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.

New Yorker article challenging entrepreneur “risk-taker” mythology, advantage is analytical (sub req) http://bit.ly/5Rh4Ts

New Yorker article on China’s “863 Program” sounds like 90’s Fed “Advanced Technology Program” (or “TIP” now) http://bit.ly/85uVim

Tough times for Commerce One

Most early stage public websites were initially agency-focused as the imperative during this period was to provide information about their respective organizational structure, functions, and services via the online channel. This design approach relied upon the service requester to have effective research skills across many public functions to understand what services were available where, and under what circumstances they applied. In other words, this wave on online public portals were agency-centric and not customer-centric. However, increasingly, public service value is now being seen as best created at a cross-organization level, across agency boundaries, functions, services, and channels.

One important area of focus in intentions based design is on bundling related functions and services by similar areas (the meta-data) to create integrated set of applicable services. In the private sector, this is often the standard sales delivery model for small to medium sized busineses. A public sector example of this, is a grouping of applicable public services by demographic profile (e.g. seniors, students, etc.) whereby, based on your demographic profile, the end user is navigated to the suite of services and/or either provided self service online tools to aggregate these, or is transferred to a specialist trained in this service area (which can either be a follow up call, direct online “immediate call back” transfer similar to that used in Amazon’s Call Center, or via online chat, to name a few).

Another major area of focus in designing an intentions based portal is integrating the various channels to support a single interaction, the recipient of which is recognized and receives the same treatment regardless of which channel he or she uses. The “landing page” of the public portal a critical aspect of this aggregation and integration, and needs to be synchronized with the data stored in various legacy systems and, ideally, also has access to centralized call center to provide human based support (note: this can be now be supported with many new and emerging technologies at a much lower cost structure, should the business case identify this need).

When incorporating an intentions based design, it is critical to have a single point of contact to manage the interaction (either via the web portal, a centralized call center, or ideally a combination of both). The integrated channel contact point aggregates the various agency functions, providing the citizen with the information about the services, eligibility, and offering specialist advice among other things. A robust knowledge base system that links the two channels is a critical component to empowering both web and call center channels in this model.

In addition, it is also imperative to to understand the customer’s needs, behavior, and preferences related to the intention. This understanding of individual’s or organization’s needs allows the public portal to identify subsequent “related services”.  This further allows for public value to be realized from the interaction, as opposed to a “one off” request for information. For example, someone inquiring about food aid in a certain program or region, may also be directed to more information on the micro-lending programs also available in addition to supporting literature, sites, etc. When designed correctly, this is done without the end user having any information about the actual numbers of agencies or programs involved in managing the services, or how they work together across units in the delivery of the integrated services. This is aspect rightly belongs to the organization to manage, not the requester.

Lastly, the ability to continuously sense and respond to intention based portal requests, drives a virtuous cycle of value, a “network effect”, of citizen requests that can be aggregate and analyzed for further improvements in policy design and organizational structure. The more interactions captured, the more insights and feedback gathered, the greater the “network effect” is enabled via the aggregated, intentions based model. Moreover, this further lays the groundwork work future “semantic web” approaches, once the network ecosystem becomes self sustaining.

In consequence, the new design approaches approaches and emerging technologies now available allow for public facing portals allow the ability to ensure that public services are more integrated, accessible, and transparent, in ways that were not addressed in earlier iterations at a much lower cost structure, ultimately achieving a higher social ROI.

Businesses are more likely to invest in private Clouds over the next couple of years than take a leap of faith into public alternatives, but over time a hybrid model will emerge.