Book Review: Tales From a Veteran Blogger

I’ve been a reader of Ed Brill’s blog for several years, not because of any particular  interest in the IBM/Lotus products that he long championed, but because he’s just so good at blogging.

Opting In by Ed BrillBrill was a longtime product manager for IBM’s Social Business products, where he fought an uphill and often public battle against Microsoft. Brill’s barbs were notable because IBM’s buttoned-down culture had historically discouraged direct public engagement. How did a product manager get away with poking a stick in the eye of a major competitor?

The fact that he did get away with it is one of the sub themes of Opting In, Brill’s new book about social product management. “Only twice did someone ask for me to be fired at the chairman’s level,” he jokes. That seems funny today, but at the time it was a bold test of new management principles that challenged IBM’s 100-year-old prohibitions against individual expression.

Brill’s engaging and readable book is aimed at product managers, those corporate jacks of all trades who fret about everything from market research to customer support. Product managers are the ones who ultimately take the credit or blame for a product’s performance in the marketplace, and Brill sees social media as their ally at almost every level. Opting In covers everything from Google Alerts to Pinterest, and Brill not only outlines the unique utility of each of these tools but usually provide stories to support his points.

Telling Stories

For me, the benchmark of an enjoyable business book is storytelling, and Opting In has stories aplenty. They include detailed accounts of some of his more notable confrontations, such as a 2004 dustup with the influential Radicati Group and a 2010 challenge to a controversial Gartner report. Conventional wisdom holds that you don’t pick fights with these influencers, but Brill went to war and lived to tell about it. The explanations of his reasoning behind these actions are valuable competitive intelligence for any product manager.

Ed_Brill

Ed Brill

Most of the tales in Opting In are more upbeat. For example, Brill tells how a single tweet on a trip to Sydney led to a meeting with a local follower and fellow foodie and a friendship that has lasted for years. Social media is about more than business, he emphasizes. Those glimpses into your experiences, hobbies and interests create touch points that lead to meaningful relationships.

Product managers will learn much from scrutinizing Brill’s insight on topics common to the profession. He introduces the concept of “progressive disclosure” as an alternative to the traditional Big Bang product announcement, with the idea being to use social media to build awareness and buzz leading up to the communication of the news.

He describes how Lotus has increasingly moved toward open product development as a way to integrate user feedback into the process and even shares a story about how his group handled an unforeseen customer backlash to some changes that everyone expected to be a hit. Fellow product managers will relate to all of this.

Opening Up

The hero of the book is IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines, which get a full appendix entry of their own. Brill frequently praises these rules, which are often cited as a model of social media policy, for giving him the courage to take on some of his more notable battles and to continually give voice to his opinions.

The guidelines, which were first drafted in 2005, have changed IBM fundamentally. To dramatize the scope of that change, Brill recalls how he was slapped down by corporate communications in 2003 for identifying an employee in a blog post because, “we don’t have celebrities at IBM.” Less than a decade later, IBM was running ads celebrating individual employees.

“The guidelines…signaled to employees, clients and the market that IBM would stand behind its [people],” he writes. In a day when corporate loyalty seems almost a quaint historical curiosity, the kind of faith must be pretty empowering.

Full disclosure: I have a consulting relationship with an IBM subcontractor.

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Slides and Video Cover What You Need to Know About Search

A client asked me to prepare a one-hour seminar on the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), and I thought it was worth sharing. I live in Birmingham and was having a hard time find the best SEO in Birmingham, until I came across third.co.uk. This is more than your standard chalk talk. I pulled together slides from several presentations I’ve used over the last few years, updated them and wrote a complete script, which is included as slide notes in the in the PowerPoint. You can download the presentation and read the notes or watch the video.

I’m not an SEO expert by any stretch, but I’ve learned a lot by osmosis. For those who are mystified by Google magic, this deck will get you up to speed. If you’re already a guru, skip it and head to more advanced sites like Search Engine Land, SEOmoz, TopRank or Biznology.

Thanks to Mike Moran, HubSpot and McDougall Interactive for permitting me to steal from them.

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Small Firms Again Trump Enterprises in Social Media Use, UMass Study Reveals

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is out with its latest survey of the Inc. 500’s use of social media, and once again small companies outpace large ones. Ninety-two percent of the Inc. 500 use at least one of the tools studied, which include blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare.

