You might ask what the difference is between personalization and authenticity in CRM and the answer is subtle. For a long time I have felt—and said—that we over emphasize personalization when what customers really want is authenticity. But examples are hard to find, especially in our current culture where personalization is strongly emphasized and authenticity draws quizzical looks. Perhaps you are feeling that way right now.
Nonetheless, earlier this month in its August 10 and 17 double vacation issue The New Yorker served up a perfect example. For reasons that I don’t understand but am eternally grateful for, this magazine has, for many years, been an unofficial source of great material for the social CRM age. Malcolm Gladwell (author of many articles and books like Outliers and The Tipping Point) is an editor there as is James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds.
The article that impressed me comes almost literally out of left field. In “Learning to Speak Lingerie” Peter Hessler takes us on a trip to visit with Chinese lingerie entrepreneurs establishing a beachhead for their wares in upper Egypt. The Chinese are learning Arabic and have no familiarity with Islam or any other religion. They sell lingerie to women (accompanied by men and in one case a significant fraction of a woman’s whole family) who are dressed in traditional headscarves or more.
Despite the handicaps of language and culture, the Chinese are making inroads into the market and at one point in the article, I think you can see the handicaps working to advantage so that Chinese men are more effective at selling lingerie to Egyptian women than Egyptian men are.
Consider this: Through a translator, an Egyptian woman speaking to the reporter said, “I can’t describe how they [Chinese merchants] do it. But they can look at the item [of lingerie] and give it to the woman [i.e. a customer] and that’s it.”
That’s interesting but what comes next is key: “An Egyptian man would look at the item, and then look at the woman, and then he might make a joke or laugh about it.”
Wow! It feels creepy just reading that last sentence. Talk about personalization gone bad. The Chinese don’t have that problem in part because they’re still learning the language but also because they are focused on being authentic and in this case it means providing just enough service to help with selection and not trying to get into the mind space of the customer. Hessler documents this when he continues to quote the Egyptian woman, “When you buy something, you feel the thoughts of the person selling it. And with the Chinese their brains don’t go thinking about women’s bodies.”
This struck me as highly rational and to the point of good CRM. We make a big effort to personalize customer encounters and truth be told some of our efforts are really good and deserving of praise. But as in the example above, one person’s personalization can easily lead to another person’s feeling an insult with a resultant no sale.
That’s why my position is to favor authenticity whenever possible. It’s never perfectly clear when a customer will feel the love or something else so the question must be, why take the chance?
My suggestion to would-be personalizers is to first understand the moment of truth that your customer is actually in—it might not be what you think. Then work within the moment of truth to ensure that you are providing the authentic moment that customers want. You can’t do this unless you turn your data gathering and analytics toward metrics that tell you concretely how you’re doing. A man selling lingerie might be in particular danger of not understanding the customer’s moment of truth and personalizing it with an off-base comment (or offer) will only exacerbate an awkward moment.
Most products and services don’t serve intimate and private needs but they still come with moments of truth and customers still look for authenticity within them. I still believe that personalization is a decision on the part of the customer not the vendor. It often happens well past the halfway point of an encounter when the customer decides that, yes this fits my need in this moment of truth. That decision is often subliminal, but it certainly happens.
American tech companies are having their troubles in Europe again; this time, it’s Google’s turn. According to an article in the New York Times, European newspaper publishers are up in arms about Google encroaching into the news business.
There are numerous ways to approach this topic—that the Europeans were too slow to see the digital future (and some still don’t), that publishing on newsprint is a vanishing idea, that Europeans, rather than playing catch-up with the tech giants are engaging in political entrepreneurship.
Political entrepreneurship is an interesting idea. If you’re familiar with garden-variety entrepreneurship where someone risks everything, borrows money, and builds a company, the political kind is just the opposite. Political entrepreneurs invest in the political process by lobbying lawmakers to write laws advantageous to their needs. This is happening at the European Parliament but at a laughable rate.
According to the times article the European publishers don’t disclose what they’re spending on lobbying but one of the leading publishers in Europe was said to have put up about $55,000 in the effort while Google has spent $4.8 million.
But the root problem isn’t law. It is Europe’s decades-long aversion to investing in entrepreneurship and technology leadership. While there are certainly bright spots in the European tech sector such as Siemens and Philips, I can’t think of a technology from the last hundred years that Europeans have invented. Think about it, electric light, the airplane, sound recording, video recording including movies, transistors, computer chips, whole computers, the Internet, social media, and operating systems are all American inventions. The Europeand and Americans tie on the invention of automobiles. The last real contributions that Europeans made to technology were the steam engine and the spinning jenny. Even the assembly line is an American invention. And this is all despite the huge brains trust resident on the continent.
