The traditional sales pipeline model no longer holds in the new socially networked sales pipeline. What was once a well defined funnel of prospecting, needs evaluation, and solution selling has now become a networked sourced sales activity within many companies today prior to initiating contact with vendors. This had lead to both shortening of the sales cycle and a disconnected sales, sometime frustrating, interaction for both parties. For those companies not understanding the new networked customer and engaging where the conversations are occurring externally, the traditional pipeline building activity of buyer and seller alignment has collapsed.

Combined with the current global economic environment, this loss of forecast predictability only adds to uncertainty in sales management.

The net result of this trend has implications for both buyers and sellers. Companies that cannot connect with the new socially driven sales process will be in a poor position to respond to perceived ‘last minute’ customer inquiries when in fact due diligence has been completed on the buyer side. As the networked customer has assumed more aspects of the traditional sales cycle than has been the historical precedent, businesses must also adapt. Those companies that can bridge the current disconnect and engage the customer wherever the social sales conversations are happening, will be best positioned to win.

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I ran into another lively CRM definitional debate, the kind that seems to pop up every six or nine months or so.  This write up from Focus last November seems to have covered it fairly well.

The unrelenting spread of social networks, with its ability to entice the masses to supply vast amounts of personal data (knowingly or not), has generated a corresponding spike in demand for social software and services to manage an organization’s “social identity”. Not surprisingly, this mandate has landed on the CMO’s desk for the most part. I would argue that positioning Social CRM as a Marketing owned and led initiative has the potential to create more issues, both internal and external, that far outweigh the shiny new SCRM tools and services available.

To put it in context, I can understand the desire to run fast waving the new “Inbound Marketing” flag. The first wave of CRM solutions neglected, to some degree, the marketing functions. First and foremost, it focused on enabling SFA (it’s the pipeline stupid!). Service came next, but usually with another CRM silo bolted on (it’s the ticket stupid!) or web self service. During this phase, Marketing was supported via CRM campaign management, web analytics, etc. but often the critical effectiveness data often came from within the internal CRM Sales and Service systems (or internal marketing tools and external data providers).

That’s not to say customer alignment across front office units was not the most critical enterprise goal from above during this period. It was always the mandate, required for the ever elusive 360 degree view. Various initiatives were kicked off to do just that, with some successes here and there, some failures, and lots of internal cross-unit complexities to manage.

Does anybody think the end customer cared during this phase of business activity? While corporate front office business units and IT were sorting out their differences between tools, data, systems, and business languages – – the customer moved on. The technology cost curve made it possible for individuals to invest their own set of Sales (research), (self) Service, and Marketing (platforms) reaching millions in a nano-second. Many of these customers now aim this newly acquired arsenal directly back at the company (rightly or wrongly).

Or, in other words, inside out processes turned outside in, customer relationship management turned into customer managed relationships.

So where are we today? Even now, most companies are in a reactionary mode. For organizations that exist in markets where there is individual choice, it’s simply matter of time before the new customer arsenal hits their turf (and of course there are always – two – ways to learn).  For others trying to be proactive on the wave, it has been mostly directed as a mandate for “Inbound Marketing” or “Social CRM/Twitter” based initiatives (side note: I have a problem with the “Inbound Marketing” term as its seems just as flawed as “Outbound Marketing” – last time I checked customer conversations and engagement are bi-directional, no?).

This is a start, but will still miss the end goal as we are repeating the past. Creating a truly customer centric operating model that is cross Sales, Service, and Marketing is a bigger imperative now more than ever. If anything, the new drivers should seek to empower Customer Service agents as much as it does Marketing.  And Sales, always looking for the most complete customer profile and activity data, needs to be in sync with Service and Marketing now as well. Revenue generation (or loss) activities on an account can occur at any touch point (so long pipeline and tickets!).

So what’s my point? Unleashing Social CRM initiatives via a Marketing-only silo has the potential to repeat historical failures if not properly planned and synchronized. Deployed in isolation, Social CRM can make the company look even more flat footed and less connected. In the first phase of CRM much of these miss-steps were, for the most part, invisible to the end customer.  Today, it can be blasted with all the world to see.

