Hugh…DeBeers?

This just in, from the “seeking to understand” department…

Hugh Macleod, of gapingvoid fame, is bringing t-shirts to market, featuring his cartoon designs. Hugh, a question for you. You state:

“As I said before, each design will be limited to an edition of 200. That’s it. No more. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

I shall start with four designs, the “Hughtrain/Infinite” design above, the “Good for you” design and two others. As soon as one sells out, I’ll introduce another. But there won’t ever be more than 4 designs, 200 of each, available at one time…I think they might become quite collectable, in their own little way. I certainly have no wish to flood the market with them.”

You have hundreds (thousands?) of cartoons you’ve drawn over the years. Of the four you pick at any one time, there will be some folks who like them, and pick them up. But isn’t it considerably more likely that a far greater number of folks would want some other design that you are not producing?

By way of comparison, there’s (frankly) no reason why an individual can’t, say, grab one of the .jpgs of one of your cartoons, upload it to CafePress (or their local t-shirt shop), and make themselves a t-shirt of it. Once those images are out (and a lot of them are), there’s really nothing preventing that. And if that individual is just producing that one shirt for his or her self and not selling them, it’s likely you’d never know.

Doesn’t the faux-scarcity path fly in the face of the direction things are going? Why not give abundant choice, and get the Word of Hugh out farther and faster?

Holding Up Your End Of The Conversation (Part 1)

“Fezzik…jog his memory.” – from The Princess Bride

Was tipped off to the BlogPulse “Conversation Tracker” feature today, and yes indeed, it’s nifty. (hat tip: nevon, shel) This is a capability that shows how, where, and when a “conversation” is moving through the blogosphere, by tracking links and how they are disseminated over time. Very sharp.

But then, started thinking more about some of the things discussed here, and started doing some poking around…and tripped across a very interesting bit of research that came out of AT&T within the last couple of years (couldn’t find a pub date in the doc, but some of the cites were as late as 2001, so I’m guessing it was published around ’01 or ’02). Entitled “Managing long term communications: Conversation and Contact Management,” this piece focuses on the different challenges that arise when individuals attempt to have conversations over time, and the coping mechanisms that they employ in order to do so. (No, you’re not the only one who re-sets the “unread” flag on emails in an attempt to remember what to do next.) Fascinating stuff. The key pull-quotes right from the first ‘graph:

“Contact management and conversation management are linked. Many busy professionals discourage voice calls and messages, because email enables them to better manage their time, conversations, and contacts. People also spend large amounts of time transcribing voicemail, browsing email archives and writing todo lists – all of these activities are intended to help track the content and status of outstanding conversations.” (emphasis added)

and

“Key properties of technologically-mediated conversations identified were: (1) they are extended in time, which means (2) people typically engage in multiple concurrent conversations, and (3) conversations often involve multiple participants. These properties led to a significant memory load for our informants: they spoke of the difficulty of keeping tracking of conversational content and status, as well as the identity, contact information, and expertise of their conversational partners.

Bam. That’s it. That’s the core of what’s wrong with so-called “Customer Relationship Management” or “Contact Management” systems today. It’s not a technology issue. (Well, duh. It rarely is.) It’s a mindset issue.

There needs to be a movement away from the “pipeline” mentality which, by definition, thinks about using a CRM system as solely the means to “manage” the relationship interaction between a customer and a representative as a closed-ended transaction (“the prospect gets to the end of the pipeline, and a discrete, one-time transaction, either a win or a loss, occurs”). Instead, we need to start thinking about these tools (CRM, Sales Force Automation, etc.) as ways to augment our capabilities in remembering where we are in the ongoing conversation with a particular customer.

Update: Conversation continues here.

Give Customers Just The Hits? No Thanks.

Saw a post over at Matt Homann’s site (hey Matt, turn yer comments on, would ya?) that led me to a post by Andrea Learned entitled “‘Editing’ in the Retail Environment.” The pull quotes from Learned’s post:

“Not every laptop known-to-man needs to be available at your consumer electronics store. Rather, do some research and reflect that you know your customers: deliver the top 10 sellers or the ones about which your customers requested most information in the past few years. … If your camera store, clothing store, appliance store or computer store has done its work, you will have discovered the “top 10″ of your women customers’ favorites and those will be the ones you provide and the products for which you train your customer service staff to know EVERYTHING about.”

and

“In a retailer’s situation, narrowing product selection can just reflect an excellent understanding of the store’s core customers.”

