I like my strategy hard-boiled, with pepper

There is a late night ad that drives me nuts, because it reminds me that sometimes ‘innovative’ attempts to repackage the basics are neither truly innovative, nor ultimately very useful.  The same is true with the way some people (pseudo gurus) and organizations are trying to approach ‘social’ business. One of these things is just like the other:  Behold, the Eggies System, which takes one of Mother Nature’s most perfectly engineered foods and turns it into a flat, hardened mess in a singular form.

Much of the social business hype reminds me of the Eggies System battle cry “Finally enjoy Hard-Boiled Eggs without peeling a single shell!” And, “When it comes to eggs, hard-boiled means hard work!  Messy shells, broken whites, and you’ll be peeling all night! Well, not anymore… introducing Eggies, the fast, easy way to cook hard-boiled eggs without the shell!”

When I watch that commercial, and I admit I’ve watched it far more times than I should, I hear the voices of the Social Gurus in my head, touting their wares. “Cook your eggs just like in a real shell,” sounds a lot like, “Go social, never mind how it fits into your core business.” Even while watching the recent keynote and corresponding tweets for Dreamforce, I was alternating between mockery and ire, as Salesforce  took it further and pitched ‘collaboration’ and ‘workflow’ so that they became sexy, trendy must-haves for the masses. This isn’t new. Or even fresh.  In fact, its long past the ‘best before’ date.

Collaboration, process, design and workflow aren’t new for many of us. They’re a given as necessary aspects in knowledge worker’s days. I believe that the attention E20 got via the Salesforce event will help us shape and mold broader adoption, which is something we’ve long strived for, but inevitably, I’m still left wondering who it is that businesses will trust to crack the necessary eggs, (and the heads), to implement it all in the Enterprise?

Crack, Pour & Boil!

But guiding organizations as they evolve to include social and collaboration into their cultures, helping them change to grow, is a business like any other. It’s not a brand new way to crack an egg and cook it. We often tell this to everyone who will listen, probably irritating them to no end with the repetition, and the sometimes strident tone. But, we will keep on saying it, because it needs to be said. Being a change agent is a business, with procedures that we study, refine, then improve upon, the same way that chefs learn to make a fluffy omelet or cook the perfect soft-boiled egg.  It takes practice, and an understanding of methodology until techniques are honed through the years and time-tested to work.

Susan Scrupski recently sent up call-to-arms to practitioners in Zen and the Art of Enterprise Maintenance, while championing a corporate culture ‘do over':

“To get to the “fix” part of this equation, it’s going to take the smarts and knowhow of everyone who’s focused on the Enterprise.  There’s a great thread on G+ from Sameer Patel on the “how.”  The lasting value will be to apply the spirit of social revolution in the enterprise to the practical application of social in the enterprise.  I’ve heard reports from Dreamforce that the rhetoric-to-reality gap was pretty stark once you left the Benioff keynote cathedral and walked onto the show floor.

This is the hard part.  Delivering on the promise of social.  So consider it a clarion call for all practitioners, consultants, and vendors (big and small):  Figure it out.  Bring it home for the rest of us and the planet.  We’ve done the first hard part which is selling the promise of revolutionary change.  And we’ll keep beating that drum, btw.  It’s the backbeat to the song we’re singing.”

Which is definitely a tune I’m in harmony with, but I believe there are challenges in building an army of experienced change agents that can be heard above the choir of social misfits who lack any genuine enterprise knowledge or experience.

Do you want it whipped, fried, baked, scrambled, or coddled & cooked in plastic?

Much like new and improved cracked shell Eggies, the social gurus seem to be easier and more appetizing to the HR gate-keepers than the hard-boiled trench soldiers presenting old style resumes as their shell.  I hear it day in and day out from valued, truly expert contemporaries who have extensive domain knowledge, singing the same refrain for change, but they have to reinvent  themselves first as the jargon changes to compete. We’re forced to repackage the expertise and knowledge that will really benefit organizations into new HR marketing norms, using industry buzzwords that sometimes have little to do with the real value seasoned enterprise software vets have. Those of us ahead of the curve in experiences had better get cracking to stay competitive and findable.