Blog use by Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companiesInterestingly, the use of blogs jumped among the Inc. 500 after four years of little or no groth. Forty-four percent of the 2012 Inc. 500 are blogging, compared to just 23% of the Fortune 500. The figure is a jump from the 37% of Inc. 500 companies that were blogging in 2011. Researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava Lescault found that 63% of Inc. 500 CEOs contribute to blog content.

Also notable is the surge of interest in LinkedIn, which is being used by 81% of companies compared to 67% for Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was the big loser in this survey. Its usage dropped 7% from last year.  Up-and-comers are Foursquare (28%) and Pinterest (18%).

Growth in social media investment showed signs of slowing in this survey. Only 44% of respondents says they’re looking to spend more on social media, down from 71% in the 2011 survey. Forty-one percent say their level of investment will remain, up from 25% last year.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said social media is “very necessary or “somewhat necessary” to the growth of their company. This is the sixth year The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth has conducted the study.

There’s lots more on the summary page, including links to downloads of the full results.

 

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Social Marketing Wisdom From a True Practitioner

Stand Out Social Marketing starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with truly actionable insight that can help your whole company become more social.

Stand Out Social Marketing coverThis new book comes from Mike Lewis, who is head of marketing at Awareness Networks, a personal friend and one of the nicest guys I know. Stand Out builds on the premise that a great online presence is a function of distinctive content delivered through multiple channels with the assumption that interactions with constituents are part of the process. The book’s initial focus on social listening tactics is somewhat incongruous in that context, but it gets rolling as Lewis moves along.

There have been plenty of books about social media marketing written by people (like me) who don’t do much of it. What makes Stand Out such a stand out is that Lewis not only brings years of field experience to the topic but also insight gleaned from hundreds of customer experiences.

This book is worth its cover price for chapter 4 alone. In it, Lewis sets out practical guidelines for getting the most out of social media interactions based upon real data from real campaigns. Lewis has the benefit of being able to tap into the knowledge that huge brands like Major League Baseball have gained from analyzing millions of customer reactions, and some of the insights are fascinating. For example:

–People post more content to social channels on Friday than any other day of the week, but Thursdays have significantly higher interaction rates.

–Nearly 100% of interactions around content posted to Facebook and Twitter occurs during the first 10 days, but only 34% of interactions around YouTube and WordPress content happens during that time. This means that content posted to these channels should be created differently depending on when people are most likely to discover it.

–Content published to three or more social channels generates about 30% more engagement than content posted to a single social channel.

This is what I call really actionable information. It will immediately change some of your tactics – and for the better.

In addition to  statistics like these, Lewis offers practical advice buttressed by concrete examples. For example, “Content should be focused on the needs of your prospects and customers – not on you, your company or your product.” While experienced social marketers may think this advice is obvious, it’s stunning how few marketers think this way.

Stand Out also has several excellent case studies from both B2C and B2B businesses that dramatize the advantages of engaging in conversation rather than spewing messages. An accompanying website provides bonus information that builds on many of the points raised in the book.

A metrics section near the end introduces some new measurement tactics that were unfamiliar to me but which provide a solid foundation for understanding reach and effectiveness. It goes well beyond fans or followers to include factors like SEO effectiveness, interactions, activity and even customer service. These are useful ideas to internalize in making a comprehensive ROI evaluation. I honestly prefer tampa seo to help me website.

It’s hard to think of a social media marketing angle that hasn’t already been covered by some other text. Mike Lewis manages to find one.

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Attack of the Customers Press Release

I’ve read thousands of press releases over the years but don’t believe I ever wrote one until now. It was more difficult than I expected! Links and tweets are appreciated, but Amazon reviews will get you undying devotion.

New Book Explores Recent Epidemic Of Online Customer Assaults on Businesses

 ‘Attack of the Customers’ Helps Marketers and Business Owners Manage and Prevent Reputation Threats Carried on Blogs and Social Networks

Attack of the CustomersCustomers are taking their complaints about companies and products to the Internet in record numbers, and a new book tells what is driving this trend and how businesses can avoid being victims of customer attacks.

Attack of the Customers,” by award-winning author Paul Gillin and customer relationship management pioneer Greg Gianforte, arrives as online attacks are becoming a top concern for business and government leaders.

“A lot of attention has been focused on social media’s capacity to aid in awareness, marketing and positive brand perception,” said co-author Paul Gillin, “but little has been written to date about its dark side. Brands have been piling into Facebook expecting to reap a bounty of positive PR, but they forget that these channels can be used to tear down as well as to build.”

