I was doing some research in the Time Magazine archives (the best ones I have seen, by the way) the other day and came across this nugget from 1962:
“Despite the discouraging results so far, many scientists argue that military-space research will ultimately produce an overflowing cornucopia of marketable consumer products, from supersonic planes to small nuclear reactors for home power.”
State of Business: Where Are the Tinkerers? September 21, 1962
Take note of the date. Supersonic planes for commercial travel became a reality with the Concord, an Anglo-French construction that operated between New York or Washington and Paris or London for many years until airframes started to fatigue and the small fleet was retired. Supersonic travel never really caught on. Airlines have gone in the other direction since then electing to buy big cattle cars for the masses rather than supersonic hotrods for the elite.
It makes perfect sense too given the rise of civilian aviation and private planes over the years and people’s refusal to hear sonic booms whenever a plane flew over. But in ’62, who knew? And that’s the point about prognostication, especially when you don’t rely on research to provide an inkling of what’s even possible or what other factors might have an impact. That’s best seen in “small nuclear reactors for home power.” In a society where people can’t be depended on to do the right thing when disposing of an old TV or refrigerator, small nukes simply offer the real possibility of a million Chernobyls.
What the Time article didn’t even hint at was the possibility of having small computers for home and personal use or what that might mean. They couldn’t even imagine that but they are not to be blamed. It’s human nature to think that tomorrow will be just like today in all its particulars and that’s one reason why we are so bad at making predictions.
With that in mind we turn to the new year and prognostications about what might happen in our tiny corner of reality, CRM. Here are my thoughts.
- Gamification will continue to gain interest as some people figure out how to avoid the crash that Gartner predicted when it said that 80 percent of gamification projects would fail by 2014. The key will be understanding the difference between gamified tasks at work and work as a game. See?
- Cloud computing will continue being adopted by enterprises. The version of cloud that will be popular will involve moving the data center off site, not in fundamentally reorienting enterprise apps to face modern customers and users. We are still in the early phases of adoption of this kind of cloud, which is best thought of as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Disenchantment is still a year or two off but it will happen.
- Back office applications will accelerate their migration to the front office. We’ve seen billing and payments move much closer to the front office with products like Zuora making them part and parcel of the subscription economy. But also, human resources applications like Work.com from Salesforce are also moving historically back office HR functions to the front office. This will continue as other companies get into the act. Eventually I expect to see many more customers interacting with raw material suppliers through vendor sites.
- Robotics invade the front office. Companies like VirtuOz produce Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA’s) that replace people in many routine customer service functions like triage or even whole transactions. IVA’s aren’t perfect but they can speed up the customer service process and they can be deployed 24/7 for consistent service. Sometimes all you need is a robot to get something done and IVA’s will help segment the market and preserve human agents for more complex situations.
- Analytics will continue its land-and-expand mission. It started with sentiment analysis, which has proven to be useful but there is so much more to be done. Applying analytics to segmentation, influence and other more fine grained listening is not that hard. Once you have an analytics engine the next piece is scoring and submitting the scores for analysis. Scoring algorithms will therefore proliferate and the roll out of additional analytics ought to accelerate, bringing more refined ways of filtering big data.
- There is a hardware revolution going on that almost no one is attending to, partly because gear has become so commoditized at the personal end that we think of it as another appliance but also, so geeky at the main server end that few of us comprehend it. But make no mistake about it gear is where innovation is at a fever pitch. No gear, no social, no analytics, no cloud. No kidding. Devices that speed up data handling through in-memory (SAP and Oracle come to mind) databases, massive storage arrays with solid state drives, and sophisticated analytics to take advantage of all this, are in market. This is another land and expand situation where landing has been ongoing so look for the expansion to get into high gear next year.
- CRM continues to melt like a jellybean on a summer sidewalk. Everything continues to come together and the appeal of silo-ed sales and marketing applications continues to wane along with interest in desktop PC’s. What replaces them is the holistic CRM database shot through with social and analytics for anytime decision-making and continuous buying. CRM is not going away and neither is the jellybean, we’re just making soup.
- The cost of energy is beginning to affect front office business and we can see it in several ways. Transportation is becoming costly for manufacturers who are beginning to move production closer to customers (think HP and Apple for starters). Transport costs and travel in general will affect the front office too so look for credible alternatives such as video calling embedded in front office apps. This is another technology already in market and ramp up will not be difficult.
That’s enough. Hopefully none of this rises to the level of a small nuke for the home but if it does I will be back here next year to walk it all back.
You might be tempted to consider social marketing just another idea in an endless stream of things dreamed up by the software industry (and pundits like me!) to generate more business. Well, you’d be right about some of that but I’d like to argue that the idea is more than hype and is, in fact, in synch with the times.
Conceptually, marketing and sales have not changed for a very long time. It’s all about finding someone with a problem to solve and budget for the purpose. It doesn’t matter if the situation is business to business or business to an end consumer, it’s all about finding a need and filling it. I can agree with that but at the same time I know that if this is as far as you take it you’ll starve.
Look at what’s going on in the marketplace.
Things are getting incrementally better nearly four years after the bottom fell out of the economy but CFOs still watch budgets like hawks. Demand is still squishy everywhere and the gross domestic product of the U.S. — and the whole planet for that matter — hasn’t grown in five years.
Moreover, new product category introduction is low, and this is very important. When a category is new everyone, at least in theory, needs it and sales people do great business. Marketers’ jobs are streamlined too. They need to focus on building brands and communicating the basic features and benefits of what they have. Products are also relatively simple. They typically come in one flavor and function as general purpose cousins of what they will eventually become as the market grows and differentiation sets in.
If you take an objective look at most of the marketplace today that’s about where we are. Established markets are already crammed with products that may not be the latest and greatest but they work and customers need compelling reasons for buying what’s newest.
You might say, what about products like the iPhone or the iPad? Every time Apple comes out with a new version the market goes wild and buys the new product even though the old ones still do their jobs. That’s all true but the phone industry has a different cadence run by the planned obsolescence embedded in the service contract.
After two years, you get a new phone and a new contract. If you don’t you stay on your old plan paying the same rate. Effectively, you pay the same rate to use a new phone or to stay with the old one, so it’s no surprise that iPhones sell briskly and no surprise that the company sells an increasing record number of new phones with each introduction. Every two years there are more “old” iPhones than ever and more people ready to change. But this is a digression.
In today’s markets, where there is no forced obsolescence, we need other reasons to buy new and there are smaller numbers of new buyers entering the markets for the first time. Smart vendors have realized that this means taking a different approach to sales and marketing. Rather than the selling-to-anyone strategy of early markets, smart vendors today recognize that they have to model who their customers are as well as model the sales cycle. For many this means using social tools but it also requires a different set of techniques with the tools themselves.
In one approach, marketers simply substitute outbound social media for things like email and direct mail. This gets them into social but not very effectively since their technique is still decidedly old school but with new technology. In my research, more vendors find themselves right here at a transition point somewhere between conventional marketing and social marketing.
The other approach, which I think is closer to “real” social marketing, marketers make great efforts to capture customer data so that they can filter it for telltale signs of interest. The same approach also works for service organizations seeking signs of customer dissatisfaction. That’s all good but it is also limited. If a vendor relies on keyword filtering or hashtags it will miss many instances that need a little nuance in the filtering.
The nuance takes a lot of forms. I once did a small project in which I searched for sentiment. My criteria were simple. In repeated Google searches I looked for two word combinations, a company name and the word ‘sucks’. Now, I will admit this was crude but it was also extremely effective. Suck may be the generic summation and judgment in our society for all that is wrong in any situation. My searches always came up with hits — hundreds of thousands of them.
So, the experiment proved a point but it also proved to be a rather blunt instrument. The search approach did nothing for a legitimate cry for help like Company + Product + Problem unless I made an explicit search. But you can see where this is going. If you had a way to do all kinds of searches at once you could turn up signs of people interested in a solution or a product category, people looking for help and people upset with something related to your business and much more.
To get there you need analytics and not just one kind but several. Humans can determine the difference between someone with a real problem and somebody just being sarcastic. Computers need to do multiple scans of the data using different software tuned to each to arrive at the same conclusion more or less.
In social marketing today there is a proliferation of software packages that help marketers to get close to understanding customers and markets in multiple dimensions. There are tools for emotion analysis, natural language processing (NLP), predictive and trending analytics, affinity and segmentation and influence.
Last week at Cloudforce, New York, salesforce.com announced the Social Insights Partner Ecosystem, a partnership between third party analytics suppliers and its Radian6 division. The announcement’s significance is that Radian6 users can now process their social data through as many filters as make sense for their situations. This was an important introduction because it addresses the way we market (and sell) today and it’s different from the way it was several years ago.
Now let’s go back to our original discussion. In a marketplace as constrained as today’s it’s critical for vendors to understand at a very fine grained level what customers are thinking. Are the installed customers generally happy? What are their simmering issues? Might we want to proactively address those issues before we introduce the new version of the product that won’t be successful unless we have significant buy-in from the base?
What about the possibility of gaining net new customers from the competition? How satisfied are our competitors’ customers? What openings might there be? How can we exploit them?
Don’t for get brand new customers. What ideas are trending in the market that relate to our business? Finally, are there new product ideas lurking in the data stream?
To me answering these questions is the key to successful social marketing because they are crucial to success in business today. Salesforce’s announcement suggests to me that they continue searching out Blue Ocean opportunities — markets and niches that have either not been penetrated at all or that have only been lightly touched. I expect that our dependence on social marketing will increase and that the approaches now being proposed through announcements like this will be critical to future success.