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August 26, 2011

Hunters versus Farmers

Berry season is just wrapping up for me and while I was out in the patch for what may be the last harvest I got to thinking about paleontology. I seem to recall different articles, probably from National Geographic, or perhaps maybe the History Channel, where there is discussion about ancient civilizations being hunters and gatherers or advancing to farmers. I guess according to the experts farming was a sign of a more advanced society with more understanding of natural cycles and the process of cultivation. There I was out gathering berries and wondering if this meant that I was not very advanced. However, I convinced myself that I was OK because, even though my berry patch is comprised of wild black raspberry and wild blackberry, I actually cultivate the patch, performing a number of things like brush clearing to encourage growth. It was a weak argument but it satisfied my self esteem.

Having overcome that small internal crisis I then moved on to thinking about the concept of hunters versus farmers in the corporate world. It is amazing how the mind wanders while you are in the process of pulling little round purple things off of a branch and dropping it in a plastic container. Sales hunters and sales farmers started to drive my cogitation. The interesting thing to me about this while I was out in the patch that day was that according to the paleontologists the hunters were the more advanced cultures, but according to today’s corporate cultures, the sales hunters are the more revered species. Those that go out and bring in the big game are more highly rewarded than those that just keep the annuity flowing.

I don’t get that. I think the paleontology-minded view of this is more accurate.

Hunters don’t attract the glory, perhaps because their actions are invisible and because their corporate contribution is too steady. Landing a big account and with a big up front sale has big numbers attached to it – rhinoceros and elephant kind of stuff. A steady stream of beans and corn just pales in comparison, although that is what keeps the village alive during the long spells between the big deals.

As our culture moves toward a greater volume of social-based buying, driven through social marketing programs, we will become even more farmer-like. How will this be perceived? Will this drive a bigger chasm between sales and marketing? Will the value of the hunter finally be recognized in our corporate culture?

My advice is that we need to embrace farmers, recognize their contribution, celebrate the fact that they keep us fed. Let’s reward those who drive loyalty, who ensure contract renewal, who do the cross-sell. Perhaps more importantly, we need to make sure that the hunter-type selling is done correctly. Do you have the role defined? Do those how farm have clear direction or does this conflict with another element of their role. I often see that this is the case with many of the organizations I work with. Hunters are not only more regarded, farming is often performed on the side, by people who are tasked with something else as their primary focus.

One tangent we might ponder, continuing with the metaphor, is how the social CRM trend will impact sales as a function. Interestingly, I think one thing that might happen is that we may see hunters become more like ranchers. Too bad ranchers and farmers have never been all that good at getting along.

Stay tuned.

Prairie Dog Squirrels

August 12, 2011

Who's Calling The Plays?

While watching a baseball game the other night, the discussion between the two announcers during a lull in the game turned to the concept of game pace. Obviously the pace of the game was resulting in the lull and, interestingly, the MLB administration wants to speed up the game. What most of us might not know is that the pitcher, according to the rulebook, is supposed to make the next pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball. This rule has been in place for some time, but the desire now is to start living by that rule. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have not sat through many innings where the time between pitches is that fast. Count to 12 when you are watching your next game and see for yourself.

What is happening here is that the playbook is stronger than the rulebook. For some teams, every pitch starts in the dugout. A sign is flashed to the catcher who then relays it to the pitcher. The pitcher may have the right to disagree, in which case the catcher has to flash a second sign. Pitchers sometimes shake off 3 or 4 signs from the catcher before the ball is thrown toward the plate. This whole cycle of silent communication requires seriously more than 12 seconds.

Until the rulebook gains more credence than the playbook, baseball is going to be a slow going source of entertainment.

We also have an analogous situation within the world of CRM. The concept of the playbook is one of the hotter topics right now for those who follow sales force effectiveness. In theory, the sales playbook is intended to outline selling scenarios and provide actions (or plays) for the sales professional to follow. This can include topics such as the right product messaging for the situation, how to overcome objections, which buying role should be prioritized, and what steps to take to reach the close.