Some thoughts on this, cross-posted in the comments over at Learned’s site:

Interesting. But a question…isn’t this fundamentally disconnected from the direction that things are going? Chris Anderson argues that we now have the option for infinite selection.

(I’ve argued this as well.)

Retailers limit selection because of limited shelf space. Now, well…there’s infinite shelf space.

You state above:

“…women want to know and trust your store to edit that first layer or two of extraneous product for them”

and

“…in a retailer’s situation, narrowing product selection can just reflect an excellent understanding of the store’s core customers”

The first statement is a broad generalization, the second is a rationalization.

To respond to the first statement, what if, instead of having to “read the detailed instructions,” a customer (woman or not) had the ability to know which items solved the problems of others with similar problems to themselves? It might not be one of the “Top 10.”

And to the second, what if, instead of focusing on homogeneity, the retailer was able to focus on the customer’s unique needs?

Opinion: The “sell just the hits” approach is fundamentally flawed, and changing. Selling just the hits, frankly, leads to the case where we have WalMart everywhere, selling the same stuff. Every intersection has the same strip mall. And every woman has one of the same 10 laptops, or one of the same digital cameras.

Now, that last sentence sounds OK at first blush. What’s wrong with “editing” things down to make search and selection easier?

Here’s what’s wrong. It’s not just about the commodities. Don’t you feel that every individual (woman or man) has *some* aspect of “themselves” that they need/want to express uniquely? And connect with others who share that idiosyncrasy? Sure, for some, a laptop is a laptop is a laptop. But what about things that someone might be passionate about, and *not* want to buy off-the-rack? There are going to be some dimensions (be they music, media, fashion, or interests, etc.) that everyperson – woman or man – has a unique perspective on. Without choice, and when being forced to select from just “the hits,” those unique aspects of a person’s personality atrophy over time, and eventually the homogeneity seeps in and bleeds over into, well…everything.

Oh yeah, one other thing:

“Barnes & Noble only stocks 130,000 books, yet more than half of Amazon’s revenues from books comes from titles outside of the top 130,000 books.” (source: Rick Klau)

Companies that focus on the hits-only model will be leaving money on the table. And a lot of it.

GM Fastlane Blog Does It Again…And Very Well

GM keeps breaking big-company ground with their Fastlane blog. They’ve just released their first podcasts in a few weeks (one, two), which are billed as “conversations with the personalities behind GM…”

The podcasts are set up as an interviews between “host” Deb Ochs and GM’s Director of High Performance Vehicles John Heinricy (for the Caddy interview) and with Clay Dean, director of design for small and mid-size vehicles for the Solstice interview. As opposed to the first podcast they did a few weeks back (which met with mixed reviews, and was basically a repurposed auto show presentation), these podcasts set expectations much more effectively, billing themselves as a “FastLane Radio.”

The ‘casts are well-produced, with an intro sweeper, etc. and are focused on the messaging (most powerful, etc…) for each car. Lots of stats, feeds-n-speeds, etc.

Assuming the typical audience of these podcasts would be GM enthusiasts, both editions give the kind of “behind the scenes” skinny that is appropriate. In particular, both Heinricy and Dean give the feeling they’re definitely passionate about the cars, and each gives the clear feeling that they are very engaged with what they’re doing.

Yeah, the “questions” from the interviewer are contrived, but overall GM is moving in the right direction on this one.

The best bit, at the end: “We’d like to hear your comments and suggestions for FastLane Radio. Please email us at podcast@gmblogs.com.”

I think I’ll do that right now myself.

Customer Conversation Management?

Doc just served up a softball with this headline:

Because ‘Customer Relationship Management” is about management more than customers

I’m originally from Chicago, where softball is a religion. Where “softball” is anything but. Where the ball is the size of a grapefruit, hard as granite, and gloves are not allowed (do a search on “mallet finger” some time, if you want the full effect).

I know from softball.

And to that headline I say…absofrigginlutely.

