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Denis Pombriant | Beagle Research Group, LLC
  • January 21, 2019
  • No, no, no, not the Patriots! Gotta wait a couple of weeks for the Super Bowl to say that.

    But! Late last week CRM Buyer published an annual listing of the top 20 CRM blogs by Chris Bucholtz, something he’s been doing since the earth cooled and well before he began his sojourn at ‘Buyer. That’s important because I write a soft for CRM Buyer every week and the two are separate.

    This year Chris has selected this blog as his top finisher for which I am extremely grateful and honored. The list is full of great CRM minds like Kate Leggett, Chuck Schaeffer, and Paul Greenberg just to scratch the surface, so this is a great honor. I hope you’ll check out the article and investigate some other CRM voices, any of whom could easily be in the top spot in the future.


    Published: 4 weeks ago

    Guest post

    By Cary Fulbright


    Recently Denis wrote about the state of document management systems, including the licensing pain point that is slowing wide adoption within the enterprise. Digital transformation and the move to digital document management has become crucial to organizations of all size and across all industries. One impetus for the shift to digital is the use of cloud technologies. It allows instant, always-on access to the most recent version of documents, reducing errors and enabling employees to be productive throughout their day.

    Without efficient document workflows, simple tasks like creating, sharing and signing documents can become both challenging and costly. One report from IDC estimated that document challenges are costing organizations more than 20 percent of overall productivity. The firm put that cost at nearly $20,000 per employee every year.

    This need to recoup productivity costs and increase business agility are driving the digitization of document management. Not only are employees within an organization often collaborating on documents and sharing via email, Slack or other channels, they are working with partners, customers and other third parties. It is important that all relevant parties can collaborate on a document, comment, verify changes, access particular versions, and view or change who has access rights. One prime example of this need is contract management.

    At the same time, this data must be secured. Not only from data exfiltration via headline-grabbing breaches, but from tampering and manipulation. This is an emerging threat to businesses in all industries. One study predicts that, by 2020, 50 percent of organizations will have suffered damage caused by fraudulent data and software. A recent CNBC story points to the increasing importance of data integrity.

    In November, we saw an altered video of a CNN reporter grab headlines as Americans began to understand that even video could be faked to spread misinformation. Perhaps even more frightening is the “deepfake” AI technology that can digitally manipulate videos to make a new “perceived reality.” As a result, the potential to undermine trust and spread misinformation increases like never before.

    Last year, Japan’s third-largest steelmaker admitted falsifying product quality data which could have far reaching implications for projects using inferior copper, aluminium and steel products. This month, the Guardian, among other UK media outlets, reported that dozens of criminal cases are being overturned due to alleged widespread data tampering. A UK forensics lab had manipulated forensics data, affecting more than 10,500 criminal cases since 2014. The investigation has led to a total of 41 drug offense criminal cases overturned, and further 50 investigations dropped.

    These cases underscore how an integrated data integrity solution is crucial for organizations. Companies today must safeguard the chain of custody for every digital asset, in order to detect and deter data tampering. For assets such as supply chain audit trails, legal documents, tax records and more, document management systems can ensure data integrity by digitally notarizing any type of data with a product like our Cryptowerk Seal. It enables users to seal that data at the time of creation, and then automatically verify the authenticity of data and digital assets such as a legal document, a scan of a shipment ID code or an e-commerce transaction.

    As digital transformation continues to drive businesses forward, the number of workers with digital document management tools will continue to rise. As the number of users grows, organizations will need to better protect those documents from manipulation — or suffer what could be crippling consequences. Document management software vendors should be helping their customers to meet this need and protect against data tampering.


    Cary Fulbright is Chief Marketing Officer of CryptoWerk in San Francisco

    Published: 1 month ago

    I did a webinar recently for a client, Nitro, a document management company that focuses on improving paper-based business processes with digital solutions. You know the drill, turn documents into digital images to route them around organizations and the greater vendor/partner/customer community. It saves time and costs, reduces error, and adds a degree of accuracy and precision to the mix.

