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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.