The Social Business Army: Do You Want a Buck Private or Sniper?

(This is a cross-posting of my CMSWire article .)

As social business vendors grow, especially those who provide solution suites, there is a greater need for professional service consultants/analysts to undergo rigid vetting appraisals and skill certification testing similar to military training courses. It’s one thing to be dedicated to social engagement and quite another to be both committed to improving the business bottom line and the overall experience for the customers and having the skill to do so.

Social Business Boot Camp

How important is “in the trenches” professional service enterprise experience for social business to reach a new level of maturity and more customer successes?

If many of the new breed of social media gurus are to be believed, then probably not much. I disagree. I think it is time to move beyond defining and marketing social this and that, and get down to offering basic training on the delivery best practices. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this is necessary — respected strategist/analyst Esteban Kolsky recently added this comment to a previous post on the Missing Link between the Preachers and Practitioners:

If you provide the profile, the practitioner ranks will swell with people who understand what they need to do. This is, in my opinion, the missing link — no one is taking the time to explain and mentor the up-and-coming practitioners, then expecting sergeants to become colonels in the battle-field. Ain’t happening just by wishing, know what I mean?”

Despite all of the discussion about social business, social CRM and social strategies, vendors need to expend the effort towards building a strong cadre of practitioners capable of training staff of all ranks on the basic tenets of enterprise consultancy and how to incorporate social engagement in context with business transactions. Much can indeed be learned from the methods used by the Armed Forces to train and certify expertise in their own ranks.

The “Who’s Who in the Social Biz Zoo” hierarchy is similar to the military: there are Foot Soldiers, Platoon Leaders, Sergeants, Majors and Colonels and then there are Special Ops groups that include Snipers. How do you recognize a skilled marksman from a newly enlisted grunt? Surely they aren’t all wearing “Expert” badges?

Or are they?

Verifying Service Records

The consumers, customers and businesses that are looking for social strategy guidance have access to more information at hand than ever before to vet the history of analysts, experts and consultants via the very same channels they’re trying to break into. But, they don’t have the ability to simply check service records. It’s all too easy for self-proclaimed gurus to pin badges on their own breasts.

When an expert wants you to believe that he’s honorable, he may tell you that he served in the trenches, lugging a heavy ruck sack over steep hills in blistering weather. When a foot soldier wants you to believe he’s a larger-than-life hero, he may tell you he was a black ops commando. Even worse, some vendors pass off similarly uniformed staff with little to no enterprise experience at all as “the point of the social spear,” yet they’re more like toy tin soldiers.

Here’s what you should remember: true military veterans rarely sit idly talking about their experiences after the fact — they’re always looking ahead to prepare for the next battle. If someone is trying to impress you with tales of social business heroism, there is a good chance he or she is lying, looking to gain 15 minutes of fame on TechCrunch or has awarded themselves a promotion without moving up through the ranks after spending some uncomfortable nights in the muck on the front lines ducking incoming grenades. Hint: look for the business battle-worn with a few scars.

Don’t be fooled by influence rank, as many inexperienced souls are promoted during times of war — it is an inevitable ploy to calm the masses by imposing additional levels of command and control during periods of stress. The reality is that the more people there are shouting orders (“you must listen and engage”), the more confusion sets in. The voices that matter most are those who can pull the trigger with accurate aim. No matter what your social strategy is, what you want is a Special Ops Commando. After all, they’re the resources most often responsible for targeted executions.

Social platform vendors have a responsibility to their customers to fill their professional services ranks with war-tested enterprise business analysts. No, not like Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal – we’re talking real deal action figures armed with cool weaponry and the skill to use them.

Profile of a Social Business Analyst Sharpshooter

How do drill sarges become sarges? It’s not just because they are the loudest.

Simply put, real social business analysts have done real work with enterprises, earning invaluable domain knowledge. The very best of the best, like Special Ops professionals, (cadre — drill sergeant) have know-how in multiple disciplines such as CRM, Customer Service and ERP, as well as an evolving understanding of the impact of pervasive communications (like social engagement) on business. If we look to the military, we can identify seven key characteristics of trained warriors that well represent the abilities competent practitioners should possess:

