Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Tag

10 Recommendations for Socially Enabling the Customer Lifecycle

We have had a lot of discussions as of late around how to socially enable the customer lifecyle. Also, begs the question “What does that mean?”

First, we are talking about how you manage customers from awareness, through interest, purchase, delivery, support, repeat, and referral. Depending upon your market, how complicated your sales process, channels, etc. this will vary to a degree, but we are talking about managing a customer from cradle to grave ( hopefully “not” grave). Companies are paying a lot of money for business intelligence systems, CRM systems, contact center, marketing and sales technologies to try and address the challenges around the heightened customer expectations.

Customers do not want the disjointed, endless closed loop frustrations of trying to manage a relationship with a company who doesn’t understand that customers choose from whom they receive “service”. This customer experience is bleeding through into marketing and sales with the ability to mass distribute customer complaints. We have all seen the blogs, tweets, viral videos, etc.

The company that can enable a sustained and coherent engaged relationship with a customer from introduction through purchase and repeat purchases will see a decline in customer churn, increase in referrals, and a decrease in the cost of customer acquisition. Bottom line is that better engagement with your customers leads to a better bottom line. The “means to an end” in this is through social media, online communities, collaboration, web 2.0, etc. type technologies that enable individuals to engage and interact online. Huge wins in terms of brand equity, customer satisfaction, and understanding of buyer behavior, beyond streamlining the service and support processes.

To that end, we spend a lot of time working with companies to design this roadmap since many are still trying to figure out how to get started, let alone walk or run. As we do a good number of presentations on what a roadmap looks like, we thought that we would share the high-level framework in the spirit of “give to get”; which is the basis of social marketing. Here is our recommendations:

  1. Find out what your market is saying. If you aren’t, you have no idea literally.
  2. Have a plan to engage with them on social networks, blogs, video, etc
  3. Build a good “fishing program” for lead generation
  4. Identify the top places, people, and discussions that your market is engaging
  5. Build relationships online as you would a good PR or business development program
  6. Build engaging content that will educate, entertain, or influence your market
  7. Build an online community for your customers, prospects,  and partners
  8. Listen to what they have to say, measure it, and respond to it
  9. Build an online community for your organization to collaborate and to engage employees
  10. Integrate your applications, corporate content, processes, and data into the community
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Enterprise Social Architecture: Need My House Jack?

We spend a lot of time with larger enterprises discussing how to integrate these newer technologies; web 2.0, community, social media, collaboration, etc into their existing environments.

There are similarities to owning an older home. Learning a lot lately about how older homes were constructed. Our house was built in the 1950’s and they used a center beam and wing construction model. Think of a ship, center beam and wings fanning out from there. Over time, the center beam begins to sag a little, not very flexible so you put in house jacks, bracket the beam, and put in supports, etc. In older homes, you always find that the previous owners have added their improvements; rewired electricity, added a bathroom, added an addition built on a different foundation, etc.

If you think about many of the larger enterprises, they have the same challenges. Centerbeam for support which isn’t very flexible and sags. The center beam is the ERP system and the wings are the other systems that hang off of it; payroll, onboarding, content mgmt, crm, business Intelligence, supply chain, logistics, intranets, portals, various biz apps, email, etc.ERP. Added a lot additions; business intelligence, CRM, content, web apps, intranets, supply chain, etc.

 We spend a lot of time with enterprise organizations and their domain experts talking about how to socially enable the core business systems and processes custom lifecycle management. We hear all the time from CIO’s that they don’t want to make any major system changes as they are still paying for it; with all of the additions and changes, they still have a hefty residual mtg payment or amortization and  would like to get more life out of the systems without having a payment.

 The good news is that the home remodeling busness has advanced with new technologies, techniques, and implementation processes to retrofit an older home with the latest green and or backbone and foundation strengthening and life extending techniques for older homes.

Same thing for larger enterprises looking retrofitting their social backbone for their organization to gain effiencies, competitive advantage, or keep up wth their customer requirements. They can implement a social architecture without requiring them to rip out existing systems or do major infrastructure changes.

 We have begun to develop social program and system implementations with the variuos partner organizations to take advantage of enterprise class social for lead generation, customer lifecycle mgmt, business intelligence, new product development, project collaboration, and emploee engagement as just a sampling of initiatives that we are seeing.