Not to be rude to our friends and allies but if there was a credible European alternative to Google the story would be different. Alternatively, if the Europeans tried to leverage Google rather than fighting it, the results might be better. The Times story was illuminating in some ways on this. For example, according to the article, “…print circulation for Europe’s newspaper industry has fallen a combined 21.3 percent, compared with 8.5 percent in the United States, according to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, a trade body.”
Moreover, when publishers tried to charge Google for linking to their content, thinking it would raise revenues, it had the opposite effect. Again from the Times, “…copyright rules already have been passed in several European countries, but have so far backfired against the publishers. In Germany, Google removed many local organizations from its news service, which led to a drastic fall in online traffic to some newspapers’ sites. Local publishers eventually agreed to waive any potential charges.”
So, in many ways Europe is left in a tough spot, they are behind the tech curve and they are being colonized by U.S. tech companies which they don’t like very much. But the solution to their problems isn’t political entrepreneurship. We can already see that. It’s also too late to do much about Google’s colonization. True the Europeans might be able to hobble Google the way they hobbled Microsoft in the browser wars but it’s hard to see how that provided much advantage. The remedy resides in having policies that promote entrepreneurship in general and especially economic growth, which is diametrically opposite what they have right now.
Linus Pauling winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (vitamin C) and Peace (no nukes) once said if you want to have good ideas, you have to have lots of ideas. Simply put he meant every idea wouldn’t be a home run but it is important to keep iterating. You can see Salesforce’s Wearables strategy following that curve as the company just announced a score of new apps for Apple Watch.
I am using the Pauling analogy because while the apps are certainly useful they don’t convey the sense of hitting the ball out of the park and the whole wearables revolution depends on finding the killer app. Or does it?
Killer apps were once easy to spot. For PC’s spreadsheets and word processing were the must have solutions that made boxes sell. Then graphics packages gave laptops a reason to exist. But look at the handheld device and you see something different. I don’t think the handheld has a killer app but it has a stable of them. For the first time, these devices are so personalized that they can be anything that a user wants them to be simply by downloading apps for pennies. Our phones and tablets reflect the way we live our lives.
It’s hard to contemplate something more personal than a phone and its apps but perhaps time will make it apparent how wearable computing takes us further. Certainly the suite of wearable apps that Salesforce announced today is a worthwhile contribution to the journey.
If the phone enabled us to automate our personal lives, it appears the vision for wearables is to further automate work but at a very personalized level and perhaps the form factor is just right too. After all, in our personal lives, we can dedicate as much time and effort as we want to tracking flights of angry birds through maps of exotic places we’ve photographed in different time zones while reading French newspapers and selecting tonight’s movie. You get the idea.
In our business lives just give us the facts (or data) ma’am, we can fill in the missing pieces so wearables are ideal. Salesforce’s passel of programs for Apple Watch all seem to do this in one way or another. Take the BetterWorks Wear app for instance. They say it’s designed to connect employees around common goals. That’s a perfect app for conveying the essential information to team members without cluttering up their days. If you need long form conversation you can always text or even dial the phone or send email.
Speaking of calls, the ContactWorld for Wearables app from NewVoiceMedia helps users triage incoming calls from the wrist without necessarily picking up. Perhaps you’re busy and can’t take a call right now but you’d make an exception if the caller was really important and not necessarily in love with you today. You’d want that call to see if you could turn the situation around. That’s personalizing your approach to business—doing the most you can with the limited resources at your disposal.
In ways like this wearables apps are enabling us to get incredibly fine grained about our personal relationships with our jobs and our customers. It’s what McAfee and Brynjolfsson we getting at in “The Second Machine Age.” Wearables are enabling us to filter the ocean of our personal-work lives so that we can more effectively use our limited time.
So perhaps the killer app for wearables isn’t a single app or even a constellation of them. It is an approach, a new paradigm, a good idea that bubbled up from all those earlier ideas we had that didn’t quite push the ball over the goal line. Linus would get it.
In a sure sign of the times, Google announced its new holding company, Alphabet, today. Alphabet will now be parent of the search business as well as all of the other businesses like drones, android, self-driving cars, wearables, and so much more. The switch helps Google become more transparent for Wall Street while setting up the company as a first class innovation conglomerate. An article in the New York Times makes the point (several times) that by setting up Alphabet, Google is emulating General Electric or even Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s outfit that is into everything from tighty whities (Fruit of the Loom) to manufacturing, retail companies and a lot more.
Emulating either company is not a bad way to go. Since its founding in 1892 by Thomas Edison, GE has been a powerhouse of innovation in such far flung areas as medicine and healthcare, locomotives, jet engines, and a host of smaller goods that influence the lives of nearly all Americans. What GE has been (and this in no way writes off GE as a future innovator) in all of these areas, Alphabet has a chance to be in new fields during the century ahead.