  1. Proficient and Safe Handling of Weapons — practitioners should have a thorough practical knowledge of the solutions and applications they promote and deliver. This means knowing how to pick the right weapon for the right strengths and how to take them apart and put them back together in the dark without shining a flash light on a manual. They must be capable of guiding implementations and integrations — providing adroit offensive coverage for key processes like sales and marketing, while also applying careful knife skills to compliance and governance requirements.
  2. Observation — practitioners have honed their skills in scanning, observing and logging all they see. This allows them to detect minor details that may aid them in spotting additional quarry and avoiding ambushes, which further develops their ability to collate information scrutinized from multiple angles, which they share with other team members and commanders as real time intelligence. They continue to monitor surroundings and activities and do not pull the trigger until it best supports the mission.
  3. Map Reading and Topography — practitioners carefully read existing maps and sketch additional scaled diagrams to plan navigation to and from operation insertion and extraction points with the ability to identify recognizable landmarks along the route. They must be able to accurately calculate range, wind direction and distance to be covered to get from A to Z, with strategies ready for scaling any obstacles and reconfiguring the path if detours are encountered in between.
  4. Cross Training — practitioners pair up regularly with other forces in sales, product development and customer service to cross train each other and keep each unit on their toes. Encouraging participation in cross training exercises requires the ability to adeptly detail the value to the individuals in learning how all of the pieces fit together to create a customer-centric organization capable of creating consistent customer success stories.
  5. Fitness Training — practitioners undertake daily, rigorous training to keep their skills sharp. They’re disciplined about perfecting their knowledge spanning multiple disciplines. This usually includes trade-craft practice, practice and more practice with their core products, plus research and/or enrollment in additional courses to study new technologies and methodologies.
  6. Communications — practitioners are able to effectively communicate both up channel and down, internally and externally, using a variety of tools. In case of comm system issues, they should have the ability to troubleshoot and find alternate methods to send and receive messages, including the use of hand signals if necessary. ;-P
  7. Marksmanship — practitioners have the ability to consistently hit both stationary and moving targets within short or long ranges. They must be able to accurately use scope to find hidden targets within specifically defined areas. They must be able to fire from conventional and unconventional positions for the strongest probability of a first shot kill.

“In the Trenches” Expertise Drives Social Business Sophistication

Incorporating social listening, analysis and engagement strategies with traditional transactional business processes requires an understanding of the mission in the context of the customers. Putting tactical implementations in the hands of people who may have decent abilities in one or another area of “social” anything is like putting a loaded semi-automatic in the hands of a kid who is so eager to play with his new toy that he just starts shooting for the sheer joy of pulling a trigger.

You shouldn’t get the “social business expert” badge until you’ve earned it by successfully participating in enterprise business executions.

Rally the troops!

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Does Salesforce Get what they’ve Got with Radian6?

I was eagerly waiting for Paul Greenberg’s  thoughts on the latest Salesforce announcements from Cloudforce,  as his is most often the first & last voice I rely upon to tell it like it is when it comes to Salesforce and Radian6 as ‘the social platform to beat’. And I’m not disappointed – it was worth the wait. In his post ‘Salesforce & the Social Marketing Cloud: Round 1 Goes to…‘ Paul carefully dissects the positioning of Radian6 as a Marketing Cloud, delivering astute cautionary points on the pitfalls of pitching it this way. Good advice that I hope Salesforce will sit up and take note of.  As someone more interested in enterprise customer success than the buzz that fills the pipeline, Paul’s post highlights a bigger issue for Salesforce. They don’t get what they’ve got. Or if they do, they aren’t quite showing it in a way that will accelerate enterprise acceptance yet.

Like Paul, I think that while the Radian6 acquisition is one of the most significant moves that has long-term impact on the social business industry, I’m not yet convinced that SFDC has put the right team of strategists together to design truly persuasive value positioning of the suite for the enterprise.  In my opinion, Paul nailed it with this statement:

“Salesforce is underestimating the value or at least apparently underestimating the value of the Radian6 platform to its entire product suite and platform.”

Note the underline above – I couldn’t agree more heartily with that observation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,  many vendors either don’t tell a story at all, or don’t tell the right story, and that gives me the vapors. It could be argued that Salesforce strategists are less aware of the true potential of what can be delivered than outsiders like us are. With what they now have to offer, there are better ways to tell compelling stories to the enterprise, but SFDC doesn’t seem to have the right type of enterprise suite strategists guiding a team of kickass engineering tacticians, as voices at levels in the organization’s hierarchy to drive development of clear, relatable, doable use cases.  Sure, SFDC is beginning to show touch points spanning the offerings, but only as touch points – not as part of process chains. With Radian6, plus other key acquisitions and integrations like the plan to ‘unlock the SAP core‘, the pieces are there to sell, but a different level of  ability is required to demonstrate and implement it all in a meaningful way for the enterprise.

Warning, Symptom – or is this a Clue?

Scanning career openings posted on three of the ‘top’ social platform vendor sites (aside from SFDC), doesn’t bode well for the customers or the VARs. Of fifty-five jobs posted by those vendors offering social collaboration solutions for businesses, only 4 of the jobs listed have any sort of business analysis consulting or enterprise software implementation experience as a requirement. That’s nothing short of blood-&-guts bad horror movie scary. You just know that the virgin is going to go in the room where the killer is, regardless of the foreshadowing.