Retrofitting a home is harder than new construction in a lot of ways, but for many homeowners who want to keep the charm of their home intact or who cannot afford to major home repair, it is an attractive option.

Retrofitting older information infrastructures to take advantages of social and collaboration can provide similar life extending and or cost reducing alternatives to upgrading without disruption.

Social Marketing Needs Collaboration

The title sounds a bit redundant, but if you are like me, trying to maintain the volume of content for my blog, twitter feeds, linkedin groups, and facebook chats is difficult at best. Social marketing activities need to be collaborative to produce the quality and volume sufficient to “move the dial”. I will share some anecdotes:

  1. I made a recommendation to a handful of personal contacts that they needed to create a blog to give their marketing efforts a boost ( a mix of marketing and management professionals who were either doing it for their company or doing it for a job search). They needed to demonstrate their thought leadership in their particular domains. Out of the 5, they produced a grand total of 2 posts….. I couldn’t reasonably expect all of them to produce content, but I was curious to see how difficult it was for them to get started. I will share my alternative recommendation to them below.
  2. I read one of Guy Kawasaki’s posts about leveraging 4 assistants to research news to produce his twitter tweets. First, I have twitter assistant envy. Second, his name is really is a brand at this point. Third, he is leveraging a small community to produce sufficient content because there is no way a single person could produce that volume of content, let along original content.
  3. I have had coffee as of late with a number of people who are active participants in in social media, but choose not to produce original content, but rather are comfortable with the relationship building and redistribution of content. I think this is the right way to get started in social marketing. You can always introduce your own commentary and content once you have established a relationship network.

Having done a significant amount of consulting around building corporate online communities as an extension of the corporate website, I have had lengthy discussions around content creation. Most of the issues were of the “how do we actually create enough content?” with a close second in “How do we encourage participation?” The short answer is participation begets more participation….

I call it the empty restaurant syndrome. You go into a large, cavernous restaurant with multiple rooms with a  capacity for hundreds and you see a small cluster of tables in the middle of the restaurant with more staff than patrons. Your impression is that the caliber of the food isn’t good. Take the same number of patrons and line them up outside of the hole-in-the wall pizza joint AND you are congratulating yourself for this amazing find.

It is the same with online participation. If you go into a group and there hasn’t been any post updates in months, you assume that the content isn’t worth your time because no one else is participating. The alternative is you see a long list of posts, but no real threads or connectivity. Volume does not equal collaboration either.

Very few people on the web can sustain the volume of unique content production to build a momentum and readership. Even fewer can do it part-time while maintaining a full-time position or run a business and personal life.

Beyond the basics of needing other people’s input to spark the creative juices, we also need the real time feedback to give us that tactile response and immediate gratification from someone commenting positively about ideas that you express. Whether you do it in 140 characters, in groups on the social networking sites, in your own corporate community, or as collaborative post swaps with other bloggers. The reality is that it is easier to respond to someone’s commentary than sit at a computer and toil away on your own.

I will also add that in my experience with building online communities, it does not take a large core group of participants to create a large volume of compelling content, but rather a leader who provides the evangelism, focus, and leads the topic discussions. Rather like a good MC on a panel discussion; seed the conversation, encourage participation, moderate discussion, and summarize the discussion to bring out the major points.

Now back to what the people above should do alternatively to starting a blog…. the short answer is that it depends. I would recommend that they participate in relevant topic groups in the various social networking sites (communities), provide commentary on the content they find online through twitter, and get comfortable with participating and writing versus trying to maintain the regular production schedule of a single publisher blog.

Or alternatively, if there is a sufficient number of internal people in their company, I would recommend that they create a group blog (mini-community) until they have sufficient content and discussion to warrant opening up to outside direct participation in a larger community. They should bring in articles, blog posts, tweets, videos, white papers, interview customers, etc all focused around the key messages and take-aways that you want to communicate to your target audience.

Bottom line is that we all need inspiration and collaboration for writing whatever form it comes in.

 

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The Triple Crown of Web 2.0 & Online Application Development

From a product management perspective, the three major critical success factors for building online applications are Adoption, Distribution ,and Value. Notice that functionality is not on the list & I will explain why. Also, you may think I am having a product management conversation, but as with any good marketing, it has to be rooted in economics. More importantly, focusing on customer acquisition costs. 

