CRM makes several promises to its users including selling more or faster, resolving service issues faster or at least quickly, and generating more leads. But if you do root cause analysis you can quickly conclude that at least in some cases, you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
For instance, the best way to resolve service issues is to avoid them in the first place. Figuring out how to head them off is both highly cost effective and better for raising your profile with your customers. Heading problems off is beyond the scope of CRM though a close second in this derby is deflecting customers to other less expensive channels. Although these things have a passing resemblance, deflecting is worlds away from heading off.
Much the same can be said of selling faster. I am not a fan of faster selling because we’ve reached the point where we are pushing on a string. You need only recall that the customer buying process is in direct competition with traditional sales processes to see this.
This leaves marketing and if you look at the strides made by marketing in the last few years you might come away wondering how they did it. Marketers really are generating more leads and they are better qualified by the time they get to sales people. So how did they do it?
One of the big differences I see between marketing and the rest of CRM is that marketers constantly ask the customer for feedback. They might not launch questionnaires every minute, but the data stream coming back from numerous marketing initiatives provides them with great insight into what’s going on in their respective patches and it tells them what needs to be done next.
This feedback loop is not new; it goes way back to W. Edwards Deming and his regimen of statistical analysis. Deming was all over manufacturing like a cheap suit. He collected data and ran stats on manufacturing so that he could know what worked and what didn’t. He then went the extra mile and tried to weed out what didn’t work and reward or encourage what did. In the process manufacturing got better. There were fewer defects, better tolerances between parts, and manufacturing costs declined because there was less waste.
Japanese manufacturers were, famously, the first big adopters of Deming’s ideas and we all know what that led to. They have a word that’s useful to remember, kaizen, which roughly means continuous improvement.
So how does this apply to CRM? Quite simply, modern marketing has its own kaizen thing happening and I think it’s worth asking how we can apply these principles to sales and service. In service, we have metrics that look at speed like time in queue, time in resolution process, and lots more metrics that measure speed but not necessarily effectiveness of the encounter. It’s great to get customers on their way quickly, but what does this do for handling cross-sell and up-sell opportunities?
But it’s in sales that I am most intrigued by the possibilities of a kaizen strategy. A slim majority of sales people makes or exceeds quota every year. Jim Dickie, Managing Partner of CSO Insights puts the number at 58 percent in most recent years, plus or minus a little. The interesting thing about selling for me is that there’s usually only one evaluation point — did you close the deal? But what if we used a more incremental approach to assess sales like marketers do when they capture customer input throughout the nurturing process?
That might be a scary proposition for a lot of sales people. If there was a natural point in the process when everybody stopped swimming for a moment to look up and determine if they’re still on track, the feedback might be very useful. For example, how was the demo? It’s a very important part of the sales process and good reps will ask during and after if the demo answered the customers questions and concerns or “Was it alright?”
Customers will often play along but saying that the demo answered all questions is not the same as saying that the demo showed me that this solution would work in my shop. A customer running a buying process wants to be able to have alternatives at decision time so it’s not good to eliminate all contenders lest there be no leverage when discussing price. So everybody keeps swimming until most of the sales people are surprised at the end when their solutions aren’t selected. After all, everything in the process went according to plan.
That’s why it might be useful to go up a level of abstraction in the sales process by sponsoring a mid-process questionnaire. But rather than asking about nebulous things like the rep’s professionalism or even if the five major points of the demo were articulated well, ask open ended questions about fit. On a scale of 5 or 10, how would you rate this solution’s suitability for your needs?
There are a lot of questions you could ask and they will give you a better picture of your position in the account than relying on traditional process milestones that are completely vendor oriented — i.e. if we’ve done the demo we must be X percent of the way through the process.
If we take a kaizen approach and don’t simply wait until the process is over to assess our performance we may not be able to impact an ongoing sales process (though we might) but we will do two other useful things. We’ll improve selling over a short time and we’ll be able to safely weed out deals that won’t go anywhere. Eliminating bad deals saves resources and is the ultimate form of sales acceleration.
One of Salesforce.com’s challenges in driving Chatter’s acceptance comes from positioning it for the buying public. That’s a tall order since the company is simultaneously trying to establish a new product and its category.