So really, this should be a mandate for real culture change within the front office first (the change that didn’t happen during the first wave), integrated strategic planning across Sales, Service, and Marketing second, and then deploying and managing the shiny new Social CRM initiatives, tools, and services last. #scrm #crm

I attended SugarCon 2010 last week, with the helpful support of Focus. I won’t cover overall conference recaps as they are captured herehere, and here.  Overall, the attention and time investment SugarCRM gave to to the latest trends in Social CRM was great. I will save feedback on that piece as the Salesforce.com $142M Jigsaw acquisition today trumped the news.

Jigsaw CEO Jim Fowler presented last Wednesday on “DaaS is the new SaaS“. The indirect, horizontally integrated sales model has been the norm in the technology industry, but analogs can be applied to many other sectors, such as the dealership model in insurance or automobiles, franchise in retail, or social service delivery in the public sector.

In all these sectors, a key historical issue has been on how best to integrate, segment, and collaborate sales and customer data with business partners and regain control of the end to end customer experience. Its a very complex business issue on its own and has not had an adequate technical approach until recently. The emergence of B2B Platforms, with an assumption of some level of core data model standardization via a Cloud option, has potential to address many of the prior issues. Extremely complex and costly middleware rule customizations, or worse, point to point solutions, were the options pursued earlier with the end result of, usually, zero adoption.

For an example of how that went in the auto sector a decade ago, feel free to lookup the story of Commerce One.

As a second pillar, the exponential growth in Social Networking can address much of the unstructured data at the customer conversation end point, empowering not just Marketing with new tools, but Service and Sales as well. The real pressure is on integrating across all front office functions, not just Marketing. There is a danger in viewing the trend in Social CRM as a Marketing only led, or “Twitter” led initiative, leaving the cross-unit strategy and planning phase behind. This phase is now more important than ever, with any missteps being highly visible (look up the Walmart “fake blogger” story). If left to a single front office function or group, the results will likely be zero ROI or worse, loss of customer trust. There are signs this is already happening.

That perspective was resonated loudly in the conversations last week at SugarCon. More on that later.

It was interesting that the SugarCRM conference was followed with Chirp, the Twitter developer conference in SF. Its very clear that Salesforce is investing heavily in both trends, with Chatter covering the social side, and Jigsaw as one piece of the B2B platform play. But this story is just starting, and is not about a single CRM vendor.

Ok, this is an ongoing pet peeve and probably not breaking news, but the trend toward constant micro-updates (you name it, twitter, blogs, google alerts, etc.) without solid foundations to relate various concepts being thrown about simply results in more noise and little signal, damaging market understanding. Moreover, over the long term, has the potential to backfire on proponents getting on the bandwagon with little planning.

I know we live in an 140 char world, but without the means to understand that world, its noise. I recall seeing a similar complaint on how someone thought they were a Twitter expert because of the #s of followers they had generated through various “optimization” tools. You get what you measure, and when you are floating in a sea of noise, you need water to drink not more buzz.

So, I finally got around to powering through Paul Greenberg’s 4th edition (almost 700 pages!) of CRM At The Speed of Light. Its really a re-write from the earlier versions, not an update. So if you have the earlier version I highly recommend the new update. It complements nicely other recent works Enterprise 2.0, Experience Economy, Groundswell, to name few here. And my old time favorite… The Wealth of Networks.

The consulting on this industry shift seems to be taking off lately, likely due to this finally hard hitting the corporate agenda in a very unseemly “caught off guard” manner (Google Buzz, Toyota, United, etc.). The list of missteps can be updated almost everyday now. So, yea… now its finally on the “wide” agenda, but there remains little “wide” understanding on what exactly to do about it.

Perhaps the non-biased expert community needs to start gathering and publishing these cases to dissect exactly where a customer failure happened in the chain. Each case has its own dimensions and most are quick to jump to either a software, consulting solution pitch or blame the entire company as a side agenda. I watched a lot of the Toyota testimony today on CSPAN. Aside from the cross-cultural interplay, what was fascinating was that the CEO announced a series VOC programs, customer advisory board, customer engagement initiatives, etc… was not this in already place given their industry leadership in this area?