Recent research has shown that 70% of large companies have experienced an attack on their reputations during last two years.“Decision-makers believe that social media has made managing crises more difficult and more expensive,” Gillin said. “We wrote this book to address the increasing need for corporations to understand how people express dissatisfaction online and how to distinguish between everyday complaints and potential crisis scenarios.”

Attack of the Customers analyzes the motivations and goals of people who drive negative campaigns and offers guidance for how to respond to and prevent online attacks. Using dozens of case studies from consumer and B2B brands, the book classifies attackers into four categories – Casual Complainers, Extortionists, Committed Crusaders and Indignant Influencers – and provides coping strategies for dealing with each.

The book also documents step-by-step how some recent notable attacks developed and the critical factors that transformed them from minor brush fires into international news stories.

Capacity to Destroy

Attack of the Customers analyzes customer-driven negativity campaigns like the 2010 Pampers Dry Max Facebook crisis and the 2012 beef-industry “pink slime” hysteria to identify lessons brand owners can apply to understanding customer motivations and preparing response strategies. The book also looks at the growing influence of online customer reviews sources like Yelp and Amazon on businesses ranging from electronics to hospitality services and tells how business executives can use peer reviews to their advantage.

Readers will learn:

  • Why businesses’ common responses to customer complaints often make matters worse;
  • Why complaining customers are some of an organization’s most valuable assets;
  • How vocal critics can be turned into raving fans with an active response strategy;
  • How to organize a team to identify and respond to attacks in minutes; and
  • How to create a culture that puts customers first.

“Delighting the customer is the only sustainable source of competitive advantage today, because product differentiation is fleeting and price differentiation is unprofitable, ” said co-author Greg Gianforte. “Failure to deliver exceptional customer experiences is simply failure.”

Attack of the Customers is available through major online retail outlets and in Amazon Kindle format. Learn more at AttackOfTheCustomers.com.

About The Authors

Paul Gillin, co-author, Attack of the CustomersPaul Gillin is a writer, speaker and online marketing consultant who specializes in helping businesses use content to reach customers. A popular speaker and writer, he has addressed more than 150 conferences and groups and published more than 200 articles about social media marketing since 2008. His four previous books about social media and online communities include The New Influencers, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, The Joy of Geocaching and Social Marketing to the Business Customer.

Paul is a columnist for BtoB magazine and a director of the Society for New Communications Research. He blogs at PaulGillin.com and NewspaperDeathWatch.com.

Greg Gianforte, co-author, Attack of the CustomersGreg Gianforte has started five successful software companies. He founded RightNow Technologies in 1997 with a mission to rid the world of bad experiences. The company enjoyed 15 years of continuous growth. At the time of its sale to Oracle in 2011, it had more than 2,000 large customers, 1,100 employees and $225 million in annual revenue.
Among his awards are Ernst & Young’s Pacific Northwest Entrepreneur of the Year and the Leader Award from CRM magazine. He was inducted into the CRM Hall of Fame in 2007. His books include Bootstrapping Your Business and Eight to Great: Eight Steps to Delivering an Exceptional Customer Experience.

Contact information:

Paul Gillin

508-656-0734

paul@gillin.com

Twitter: @pgillin

Greg Gianforte

greg.gianforte@gmail.com

 

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My New Book, ‘Attack of the Customers,’ is now available

Attack of the Customers front cover

Click on the book cover to order with a 30% discount. Use promo code 9AVB4H4K

An idea I’ve been kicking around for a couple of years became a formal book project in January. Eleven months later, Attack of the Customers is now available! I’d like to ask for your support by liking the book on the Amazon page and registering your like on the book’s Facebook page. And if you can go the extra mile and plunk down $13.50, I think you’ll find it a pretty interesting read (use discount code at right).

In some ways, this book is an update of my first book, The New Influencers, which was published more than five years ago. One of the things that has always captivated me about social media is the power it gives to individuals to greatly amplify their voice. Several of the case studies in New Influencers involved customer attacks in the days when blogs were about all people had to work with. Today, attacks take many different forms and involve many different tools, but the pattern is the same: People have learned that they can get better results from rallying friends and supporters to their cause than by going through established customer service or complaint channels.