Now, “Customer Relationship Management” is typically thought of along the following three dimensions:

  • Sales Force Automation

  • Marketing Automation
  • Customer Support

And Doc is spot-on. It is the rare occasion that any of those three dimensions is considered from the customer’s point of view.

Focus on just the first point, where “Sales Force Automation” is oftentimes equated with “Customer Relationship Management.” And again, the point is spot-on…SFA is about tracking numbers of leads, it’s about “managing the pipeline,” it’s about pushing a customer through the defined selling process of the vendor. It’s not about the customer at all. It’s about management, and quarter-end roll-ups, and “30% probability of closing.”

We’re at a time where we have the opportunity for a fundamental shift in this thinking, even using the same underlying technologies. And here it is:

Vendors: Stop thinking about moving customers through a “pipeline.” Start thinking about holding up your end of the conversation. Literally.

Yes, the “conversation” term is being overused, and runs the risk of becoming a cliche. (And if anyone has a thought of a better way to distill this concept down, please share it.) But there is the opportunity here for a shift in thinking that doesn’t require any change in the underlying technologies that are in place in order to do this.

How do we do this? Start using these types of systems more, but in a totally different way. Start keeping actual track of the actual conversations that you, as an individual, are involved in. Not from an “I checked off these three steps in the selling process” sort of way, but rather in a “here’s what we were talking about” sort of way.

Danah Boyd has pointed out that there is an increasing amount of research being done in the area of how we, as individuals, can use technology to involve ourselves with persistent conversations. And that’s exactly right.

Christopher Allen (and if he’s not on your blogroll right now, you’re missing a lot) states:

“For instance, my experience with most politicians and many salespeople is that I will be forgotten as soon as I leave the room.”

Bingo. And why does that feeling exist? Because those salespeople and politicians are not really embracing the concept of a relationship. A relationship is a series of linked, persistent conversations.

To be involved, one needs to make a commitment to hold up one’s end.

“We” v. “They,” Customer Communities, And Reinterpreting Metcalfe’s Law

Fred Wilson draws out the distinctions between two types of companies, “we” companies and “they” companies, and the respective philosophies of how each interacts with customers:

“We” companies are built by and for a community of users. Everything (including profits) flows from this core value of serving the users. We companies and their profitability are incredibly sustainable.

“They” companies are traditional companies that seek to optimize profitability at the expense of everything else. These businsses are not sustainable and they tend to overreach and ultimately end up in a long and steady decline.

In particular, Fred notes that Apple is moving from the realm of “we-ness” the same-ol’ “they-ness” that has unforunately been the norm. Suing community members (bloggers). Charging usurous fees for third parties trying to strengthen the iPod platform.

I’m going to harp on this meme again.

Transactions => Conversations => Relationships => Community

Move right, young men and women. Move right.

Focusing on transactions alone is myopic. Transactions are fungible.

Conversations and relationships are good. Very good, in fact. But they can be made even stronger by bringing more individuals to the party. Think of what Metcalfe’s Law states:

The usefulness, or utility, of a network equals the square of the number of users.

Now think about the broad definition of the word “network“:

An intricately connected system of things or people…

Grow the community, and it’s possible for all community members to benefit. And yes, “benefit” in this case can include profits for the companies truly engaged in the communities. Exhibit A.

Sunny, With An 80% Chance Of Kicking Some Serious Ass

Based on a recommendation, was checking out the WeatherBug site. Was scrolling around, and found an interesting, but mostly innocuous post:

Why do you use your WeatherBug?

Hey WeatherBug users, we want to know! Why do you use your WeatherBug? Is it deciding what to wear in the morning, scheduling your weekend plans, checking on vacation locations… Open up to us and tell us why! While you are at it, let us know what else you would like to see in WeatherBug and ask us anything. Seriously, anything.

Click on the comment link below and scroll to the bottom of the page to let us know!”

Now, check out the footer on that post:

(234) Comments

Holy cow. Customer stories. And more customer stories. How about this, from “Pete”:

“I’m on disabilty so I’m kind of the Weather Guy for My Wife. I go to the Weather Bug all the time and then I go to my wife with the updates. I have had the weather bug for a long time now and I just enjoy everything about it. I like to call my friends all over the States and I look their weather up before I call them.”