(Queue up ominous Metallica sound track here – sleep with one eye open… )

Several other respected analyst/strategists like Esteban Kolsky are also questioning the logic behind positioning E20 suites using ‘social voices’ instead of, or in tandem with enterprise platform professionals delivering proven, vetted value.  Esteban recently shared a an episode of Cheers with me as an allegorical story highlighting one issue that is prevalent with vendors and customers both in their approach to hiring ‘social stars’ to lead the team. In this episode, Sam is asked to join the executive team at a corporation… but only so he could play on the baseball team.  He insists on being taken seriously and writes a report about something, only to be dismissed out of hand. His intended role was to garner exposure from sports fans and maybe go up to bat to hit one now and then — not to plan strategy for the company.

The same scenario is more common than not with many organisations who want to play the social business game. They hire and put people out front who can fill the seats with spectator butts, but those players can’t always deliver home runs, because they’ve never worked in strategic enterprise or management consulting.  I haven’t seen much yet by way of functional coaching and instruction on how to merge listening and new analytics into operations intelligently. If you can’t show me an end-to-end story from trade show through sales pipeline to order entry and delivery, then circle back on customer satisfaction at all points, then you don’t understand how the pieces all fit together for the enterprise to begin with. Can it be done with the SFDC suite and select integrations? Hell yes, it can.  But the resources with the knowledge to engineer that kind of story either aren’t on board yet, or aren’t being used to deliver ‘proof of concept’ examples for the enterprise, and they certainly aren’t evident as part of the positioning team.

Fortunately, Salesforce has put another key piece in play with automated workflow that can now be used to fill in the gaps in the stories.  The fact that SocialHub can be used for marketing isn’t the big news.

 The real SocialHub headline is: the fact that this workflow ensures that the right information gets to the right people in the organization

That means action and efficiencies for organizations. And if SFDC is really, really smart they’ll take this a step further and show the analytics that tell the story of what happened before, during and after each event that spawned the alert in the first place.  That is the real value they coulda, shoulda, woulda be pitching to the enterprise. This is the story that every demo should be showing:

Listen -> Alert -> Action -> Engage -> Analyse = Organizational Intelligence 

The Fix

Salesforce needs to build a core team of enterprise suite experts. These aren’t people who would give the demos or write the positioning messages, but are strategists who guide the direction of the positioning and make sure that sales & marketing have the right demos to present, and that professional services is ready to deliver on the promises that Benioff and the marketing team are extolling.  There are CRM experts, and listening/engagement gurus at hand, but as I said above, this team must be lead by enterprise suite strategists and analysts guiding a team of kickass engineering tacticians, responsible for these key deliverables:

  1. Touch point Maps: A clear map of what the touch points are spanning the various apps is invaluable for several purposes – it surfaces shared areas for use that folks might not otherwise recognize, and is important for setting standards for Professional Services delivery standards.
  2. SFDC and Radian6 Capability Maturity model: define and articulate the capabilities and competencies. Tool to categorize messaging, define best practices and design case studies.
  3. End-to-end Use Cases: And by use cases here, I mean whole process chain stories.  Great, so SocialHub can be used for marketing.  Now show us how we’ll use Salesforce and Radian6 to market to three different audiences (customers, partners and public) before, during, and after a product launch or conference – say something like Dreamforce? ;-P That’s a use case that can be used in whole and in snippet parts to show impact and outcomes to enterprises. All businesses are different, but every organization has events of one sort or another. Build the use cases around that basic premise.
  4. Detailed Implementation Plans: The plans need to be developed by tacticians that know how to break requirements down based on the needs of all the business units in enterprises – sales & marketing, support, delivery, HR and finance first to actually deliver a comprehensive, holistic solution suite.
  5. Coaching Guides:  Teaching the SFDC positioning, marketing, delivery, sales engineers, and the VARs not how to build it, but how to tell the story creatively and where to pause to show genuine insights of value to the customer.
That’s a sure path for Salesforce to start getting what they’ve got.

(And if Salesforce wants to get busy on this, they can always call me. I’d be happy to help.)

CRM Idol – Crowd Wisdom for the Candidates

Paul Greenberg’s CRM Idol is a brilliant concept as competition with an initiative to both identify and showcase CRM and SCRM related start ups. Fortunate candidates gain exposure and support from investors, influencers, technology/strategic partners, media connections, etc.  But there is more to explore if we look at the contest from the inside of the industry outwards. In addition to the the unique opportunity that CRM Idol has offered these emerging companies, it’s also been an interesting example of what candidates should and should not be doing, with some startling preliminary results so far.

In short, many of the candidates could have done more to maximize their exposure with the related high value FREE PR.