Unlike Microsoft, which has remained a single entity, Alphabet will spin-up and spin-off wholly owned entities with a singular purpose that enables Google’s founders to engage in their interests in creating new companies, products, and business models while more or less insulating the cash cow from the vicissitudes of a large and possibly chaotic single company. The single company model sets up all kinds of political rivalries for resources and it saps the strength of even the best leaders.
What links GE, Alphabet, Berkshire Hathaway and many others is a Blue Ocean strategy. This approach enables leaders to be bold speculators about the future and the make products and services that fit their visions. Since many or even most bets on the future fall short, there’s a high amount of risk associated with attempting to sail on the blue sea, but when an idea works it is often game changing and paradigm building. If you think about it, Google Glass and self-driving cars define the spectrum.
All this brings to mind Salesforce.com, another company that I have said many times has a blue ocean orientation. Salesforce is tiny compared to GE or Berkshire Hathaway but those companies were small once too. So far, Salesforce has stuck relatively to its knitting building software for business. But if you look at what it is involved in from its verticals to its partners to wearables to its platform-based approach, you can see the potential makings of another GE or Alphabet, though one that is solidly focused on software, at least for the time being.
The rise of Alphabet and the emerging prevalence of blue ocean thinking suggests to me that we are at a transition point. We’re shifting from an economic paradigm focused on information and ramping up a new one that applies digital technology to many more challenges than how to rapidly store and retrieve data.
Humanity faces a long list of challenges today that will benefit from a more aggressive and engineering based approach to problem solving. Engineering is not a panacea but it is amazing how many challenges can be addressed when we start with engineering based approaches. With GE as a model, it will be interesting to see what Alphabet does next.
According to the Microsoft blog, the company has bought FantasySalesTeam, a sales gamification platform. The intent of the product is to boost sales productivity and the gaming part is designed after some aspects of fantasy sports leagues where you build a team from known professional athletes and try to beat other teams. The team aspect makes everyone more competitive and hopefully boosts everyone’s performance.
Ok, I get it but I wonder if this is the best approach to improving sales. We’re always trying to improve sales and it seems like we’re always failing while also bringing out new products that will do the job better. It reminds me of the long history of antacids. You can go back in history and know what decade it is just by peeking at the ads for cures to heartburn (Alka-seltzer, Brioschi, Peptobismol, Maalox, Tagamet, Nexxium and many others) but we still have heartburn.
If you see a pattern like this, it’s reasonable to ask if you’re just treating the symptoms and you haven’t identified the root cause. I’ll leave heartburn to the doctors. But for many years and even centuries, we have incentivized sales people with money (the carrot) and job loss (the stick). That wasn’t enough?
Every business is unique and its processes and people reflect this. In the past we’ve seen sales improvement prescriptions that include methodologies, technologies, coaching and many other things. Yet surveys of sales organizations by CSO Insights and others shows that improving management through things like having and enforcing a defined sales process with appropriate technology support does a better job.
So the gamification approach, in my mind, skirts the real issue, which is managing through incentives. Rather than gamifying anything, I think the real issue is individualizing the incentives and applying them across the whole organization and all product lines. It’s a big data problem and you can’t manage what you can’t measure. I see a pattern emerging.
By applying gamification, the hope is that sales people will be better at self-monitoring or peer-monitoring and self-management. But a version of this is already taking place and many businesses are trying to squelch it. According to the folks at Xactly, today almost every sales rep does what’s called shadow accounting—they keep a spreadsheet of their deals and calculate their commissions hoping to catch any errors that can easily happen in a manual or spreadsheet based corporate compensation system. The theory is that reps spend valuable selling time tracking their commissions and playing what-if scenarios rather than selling. This is time the fantasy engine would presumably take over.
My preferred approach is to get a real compensation management system like Xactly or possibly Callidus. You could try this with spreadsheets but one of the big problems with incentive compensation in general is that plans are too unwieldy to manage in spreadsheets or on paper and they are soon discarded. When this happens, reps fall into the path of least resistance. They sell what’s easiest, not necessarily what’s new and improved or what management wants to move.
But with a compensation management system all of the details involved with individuals, plans, territories, products, commission schedules and more are handled by the system. So it’s possible to custom design a plan and enforce it through the technology rather than relying on gamification.
Please don’t get me wrong. This idea may have legs—I am not terribly familiar with Microsoft’s new product so I don’t want to put it down. Gamification is a great tool in the right circumstances but I just don’t see how this solution solves the problem. As with antacids, if one doesn’t work you can always try another. But when that approach gets old, it’s time to look at root causes and perhaps cut back on the pepperoni pizza. In this case, you might ask if your management technique could use some spiffing up.