Unless you have are building your online application as free-ware without a way to monetize the relationships (there are a good number of Silicon Valley garage & VC backed companies still doing this, also a good number of IPhone apps), then eventually you have to figure out how to make money from the application that you are building. Even if you are creating a free application to drive distribution, but you assume that at some point that you will sell something, upsell something, or advertise something; then you probably need to have thought though these issues.

1. Adoption – in a previous post, I discussed why adoption trumps functionality in Web 2.0 applications https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/in-web-2-0-software-adoption-trumps-functionality/ Bottom line is that without users, web 2.0 collaboration cannot occur. You can look at the ecosystem of twitter or facebook apps to get an idea, but it works on a micro-level, as well. If you don’t get a significant percentage of your available population to use your application, it isn’t very valuable. With near zero distribution costs on the internet, the real price is customer awareness. You have to capture their attention and interest; otherwise the value of collaborative applications is marginalized.

2. Distribution – If you are distributing your application, you would assume ubiquitous distribution, but the problem is that so does everyone else. I had coffee with a CEO recently who told me that there wasn’t a great deal of competition for their application, but when I went online to do research, I found at least 25 or so competing applications. The direct competitiveness was questionable, along with the quality, but even if you gave it away for free; it would be difficult to break through the noise without significant marketing $’s OR a partner that could distribute the application. In essense, you need a “big brother” partner to assist you in breaking through the noise so that you can overcome the barriers to market entry. The partner provides the ability to differentiate from the crowd, gain awareness, and creates an assumption of quality. This can be a technology platform vendor (Iphone, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, etc) or it can be an industry brand that the customers already buy a complimentary offering. Giving away a free application to drive distribution is also a good strategy, as long as it is part of a larger strategy.

3. Value – you have to provide more value than the prospective user will give; whether its there time, money, attention, relationships, etc. This sounds simple, but when you take into account market segmentation, competitive factors, and other market noise, it isn’t as easy. Let’s assume that you are servicing a vertical market with a very cool web-based application that allows the customer to save 20% off their transaction costs & shave 2 hours per user a week on a particular process. No brainer, they should value this application at least $1,200 per user per month, we should charge them $600. We are done, let’s go to market…. right? Wrong!

Pricing the application is more complicated than that when you take into account the switching costs from things they are doing today, competitive offerings, customer acquisition costs, exist costs, etc.

  • You find out they are using an old windows application that they have been using for 12 years. 20% savings doesn’t really mean much to the people using it day-to-day.
  • The business owner has an annual contract for support that has another 9 months left on it so the 20% isn’t as attractive as you would think.
  • The legacy application does not have the ability to easily export the 12 years worth of data to your web application. So, even though you have used the latest technologies for creating your API, it requires professional services to transition them. Wipes out the 20% savings in the first year.

I could go on, but when you begin to think about how to launch a new web 2.0 application, even though it seems like a game-changer for the market, there are legacy issues that need to be thought through. “Build it and they will come syndrome” has tripped us a good many new improved software applications.

It is hard and costly to simplify the adoption, distribution, and value proposition, right? Yes and no. If you ask the market and potential customers, you will incur costs and time to understand and overcome the potential roadblocks, but the risk mitigation is priceless.

Some simple advise to close on:

  • Go where customer is, not where you think they are… Customer perception is your reality…
  • It is easier to sell to companies that have money… don’t be afraid of competition or large markets, but do your homework. Smaller, niche markets also can produce more revenue is the pain is greater.
  • Customers buy from the company that is easiest to do business fromwith… registration, price, package, etc.
  • Distribution on the web is about finding relationships to reach likely customers in buying mode…
  • Value is identifying pain, “must have” versus “nice to have” – we are all overwhelmed with choices, where do we focus is prioritized based on our perceived needs. Even opportunities are based upon perceived pain.
  • Emotional connection play a large part in impulse, attention, switching costs, substitutions, opportunity, & empathy – all of which play a part in buyer behavior

The single biggest mistake I see companies make in launching new online applications is that they do not think through the factors outside of their immediate control. If you had enough warning that you were going to crash your car, you could change direction or avoid a potential wreck. Involving distribution partnerships and customers earlier in the product development cycle is exactly the way to identify potential “app killers” and allow you to make that “killer app”.