A Look Back At 2006 – The Customer Really Is In Charge

This is my look back at 2006 from the current issue of CRMGuru.

Companies Are Actually Engaging in Conversations With Customers

By Christopher Carfi, Cerado Inc.

In 2004, there were a few odd shakes. Some organizations noticed them, but most ignored them, perhaps attributing them to the distant passing of large truck.

In 2005, a few small, but noticeable, cracks appeared in the fortifications that separated The Corporation from its customers.

In 2006, the cracks widened. For some organizations, portions of the fortifications began to crumble and crash to the ground, casting away long-held beliefs and practices as they fell. It was the year the reliance on one-way “control” of the customer began to give way to “conversations” in earnest.

While viewing the world through the three-sided prism of “sales,” marketing” and “service” still holds as a reasonable way to characterize the breadth of CRM, these changes in customer relations affected all three areas very differently.


For some in sales, “CRM” is synonymous with Sales Force Automation (SFA). The problem is, very few customers want to be “managed” by their sales representatives. In 2006, those customers who “weren’t going to take it anymore” started taking up arms.

We’ve entered an era rich with cheap, easy, accessible of online tools to publish in nearly any format. Consequently, 2006 saw an explosion of words, photos and videos of customers documenting their experiences with products of nearly every stripe. Did you see the photos of the exploding Dell laptop in Osaka? If you didn’t, search on “dell laptop fire.” Those pictures sparked Dell to recall more than 4 million laptop batteries, and the incident ultimately may cost Sony, which manufactured the batteries, hundreds of millions of dollars. Millions of customers shared their experiences with companies with the world via their personal blogs, as well as through online communities such as TripAdvisor. Consequently, salespeople have been put in the unenviable position of competing in a world where the customer is, in many cases, better-informed than they are.

Another trend that affects sales is the rise of a new type of corporate customer: the “bizsumer.” These are individuals within large organizations who are making buying decisions at an individual level, oftentimes as a means to “get things done” in their groups without having to deal with the bureaucracy of their own organization.

The bizsumer is purchasing tools for project management, collaboration, business social networking and other systems at a price point that is often below the radar of centralized organizational planning—and usually delivered as an online service. (Joe Kraus, CEO of collaboration provider Jot, calls this purchasing things that are “expensable,” rather than “approvable.”) As such, sales has needed to embrace tactics that are much more common in the mass-market realm, such as online ordering and payment by credit card, which is a marked shift in the customer engagement process.

Marketing and PR

Of the three primary CRM areas, the areas of marketing and public relations made the most strides with respect to customer engagement. Not only startups but also behemoths such as General Motors, Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems have embraced social technologies such as blogs and podcasts in a big way, as a method of getting their message out and engaging customers in the conversation about their products. These processes of engagement with customers through social media, however, need to be done correctly, and with unassailable ethics and transparency. As an example, Wal-Mart and Edelman, a PR firm, found themselves in significant hot water in October 2006, when it came to light that a blog framed as a “grassroots” effort of regular, everyday folk (“Jim and Laura,” who were driving their RV across the country, from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart and documenting it) was actually a planned marketing campaign, paid for by Wal-Mart and supported by Edelman.

It turned out that “Jim” and “Laura” were professional journalists on assignment. (“Jim” was Jim Thresher, a photojournalist for The Washington Post, and “Laura” was Laura St. Claire, a professional freelancer.) With incredible research tools at their fingertips, customers now can ferret out the truth about products and companies in only a few clicks. Despite such missteps, through social networking, other companies began to put a more human face on their organizations. An increasing number of companies are engaging with their customers directly online; answering their questions in the public square; and moving away from “marketingspeak” and toward developing deeper relationships with their customers based on actual interpersonal trust.


And then came “support tagging.” Stowe Boyd and Greg Narain, of the social application firm Blue Whale Labs, call these tags “beacons.” A beacon is a post in a public place, such as a personal blog, meant to draw the attention of a service provider to an issue the customer is having with the company’s products. In essence, beacons turn the service model upside down, drawing companies to the customer’s site to help them, rather than forcing the customers to go through the often onerous support process prescribed by the vendor organization. (The vendor organizations respond to such beacons through diligent, often automated, monitoring of search engine results for new items containing their company name, their products or relevant phrases.)

When it works, a representative from the vendor organization, or even an individual who may be part of a larger enthusiast community, will connect with the customer in the customer’s space and resolve the issue.

So I would call 2006 a sea-change year for CRM. Sales faced an ever-more-vigilant buyer. Marketing engaged with customers—and was called to task when it went overboard. Support is actually—surprise—supporting the customer, as opposed to purely being a cost center. The customer really is in charge.


Business Social Networking Breaks Out Of The Walled Garden

Today, am very happy to announce a significant development that Cerado has made with Haystack networking, our social networking service for businesses and associations.

What we’ve created is a novel way for an organization to easily create profiles of its externally facing individuals (e.g. sales, marketing, support in the corporate realm, or members for associations or groups), and allow prospective customers or members to interact with those profiles via a Flash-based player. Through this player, these profiles can be embedded into any website or blog (just like a YouTube video can be embedded in any site).

Examples of how it looks “in the wild” are included in this post, and on this page here, and on the sidebar here. Additionally, some answers to frequently asked questions are included below.

We’re really, really happy about this, and think this is an innovation that will greatly accelerate the adoption of social networking into the enterprise.

But, more importantly…what are your thoughts?


What it is: An embeddable organizational directory that can be integrated with any website with a single click.

Why it matters: What YouTube did for sharing video, Cerado has done for business-oriented social networks. The embeddable Haystack networking directory enables anyone visiting any website, blog or other online destination to have simple access to the profiles of the individuals who are part of a business, association or organization.

