February, 2013

  • February 28, 2013
  • The technology world made significant behind the scenes contributions on behalf of both political parties in the recent presidential election.  That was all kept out of the spotlight for good reasons during the campaign but now that it’s all over some of the people involved are talking, most notably the people at Salesforce who provided IT services to the Obama campaign.

    No doubt you recall how close the election seemed and how some people were using old style gut feel to predict a GOP victory. Meanwhile people like Nate Silver of the New York Times and MSNBC were using data analysis and regression testing and who knows what else to tease apart reams of data to arrive at very different conclusions.

    The data came from many sources and much of it was collected on iPads and mobile devices and sent to Salesforce.com where the national campaign workers could aggregate, cull and analyze the data and then deploy resources exactly where they were needed.  It’s very difficult to discuss almost anything political these days and in New York Marc Benioff emphasized that this week when he introduced this video.

    Forget about who won, who you backed and all the other stuff.  This is about something else.  This video is about how a billion dollar organization came to life and ran full tilt changing its software on the fly as needs arose.  As a business case it’s pretty stark too because unlike business an election is a one time thing, the #2 company in a market might still have plenty of opportunities but not a political candidate.  That’s one of the things that make this video and what the Obama team did using Salesforce so interesting.


    Published: 10 years ago

    moonrise-over-manhattan-island-new-york-08Salesforce came to New York this week for its annual winter meeting with customers intent on testing new ideas and capturing customer input.  The event was held at the Waldorf Astoria for a relatively small group (under one thousand) rather than at the Javitz Center, which can accommodate the maintenance facilities for a squadron of F-18’s.  Intimacy, it was hoped, would drive better discussion.

    Salesforce has been beating the Social CRM drum pretty hard for the last two years and right on schedule Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff has decided to reshuffle the deck.  On Tuesday, Benioff introduced new messaging and a new prescription for companies wanting to get social.

    Two years is about the shelf life of an idea like social for Salesforce.  You only need to do a little archaeology to recall the changes from hosted to on-demand to SaaS to cloud computing to social over the company’s short life to see what I mean.  But the company is not changing the message for fun and games, there is a serious purpose behind it.

    Social was a catch-all phrase designed to grab the attention of early adopters.  By my research, that’s been very successful.  Our data shows that executive decision makers in the enterprise and in smaller companies, all understand that social is the next big thing.  It will definitely reduce costs and boost revenues by a few points and for enterprise class companies that means real money.  That’s a message that early adopters have been comfortable with and Salesforce has some great names to prove its point such as General Electric, Toyota, Burberry’s and many others.

    Ok, so the next step for a company in Salesforce’s position is to leverage the early success by now enlisting the early majority.  That’s roughly the next level of big companies that want to adopt new technology to capture some of the cost abatement and profits signaled by the early adopters.  The only hitch is that the early majority buyer typically wants more proof.  Where the early adopter might have a C-level sponsor the early majority will have a vice president or other such title making the charge.  These people need proof because they need to convince higher ups that they should get budget for the new gizmo.

    Again, our research shows that the people in the early majority demographic are not sold yet.  They might be leaning but they also have questions, like How do I do this? What are the security and legal ramifications?  Which business processes are affected? And which ones should I start with.  Questions like this don’t get answered with social pixie dust which is why the second iteration of the social message largely does away with social as a term replacing it with the more concrete How to Become a Customer Company.

    Ok, so now we’re cooking with gas.  Becoming a more customer-centric company is an idea that’s been around in various permutations and is readily digestible by the target audience because it proffers a more concrete deliverable.  In discussing what it means to be a customer company you can’t pass go without checking in at better profits, lower costs and better customer retention.

    So I think Salesforce’s effort in New York and for the remainder of the year through Dreamforce (in December this year) has been and will continue to be fleshing out the meaning of what it means to be a customer company.

    One of the failures of most social messaging so far has been its uni-dimensional approach — buy our product and your problems are over!  Few people buy into that idea but that’s where the market is at the moment.  But to his credit, Benioff has compiled a hefty list of things you can do — with or without his products, though they do make life easier — to get to customer nirvana.  In New York, Benioff unveiled a list of eight common sense things you need to do to get to the new goal including implementing technologies that enable a company to:

    1. Listen to every customer
    2. Engage on every channel
    3. Sell as a team
    4. Service customers everywhere
    5. Create communities
    6. Connect with partners
    7. Connect your products
    8. Deliver apps everywhere

    Without going into elaborate detail on each, let me focus on number 7 which I believe will become the next big thing for social or customer companies — connecting your products.  We have heard of this by various names like the Internet of Things and that’s apt.  There is huge potential in providing a better over all customer experience by paying more attention to the things that customers buy than by bothering customers all the time with former NYC mayor Ed Koch’s uber question — How an I doing?