    You might yawn at this point and say been there, done that and want to move on to the next big thing in IT. But working with this company made me realize how incomplete the transition from documents to digits has been. In some ways the move has been locked in a time warp for a couple of decades.

    Numerous companies have only made cosmetic changes to their document management implementations since they were installed. Documents might now be stored on conventional storage arrays rather than optical disks since the cost of storage has plummeted. But otherwise, the processes haven’t changed much.

    One surprising result has been how piecemeal document handling is in many organizations. For instance, some employees don’t have the ability to capture e-signatures for important documents from customers. This results in the insane process of printing a document in need of a signature or sending it to someone to print and sign and possibly scan and return. Variations on this include using the US mail for the communication. Another gets the paper document back and has the employee do the scanning—days later. 

    All this sounds trivial but American business uses 12 trillion sheets of paper each year and printing documents that should remain digitized is one of the culprits. If you want to identify why all this happens in “modern times” go back to the cost of document management software. It hasn’t evolved much. Often a business still purchases licenses by the seat which creates the need to identify the employees who need software and those who don’t. 

    But the reality today is that the advent of document management was highly successful and changed the landscape. Everyone, not just a select few, needs software to capture signatures and participate in myriad business processes, many of which have sprung up since the first implementations of document management.

    If you have ever wondered how software revolutions get started this is a good case study. They begin at the grass roots where theory meets reality and nimble vendors identify previously unidentified needs. Many businesses realize they need additional functionality for all employees but the costs are out of line with the benefits. The need in this small part of IT is for licensing across an organization to saturate users with the tools they need and can’t take for granted. 

    Interestingly, this is not about a technology fix. Instead, it is a story about entrepreneurship at the customer relationship level and it’s fascinating to see a company like Nitro innovating on pricing and licensing in addition to its technology. At the technology level, they’ve leveraged AI to help businesses figure out where in a business process, adjustments to licensing can improve things. This is enabling them to be a lower cost producer which is always destabilizing for an incumbent.

    It’s unlikely this scenario will ever compete with the latest discussion of AI and machine learning. But if you’re an IT leader, your costs of mundane things like paper and ink and a general need to speed up business processes keep you up at night. That’s why even in an old market you can always profit from opportunities to improve.

    Published: 3 months ago

    This week the New York Times reported that Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook demonstrated poor judgment, ineptitude, and a stunning lack of empathy over the last two years as they tried to play catch up to the unfolding Russian election scandal. It’s time for appropriate regulation that builds safeguards into social media while enabling it to continue its mission.


    The reputations of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg are in tatters today after a long expose in the New York Times that examined how the pair dealt with the rolling crisis that engulfed the company during and after the 2016 elections that saw Donald Trump elected under a cloud of suspicion that he had help from Russia. 

    The story has been picked up on cable news and it paints a picture of a company led by two executives more interested in company growth than anything else. The story includes examples of attempts to pass the blame on to others, withholding useful information from investigators and repeated denials of culpability when the known facts inside the company said otherwise.

    Most significantly, it shows a company in constant reactive mode in part because no one seemed to have a moral center, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the fortitude to take the right actions for customers and the country regardless of how those actions might hurt the executives or damage the company’s reputation.

    A day earlier, the Times also published a three-part video, “Operation Infektion,” describing a decades-long effort by the Kremlin to spread fake news (active measures) about the West and the US especially in an effort to weaken its adversaries. The overlap between the stories hasn’t received as much attention in the media, which is a shame because social media became the accelerant in an act of political arson.

    There’s a lot of information already available on the debacle so let’s skip ahead to Infektion to get a big picture view of how Russia’s use of Facebook damaged society in the West and how its repercussions will play out for a long time.

    The most relevant part of the Times video series comes in part 2 dealing with the seven commandments of active measures, a term that encompasses Russia’s approach to spreading fake information to the detriment of the West. The seven commandments are,

    1. Find the cracks—social, economic, linguistic, religious, or ethnic issues that can be exploited and wedge them open. This can include almost anything from gender issues, to religion, to immigration and abortion. You get the picture. Russia started out picking sides but grew to realize it could manipulate both sides of any issue to manufacture discord. There are examples of confrontations during the 2016 election in which both sides were galled into action by Russian efforts, often on Facebook.