Most customer attacks don’t go viral, but they can be effective even without big numbers. Just last week a woman who claimed she had been victimized in a contract dispute with a big Canadian retailer took her cause to YouTube and Facebook. With YouTube views averaging about 25,000 per day, her story caught the eye of mainstream media, which is usually the turning point at which things happen. One thing I discovered in writing the book is that mainstream media attention is essential to helping a cause go viral. Newspapers and magazines may be suffering financially right now, but they’re just as important as they always have been to validate and spread information.

Farming Out Customer Care

One reason customer attacks have become so numerous in recent years is because businesses and government agencies have historically had such miserable customer service. Support organizations were outsourced en masse in the 1990s, customer service agents were hidden beneath layers of confusing call routing menus and complaints routinely disappeared into black holes. Big organizations often didn’t respond to complaints because they didn’t have to. Customers had no easy way to share their frustrations, so there was little concern that a product or service deficiency would become a problem.

Goodbye to all that, and good riddance. Customers now complain so fluidly that the problem for many businesses is figuring out which gripes to take seriously. In the final chapter of Attack of the Customers, my co-author Greg Gianforte presents a formula he calls “Eight to Great.” It’s a list of eight steps companies can take to become customer-focused at the core, and it’s been applied by thousands of companies during Greg’s term as founder and CEO of RightNow Technologies.

His advice really comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. The trouble is that the payoff of good customer satisfaction is a lot harder to measure than the benefit of a dime saved in production. We make the case that companies have no choice but to invest in this area, though. In the age of the empowered customer, service is one of the few points of differentiation left.

Self-Publishing Experiment

This is the first of my five books that I’ve self-published. We used Amazon CreateSpace and hired professional design and copy editing resources, but much of the work between the covers was done with Microsoft Word. I even created the index myself to see what the experience was like (although I don’t think I’ll try that again). Many authors are experimenting with self-publishing now because the commissions on commercially published works are so small that book-writing becomes a $10/hour proposition. Social networks are also sufficiently mature that good word-of-mouth can potentially replace traditional marketing.

Whether that’s true or not I expect to find out in the coming months. I certainly could use your help. Whether it’s a like, a review or a credit card, anything you can do to express your support is gratefully appreciated.

And if you’re a blogger or editor who would like a review copy, just leave a comment here or drop me a line and I’ll be pleased to send you one.

15 Tips for Getting the Most From LinkedIn Groups

I spend a lot of time in LinkedIn groups and have learned a bit about maximizing their potential as conversation-starters. Here are 15 of my favorite tips. Please add your own as comments.

1. Ask Questions

The best way to provoke discussion on LinkedIn is to ask questions. Rather than sharing a link to an article, use it to kick off a discussion. For example, instead of posting a headline and a link to an article about cloud security, formulate it into a question:

“This article on Cloud Computing Path makes the case that the recent Dropbox security breach proves that the cloud is not yet secure enough for the enterprise. Do you agree?”

http://www.cloudcomputingpath.com/dropbox-security-breach-prove-that-cloud-is-not-secure/

2. Make it Personal

LinkedIn is the only major social network that doesn’t permit brands to interact as members. Only people can post content. With that in mind, make sure your posts have a personal tone. For example, instead of saying, “This webinar on the benefits of platform as a service has particular relevance to business partners,” try “This webinar on the benefits of platform as a service looks interesting. I hope you’ll join me there.”

3. Follow Up

This is very, very, very important. Don’t post a question and just walk away. When people do you the courtesy of responding, return the favor by responding to them or simply “Liking” their post. Remember that you started the conversation. That means you own it.

4. Fill Out Your Profile

When you contribute something interesting to the group, people will want to find out more about you. It’s disappointing when their click takes them to a skeletal profile page with no photo. It’s a lost opportunity for you, too, because you’re missing the chance to create a professional contact.

5. Use Active Voice

Why “facilitate the implementation of” when you can just “do?” Corporate speak doesn’t work in social channels because you communicate there as a person, not as an institution. Cleanse your prose of passive voice, buzzwords and superlatives. Write like you talk.

6. Keep Headlines Short and Avoid the Ellipses Of Death

LinkedIn gives you 120 characters for a headline, which is pretty generous. Headlines over 120 characters are truncated with an ellipsis (…). You want to avoid this because you’re forcing readers to click through to read the rest of the headline. The more clicks you require the more visitors you lose. The “Add more details” field gives you plenty of space to spread out.