    If devices have relatively inexpensive sensors built into them that connect them to the Internet to send a steady stream of performance data, then vendors suddenly will have the information they need and a legitimate reason for contacting customers.  A message of, “We think your engine will fail in a month or two” might not be what you want to hear.  But if this outreach keeps you from being stranded or missing an important event then with the message your vendor may successfully transition from an adversarial position of trying to sell you something else to a real partner in a relationship.  Such is what CRM bliss is made of for all parties.

    So that’s what happened in New York this week.  New messaging, bigger ideas and pushing the ball forward to further improve the vendor-customer relationship while offering the potential to reduce business friction and boost profits.

    Published: 10 years ago

    This post is part of an occasional series on the AppExchange as Salesforce.com celebrates the seventh anniversary of its launch.  The series will focus on some of the most interesting AppExchange applications of the last year.

    Tango Card is another clever idea enabled for the AppExchange.  Like some other ideas, this one helps to reduce business friction and enables vendors and customers to work better together.

    At its simplest, Tango Card is a small gift distribution system but on a deeper level it is a customer service and support system that addresses problems long left untreated because the solution was once more expensive than the original problem.  Tango Card provides users with a simple method of making small gifts of, say, five or ten dollars.  This approach to gifting is being adopted by technology vendors to thank webinar participants for attending, to acknowledge a service shortfall and make amends with customers and by healthcare organizations to help tie incentives to healthy decisions, for example.

    Making such a small gift once required going to a retail store and buying a gift card.  The whole process could eat up valuable time that few people in business wanted to invest.  But these small gifts are ideal for acknowledging someone’s value, for instance as an appreciation for something well done, which means there’s a need going unfilled.

    Today, many companies use Starbucks cards as small spiffs for employees or partners.  But what if the recipient is not a fan or doesn’t drink coffee?  Tango Card solves this problem in a clever and unique way.

    Each Tango Card is convertible into a range of gift cards so that the receiver can get something meaningful without a huge investment in time and effort by the donor.  Currently Tango Cards are convertible into gift cards for Amazon, Nike, REI and Facebook as well as Starbucks — 20 different suppliers in all.  And recipients also have the choice of donating the value of the card to charities — nine of the top non-profits so far and more are in the works.  So now, when a company as small as a local real estate agency wants to thank someone for a lead, for example, it can simply give a Tango Card.

    The Salesforce system provides the online backbone that enables subscribers to make purchases and direct them to recipients.  Billing is tied to the user’s Tango Card account so what used to be a time consuming process can be handled in a few seconds from a desktop.  Equally important, the Tango Card system uses the Salesforce reporting engine to help users track their spending and analyze its effectiveness.

    In the near term CEO and founder, David Leeds, expects to begin involving neighborhood retailers in Tango Card offers to make them even more relevant to recipients.

    The possibilities for this kind of gifting are very big and while it might be hard to say how it will unfold, it is nearly certain that without the ingenuity of Tango Card and the flexibility of the AppExchange, this solution would still be only a concept.


    Published: 10 years ago

    This post is part of an occasional series on the AppExchange as Salesforce.com celebrates the seventh anniversary of its launch.  The series will focus on some of the most interesting AppExchange applications of the last year.

    The TAS Group is anything but an emerging company and its Salesforce Platform native sales solutions are powerful tools for enterprise sales teams trying to improve.  This company has focused on sales methods and has been affiliated with Salesforce for many years.  But more than simply providing a paper-based sales methodology, TAS leverages predictive modeling based on data contained in its knowledge base — and in Salesforce — to coach people through their sales processes and help to make better forecasts.

    TAS AppExchange products are found under the TAS Dealmaker brand and include, Smart Opportunity Manager, Smart Account Manager and Smart Playbook and Forecast.  TAS carries on a theme from other successful companies in this series by leveraging predictive modeling to greatly improve what has historically been a manual process.