Again, without the details in this case, it’s hard for most outsiders to decipher, at a granular level, the true root causes. The public narrative is being written regardless.

Plenty of big software announced Social CRM components last year and many smaller players have been focusing on the sidelines in this area for years. But they too seem to working on a moving target, lots of real? “beta or alpha” initiatives… the sector feels a bit like 1999 again. Hopefully, without the repeats.

Here’s the mashable take… I disagree. PR metrics based on # of gmail users who woke up last week, and found the gBuzz tab with all these unapproved followers set by some unapproved arbiter somewhere in Mountain View, is marketing being promoted as truth.

Each “social” tool (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) is architected differently for a clear and different business and user need. For example, Twitter – 140 char limit, API architecture enabling a huge ecosystem to develop – was by design based on a business need and gap identified. FB is at least perceived by end users as “semi-closed” as I “think” I have user control on the platform, and assume no default actions impacting my data will be taken without prior consent and notification (although they too had find out the hard way with many missteps). But all this is past history and common knowledge and, moreover, both Twitter and FB are social platforms.

The email channel and platform is different. Emails (unlike blog posting, FB status update, Twitter, etc.) can be analogous to phone conversations, making it subject to even stricter scrutiny over control and privacy. Has Google not learned from their social competitors and frenemies?  Has it really become that much of a gBubble?

They truly messed up on the roll out of gBuzz last week by unnecessarily exposing this issue, and are correcting the trust issue with PR and updates now. We can now add them to the growing “loss of customer trust” list of United, Toyota, etc.  What’s unsettling is that this should have been so obvious from the start. With all the data Google manages, is it wrong to hold them to a higher standard than a typical start-up now? If gBuzz simply had been introduced like a standalone offering (e.g. like Gmail was slowly nurtured) that allowed the end user to walk through who to import/add, how to integrate with Gmail, what to set on content, etc. it would have completely changed the dynamic. Sneakily showing up as a Trojan Horse in Gmail, exposing email addresses, without any user notification or authorization was the easy road to take to gain immediate market share. However it was paid with a major hit to core of the Google brand – user trust. Trust takes years to develop, but can be destroyed in a nano-second.

The implied assumption is that I trust Google to manage my data in a way that ensures all PII data is masked. This has been the standard Google has set internally and externally since day one. In return for this handover of trust, Google generates a very profitable keyword advertising business, along with side products that further create vendor lock in and revenue. That trust assumption was heavily challenged by the errors last week and it just served to re-trigger further debates raging now over Google (and the internet in general) on ownership control and privacy concerns.

I agree, gBuzz will not fade as its embedded in the mighty Google twin pillars of Search and Email. Maybe this issue will fade fast as everyone turns the page (“nothing to see here, move along”) and I give kudos in that senior management recognized almost immediately, albeit retroactively. There is clearly plenty of time to recover, and I imagine this will fade, but something was definitely malfunctioning in Mountain View last week. Oh yea… and “never waste a crises”.

The shifts in technology and social media are already disrupting the ways businesses go to market. You can note the impacts by the day in the news (and by the tweet in the blogger world). What you do not see, yet, are indicators of any market-wide business understanding on how to address, although there are plenty of vendors with “solutions” to choose from already. Today, most businesses still seem remain primarily reactive (Toyota, United, Maytag?).

One way to view how this shift impacts business strategies is seeing how they impact the “Touch vs. Scale” matrix.

Current models in place today are either B2B/Enterprise Sales (High Touch, Low Scale, F2F Sales Teams, Med-Long Cycles) or B2C/Consumer Sales (Low Touch, High Scale, Marketing, Call Center, Fast Cycles). And the SME space has been (often awkwardly) in the middle between these points.

Recent shifts in technology are further moving into the High Touch / High Scale “fourth quadrant”, an area often targeted, but rarely reached until recently.

I think most already understand (or “feel”) this, but have a hard time figuring out the ramifications to their current business models. There is already a large number of technology solutions, but many are without a business focused decision-making framework to help align and guide the Business/IT planing  processes.