NLP

  • March 25, 2013
  • Marketing is for many CRM vendors the last frontier and many are integrating what had been a stand alone function into their solution sets.  Marketing requires a different mind set and can deliver significant value as this report points out.

    Fred Studer is the new GM, Microsoft Dynamics Product Marketing.  He’s been on this job for about a month and I think he’s a good pick given his experience and background — Studer has a lot of tools to work with professionally and from the product side.

    He’s been in the business for over two decades at companies like Oracle and Microsoft and most importantly he comes to Dynamics CRM at a point when the product set is hitting its stride.  Last week at Convergence 2013 in New Orleans, Studer ran a general session (among other things) that highlighted Microsoft’s two marketing acquisitions including Netbreeze, a sentiment analysis and natural language processing engine from Switzerland, that will help power Microsoft’s foray into marketing.  Also, he managed a discussion with analysts about Marketing Pilot, an earlier acquisition that forms the foundation of Microsoft’s marketing approach.

    Marketing Pilot does the marketing blocking and tackling enabling marketers to build, manage and deploy digital content and programs through multiple channels.  You could say the two products will form the yin and yang of Microsoft’s marketing products for the foreseeable future.  Think of it as Marketing Pilot for outbound marketing and Netbreeze for inbound customer data capture and analysis.

    So is Microsoft done with marketing?  Far from it.  Netbreeze and Marketing Pilot are only the beginning and on this framework you can expect to see many more ways to analyze customer data beyond sentiment which is a Netbreeze specialty along with natural language processing (NLP) in multiple languages.  As valuable as sentiment analysis is, there are other things like intent, leadership and influence and more that analytics will be assumed to have in the near future.  Netbreeze provides the basics and a roadmap and for now that’s fine.

    So, back to Studer.  He has a great combination of experience in product and corporate marketing, understands the enterprise, and is deep in back office and front office.

    There were a few rough edges apparent in the Convergence messaging that I expect will quickly be polished away now thanks to Mr. Studer.  For instance, there is the redundant and incorrect idea of a marketing connector to move data from Marketing Pilot to Dynamics CRM.  It is a remnant from Marketing Pilot’s history as a private company.  The product underwent some significant improvements between acquisition and Convergence — for instance, it got a new and simpler interface and many internal changes that make it a good fit within the Dynamics product set.  By virtue of these changes, Marketing Pilot needs a connector the way my cats need my dog.

    But old habits die hard I guess.  One thing that impressed me about Microsoft Dynamics CRM messaging last week was how many things like the connector issue there are.  They aren’t bad things and this is not a knock at Microsoft.  Just the opposite.  Issues like this take no coding to fix, they are messaging and positioning related and are easily addressed once you focus on them, so pay attention as Microsoft comes on strong in the months ahead.

    Another thing I saw in the General Session video was a good presentation by the Illinois Department of Corrections.  You might wonder what the connection between corrections and CRM ought to be — Corrections Relationship Management?  It was not adequately explained.  Of course, the right answer is Microsoft’s XRM solution, which might be referred to as the platform in other schemas.  Microsoft has capable tools for building whole new applications on a CRM or XRM foundation or for extensively modifying CRM to fit a specific need.

    The Illinois Corrections story is about XRM but the messaging around it was strained to say the least.  It’s another example of how Microsoft has product but is not optimizing the way it brings the solution to market.  Again, this is a happy problem because it takes marketing and not software development to fix.

    Sometimes we take marketing for granted thinking instead that great products sell themselves but that’s not often true.  Great products are great because someone saw the connection between what the product does and a market need and figured out how to explain it to buyers in concrete ways with simple language.  As Microsoft itself becomes a vendor of marketing solutions I expect that people like Studer and Corporate VP and industry veteran Bob Stutz will help school the company in the finer points of product marketing in a social world.  Microsoft has always been a good engineering company, they aren’t moving away from this but they are, I hope, bringing a heightened marketing sensibility to the party.

    Published: 5 years ago


    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.

    Published: 5 years ago