    2. Create a big bold lie—something that is so outrageous no one would believe it was made up. Example, the AIDS virus was manufactured by the US to hurt minorities and escaped from a lab at Fort Detrick, MD, where it was supposedly made. 

    3. A kernel of truth—provide a speck of facts to make the lie more believable. The US does have labs that work on viruses and ways to combat them in war. Fort Detrick is one place where this research goes on. The kernel of truth in this case is the name of the lab assigned blame for the fictional virus release.

    4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from elsewhere. The first mention of the AIDS story came from a small paper in India and it took years for it to percolate through the journalism community in the 1980s. One weak spot exploited by this approach is that fact checking didn’t go all the way to establishing primary sources. News stories up to and including some in America only used other stories as their sources. Thus, the people relying on the transitive property of truth were severely exploited.

    5. Find a useful idiot, someone who would unwittingly promote the fake news story as real. The emphasis in that phrase is evenly distributed. A useful idiot can be anyone who unwittingly (the idiot) takes the pseudo-information at face value and passes it on (the useful bit), often amplifying it. In the case where a news organization propagates an untrue story, it is serving as a useful idiot, even if it attributes the story to another news outlet in another country.

    6. Deny everything when the truth squad shows up. We’ve seen way too much of it lately. When the truth squad tried unraveling the AIDS scare it had to go through many layers of news outlets and reporters to find Russians who denied everything. Or consider “no collusion.” Collusion isn’t a crime in the US but conspiracy is. So in this two word phrase you have a useful idiot spreading a big lie with a kernel of truth in an effort to conceal his hand. It’s brilliant.

    7. Play a long game. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Regardless of costs, keep your eyes on the prize and understand that losses and setbacks are temporary when you play a long game. It’s a very Zen idea. Consider the birther movement. The only way to silence it was to meet its terms by producing President Obama’s birth certificate. The choice was continued low grade carping with erosion of public trust or swallowing a larger amount of humiliation all at once.

    In nearly all these commandments you can see how Facebook was taken advantage of during the election cycle thus playing the useful idiot. But also, you see the tactics the company tried to use to deflect attention from itself during investigations—keep in mind the Times’ story headline is “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis.”

    In the process, Facebook has become a useful idiot on steroids, thanks to the Internet and social media’s reach. In the age before the Internet and social media these tactics might have caused some trouble but the disturbance was usually self-contained because it couldn’t spread as well. The truth squad eventually rode in and set things right. Today it’s much harder. For example, in the pre-Internet era, the fake story about the AIDS virus took 6 years to spin up. The story about a child sex ring run by the Clinton campaign and operating out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC only took 6 months to bear “fruit” if that’s even the right term for the mass shooting that happened.

    What to do?

    There is a nascent movement in Congress to develop some form of regulation over Facebook and other social media giants, which is reasonable but not very welcome. It never is. The result of the tech revolution is that we can no longer function very well as a society without information, a trend that is still increasing. This trend makes equal and transparent access to information something that must be spread throughout society.

    At the same time, social media and Facebook can no longer be regarded as neutral platforms that foster free speech. They have become publishers bringing eyeballs to advertisers and they have responsibilities that go with this status as well as First Amendment rights. Sen. Mark Warner (D, VA), already has a draft working paper circulating suggesting some components of regulation. Michelle Goldberg Opinion columnist at the Times wrote that,

    Among them are amending the Communications Decency Act to open platforms up to defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits, mandating more transparency in the algorithms that decide what content we see, and giving consumers ownership rights over the data that platforms collect from them.

    My two bits

    Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many other platforms that use a social media model to capture consumer data and remarket it to advertisers, is now a utility. My definition of a utility is something that started as a disruptive innovation and proved so useful that it has become indispensable to modern life. Modern transportation beginning with the railroads, electricity, telephone, and cable have all trod the same path. At the moment cable, especially as a gateway to the Internet, is the outlier thanks to decisions by the Trump era FCC. By rolling back net neutrality rules set by the Obama administration, the FCC negated the principle of the common carrier that over-arches other utilities. We can and should hope this is a temporary aberration. 