7. There Are Three Parts Of Any LinkedIn Post. Use Them All

They are:

  • Headline – Keep it brief and use it to communicate basic information or arouse interest.
  • Add more details – Provide background and explanatory information. Tell people why you think this information is important.
  • Attach a link – Use this area to post links. Never include links in the headline. If you need to have more than one link in your post, use a URL shortening service (see below) and include it in the “Add more details” section.

For example, instead of writing a headline like “Can anyone recommend a useful eBook on cloud computing? I’m looking for something oriented toward professional developers that has recommendations for the major PaaS and/or IaaS solutions.” post the question as a headline and the second sentence in the “Add more details” section.

8. Think of the Benefit to Your Audience

Success in social channels is all about helping other people. Keep that in mind when composing a post. It’s not about you, it’s about them. For example:

  • Instead of “A Primer on PaaS,” try “This Paas Primer could be a great conversation-starter for your prospects.”
  • Instead of “Spot Market Pricing, New Services Fuel Amazon GovCloud Growth,” try “What You Need to Know about Amazon’s Government Strategy”

Use words like “you” and “I” a lot. This is a discussion, not a billboard.

9. Minimize Copy and Paste

Respect your readers’ time by minimizing pointless verbiage. Don’t just copy and paste the promotion from a webcast. Boil down the basic facts and tell the reader why you recommend it. The more you make your post a personal message from you, rather than a rehash of somebody else’s message, the more compelling it is.

10. Don’t Copy From Twitter

When I see hash tags in a headline, it tells me one thing: This person was too lazy to customize the message for me. The language we use on Twitter doesn’t fit well in the more generous confines of a LinkedIn or Facebook post. Rewrite the message for the network you’re using and the people you’re hoping to reach. Think of the context, too. Facebook is more playful than LinkedIn. The Sales Best Practices group on LinkedIn has a different membership than the Construction Professionals group.

11. Avoid Repetition

LinkedIn does you a favor by copying the first few words of any article that you post as a link. Don’t copy and paste those same words into your description field. You have 15 minutes to edit anything you post in a group, so check your work to make sure your description isn’t a carbon copy of the item to which you link.

12. Take Advantage of Polls

Polls are a basic tool you can use to solicit feedback. You can specify up to five answer choices and choose how long the poll runs. Try mixing it up; instead of posting a question, occasionally formulate the topic as a survey.

13. Use Trackable Links

It’s easy to measure the response to content you post. URL shortening services like Bit.ly and JotURL make it easy to shorten links and then track the number of clicks they generate. LinkedIn processes these short links just like regular URLs. You can also use Google URL Builder. It generates longer links, but they’re compatible with Google Analytics. You can also shorten those links with Bit.ly prior to posting them.

14. Be Provocative

I don’t recommend overusing this technique, but it’s fun to try from time to time. Instead of a descriptive headline, try one that piques curiosity. Here are a couple from the Sales Best Practices group:

Eat that Frog!

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. ~ Mark Twain

How do you start your day? Do you ‘eat that frog?’ Do you have a ritual that starts your morning?

Who’s ruining it for the rest of us?

The member goes on to ask why sales people continue to use spamming tactics that don’t work and give the whole profession a bad name.

15. Connect with Other Members

When you request a connection with another LinkedIn member, the service asks you to verify that you have an existing relationship. If you don’t, it denies the connection request. You can get around this by joining a group to which the other person already belongs and requesting the connection as a fellow member. Be aware that if your request is denied, LinkedIn won’t let you try this trick a second time.

 

 

IBMer: ‘Social Selling’ Is a Sales Process in Itself

It’s no secret that the factors that motivate salespeople to change the way they work have to be pretty simple: Help them spend more time selling and less time scrounging for information and telling managers what they’re doing.

So when IBM began to introduce the concept of “social selling,” it chose a test base of a few hundred salespeople and their managers to build a set of integrated systems that improved productivity and reduced administrative overhead. In a presentation to the SugarCRM SugarCon conference in San Francisco earlier this week, Gary Burnette, vice president of sales transformation at IBM, told how the implementation team at IBM succeeded in making social selling a coveted goal rather than another set of rules and reports.

“We didn’t think of it as social selling; we thought of it as improving sales productivity,” Burnette said of the pilot. “It was about returning value and time to our sales teams for their time invested.”

