Social Networking, Business, And Sales

Xeni Jardin has just written a great article for MSNBC called “Online Social Networks Go To Work” that focuses on Enterprise Social Networking. It’s great to see this starting to make it out of the realm of arcana and emerge into the broader business context.

From a “how does this matter to customers?” perspective, UC Berkeley’s Danah Boyd nails the crux of it:

“Salespeople know how to work their black books to make sales, and rolodexes can be a businessperson’s best asset. These Web sites just take that online.”

Ultimately, it’s all about the relationships between customers and the people who are trying to serve them, ain’t it?

Here’s A CEO Who Gets What CRM Really Means

Holy cow…talk about listening to your customers. Technorati’s CEO David Sifry gets it.

A little background: Technorati is a site that indexes weblogs (like this one), and provides a means to search the blogosphere and get a pulse as to the hot topics of the day. The site has generated a ton of buzz in the blogging community, and is even one of the darling sites of those following the political conventions here in the US.

Unfortunately, they’ve been a victim of their own success. Reports of technical issues abound, and there has been no shortage of criticism.

One of the critical sites is located at Micro Persuasion. In a post entitled “Smells Like Dot-Com Spirit,” the Technorati site is taken to task for a long list of issues, ranging from technical instability to their PR strategy.

Now, click on that link again. And scroll down to the comments section.

“Hi folks.

Thanks for the feedback and criticism. A lot of your commentary is dead-on, for example, our biggest issue is making sure that that the service is reliable and accurate, 100% of the time. We’re not there yet. I’m sorry that we haven’t met your expectations, there’s no good excuse for service failures.

We are seeing a tremendous growth in both the size of the blogosphere and in the number of people coming to the site and using the service. Our recent service upgrade this week is a start – but there’s still a long way to go.

I’m really sorry we haven’t met your expectations. We’re working really hard to achieve 100% reliability and 100% accuracy. I hope that we haven’t lost your confidence entirely, but I understand if you don’t ever come back. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, just trying to keep up with the incredible demand we’re seeing.

Please don’t hesitate to send me direct email at dsifry@… or call me at 415-846-…. if you want to discuss this directly.

Again, I’m sorry for the problems.

Dave

Posted by: David Sifry | July 27, 2004 10:38 AM”

Damn. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Sales Effectiveness Increases In Importance

Today’s CRM Daily has a great article on the increasing (re-)focus on sales effectiveness with respect to Sales Force Automation and CRM.

According to the article, derived from data collected by the Yankee Group, sales people are most concerned with:

  • increasing the rate of deal closure
  • decreasing costs
  • improving solution selling

Also stated in the article was that, from the sales person’s perspective, “reducing administrative burdens falls nearly at the bottom of their list.”

CRM Player Salesforce.com Taken Out Behind The Woodshed

So, salesforce.com had their first investor/analyst call today. After having their IPO delayed a number of times, yet still riding a hype wave to the biggest first day gain for an IPO this year, the market pummelled them for missing analyst projections. Oops. Stock goes down 27%, giving up a good chunk of their gain to date in one fell swoop.

Too much hype makes the market cranky, especially when you don’t live up to it.

Who Do You Want To Do Business With?

While doing some research over the weekend on buyer-seller interactions, I came across a fascinating site called DiverseNation. At first glance, DiverseNation is just another online classifieds directory. But a further look finds something completely different.

What’s different is that the classified listings themselves are shunted off to the side, almost appearing to be an afterthought in the site design. What is front and center is the ability to choose what type of business you want to engage with, based on religion, ethnicity, or gender of ownership.

Whoa. Why don’t we add “political affiliation” to the list while we’re at it and go for the quadfecta of taboo cocktail party conversation?

DiverseNation as a website itself is not going to set the world on fire (a quick perusal through the classifieds shows only one listing), but the model is fascinating. Instead of making the primary search based on the product or service that is desired, DiverseNation seems to be saying that who you might want to do business with is at least as important as the type of business you need to do. This is a radical idea.

This is not limited to sites like DiverseNation. We are even starting to see this kind of clustering actvity starting on some of the social networking sites like Orkut, where there is a flap going on between American and Brazilian users around inclusivity.

There is, of course, the well-worn saw of the “old boys network” and that “birds of a feather flock together.” But there’s something different here. Instead of talking about it in hushed tones near the water cooler, or brushing it off, it’s being presented head-on. Is this a unique occurrence? Or is this the beginning of a trend?

Is It Better To Be Big, Or Agile? The Analysts Disagree.

A number of analysts have weighed in this week with divergent opinions on where the CRM market is going. Computerwire stakes their opinion on “survival of the biggest” and feels that the spoils are going to go to the one-stop-shops like SAP.

Denis Pombriant, on the other hand, is on record “believing that the current state of the market in enterprise software is at a high point of complexity and that the next move is not greater consolidation but greater flexibility through modularity and improved integration facilities.”

I’m going to line up with Denis on this one. The all-in-one solution game is zero-sum, and eventually will lead to price-cutting and unnatural acts between the big players, as they eventually resort to squabbling over an ever-shrinking number of large customers.

Flexibility and ease are going to be the keys — and that goes for flexibility and ease in understanding the solutions, selling the need internally, getting purchasing approvals, performing rollouts, and education of customers and internal users alike.

The Changing Face of “CRM”

To date, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has been almost exclusively focused from the seller’s point of view. The three main areas of focus have been:

  • Sales Force Automation
  • Customer Service and Call Center Automation
  • Marketing Automation

In all of these cases, the point of view is seller-centric. The selling organization is in charge of managing all aspects of the relationship, including gathering information about the customer.  This information has then been used by the selling organization to achieve the following goals:

  • Provide management a better view into the pipeline, and give sales force access to more complete information about their prospects (Sales Force Automation)
  • Provide customer service a better view into past customer inquiries and current customer information. This information is then used to resolve the inquiry and/or, cross-sell and upsell existing customers at the point of contact (Customer Service and Call Center Automation)
  • Enable an organization to cross-sell and upsell existing customers, and for brand building (Marketing Automation)

However, a number of emerging IT areas are starting to challenge this model of seller-centricity.  CRM systems are evolving to take the customer into account more aggressively, and there are an increasing number of discussions around how enterprise social networking can be used to bring individuals within organizations closer together.

So…what do you think?  Will emerging IT capabilities in the areas of CRM, enterprise social networking, (and even…gasp…blogging) bring about a change in the way individuals do business together, leading to more democratization and a greater voice of the customer?  Or, will these capabilities be just a blip on the radar, when viewed five years from now?