The product and the category are classified as social networking and leverage the wisdom of crowds — James Surowiecki’s idea. But Chatter is unlike any of the products that may help a group come up with the answer to a quantitative question of the type, How many jellybeans are in this jar? which Surowiecki uses a lot in his 2004 best seller. Nonetheless, Surowiecki does address the Chatter problem as one of coordination and the wisdom of crowds is a good approach to dealing with coordination with some caveats.
To review briefly, the wisdom of crowds is almost self explanatory — the crowd is smarter than any one of its members and crowd wisdom can lead you to some astonishing revelations such as the number of jellybeans in the mythical jar, the best route to work, which styles will be popular in the fall and which won’t.
The Chatter problem is different from all those examples because the group being sampled is internal to the organization and the customer problem the organization is trying to address may be unique. Regardless, there are three attributes of a successful wisdom of crowds strategy that all approaches seem to need according to Surowiecki — diversity, independence and decentralization.
The three strategies work remarkably well for the jellybean problem and they fit the Chatter problem well too. Briefly, diversity means getting input from as many sources as possible, not just the smartest people in the room, but everyone. Smart people tend to think alike and a creative spark can come from anywhere so the more the merrier. Also, diversity means capturing bad ideas as well as good and the wisdom of crowds makes it possible to let bad ideas cancel each other out leaving you with the good stuff.
Independence means letting each actor in the crowd do what he or she does best without attempting to influence them unduly. Many of us think nothing of begging friends to vote for our ideas in a social forum as often as possible, but as soon as we do, it wrecks the idea of independence and therefore the whole wisdom thing. Finally, decentralization is tied with independence in this example, your begging produces a command and control hierarchy which is responsible for the wrecking.
So, what about Chatter? Chatter neatly implements the three primary social strategies of crowd wisdom for the benefit of the organization. First, there’s diversity — everyone does a job, their job, not someone else’s. That means support does support and sales does sales and when there is a customer problem involving a deal being held up by a support issue, everyone does their part.
Chatter helps this process by opening up lines of communication — and ad hoc coordination — so that sales knows what support is doing and vice versa. Importantly, anyone else who wants to know and lend a hand can also have a ringside seat. This is critical because other independent actors, perhaps a manager, VP or C-level executive, can shine a light on the situation too.
Finally, the critical piece is decentralization. In a Chatter crowd, no one has to be a dictator, taking control of a situation and directing people to do certain things. People do their jobs and that turns out to be enough. The secret ingredient to this decentralized approach is corporate culture. A culture that says, do what makes your boss happy might have a tough time benefitting from Chatter. But a culture that operates on a prime directive approach — like Google’s or Star Trek’s — will do well.
The prime directive can be as simple as “Don’t be evil,” or “First do no harm,” or more practically, “Be good to customers, and always to the right thing,” is all that’s needed. An employee operating along the lines of the culture’s prime directive should be praised and rewarded regardless of outcome, which will usually be fine.
I am at the 35th meeting of the SAS User Group this week in Seattle. SAS is one of those gems of a company we all wish we worked for. In fact, they just won an award for being the best company in America to work for, an award that goes with similar awards from all over the world. I haven’t spent a lot of time following SAS since I worked at a competitor more than a decade ago but what I am learning here is truly remarkable.
I don’t know what SAS’s prime directive is but I know that every employee does. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their conversations and it is definitely pro customer. What makes SAS such a gem is that it is privately held and unlike many private companies this one has revenues north of $2.3 billion and it reinvests more than 20 percent in its products and services. And it appears to me that founder and CEO, Dr. Goodnight, has a prime directive that encompasses customers and employees that I assume goes like this: treat employees well and they’ll treat customers well. It’s a strategy that has worked well for more than 34 years.
SAS grew into a powerhouse without social media — though today it is introducing several products in that realm. Most big companies are not private and they have shareholders to keep happy as well as customers and employees. I can’t help but wonder though if applying crowd wisdom through a product like Chatter might help many other companies to apply their prime directives in ways that help them keep customers, employees and shareholders happy by just doing good. The prime directive idea is tied to corporate culture that that may be the best indicator of whether or not a company is Chatterizeable. (Is that a word?)