This is delicate and I will be scrupulously neutral in these paragraphs so as to offend no one, but I thought it would be fun to attempt an interpretation of the current political climate from the perspective and sensibilities of CRM. Can this really work? You be the judge. This will be different from any other analysis you might have come across because I do not wish to discuss candidates. I am all about the customer.
There are two CRM issues that inform politics this year and I have written about both—empowering the customer in Solve for the Customer—and engaging the customer to produce loyalty which I write about in my new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It (available in May). First empowerment.
It has been said so often that it is a cliché of our times that the power in most vendor-customer relationships has transitioned from vendors to customers thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet and social communities that readily share information, often cutting out the vendor in the process. This is not precisely what’s been going on in politics because, as a free society we’ve always had an abundance of information, at least in theory, through a free press.
But in reality, until cable news appeared and the innumerable web outlets for every viewpoint, much was left unexplored because of space limitations in newspapers or time limits for newscasts thus information was held closely with some cooperation from the fourth estate. You need look back no further than the nature of scandals of the last several decades and compare them to the kiss and tell histories of earlier times to know that many opportunities to show political leaders had feet of clay were in olden times avoided.
So political customers, like people in every other aspect of life, have become empowered with information they never expected to have even a generation ago. This abundance of information has not served the political process very well based on this cycle but not because transparency is bad. Information has now shown that the political practitioners have for some time turned a blind eye to their customers. They have ceased to be engaged at precisely the same time that technology has made engagement more commonplace in almost every other aspect of life.
The failure to engage can now be seen clearly in the vitriol that the electorate express for establishment politicians. In issue after issue, one side or another has campaigned with promises to do better or to fix something and then failed to deliver. In the most non-controversial example I can find, the rising American living standard driven by increasing productivity in the workplace, has been replaced by a stagnation or outright decline that is well documented and keenly felt throughout the working and middle classes. This is analogous to a vendor repeatedly missing an opportunity to meet a customer’s needs in a moment of truth. Such a repeated failure is lethal both to vendors and politicians.
The customer response has been a form of populism that expresses itself differently depending on one’s position on opposite sides of the political divide. Worse, in many cases, the establishment’s response is a tone-deaf attempt to bring voters back with still further promises of future benefits.
It’s as if a customer has returned to a store with a defective product and all the vendor can think of doing is to offer a big discount on a future purchase. In the CRM world, when these tactics have been tried, customers have often gone bananas. You need only survey sentiment sites or search for your favorite company while appending the word “sucks” to see the lingering effect.
Solutions for the political process are analogous to repairing the vendor-customer relationship. First, acknowledge the problem and validate the customer. This means listening more than talking or marketing which is very hard to do once a live election is underway. But until you’ve listened you might not understand what needs to be fixed and you won’t have the credibility to make the attempt in any event. It’s easier to do this in business.
The next step is to quickly transition from diagnosis to prescription. This is also difficult, but not impossible, because it involves revising the traditional political scripts, which mostly deal with old pieties and not with specifics. It is complicated by the fact that at this point short attention span customers want actions and not plans, but such is the nature of elections.
Business is fortunate in that elections happen every day—customers buy or they don’t, they engage or give up on you, but if you lose a relationship, you aren’t out of it totally. Each new day is a chance in business to get it right with no need to wait until after an election which can be months in the future. Politicians should be so lucky.
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.
KnowWho is a great example of a long tail application made possible by the AppExchange. It’s a database service for companies and non-profits that do business with federal, state and local governments and contains accurate and up to date information about elected officials and their staffs that supplements the business processes enabled by Salesforce CRM.
When we think of CRM and sales force automation (SFA) many people immediately think about selling products in the private sector. But in the public sector selling often involves championing ideas and informing and convincing elected officials is a key part of the democratic process. Obviously, corporations may seek to inform an official or a staff member responsible for staying abreast of an issue. However, this need also extends to the non-profit sector as well. Various trade associations and NGO’s (non-governmental organizations — like the Red Cross for example) and the like have a need to identify and communicate with officials to convey their ideas and information.
Elections constantly change the landscape and staff changes happen in government just as they do in the private sector and that’s where KnowWho provides a valuable service. The company maintains data on a list of 145,000 state, fed, county, local, government officials and their staffs.
KnowWho has a staff of 28 editors keeping the information up to date — 5 just to monitor congress — and record and distribute data changes which the company founder and CEO Bruce Brownson says reach 1,500-2,000 changes per week.
But the real importance of the database is that it informs the Salesforce SFA system, which enables users to pursue their agendas to efficiently inform government officials about issues. Subscribers to the database import the data into their Salesforce instances where they can make additional notes, schedule calls, record pertinent facts about meetings and perform the same actions that any other user would.
KnowWho is not the first company to conceive of this idea. Government data and lists have been popular for a long time. But earlier versions of these services relied on weekly distribution of CD’s or other media and rather tedious synchronization processes. Using Salesforce.com and the AppExchange as the distribution system enables KnowWho to circulate data much faster than older approaches. More importantly, the Salesforce CRM solution provides an efficient application for making use of the data within a sales process.
The whole government database business has advanced and become more complex than simple distribution. Today, companies and other entities that seek to influence public officials must keep meticulous records of their activities and be able to report on them. For these purposes, Salesforce CRM along with the modifications that KnowWho has made — such as a Lobbyist Activity tab —provide the ability to capture encounter data and produce reports of all activities for legal compliance.
KnowWho has produced an interesting and useful application and service for a highly specialized market segment. This is a classic long tail application that the AppExchange is ideally suited for. It is also a proof point for the flexibility of the Force.com platform and the notion that if you can conceive of an application, you can build it and take it to market using this ecosystem.