And as a bonus – you’ll get the Eggie Slicer!

While this outstanding piece by Sameer Patel was written to illustrate the need for process and innovation in the HR space within the enterprise, I’d add Assessing the Real Value of Me to the must read list for consultants who are trying to hatch-up a better way to get the HR wardens to give them a closer look. Consider the line “I’m much more than what HR thinks of me, today”, as you read through the Four Dimensions of the Employee System of Record, then do an inventory to determine if you’ve put enough of your eggs into a basket that recruiters, colleagues and references can easily access.

We can’t blame it all on the gate-keepers, if we’re just recycling the same old CV’s and portfolios that used to work years ago, and yapping away on twitter and Google+. While reading Sameer’s piece, I recognized that while I have an extensive, solid body of work that clearly demonstrates my own abilities and value within a large enterprise that happens to be in the business of providing collaboration solutions – it isn’t findable to external resources. And while I rail against the thin veneer of of buzzword SEO, I recognize that in order to get out there as trusted practitioners, we do need to work to remain relevant in the same way that we preach and promote change in the organizations we serve.

There are problems to be solved, and improvements to be made.  Doesn’t matter what the problem is really; companies should be hiring people who know how to do both. Not just people who speak fluent (pick your target industry/role) hype.  But, this whole issue of relevancy and being heard is just another problem.  And we’re problem solvers and solution creators. We can do this.

While we might want to work with folks who dig a little deeper than the buzz anyway, we could be making it easier on them and ourselves by enriching the E20 community with ever more voices talking about the HOW TO get it done. In my case, that means bitching less about the gurus, and writing more about the delivery.  We all need to keep talking, singing, preaching and cracking through shells so that social isn’t just another gadget to clutter up the kitchen.

And that’s no yolk.

Podio POV

Absolutely agree with +Rawn Shah assessment of Podio in ‘Cooking up Tasks and Workflows on the Social Web‘. Podio excels in its simplicity. Knowledge workers can become ‘app developers’ in mere hours.

Having spent > a decade designing and implementing highly configurable workflow, I was instantly and immediately impressed with the simple process design functionality @Podio offers. Building flows and forms is so easy that most users can learn in a single session, and ultimately build apps to be shared on the developer network. Ideal for verticals. They won’t even know they’ve become ‘developers’ overnight. It’s that simple.

As a process workflow app expert (yeah, I said it because I earned that badge in the trenches,) I’m possibly far more critical than most would be and did offer up some critiques as Podio launched publicly. The CEO, Jon Froda, not only responded, but quickly organized a debrief meeting with development staff. I’ve been impressed with their follow through since.

My biggest complaint at the time was the fact that users would grab apps from the store that were empty, and lacking sample data. Bewildering for those unfamiliar with workflow processes. They’ve since begun to populate web store apps with samples in some cases, offering start-up text guides in the others.  Another issue was the inability to add calculated fields to forms in support of pipeline reports and the like.  Within weeks, the calc fields were added, and with more functionality and formula options than expected.

I walked them through an end-to-end use case I use when testing any ‘social crm’ offering which really piqued the Podio team’s interest. I put every platform I test through and end-to-end trade show campaign to see where their weaknesses are as a practical social business tool for typical CRM processes.  The Podio team jumped at the chance to see how it works in a fully functional ‘traditional’ system, pausing to take screen shots and ask many questions along the way. I’m happy to report that most aspects of the test can now be done within Podio, and with the ability to create reports to measure most of the metrics for each outcome.

I’d also like to point out that interest is so high that one of the CRM Idol semi-finalists, (but I won’t say which one), had me tutor and walk members of their own R&D team through Podio for several hours – including app building and the app store, for ideas and understanding. Frankly, I think they’re wise to look closely at how Podio is doing it right, and might be still wiser to consider a partnership with them.

Although I rely upon an enormously powerful collaboration platform for my daily work with my primary employer and partners, I’ve shifted my other project and contract consulting work over to Podio, and use it almost as often as my main work intranet. When time permits, I’ve got more than a few vertical apps in mind to build & share myself.  Because it’s just so darn easy.