Why it’s different: The philosophy behind Cerado’s Haystack networking is to turn the sales process around 180 degrees, and enable CUSTOMERS to choose with whom they want to deal within an organization. (This is in stark contrast to the “traditional” sales model, where a representative from a geographic location is foisted upon an unsuspecting customer.) The capabilities being announced here enable companies, associations and organizations to easily allow prospective customers or prospective members to connect with externally-facing individuals from their organizations.

Extended geek details: We believe this is first business-oriented social network that can be easily embedded into websites or blogs. We’ve created an embeddable, Flash-based widget that can be directly embedded into blog posts, blog templates, web pages, or any other type of site, enabling access to an entire organization’s externally-facing individuals.

What it costs: Haystack networking widgets are included in every Haystack networking subscription plan, including our free plans.

How you get it: Every Cerado Haystack network has a Haystack networking directory widget that can be embedded into any web site. Simply go to the Haystack networking page for the company, association, or organization, copy the “embed” link provided, and paste it into the web page in which you want to embed the Haystack network directory.

Gilder-ing The Lily

George Gilder: “In every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant – as signalled by precipitously declining prices – in order to save what is scarce. Google has been profligate with the surfeits of data storage and backbone bandwidth. Conversely, it has been parsimonious with that most precious of resources, users’ patience.”

Hey Look! A Free Pen!

Dscf7722Here is a great post by Nancy Dowd on the do’s and dont’s of successful trade show booths. (Read the whole thing.)

“As a test I set out to see how many pens I could take without ever speaking to a person. As you can see… my experiment netted me 50 pens. I could have taken lots more but I got tired and thought 50 pens proved my point well enough.

Some people set their tables up so you didn’t even have to speak with them and one guy actually had a bin of them. He told me that people were just coming up and grabbing a handful and leaving. When I asked him why he left them on the table he just gave me a blank look.

That blank look told me he probably had no idea of why he was there.”

Building “Word Of Mouth” Capabilities Into Online Apps

Andy Sernovitz
Originally uploaded by christophercarfi.

Had a chance to meet Andy Sernovitz in Chicago a few weeks back (along with some other great folks). Andy is the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, also known as WOMMA.

Have been flipping through his new book on word of mouth marketing, and there are a number of good points and checklists. The one he keeps coming back to: “Put a tell-a-friend form on every page of your website.” (Just checked, and yes, the WOMMA site does this. Excellent consistency!)

Some other things on Andy’s list:

  • Create a blog
  • Put a special offer in an easily forwardable email
  • Come up with one buzzworthy topic — keep it simple
  • Let your talkers sign up for a private newsletter
  • Do something unexpected
  • Be nice

From the “eating our own dogfood” department, here are three examples of ways we’ve built these kinds of tools into Haystack networking.

Number 1: Every network has a “SHARE URL” link

Every network our customers create has a SHARE URL link built in, that allows them — or anyone viewing the network — to send the URL to a colleague easily and quickly. One click, it’s selected, and can be copy-pasted into an email. Simple, fast.

Here’s an example from the Social Media Club haystack.


Number 2: The “Invite” link

Every person registered on the system can also invite others to join the Haystacks to which they belong with two clicks. (We limit the number of invitations to discourage spammers, and only registered users can send invitations.)

Here’s an example from the Speakers Wiki haystack.


Number 3: I can’t tell you about Number 3 yet. It’s in final testing this week prior to the holiday here in the States, but the early feedback is that it’s a big winner, perhaps even game-changing in the business social networking space. If you’re subscribed you’ll know about it as soon as it’s public when we release it into the wild next week.

Why You Lost That Deal

GREAT post from Mary Schmidt, outlining her top reasons why she picks one vendor over another. Some of the faves:

“#7. You did more talking than I did in our first meeting.

#9. You talk about “solutions” but never tell me how you’re going to solve my problem.

#11. You only call or email when you’re trying to sell me something.

#14. You treated my friend, neighbor, blogging buddy, family badly.

#15. You disrespect/attack your competitors.”

Read the whole thing.

(shameless plug: we’ve done hundreds of these types of win/loss analysis interviews over the last four years. and, to paraphrase tolstoy, every lost deal is lost differently…)

Marketing Borat

The three best paragraphs I’ve read today, from the Lefsetz Letter, regarding the marketing of the Borat movie:

“If you want success today, create something good. Seed the early adopters. And then cease, or at least slow down, your marketing. Because the more you beat people over the head, the less attention they’re going to pay. THEY want to feel in control, THEY don’t want to feel tools of the system. THEY want to embrace the project.

This frightens the purveyors. Because they can nail marketing, but QUALITY? Look at the flicks, they truly suck. Ask the man on the street, he thinks music sucks TOO! To the point where most people have tuned out, and the only people who can bring them back are their buds, who have a RELATIONSHIP with them. Believe me, the marketers at Fox don’t have a relationship with their audience. They THINK they do, but they don’t.

Hearing the movie’s good, I’m gonna give it a chance. Then again, if Fox keeps trumpeting the story, they’re gonna kill MY word of mouth, I don’t want to work for the man. And neither does the Net generation. WE make the stars, not you. Give us reasonable choices, WE’LL do the work. It won’t happen instantly. First week grosses, first week SoundScan numbers, are no longer important. It’s about longevity. It won’t take forever, because word of mouth happens so quickly on the Net, and we’re all in touch with SO many more people on a regular basis. But it’s now our game, not yours, don’t ever forget it.”

Spot. On.

(via Joseph Jaffe)