Or this one, from “Jim”:

“I am a Wildland Firefighter. I use WeatherBug to keep me posted on the current and predicted weather. This allows me to prepare myself and the crew for extreme fire behavior due to high temps and low humidity, thunderstorms, etc.”

Or another use case, from “Jeff”:

“I am a Paramedic and working in the weather is what I do. I rely on Weatherbug for the accurate forcast and realtime weather stations so I know what to expect where I am working. I also access WeatherBug from my Nextel phone.”

And “J.D.”:

“The reason I use my WeatherBug is because I not only like to get my local weather, but I also use the feature for other towns across the United States, because I am a huge NASCAR, and IRL racing fan.”

These are not members of some homogeneous “market segment.” These are real people, conversing and telling their real stories, voluntarily. Good on ya, WeatherBug folks, for reaching out to them.

Connecting like this can’t help but serve them…and you…very well.

Sun’s Blogs For Customers

Sun’s business blogging efforts get a nice spotlight piece in the Technology Review that just landed in the mailbox, which was penned by Wade Roush. Blogging and customers…whyzit matter? Here’s why:

“Sun’s Simon Phipps, whose job title is chief technology evangelist, says that researchers and developers can swap more ideas, build better software, and meet customers’ needs faster if they are active in online communities, where blogs play the dual role of soap- and suggestion-box. ‘In a world where you must speak with an authentic voice,’ says Phipps, ‘the obvious way is to let the people you most trust—your employees—speak directly to the -people you most want to appeal to—your customers.’”

and

“…not only do Sun’s blogs show customers that the company is paying attention to their concerns, but they have also become a major channel for communicating with programmers outside the company who write crucial third-party applications that run on Sun’s hardware and operating systems.”

and one more for good measure

Consumercustomer-oriented (ed. – sorry…had to do that) companies that abjure the blogosphere are missing out on opportunities to generate buzz, monitor customer concerns, and—perhaps most importantly—show their human side.”

More On How Podcasting Affects Sales, Marketing and Advertising

Quote of the day, regarding podcasting:

“…it sounds like that’s what diabolical sci-fi villains do once they’ve body-snatched a WOMMA.”

Actually, a nice little bit on business podcasting posted up at BtoB Online. Includes a wee little blurb on what the home team is doing with respect to podcasting competitive intelligence information (from a phone interview conducted last week whilst cooling my heels at Logan), as well as noting that the creatives at ad agency Sullivan Higdon & Sink are now podcasting “American Copywriter,” a once-a-week podcast on the advertising industry.

Plotting The Trajectory

(from the Social Customer Manifesto, www.socialcustomer.com)

Being that I spend a fair amount of time attempting to read the tea leaves of where particular companies are going, was listening with interest to today’s Daily Source Code podcast, where Adam Curry showed a bit of leg with respect to his new venture, PodShow.com. The PodShow team is addressing three separate groups of users or, if you will, customers of the service — listeners, advertisers and podcasters themselves.

One piece that was connected was with respect to the last group, the podcasters. Remembering back a few weeks ago, around the 26th of January, Adam was talking quite a bit about a technology he was calling the “CastBlaster.”

Adam says, “I’m still working on the CastBlaster I mentioned in the Source Code. I’ve updated the test feed again. This is really cool, I drop an mp3 into a folder on my desktop and the rest happens automagically!”

Let’s go out and take a look at who owns the CastBlaster.com domain. Interesting. It was registered on 8 December 2004 by none other than Adam’s partner in PodShow, Ron Bloom.

Tracing backward, it’s apparent Adam and Ron realized that for their customer base, an easy and trivial method of creating and distributing podcasts was going to be imperative to their success. So, they listened to what they were hearing, and tested it themselves first.

If I were one to wager, I would bet an easy to use facility, and perhaps even an easy to use desktop client or browser plug in based on the CastBlaster concept will be a part of their new venture. What do you think?

The following bit is for everyone listening in on the podcast:

“By the way, if it seems as if my voice has changed a bit since the last time we had a chance to chat, we are currently experimenting with one of the automated speech generation technologies we’ve found. Would love any feedback you might have on this method of distributing information. Thank you!”