Familiarity Breeds Intent

The program began with the assumption that nearly every salesperson was already familiar with the value provided by Facebook and LinkedIn in their personal lives. The tools made it easy to find information and expertise by consulting friends. Those same capabilities could be useful as a formal part of the business process.


Download Gary Burnette’s Social Selling Presentation here


A key goal was to simplify reporting, an already distasteful task that becomes more intrusive as the end of the quarter nears. Management has a constant need for information about the status of different sales opportunities, and as a result “We’ve had sales people called out of client meetings to answer questions from upline sales execs,” Burnette said. Much of this information was locked up in Excel spreadsheets owned by individual reps. The only person who could answer a question was the representative on the account.

IBM built a sales force automation system based on SugarCRM, Websphere and Lotus Connections to enable collaboration and streamline visibility into the sales cycle. Cognos and SPSS analytics were applied to better qualify opportunities and improve forecasting. As a result, salespeople now know more about their prospects and managers have better visibility into progress against goals.

Opportunity reports were replaced with an “activity stream” approach similar to the Facebook timeline that enables salespeople to document the status of each opportunity on an ongoing basis. Management can peek into the status of opportunities at any point in the process and get the latest information. As a result, lag times have been cut from five days to almost nothing and report preparation has been significantly reduced because everyone has access to the same information.

“I don’t think most senior sales executives have any idea how many people are behind the scenes creating reports and forecasts,” Burnette said. “If managers are in collaboration with their teams the information is more accurate and less filtered.”

All members of the team can now apply social tools like tagging and profiling to identify and recommend experts who can help solve customer problems and closed deals. “The management team is helping the seller sell instead of asking why they aren’t selling,” Burnette said.

Critical Success Factors

A project this ambitious can’t succeed without support at three levels:  top management, brand managers and the reps on the street. The fact that new IBM CEO Ginni Rometty had endorsed the project before she even became CEO was a godsend, Burnette said. Also critical was involving users in the development of the dashboard. Nearly 800 sales reps gave feedback at every step. Brand leaders helped in strategic direction so that the most important information would be the easiest to find.

Social selling is now being woven into the mainstream of IBM’s business process, but adoption was never a sure thing.

“Becoming a social business is a transformational journey,” Burnette said. “The onus has been on us to translate these systems into something that has clear business value.” As word-of-mouth has grown, the new social selling process has taken on a life of its own. “It started with us deliberately selecting the people to participate, but now it’s ballooned to the point where people are saying, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

Read more coverage of Burnette’s session.


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.

IBM’s Beck: Social Business is About Enablement, Not Control

Social business isn’t about tools and promises. It’s about giving people at every stage in the sales cycle the incentive to adopt tools that make their jobs easier and contribute to customer satisfaction.

Nigel Beck, IBM

Photo via NigelBeck.com

IBM started with that simple premise when it tackled the task of convincing its sales and marketing people to adopt a new way of doing business. Traditional tactics involved too much interruption and intimidation, which ultimately made sales people less successful than they could be, said Nigel Beck, IBM’s VP of Business Development for IBM Collaboration Solutions & Social Business in a speech to the SugarCRM SugarCon conference in San Francisco this morning. The challenge was to make social business a win for the people doing the selling.

IBM has been a leading adopter of social business principles, which Beck defined as “the application of social tools and culture to business processes and outcomes. It’s basically using social stuff to do work stuff,” he said. A key value of social networks to our daily lives is that they make it easier to find people who can help us get answers and save time, so why not apply those same goals to sales?

The social business initiative was organized around three key tasks:

  • Customer care and insight;
  • Workforce optimization; and
  • Product and service innovation.

The first goal was addressed by rethinking the traditional marketing process, which Beck characterized as “pushing messages down customers’ throats and then flogging the salespeople to pursue leads.” This approach leads to an over-emphasis on reporting, which distracts salespeople from understanding their customers so that they can keep higher-ups apprised of how the sales process is proceeding.

In contrast, a social business approach has marketing organizations getting to know customers. “They hang out where customers hang out, build relationships and help them become part of our family,” he said. “The tools help build trusted relationships.”

Sales people are empowered with tools that help them quickly identify resources within the organization that can help customers solve problems. When all those customer touches are documented, “the reports and graphs are generated in the background.” The pitch to salespeople is that they can spend more time making customers successful and less time doing paperwork.

