The New Sales ABC Always be Serving

519GWpY-vAL._SS500_I have always had a problematic relationship with sales. This is quite an admission given that I have worked closely with professional sellers for most of my working life. Indeed, much of what I do today is help customers through their analytics and social crm initiatives and then ask them for money at some point i.e. I sell. There, I said it.

Thankfully Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human (Amazon UK US) addresses my personal demons head on. His research suggests that many of us, when we think of sales, go straight to Ricky Roma in Glengarry, Glen Ross. In fact, when Pink asked the question ‘when you think of sales, what is the first word that comes to mind?’  the resulting word cloud was not pretty.

I don’t want to share too much because, like his previous title Drive, the destination is worth the journey but suffice to say it is insightful, full of surprises and fresh in it’s examination of what it is to sell in the networked and social age.

One of my most startling (what a friend calls) ‘aha’ moments was Pink connecting  modern selling with Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership movement. I have often commented that there is overlap in sales and leadership. Both are about working with the universe of possibilities and creating certainty, both are about moving from indecision to decision. Sales and leadership are at their core about making things happen. Pink articulates it better than I ever could. In connecting with Greenleaf’s modern leadership movement he makes the point that modern selling is less about serving the self (usually through a large commission cheque) and more about serving the needs of a customer searching for answers.

We do not really need to look any further than this for a world without spam, cold calls, high pressure techniques (always be closing!) and (damn it, I am on a roll) another global economic meltdown through the sale of financial products which did nothing for the (ultimate) customer and everything for sellers and speculators.

I am ready for a world which Pink articulates as professional sellers ‘solving problems and serving customers’ because they want to be ‘part of something bigger than themselves’. It’s here of course (it is just unevenly distributed)  and the smart seller is already doing it. They are ‘up-serving’ and ‘cross-serving’. The rest … those that are up-selling and cross-selling need to catch-up and I look forward to a reinterpretation of Mamet’s play where Blake chalks up the letters A-B-S. Always be serving.

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Mediterranean Murder Mystery: Marketing Kills Product on idyllic Spanish Island

In the early 80’s I holidayed in a lovely fishing town on one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain. It was bliss. Quiet, peaceful days followed by a relaxed evening stroll around Town hunting for the perfect place to eat.  Choosing the restaurant was as much of the experience as actually dining.  Our rudimentary Spanish and what was, at the time, exotic sounding dishes made the whole thing a voyage of discovery. We would peruse menus, scrutinise the wine list, check out the existing clientele and finally make a selection based on all these things and our mood. After returning, we talked of it often. It was the perfect, as one of my colleagues refers to them, ‘fly and flop’ holiday.

Marketing Begins to Suffocate it’s own Product

We made the mistake of returning some years later. There was little room for building so it hadn’t fallen prey to over development. In fact the beach and the local walks were every bit as relaxing as we remembered. However, the Town had become a battle ground.

It was clear what had happened. One restaurateur, tired of waiting for customers to randomly walk into his establishment erected  a much larger menu board than anyone else. Other’s responded so the Town was awash with ugly over-sized signage. The heat of competition hadn’t stopped there though.  In a level playing field of deals, discounts and enormous menu’s the restaurateurs started sending their staff out each evening to huckster holidaymakers before they walked on elsewhere. As we strolled we were interrupted with information about chef’s specials and one night only deals. Coupons and mini menus were thrust into our hands as we walked. We were even  sometimes accompanied if the desperate seller didn’t feel that we had quite understood the quality of their food or the generosity of their deal. The dining experience had stopped being about the customer and was all about the restaurant. It had stopped being about a relaxing holiday experience (interaction) and was only about filling tables and cash registers (transaction).

In the Absence of Product, Nothing is left But Marketing and Marks

Add a few timeshare touts also in pursuit of their transactions and what was once idyllic was now annoying. What was once a joy of discovery became as irritating as a picnic near a wasps nest. We ended up hiring a car and eating out of Town but the collective opinion was that the quality of the food and service had taken a nose dive too.

A whole Town was behaving like the worst kind of modern marketers. They had forgotten that their value is in meeting the needs of their customers. Their customers, actually holidaymakers, wanted to make their own choice, in their own way largely without interruption. The ‘product’ was a set of interactions, driven by the desire to discover, to explore, to find local dishes. To uncover the best fish in Town or find a rare Rioja whilst promenading and people watching.

Instead a whole Town full of Restaurateurs forgot about good food, great service and reputation. Even in holiday Towns, you get to hear about the good and the bad very quickly. Instead, they fixated on what happened at the end of the meal, their bill, and worked back. We don’t get the transaction unless we remove that random element of discovery and exploration so we will slowly and persistently drive it out. They killed the very thing that their customer came into Town for.