    But back to data and its collectors and merchants. The consumer and the nation at large have a right to expect that the purveyors of modern life’s essentials will abide by the essence of the Hippocratic Oath and first do no harm. Enacting a common sense set of regulations to make this so should not be a heavy lift. 

    A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt pushed legislation enacting standards for food and drugs ushering in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A generation later, after Wall Street shenanigans brought on the Great Depression, his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, brought forth the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We’re at a similar crossroads today. The path forward might be shrouded in mist but the way backward is completely unacceptable.

    Like so many things riling society today, from global warming to immigration, fixing the problem is not the hard part. Getting the various sides to agree there is a problem that needs addressing and negotiating a solution is. Doing nothing is never a solution because letting a situation fester only makes it worse. The recent revelations of Facebook’s failures has demonstrated that putting its house in order is more than it can do internally. Perhaps a reconfigured political landscape in the US and a new year will bring solutions into focus.

    Published: 3 months ago

    The conventional sales funnel exceeded its usefulness a long time ago, roughly when the Internet gave us the ability to gather our own information about vendors, products, and services. Without the necessity of contacting a sales person, individuals and businesses could eliminate the middle man in the information exchange, waiting to expose their interests much closer to decision time. 

    The result was sales cycle compression and more emphasis on getting a good deal. It also caused more focus on price, which most sales institutions regard as anathema because a sales effort is all about proving higher value and commanding a better than commodity price.

    Naturally, this turn of events has driven software vendors to discover or invent ways to gather intelligence about markets and customers even before they tip their hands. The popular lingo sometimes used to describe this is trying to gather information “above the funnel.” This means, capturing data and turning it into information that marketers can use to drive interest even if they can’t turn a marketing qualified lead, or MQL, over to sales in the moment. In the process, we’ve witnessed the growing importance of the marketing funnel, something that’s analogous to, but at the same time different from, the sales funnel.

    There’s an almost Heisenbergian quality to this. You might recall that the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle said that the mere act of measuring something on the atomic level is enough to alter its behavior. By extension you could worry that tracking customers’ anonymous early clicks could be enough to put them on different journeys but that would be misplaced. People are more complex than atoms, but the uncertainty principle is still a nice metaphor.

    This week Full Circle Insights had the last word when it introduced its Digital Source Tracker. The product associates early clicks with a specific conversion path giving marketers insights into how they’re doing. It’s a way of getting early feedback on whether a program is or can be successful and it seems it would be especially useful in helping marketers decide during an A-B test which approach is best. Early information gives them a chance to manage resources as well as potentially generate more and better leads.

    Who cares? Or why is this useful?

    Glad you asked. Going back to how the Internet changed marketing and sales, there are very few sustainable differentiators in business today. If your business made its bones on a great supply chain, financing, or other advantage of size, the Internet has acted as a great leveler giving any business, regardless of size, access to very similar advantages. In fact, smaller more nimble businesses acting on the best information might have a decided advantage today.

    What’s left in that case is a business’ ability to flexibly adjust to opportunities as they crop up, which is often described as business agility. But agility takes two things. First there must be information for without it nothing follows. Second, a business needs a platform that can support reconfiguration of business processes to take advantage of those opportunities. 

    Now, not every prospect requires a business reconfiguration and for our purposes the platform in question would come from a larger entity. Also, there are plenty of opportunities where simple timing is all that’s needed. But all opportunities run on information, hence the importance of pushing the marketing pipeline as hard as you can. 

    Over the years that I have followed Full Circle Insights (and they are not a client) I’ve watched as they and some of their competition have extended the marketing funnel so that vendors could capture customer information and regain a bit of the insights they had when they controlled all information. 

    Full Circle won’t turn back the clock for vendors, and customers are still firmly in charge of purchase process. But by gathering what were once considered whispers of data and analyzing it appropriately, vendors can get a better sense of what’s happening in the market and plan accordingly. That’s a lot better than having to discount at the last minute because of shortened sales cycles.

    Published: 3 months ago