Just this week, Podio released a major face lift and UI design overhaul. They continue to improve based on user and developer feedback, at a rate that few other emerging tech companies can match. The new FlexioGrid is fluid, scalable, and elegant – a framework that will enable many future design enhancements.

Rawn’s right. Podio is evidence of a significant change in how apps can be developed and shared. Check it out if you haven’t yet. It’s going to challenge some of the more popular offerings that Rawn also mentioned in his article.

The Structured/Unstructured SCRM Data Puzzle – ‘in-the-trenches’ Techie weighs in

Don’t lose the cornerstone pieces of the CRM Puzzle in the quest to go Social, or the picture will never be complete.

Data Puzzles

I’ve spent a lot of time lately exploring some of the newer Social CRM solutions being developed and frankly, I’m concerned about some of what I’ve seen in the attempt to swing the innovations for Social too far from the Management part of SCRM.  You’re probably wondering why you should care  that I have an opinion at all, but if you’re planning now for product enhancements & integrations later, then voices like mine are important.

I’m your other customer.  I’m the one who will implement your solutions.  Which means I am the one that will also help make or break the success of your SCRM offering. Make me your advocate by developing your products so it is easy for us to make you rich & respected for providing quality solutions.

We’re the front line knowledge workers who are going to have to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give your customers the complete picture.

(And we’ll take the direct body hits from your customers if those pieces don’t fit. So be kind, pay some mind…)

I’m not a renowned E2.0 Thought Leader or Analyst, but I have been a  ‘Techie in the trenches’ for the past decade as Professional Services Implementation ‘expert’ for Enterprise collaboration software, which means I’ve architected solutions, implemented, configured, integrated, migrated-to-and-from, most of the top traditional CRM packages that come to mind, not to mention  a handful of mid-market ERP packages, gaining a level of process knowledge & data intimacy that many strategists haven’t.  And I’ve implemented sales processes that would make your head spin.

All in the pursuit of providing adequate analytics as the outcome  so your customers can Manage their Customer Relationships and make more Sales.

What I’ve observed is that some vendors are so overly-focused on socializing the process with unstructured data/process innovation dreams, that they’re too cautious about laying the right ground work for future scalability based on a true understanding of the smallest data sets required for optimal analytics, and further feature growth. I won’t presume to offer up a lesson here on 3 layer ‘constraint, schemata, and object’ architecture when there are much brighter Knowledge Management development experts out there, but I will share some basic thoughts on structured minimum data sets and why they are still important.

Unstructured vs. Structured Data – A precarious balance

Let’s illustrate the need for non-structured/structured balance with a recent experience I had while testing new SCRM software. I put it through many different scenarios in an attempt to build a use case that would demo the product end-to-end, but the one function I found most interesting was when I imported a test batch of contacts with a csv file. While I was mapping address fields I noticed in the user interface it looked like I was plunking them all into one address field.  My prof services brain went into over drive at that point, asking questions like:

  • Well this is interesting… I wonder how this works when I search on multiple states to either flag accounts in my territory or run a report on my territory… you know, so I can keep an eye on my pipeline & and commissions?
  • I wondered if the data was being truly parsed into any sort of coded structure with constraints so that we didn’t have multiple dirty data entries for California: Cali, CA, CAL, …
  • What happens in the business logic layer if the user is doing manual account creation and skips the state field altogether? Boy! That will be a lot of fun for the Order Processing department when I push the sale back to them to invoice & ship! WHEE!
  • Users won’t care much if they’re using Googlefied-style searches on most screens, and while I have a deep respect for the need for more natural human language in developing business intelligence, the potential impact on the product’s future ability to integrate in the future with ERP/Accounting packages that rely upon the data in basic address fields like City, State and Country for segmentation that drive things like commission territories is worthy of forethought and a concession to the need for some standards.
  • I checked in with a respected company that develops web-based VOIP billing solutions and learned that they absolutely do hard-code those fields and only Googlefy the results on screens.
  • In short, the ‘C’ in CRM stands for customer, or in the world of data, it still stands for the Customer Record.
  • There must be respect for and knowledge of the Taxonomy of the way the customer handles the sales process once the external social lead becomes a real customer, while still enabling people to enter their own Folksonomy in less critical entry fields.
  • You don’t want a hard-coded relational monster with 236 possible fields for a single record, not counting related tables/fields (been there, done that, haven’t we?) but there is a bare minimum of account detail & segmentation that can’t be optional if the end goal is full CRM functionality including actionable reports & metrics.
  • If done right, this is accomplished with as few as 20 well thought-out fields.