The other part of the equation is supporting customers better. Beck wryly described traditional customer support as “the process of torturing customers to death. They need to find the right department and fill out the correct form and if they fill out the wrong form we delete it.” By stressing the role of sales as problem-solver – and by involving the community of customers in solving each other’s problems – support frustration is reduced.

Beck pointed to examples of customers that are adopting social business tactics in their own markets. Amadori is an Italian food processor specializing in poultry that created a network of micro sites that combine company and public information to answer common questions.

Omron is a global maker of industrial and consumer sensing and control technology whose European operation created a social portal to help people find answers or people who can help them.

From a management perspective, the key to social business change is to reverse the standard mindset, Beck said. “We’re making the transformation from managing the seller to enabling the seller.”


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.

Transforming P&G

When Stan Joosten first contacted me about joining Procter & Gamble’s Digital Advisory Board, I initially hesitated. The volunteer position would demand a few days of my time every year just as I was beginning to transition my focus to B2B and away from P&G’s consumer markets. But this was P&G, after all, and Stan, who is Innovation Manager for Holistic Consumer Communications, is a persuasive guy who had already signed up several people I respect. I said what the heck.

It was the best decision I’ve made in the last five years.

This week I sat in an auditorium at P&G headquarters in Cincinnati and heard CEO Bob McDonald talk about the centrality of one-to-one relationships to the company’s future and declare “We want to be the most digitized company in the world.”

Mark Pritchard, who heads global marketing, echoed the one-to-one theme, noting “Digital marketing is past. Brand building in the digital world is the future.” That’s an impressive statement coming from one of the world’s largest TV and print advertisers.

The fact that this week’s event was even going on was notable in itself. Organized in just seven weeks and spearheaded by John Battelle’s Federated Media Group, Signal P&G brought top executives from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and many other digital and consumer brands to talk about the future of marketing. About 300 P&Gers crowded the John G. Smale Tower Auditorium in Cincinnati and another 1,300 watched online. Most people in the room stayed till the very end.

From my conversations with employees and the discussions I overheard in the hallway, I came away convinced that this is a company that is successfully transforming both its culture and its approach to market. When you consider that P&G has nearly 130,000 employees spread across the world and marketing practices that have made it an icon of excellence for a century, that’s no small achievement.

New Measures of Success

P&G has been called the world greatest marketing company. Success can be a curse, though, and the maker of Crest, Tide and about 25 other billion-dollar brands has struggled to wean itself from a traditional focus on coupons and samples in favor of a culture of engagement.

It’s not that P&G doesn’t understand its markets. The company’s almost obsessive approach to research has marketers and engineers routinely visiting customers’ homes to spend hours watch people doing laundry, diapering their babies and brushing their teeth. P&Gers understand that the reason moms buy Tide goes far beyond clean clothes and gets to issues like self-esteem and peer acceptance. Its brand marketers are some of the savviest marketing pros I’ve ever met.

This deep understanding of customers was evident even in the Advisory Board’s earliest meetings with brand managers. What was missing was a sense of how to engage. P&G marketers create brilliant campaigns, but their success milestones have been defined by traditional metrics like impressions, coupons and trials.

Assumptions are breaking down, however, thanks to a willingness to change and the success of campaigns like last year’s Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” which combined traditional TV advertising with a brilliant series of companion videos on YouTube. This week Federated Media showed off StyleUnited, a new P&G community for “want it all women” that logged one million page views in its first three months and is already driving new sales.

Support From the Top

More important, though, is the support shown by top executives like McDonald and Pritchard. They’re obviously keenly aware of the Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s theory of how successful businesses destroy themselves by being unable to discard the tactics that made them successful. P&G’s revenues continue to be strong, but its traditional retail channels are under intense pressure, warehouse clubs are squeezing margins and Amazon wants to trump its brands. Consumer packaged goods companies today face the risk of being marginalized as commodities. Digital channels are the lifeline that can establish long-term connections with their customers. It appears to me that the key people at P&G understand that, and once a company of this caliber gets on board, entire industries change.

I’m not sure there’s much I can tell P&G marketers that they don’t already know at this point. While P&G has never paid me a fee, they have enabled me to connect with people I would never otherwise meet and to get the briefest of glances into how a great company stays on top of its game. It is been an amazing experience and I’m grateful to Stan, Tonia Elrod, Daniel Epstein and the others who have permitted me to be a part of it. If I can ever be of service, don’t hesitate to call.