    There’s nothing more manual than managing a pipeline full of sales opportunities and determining next steps or forecasting which deals will close.  For many years sales people have succeeded with manual systems in part because there have been so many opportunities that, usually, there were enough to make quota no matter what happened in a particular deal.  But in a tough economy with intense competition, sales teams have learned they can’t just “wing it” they need to be able to prove the value of their propositions and that often means adherence to processes geared to demonstrating that value.  This is where predictive modeling comes in.

    There are three major advantages to the TAS predictive modeling approach over paper methods and simple rules based systems.  First, TAS has captured data about hundreds of thousands of sales processes which it has used to develop its knowledge base.  Using its patented coaching engine TAS Dealmaker can access this knowledge base full of past sales cycles and make predictions about current processes.

    Second, by capturing relevant data about each sales process from Salesforce,  Dealmaker can build probability models that coach a sales person or manager in the specific instance.  This provides added confidence that a deal will advance to the next step in the process or close or to a determination that the deal it is not ready to move ahead.

    Finally, TAS Dealmaker solutions operate at a level beyond simple rules.  A rules based solution might recommend that a sales person perform a particular action or behavior sequentially regardless of what conditions are present.  That might sound like a good idea, but it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that does not take into account the variables presented by a particular deal or sales person.  But, using its predictive modeling engine to coach sales people, Dealmaker takes into account all of the variables of the particular sales process before making its recommendation.  By tailoring its recommendations, TAS helps its customers to improve sales results.

    The Dealmaker suite uses Salesforce data and as most people know, users can add data fields to their Salesforce instances to provide more fields that are diagnostic of their sales processes.  Dealmaker works with the TAS knowledge base when it is first deployed but quickly assembles data from a particular company’s people and processes through Salesforce CRM, refining its models as it goes along so that in a short time its rules have adjusted and its predictions are incredibly accurate.  The result is more accurate forecasts, better close rates and improved revenue flow.

    The TAS Group is based in Seattle with offices in Atlanta, Dublin and Reading UK.


    Published: 10 years ago

    Yahoo_0There is an interesting article in the  New York Times this morning that I hope lots of people read — that means you Mr. Benioff.  It’s a tale of a shoemaker’s kids going barefoot.

    It seems that Yahoo, trying to breathe life back into a sclerotic organization, has cancelled its work from home policy and is now mandating all workers report to the office every day.  Good luck with traffic at the bottom of Silicon Valley.  The commute has just gotten worse.

    The discussion covered in the article sounds like a low calorie beer commercial from the 1990’s.  One side says we need people in the office every day to promote collaboration, creativity and innovation.  The other says at home workers are more productive so leave us alone.  Tastes great!  Less filling!

    Sometimes I wonder if our inability to compromise as a society stems from this simplistic Boolean logic in which there can only be two sides and by definition the side you oppose is wrong.  It harkens back to the religious wars of the Middle Ages, but I digress.

    But hold on; let’s tease this apart.  Yahoo wants to ape Google’s culture and that’s understandable given that the 37-year-old CEO, Marissa Mayer, hails from there.  That culture devotes less than 100 square feet to each employee and channels foot traffic to encourage human-to-human interaction, the better to cause serendipitous face-to-face meetings and things like collaboration and innovation.

    That’s nice, even laudable, but in the twenty-first century, this new dictate seems a bit draconian.  Hasn’t Yahoo ever heard of collaboration software?  Social media?  Chatter?  Yammer?  I realize Yahoo is in San Jose and Salesforce and Yammer and others are way up the coast in the big city but they could track these solutions down on…the Internet perhaps?

    It is astounding that a company like Yahoo could be in such a situation and that it could be so ostensibly unaware of how this looks to share it with the world.  While the issues of collaboration and innovation are the right ones for any company to chase, this solution only works for people reporting to the same building and there are only so many interactions you can prompt in a day.

    Most importantly, there’s Dunbar’s number, which is the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom you can maintain a stable social relationship.  Depending on the individual that number is between 150 and 220.  Social media like collaboration software helps to extend Dunbar’s number for many people and it breaks down the barriers set by geography, something that companies with more than one building have to cope with.  Collaboration tools make no distinction between collaboration with someone down the hall, across the country or half way around the world.

    The beauty and importance of collaboration and social software is that they break the limitations of human contact so the only question for me is why isn’t Yahoo — a pioneering Internet company — publicizing its uptake (we hope) of this new technology instead of moaning about this policy from the last ice age?


    Published: 10 years ago