Using start up Next Principles Event Monitoring offering, NP CEO Satya Krishnaswamy and I have  been measuring CRM Idol impact from the perspective of the event organizers and judges for several months now. While working in the spring with @NextPrinciples on some design/development/use ideas, I thought what better example to use for monitoring events via social channels than to select an event-driven by social business industry leaders?  There were some good reasons for picking CRM Idol specifically for this experiment:

  • The teams of judges, panelists, mentors, sponsors offer a rare grouping of many of the very best minds in the social business arena. How does that play out in their own event promotion?
  • The high level of interest in technologies and innovations geared towards bridging the gaps between traditional and socialized crm
  • The opportunity for the candidates to show their own social/crm savvy as participants in the event

The Basics

Adopting the persona of Paul Greenberg his very own self, we created an event template in April including several of the main influencer judges as ’employees’ tasked with running, promoting, monitoring and following up on the event.   Related blogs (10 ‘company’ and 14 ‘non-company’) were identified as key industry news sources, twitter keywords identified and began watching the results.  Here are a few of the preliminary highlights from the competition during its first week of demo judging:
  • Aside from the ‘company’ event tweeters, 570 more people tweeted about CRM Idol resulting in a 12% follower growth rate for the specific event handle ‘@pgreenbe’
  • Oddly, we would have predicted both social and SCRM to have been included in more related tweets considering today’s hash tag economy, but ‘latam’ made a surprisingly strong appearance, likely due to Jesus Hoyos influence

The Candidates ‘Social Event’ Performance

Interesting – and disturbing – was the lack of promotion participation by the real competition candidates themselves.  Using some of the measurement results along with good old-fashioned human observation it’s clear that many of these organizations missed the boat when it came to using this as a social PR opportunity to show that they’re walking their talk as part of their own strategies for CRM.  Relatively few pushed one or more blog posts about being selected to take part, or related their demo experiences so far, almost none tagged their demo videos on YouTube with CRM Idol to maximize hit results beyond their inclusion on the CRM Idol site, and the level of engagement with CRM Idol audience/fans/followers via twitter was astonishingly low. In fact, most candidates barely shared news or excitement about the event at all.
There was one noticeable exception in Aplicor’s response to the event chatter. Marketing Director Tracy Fawcett not only engaged with the RT’ing audience and other candidates, she followed up with personalized invites to advocates and candidates alike to connect on other channels like LinkedIn.  You know – cross pollinating and building relationships in a genuine way via social? Yeah, like that.
To some, the social crm (read business) community may seem to be a bit insular, and of course the candidates’ current focus is on learning from and impressing the influencers and investors, but I’m hoping they’ll be wise enough to spend time after the competition in building additional strategic partnerships, or just pausing to share their stories with those who expressed interest in their success during the competition. Never know who might help you build relationships with more leads and customers.

Advice for the Candidates

It’s a simple concept: For start ups participating in an event, especially one like CRM Idol that has a built in network of influential broadcasters – grab the free PR and run with it! Talk it up at all stages.

Pre-event

  •  Post blogs! Share your stories about being accepted to present, your demo prep, your expectations. Hell show your belly and admit to being nervous, if you are.
  • Get to know the other candidates/presenters.  Don’t just stalk them surreptitiously and mock their videos. Make an effort to explore commonalities and differences beyond their solutions. Who is their customer and can you share them?  Who are these other entrepreneurs who are just as eager as yourselves to be change agents? What can you learn from their experiences?

Don’t just wait for the event to jump into tagging – add ‘CRM Idol’ to videos, images, tutorials early on so that the chatter starts – and the impact will last long beyond the event.

During the event 

  • Carve time out each day to respond to people who’ve tweeted about your participation. Especially those who’ve expressed further interest in you or your products.
  • Wish the others luck. Did I really have to say that? Good sportsmanship is always a sign of a good leader.
  • Tweet, write, update at least a few times a day. Interested people who aren’t watching in real-time will surely check the social channels for updates, won’t they?
  • Thank the organizers. And the judges. And the panelists. And anyone else who has shown the slightest bit of attention your way.
Post Event
  • Thank the organizers/participants again – in detail. Write about it again in 1, 3, 6 months and share the impact it’s had on you and your company.  Did one key conversation or insight radically change your strategy?  How’s that working out?
  • Provide the organizers real feedback. Did you have an increase in sales? Did you form new partnerships? Let them know if you got results, even if you didn’t ‘win’.
Paul and the rest of the CRM Idol team have done an outstanding job of providing real value to the enterprise ecosystem.  I’d like to hear their own observations on how candidates are using this opportunity to their best benefit to build relationships directly and indirectly. But for now, I’ll just issue this challenge to the contestants:
Walk your talk. Demonstrate that you do understand all aspects of social impact on your own business. Work it.

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?