It’s the ‘little things’ you don’t plan for now that will trip you up later when the analysts start vetting your solution.

In another example, I was testing Opportunities created via Twitter leads. I noted that the ‘Stage’ & ‘Likelihood of Close %age’ fields were not related in any way.

  • Simpler for the user, certainly, but that makes it much more difficult to deliver a true ‘weighted’ sales forecast to fulfill the Management part of CRM.
  • That also makes it more complicated to develop templates for simple B2C, Mfg B2C, Wholesale B2B, or other sales cycle processes that you can drop in for plug-n-play verticals.

These are only a few selected examples that seemed obvious and easily identified to this PS geek who has one foot firmly stuck in traditional data/process la-la-land, but it did cause me concern that the innovators might be trying so hard to innovate social into the mix that they have tunnelled their vision too tightly on the Social/Relation part of CRM. With too little strategic focus on the Customer (record) and Management (processing sales & acting on measurable outcomes) part of the acronym.

Aside from the points above, I’ve also concluded that truly visionary SCRM companies will have Professional Services Veterans on their teams. ;>

You will be asked to develop order processing features, or integrate to existing systems that handle those transactions. And if you’ve created a great product, you’ll need to migrate data from existing systems.

Are you building your solutions with those growth challenges in mind? Are you laying the foundation up front?

(Next post… the importance of ‘roles and rights’ in channeling leads through to sales/customer service efficiently. If you stretch your brain, you’ll note that this has intriguing impact on licensing models, too.)

One Man’s ‘Stalking’ is another Man’s ‘Savvy’

No Stalkers - Savvy Only

I’m often amused by the over-the-top posts on Slashdot about online privacy. While I appreciate the intelligent discussions on security, I often think that some of the slashdot nerds have no front line experience with business, nor a clear understanding of how Social Media is changing customer engagement best practices.

Case in point:  When I clicked on this tweet: @slashdot: Cisco Social Software Lets You “Stalk” Customers http://bit.ly/b5JHe2 via @jockr I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to discover the post filed under ‘Your rights Online’, nor was I shocked to read the comments, most of which are nothing more than ‘Is Cisco crazy’ tirades about invasion of privacy and lawsuits looming.

One man’s stalking is another man’s new world business savvy.

In the first place, this isn’t new.  It isn’t like the Cisco roll out of SocialMiner is the first ever effort to enable enterprise listening solutions to monitor customers via various channels. Pick any company with marketing smarts and I guarantee that whether they’re using listening software or not, they have key resources assigned to ‘stalk’ their customers with both ears tuned to hear what is important to the customer.

“The software is designed to not only enable enterprises to monitor the conversations of their customers but to engage those that require service,” Cisco says.

I’m annoyed by the negative reaction and the less than lucid arguments being posted as comments against this roll-out. Is this Cisco angst, or merely a fundamental lack of business knowledge? Perhaps both, but here is what the detractors aren’t considering:

  • First clue of note, if your customers have a blog, then they want it to be read.  That’s a pretty basic, safe assumption. It’s in the public domain for a reason.
  • ‘Customer’ in this instance is not the end-user little guy jealously guarding their privacy — these are enterprises working B2B. ‘Customer’ means another company, not a specific person tweeting reviews about the movie they watched the night before.
  • Universal McCann reports that 77% of all active internet users regularly read blogs. That would include business blogs. Increasing efficiencies in doing so for business isn’t much different from improving RSS feeds, which most of the same nerds use daily to watch news on ‘privacy right invasion’.
  • Customer Collaboration is part of the entire Customer Experience

I’m sure we could add many more points to the list, but the bottom line is that the loudest voices that bemoan ‘stalking’ are entirely oblivious to the reality and benefits of social media listening for companies and their customers. I guess they don’t know what Enterprise 2.0 is about. ;>

Are you concerned about listening to your customers to offer better service and support?