In Memory of the Interaction

I hear that the Town is much quieter now, European holidaymakers favour long haul destinations or stay at home vacations. I am sure though that it is also because they tired of the huckstering. What used to be a warm, and fun experience, a rich set of human interactions became all about the transaction.

Picture: Katherine Le Grice: Mediterranean Village

EA: Why Being Worst Matter More than They Think?

It seems that beating the tobacco companies and those behind environmental negligence to the title of ‘Worst Company in America’ has not been an exercise in humility for Electronic Arts

 

In a statement to Gamer web site Kontaku, EA said “We’re sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren’t nominated this year. We’re going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide.”

 

The statement was described as arrogant and dismissive by Paul Tassi, Forbes contributor. I would add short sighted too.

 

EA are pointing to their worldwide sales achievement to dismiss the vote as inconsequential. However, what they are forgetting in their hubris is that sales is the classic ‘lagging’ indicator. Sales are recorded monthly and publicly announced quarterly and annually in most businesses. Sentiment, on the other hand, is a leading indicator. A dip in employee engagement means that customers are about to become unhappy. A dip in customer sentiment means that your sales are about to be hit. Robert Kaplan and David Norton introduced the business world to this cause-and-effect chain decades ago. Customers drive revenues, your business produces value that your customers love or hate, your staff drive the business, your investment in your staff motivates or demotivates them. Simple but a point that the EA spokesman appears to be missing.

 

Now I don’t know the extent to which gamers are about to extract their ire but I do know when a company has spoken too soon. And EA have. EA should reflect on the feedback. Their customers are telling them that they don’t feel respected, that their culture is corporate over creativity, that they are emptying wallets but giving only the bare minimum back.

 

In the light of that sentiment, they should really not be sitting on laurels made of  last quarter’s or last year’s sales. They are gone. Sentiment like this can gather momentum, capture the imagination of a well connected community and have far reaching consequences down the line.  EA should have thought before they spoke. The impact of  the ignominy behind this award is yet to be felt.

Social Media Listening, Lets Call the Whole Thing Off?

The couple in Ira Gershwin’s song Lets call the whole thing off  lamented the way they pronounced the same words differently because it exposed class differences which might eventually be their undoing. Human communication is a funny thing. If Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had met on Facebook then regardless of how they pronounced neither, either and tomato, they would have assumed that they, like the spelling, were a perfect match.

Understanding nuance in human communication is a preoccupation for those of us building social media analytic applications and specifically as it applies to the Social Listening process. Social listening is the data collection process in a social media analytics application, the point at which the vast sea of blog, editorial and social media content is collected and converted into usable analysis. The purpose of Social Listening is to collect and filter ‘mentions’, instances of the company, brand, product or marketing campaign being referenced in an item of online content. Most platforms are good at collecting mentions but many fail in their level of accuracy, not because of scale and volume but because they don’t understand the human capacity for saying the same thing in so many different ways.

Fred and Ginger were both speaking (American) English and yet still had problems because language is only one of the many considerations when we try to understand the written word. Slang, regional idioms and differences in style relating to social groupings, profession, generation and gender are just a few others.

Anyone with teenage children can tell you about generational language differences. At one time my Son and his friends frequently used the expression ‘you just got pwned’ or ‘he pwned me’ usually but not exclusively when gaming. It describes the process of being decisively and unambiguously beaten by a competitor. ‘Pwned’ is a corruption of ‘owned’ attributed to a mis-spelling by a world of warcraft map designer and for some reason it fell into common usage. Unlike much of what we deal with in information systems, there is no rule, no derivation, it is simply something which is known. Without this knowledge what would a social media monitoring platform make of the tweet ‘coke pwns pepsi’ (or the other way around, of course)?

Other differences are equally obtuse. Take emoticons. Baby boomers rarely use them, gen-X ers commonly use them and gen Y-ers use them but differently. A gen-X er is more likely to use 🙂 and a gen -Y er 🙂 Very little difference to the human eye but in traditional text filters they simply don’t match.

Many are a little surprised when I point out that the author’s gender makes a difference to the language used. Of course, women might be more likely to discuss hormone replacement therapies and men more likely to discuss male pattern baldness if they are blogging about their mid-life crisis but given a gender-neutral topic, men and women still use different language. One website, gender genie, can identify the gender of the author of a piece of text with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy.

What does all of this mean? It means that Social Media Analytics platforms have to understand the rich, inconsistent and unfathomable ways in which we all converse. To get more specific and technical, social listening must employ linguistic variant sets to accurately disambiguate language variations. Simply put, they must be able to handle a set of alternative way of saying the same thing. Social listening must be inclusive of all diversity regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, social status, profession and yes, sexuality before they can capture data suitable for the purpose of analytics. Otherwise, you might as well just call the whole thing off.

 

Also reproduced for IBM Vision for the IT expert community.

The Social Triangle: Business, