• May 26, 2010
  • Using emerging technologies to foster more sustainable front office business processes.

    Sustainability might be the next big thing in CRM.  I’m betting it is and Beagle Research is initiating an award for sustainability in CRM.  Today.  Now.

    Everywhere we look we see not just an industry but also a civilization straining under the demands of growth.  Now, growth is generally a good thing for an economy but one of its hidden characteristics is that it periodically forces us to change the way we do things.  What is affordable and practical one day can become expensive and cumbersome overnight.  We’re living in one of those times.  The solution to such challenges is to find ways to make what we do more sustainable, to substitute, change and innovate new and better ways of doing things.  In business that means our processes and then some.

    The things we take for granted in our business dealings are becoming less constant.  Customers are tapped out, the new product engine has stalled and travel is becoming so expensive that it may soon squeeze margins and affect our ability to meet with people.  Some of this is blowback from the recession but other aspects may be a long-term trend forming.  Regardless of the causes, as business people we need to discover and develop solutions that mitigate these influences so that we can continue doing business.

    We’ve given these issues considerable thought and in response, today, Beagle Research introduces a new award and report focusing on sustainability and the things that CRM can do to help every business to become more sustainable.

    The award and report are called ThinkForwardä.  We borrowed the idea of “think” from Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM fame and from Steve Jobs each of whom asked us to think and then think differently at critical points in the evolution of our industry.

    We believe it’s time to think again but this time we need to think ahead about a world that will be resource constrained in many dimensions.  The conditions we watch and write about in the report show slower growth and rising transportation costs coupled with a customer-base that is growing less interested in absorbing more goods.

    Just in time, we also see a market brimming with front office technologies that help vendors and customers to identify opportunities and satisfy them with maximum efficiency, using resources wisely.  We think sustainability provides the organizing principle for the next phase of CRM, a phase filled with opportunity if we focus on crowdsourcing, social media and strategies for substituting intelligent technologies for travel.

    We see numerous front office software companies bringing products to market that by themselves may not garner a great deal of attention from the mainstream market but we also see these solutions as keys to a more sustainable business environment.

    The ThinkForward report identifies seven companies whose solutions typify the kinds of solutions that, in some cases, may not be core to CRM today but which will be essential in the future.  In one way or another these companies evidence solutions that help vendors better understand and target opportunities, marshal resources and engage customers in new and more sustainable ways.

    The award winners include Brainshark, Cloud9 Analytics, Communispace, iCentera, Kadient, Salesforce.com, Unisfair and Zuora.  As our report documents, each of these vendors offers solutions that help their customers to do business in more sustainable ways either by treating customers more like renewable resources, reducing the travel and energy requirements of many front office processes, or by capturing and leveraging crowd wisdom to enable companies to better hone products and messages.

    We salute these pioneers and encourage you to consider how making your businesses more sustainable can help drive new revenues and profits as the world continues to change around us.

    Published: 14 years ago

    Sant Corporation of Cincinnati, OH and Kadient of Lowell, MA announced a merger today.  The two companies appear to have complementary offerings and I think the merger will be a good one for both parties and for the customer base.

    Over the last couple of years, Kadient has been on a difficult quest made harder by a recalcitrant economy.  CEO, Brian Zanghi who will remain on the board of directors, took Kadient (formerly Pragmatech) from a business that was not unlike Sant’s and competed with it, to reposition Kadient in the SaaS world.  Sant and Pragmatech both offered products that automated, to the extent possible, the sales proposal process and managed relevant documents and components of documents.

    Beginning a couple of years ago, Zanghi began taking Pragmatech on a journey that would rebrand the company and change its focus from on-premise to SaaS and from proposals to dynamic interaction with sales teams through the use of playbooks.  Zanghi’s vision was essentially correct and I have written about it before.  Playbooks are an invention that applies analytics to deal information captured throughout the normal course of doing business.  When analytics are applied managers and sales people can discover which presentations, proposals or tactics work best in a variety of situations and use this knowledge for future deals.  The idea makes sense and you can see it replicated in Salesforce.com and Oracle sales automation tools.

    Kadient had some tough sledding changing its model and facing the recession but the company has been gaining traction in a market for sales enablement products that can be notoriously difficult.  Sales people hate having their cheese moved as the long adoption curve for SFA amply describes.  Sales enablement is another idea that makes sense but which has legions of doubters.  I don’t know if adoption was an issue for Kadient as much as the tendency for sales to hunker down during recessions.

    At any rate, Sant and Kadient are now together and I think one of the attractions of the merger for Sant was how far Kadient has come — a distance that Sant also had to travel prior to the merger.  Sant will now have to quickly figure out the SaaS model and I look forward to better understanding their strategy for the balance of their product set.

    Finally, this merger highlights the reality that the IPO market is still moribund and the path to a liquidity event does not go through Wall Street these days.  In some ways that makes doing a deal easier but it also significantly reduces the value of a company.

    Published: 14 years ago

    While we’re on the subject of the customer relationship it’s important, even vital, that we do a better job of teasing apart customer types.  It seems to me that the vast conversation about social CRM and the social customer has focused on the end consumer — the business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship — not the business-to-business (B2B) one.  That’s probably a smart over reaction to the fact the about two-thirds of the economy consists of B2C transactions.

    What might not be smart is assuming that the other third of the economy operates more or less like the consumer economy and that B2B customers are the same and can be addressed with the same tools and methods.  The most popular business organization model is still some form of hierarchy and businesses often make decisions based on the consensus of people up the ladder.  Other people have input in the decision but very often, final approval comes from people higher up who have budget responsibilities.

    Businesses spend money for only two reasons, to make money or to save it.  If a purchase, and the ongoing cost of repair, maintenance and upgrade, cannot be justified on these grounds, or if the purchase cannot flat out make more money than it costs, there is no reason for it.  This reality puts a box around most B2B relationships, which prevents them from becoming emotional in a B2C sense.  It also lets a business relationship operate more along operational lines where objective measures like price, on-time performance and quality standards dictate the health of the relationship.

    Over the years, vendors have had varying degrees of difficulty dealing with the differences since they are often in B2B relationships with suppliers as well as B2C relationships with consumers.

    There’s more room for bruised egos in a business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship than in a B2B one.  A consumer can take offence at a vendor’s behavior while in a similar B2B situation a behavior might be shrugged of as “just doing business”.

    With all that said, it ought to be easier to produce B2B CRM systems focused on operational standards yet deployment of good operational CRM systems seems to lag right now.  Exceptions show up in customer service in companies like RightNow (kudos for the Magic Quadrant), Salesforce and others dedicated to building knowledge bases that are accessible and searchable from multiple channels.

    In the best examples of B2B service, vendors are using social technologies to capture customer needs and collective solutions and then make them useful and available to others.  This neat trick enables vendors to actually capture intellectual property (IP) from normal conversations.  The IP is recycled through the cloud support infrastructure resulting in lower service costs and, presumably, customers that are happier because their issues are quickly resolved.

    Salesforce, with its Sales Cloud, also applies social ideas to B2B selling with positive results.  Here the company gathers social IP from all sales encounters and distills common ideas from numerous encounters that can be applied in the future.

    What’s most interesting to me is the evolving realization that social ideas apply equally well to both kinds of relationships but in opposite directions.  The B2C approach is to socialize the relationship with the customer by gathering data from the market and analyzing it for common trends.  Understanding customer trends enables B2C vendors to extract information they can apply in future encounters.  Sales Playbooks, a term popularized by Kadient and some others, are the distillation of customer reactions to vendor sales initiatives and materials.  From a playbook a vendor can plot a sales strategy with confidence of being on the right track.

    In comparison, B2B vendors are beginning to socialize the organizational, e.g. operational, response to the customer.  Chatter, another Salesforce invention, socializes the vendor organization.  In a B2B situation, a vendor organization knows that operational excellence is critical to most relationships.  Socializing the customer relationship from within the vendor organization simply provides the necessary and immediate stimuli for personnel to take appropriate actions.

    That may sound like a mouthful, and it is, but the net of all this is an easier take-away.  The B2C and B2B relationships are fundamentally different and lately, we’ve given a lot of attention to the former and maybe not enough to the latter.  The social approaches to each are diametrical opposites but once we get our heads around that essential idea, I think we’ll be more successful in the B2B world.

    Finally, who drives the relationship — B2C or B2B?  I think it’s a smart vendor who enables the customer to believe he or she is in the driver’s seat.

    Published: 14 years ago

    One of the fun things about being an analyst in a market where there is as much innovation as you can find in CRM is that it’s all so unpredictable and surprising.  As I was researching social media in the context of Salesforce.com’s Sales Cloud and Service Cloud recently, it struck me that something very different was going on.

    Very often vendors describe their social CRM offerings as extensions to an older paradigm of CRM, one that I think is vanishing and becoming hard to reconcile with the reality of today’s marketplace.  Over the last several years I’ve watched as social CRM has tried to find its voice and I have not always been in agreement with its early deployments.

    Social media in general are powerful tools for researching, reaching and maintaining contact with large numbers of people, most of whom are casual acquaintances.  To many, it would seem that social media would therefore be an ideal mechanism with which to advertise and market to a large homogeneous market.  But though the market is large it is no longer uniform — if indeed it ever was.

    Social media’s dominant characteristic, its social aspect, means that recipients can screen or block out unwanted content.  That might not be something new, for instance, in broadcast advertising you can always walk away, lower the volume or use a DVR device to record and then skip over unwanted content.  However if you want the programming, the good stuff, eventually you have to let yourself be minimally impacted by the ads.  Not so with social media.  There’s no sponsor and therefore no bills to pay, broadcaster and content are fused and the receiver has a simple choice to follow or not.

    So, for many reasons I have never thought of the marketing idea as a particularly great fit for social media or social CRM.  That’s not to say that social media can’t be made integral to CRM.  I believe it can but that the integration has not been figured out yet with the possible exception of the Sales and Service Clouds from Salesforce.com.

    The Salesforce Clouds are mature in their deployments but possibly they are not so mature in market perception.  While they are somewhat outward focused, there is a lot that they do that is focused on the internal workings of the company — a trait that appears to be held in common with the soon to be released Chatter product.  The internal focus is surprisingly powerful and productive and even opens up a new way of looking at common business processes in sales and service.

    The commonality in these products is that in very different ways each helps an organization to capture intellectual property from sales and service almost like a device that re-captures waste heat from an industrial process can improve efficiency and reduce costs.  For me that revelation was both surprising and showed an elegance of understanding the core processes.  It also hints at one of social media’s true benefits for CRM.

    If you haven’t studied Salesforce’s application of social media to sales and service, here’s a quick primer.  The Sales Cloud captures metadata generated by a sales team in the course of its work.  In a short time, the metadata can, using simple analytics, tell a user about success and failure patterns inherent in the sales practice.  So which documents, strategies, tactics and presentations work best.  The system has many other attributes such as enabling a user to select, edit and transmit appropriate documents, identify prior deals for study and emulation and more.  Social techniques for ranking and sampling the wisdom of one’s colleagues makes all this work.

    Salesforce is not the only vendor exploring this fertile ground — Oracle has a content library that aims at a similar process and independent companies like Kadient refer to this collection of specialized knowledge as “playbooks”.

    On the service side, search engines, Twitter and Facebook play an integral role in helping an organization to know about its customers service issues so that it can take appropriate action.  Often that action includes dispatching solutions that other customers might have already voluntarily provided to others either directly or through social media.

    These descriptions are oversimplifications of the real processes and I leave it to you to check them out in more detail.  But my point about intellectual property holds.  A company generates a great deal of intellectual property within its business processes and while companies do a good job in the back office, operations and manufacturing, there’s never been a good way to capture that waste heat in the front office.

    Sales teams often reinvent the wheel for every sales process or sales representatives cling to one course of action, or maybe one product, because that’s where their expertise is.  Capturing intellectual property generated by the whole sales team offers at least the chance that it can be shared and that it can positively influence future deals.

    You can say much the same about service intellectual property because service solutions are unique to an organization and using social media to capture user generated service solutions is a great way to lower costs and improve service.

    Taken separately or together, these solutions represent an improvement on older processes and represent a great fit for social media.  This is a great productivity boost and it’s worth noting that it couldn’t have happened until employees and customers developed facility with the Internet and Web based social applications.  Observing the human element’s impact is what makes my job so much fun.

    Published: 14 years ago

    I was talking to Jason Lemkin, CEO of EchoSign the other day when something he said gave me an idea.  EchoSign is a cool bit of SaaSware that manages the document signing process across the Web eliminating the need for sending copies of contracts overnight to complete deals.

    There is a niche for this because no company that sells an on-demand product, for instance, can afford to overnight the volume of contracts needed to support the business.  There simply isn’t enough margin in selling ten seats of your software and most SaaS deals are still of the small seat number variety.  So along comes EchoSign and the problem becomes very cost effective to manage.

    On top of the signing process, a product like EchoSign also provides long-term benefit by becoming the archive for the contract.  If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the terms of a deal actually were, you know that can be very helpful.

    But the point of this story is the C: Drive and all that it has come to mean.  Everyone has a C: Drive, it’s where your stuff lives whether we’re talking about your PC at work or at home.  I have an iMac and Apple calls the drive something else and I don’t remember what it is because I just turn the thing on and it works and I don’t mess with operating system stuff any more.  It’s very liberating.

    At any rate, Lemkin’s point is that the C: Drive has become a black hole because we don’t know what’s on it — you might know what’s on your C: Drive but you don’t know what’s on your office mates’ drives and they don’t know about yours.  All this got me thinking that there is a heck of a lot of potential intellectual property hidden on the C: Drives of the world.

    You could have a contract or a thousand on your C: Drive but your company might not know how to access them on the day you call in sick.  Surely the networked Q: Drive would be better but many companies grow their computing infrastructure organically and you see where this is going.  Yes, the intellectual property goes into a black hole.

    Now, IP isn’t something that any of us has given a lot of thought to with regard to the operation of our work PC’s but maybe we should.  Maybe the C: Drive and harvesting intellectual property are ideas whose time has come.  There are companies already harvesting IP but maybe they don’t know it.

    Companies like Kadient, Oracle and Salesforce.com all have facilities for capturing the IP generated by sales people in the sales process.  Think about it, whenever you develop a presentation, a proposal or respond to an RFI or RFP, you are creating IP that is unique to your company.  The IP is valuable only if it can be reused.  Sales people do an OK job of reuse by trading things in email.  But that’s one step removed from sneaker net.  Imagine how much more effective they’d be if they stored things on a network drive and if there was functionality to also capture metadata (this presentation helped win three big deals)?

    I am beginning to see the same kind of IP potential in service systems.  Salesforce’s Service Cloud is a big IP generator and it has the cataloging and analytics you need to support reuse.

    Of course, none of these ideas is going to change the world, but in an environment where we routinely seek to maximize value and utility, it strikes me that advanced systems based on cloud computing concepts and social media offer more than simply the usual litany of better, faster, cheaper.  They expose value where there was none in the form of IP.

    None of this says that cloud computing is the only way to derive this new value, as I said a network drive might work well in some instances.  But cloud computing improves not just the storage of the IP but its re-use and it is in re-using what was done before that you derive additional value.

    As I am looking at it, the ability to harvest IP from materials that were once stored in — oh, let’s call it the Chaos Drive — is a major unintended consequence and benefit found at the intersection of cloud computing social media and multi-tenancy.

    Final thought, last week Apple introduced the iPad and immediately, wags started asking the inevitable pointless question — What’s it good for?  I don’t know.  But I do know that new products like that get the creative juices going in right brained people and it wouldn’t surprise me if, like cloud computing, iPad develops some unintended consequences/benefits.  Can’t wait to see what they’ll be.

    Published: 14 years ago