As a concept, the playbook is a great idea. It should provide sales folks insight into selling new products or within new situations. The problem is this: playbooks are typically developed by individuals who don’t sell, nor have they been in the situations for which they are designing the plays. The playbooks are typically written from the perspective of the product and jammed full of untested sales theory.

The last playbook I encountered with one of my clients was written by folks from marketing. It conflicted with the sales methodology in use, did not match well with processes built into the SFA tool, and was written with so much detail, that the few pieces of useful guidance were drowned in endless PowerPoint slides.

During the 5th inning of a typical game, the dugout has good intelligence. The coaches have monitored what pitches worked against each previous batter in the earlier innings. While a player is at the plate, the coach can indicate that the smartest pitch to get the desired infield grounder or strikeout for example, will be at the outside corner. The pitcher most likely does not have the means for remembering every batter’s weak spots. Those signals coming from the dugout are based on good intelligence and drive up defensive performance.

Likewise, the sales playbook could be based on intelligence. They can be built with content that outlines competitive differentiation or scenarios for effective action based on CRM analytics. Sadly, I have not seen this as a common practice, even if it is a best practice. So, if you are from marketing, this means that a good playbook is one based on evidence, rather than theory. Otherwise, your playbook will eventually be ignored. While I have not seen any comprehensive studies yet, the anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant percentage of playbooks are not developed based on successful experience driving the plays.

So, my open questions are, who’s calling the plays, and, are they being developed through CRM analytics or simply product management hunches? Are the playbooks written by people who actually sell or just someone developing product collateral? Your best chance for playbook adoption and effectiveness will be to create this new tool from the perspective of the sales professional rather than the product manager.

Let’s play ball.


August 05, 2011

Social Sandbox

This week is the sand castle building contest at our town beach, an activity that brings in tourists to gawk at the crazy things that sand castle builders can make with tiny granules of quartz and calcium. It is a very interesting and enjoyable experience, even though we don’t get the professionals. They won’t come to our competition because the town does not allow sticky sand – the stuff that is used to build the uber-cool sculptures. We have too much riding on our clam beds, which provide some of the best bivalves on the planet.

One of the other big differences of our competition is that everything has a 12 hour life span. This is because the sculptures are all at risk from high-tide waves – most of them get washed away with the next tide. These amazing works of art have a very fleeting life – after all they are built on sand, which conventional wisdom dictates is a terrible place to build.

And, we have come to learn this within the world of CRM as well.

We started up working with a new company recently that has struggled with being successful using social channels for their customer contact center. They were utilizing newly acquired tools to uncover dissatisfied customers asking for peer help on major social sites. Once engaged, the customer interaction would eventually move into more standard channels such as phone and e-mail; yet they were struggling with getting their customer satisfaction scores to improve.

With a bit of investigation we learned that the social part of their CRM process was really working well. The problem was with the conventional portion of the process. They had a very poor case management mechanism and their CRM platform was automating a poor process, which then made it even worse. Cases would age without proper attention, closure was inconsistent, and their escalation policies led to more frustration than satisfaction. Once we got those addressed their voice-of-the-customer feedback improved immediately.

Ironically, they expected that the use of the social channels would improve satisfaction by offering further engagement options, but they did not bother to clean up the foundation of the servicing process, which is based on a strong case management capability. This was our first encounter with this kind of situation, but I have a suspicion we are going to see more. I suspect that it is very enticing to think of the emerging and sexy social CRM opportunities as a way of fixing customer satisfaction issues. However, adding a channel into Facebook is not going to improve things if it is done on top of a poor conventional servicing process. You don’t want to build your Social CRM strategy on sand - it needs to be done on a solid foundation.

If you are in the middle of working out a Social CRM plan, I encourage you to continue, but I also encourage that you use this as an opportunity to audit your CRM program and best practices. The benefit of adding the social channel is huge, and probably the table stakes in today’s B2B environment. So, I don’t propose delaying that. However, in parallel you may need to improve some things to gain the benefits that Social CRM promises.

Otherwise, your efforts might get wiped out with the next tide.

Suspicious Beach