisine. The local digestif is made from fermented lemon and is available on every corner. Chocolate often comes lemon flavored, which does not always work. Lemon trees grow like weeds, depositing their fruit casually here and there. Some of the orange trees grow lemons (really!) Lemons are even used as projectiles on occasion. But, I have to confess, after a while you start getting to a point where there is too much of it.

This can happen to anything, even some items that we might assume you can never get enough of. In the business world one interesting topic that is now popping up as being overdone is 6 Sigma, the management philosophy of continuous improvement. I was surprised when I first ran across this, but if you dig into it a bit there is something to it.

Apparently some very visible 6 Sigma programs have yielded some very non-positive results – continuous un-improvement. As a result, some case studies have emerged in an attempt to explain what not to do with this type of program. The pattern in the case studies looks something like this:
- The initial deployment of 6 Sigma yields the resolution of some low-hanging-fruit-type problems.
- The initial success reinforces the belief that the methodology / paradigm makes strong business sense leading to an expansion of the program to a broader focus within the company.
- The large scale effort leads to short-term improvement in operating margin.
- This real bottom line impact causes more reinforcement of belief that the paradigm works, so the company then goes through a culture change to embrace yet more continuous improvement.
- Then, an interesting thing happens – a focus on cost-cutting as a chief strategic focus takes over and begins to negatively impact morale and customer satisfaction (which reinforce each other).
- Revenue and stock price begin to drop (even though margin remains decent).
- The CEO gets fired and the 6 Sigma thing starts a slow death.
This quick synopsis is a bit over-simplified, but the pattern has emerged with a number of prominent companies. So, my conclusion is, too much of a good thing reduces the value of the good thing, until it loses its value altogether.

I have worked in client organizations where 6 Sigma has been deeply rooted in the culture. And like the root word in that term, it is somewhat cult like. I have always been a bit skeptical of such a strong force. I guess a second conclusion is that we need to approach everything in moderation.

Balance is a key aspect of getting the CRM strategy to work best. Too much of a focus on one type of outcome versus another can be very problematic. We have the ability to derive three types of business results from our CRM program investments: growth, efficiency, and customer value. Programs that go over the top seeking one outcome in a cult like fashion cause an imbalance. Too much focus on efficiency causes growth and customer value to be squashed (poor revenue earnings and customer satisfaction).

The 6 Sigma example is very relevant to how you might pursue the business results from your CRM program. I have seen some companies blindly pursue improved customer experience as a driver for their CRM, but often to the detriment of efficiency. Likewise, I have seen the same abandon thrown into the pursuit of revenue, often at the expense of customer satisfaction. It is a balance thing. I am not proposing that your CRM program should focus equally on growth, efficiency and customer experience. Attempting to go after everything usually results in gaining nothing. However, like the whole death-by-lemon thing, too much focus on one item at the expense of the others is also the wrong pursuit.

Good luck with your balancing act. Care for some lemonade?

Senor Limon

May 01, 2009

Yes Man

Have you seen the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey? I was on a long haul flight with it playing on those monitors hanging from the ceiling. Seriously – Air France 747’s need to be updated to the current century. Anyway, the woman behind me asked me to put my seat forward in the middle of the movie. This was not for any solid reason, such as meal time and she needed room to eat. She just did not like having me reclining back in what she believed was her space. It was OK for her to recline, but she did not want me to.

With Yes Man on the small screen you can imagine my predicament, as there was a lot of momentum in the air just to say “yes”. However, I did not succumb to the moment; but, rather, I said no, almost politely. The same thing happened to me the week before. The passenger behind me felt that it was unfair for me to recline. I said no then as well. In between those flights I had yet another passenger request that I give up my isle seat for the window for the purpose of freedom to get up on a regular basis. I tried to be more polite when I said no this time. For all the miserable trips when I have sat in the middle seat with a full bladder, I feel justified in keeping isle seats when I can get them.

Some folks believe they should have their comfort at others’ expense. Sorry, but that does not work with me. I remember as a kid listening to a sermon in church that opened with a story about dessert. One person ate theirs and one person saved it for later. When later arrived, the immediate gratification dessert eater requested that the delayed gratification person share the booty. The only part of the sermon I recall from this experience is that it would be OK to say no. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the rationale, but I am quite certain that some of the lesson from that sermon would prove really useful right now. Thank you anyway Pastor Bretcher, and sorry for not paying better attention.

This happens in CRM programs frequently. Some groups want stuff that comes at the expense of others, and, sometimes, the answer is really appropriate to be no. Jim Carrey ultimately comes up with the correct criteria for saying no, which is what I believe is the solution here as well. When you have good logic for why it is sometimes yes and sometimes no, things are easier. So, then the question becomes, “what makes good criteria?” That is harder to answer directly, but I think that it will depend on having agreements on scope and budget and other program parameters. In other words, this stuff can’t just be random “you can have this, but you can’t have that” kind of criteria.

Perhaps it is best to have your criteria for what is a yes and what is a no be defined by your steering committee. A good governance structure is the solution to a lot of tough situations, and this is certainly one of them. When I fly I rely on my flight attendants for that kind of objective oversight, but it did fail me recently. So, just make sure you set up your steering committee with some solid direction at the beginning of your project. Otherwise you may have to tell them you won’t be putting your seat upright just because the person behind you is too large for the space they are renting on the plane. After all, if the airline wants their passengers to be comfortable, it should be at their expense, not yours.

Bon Journee!

Cow Lick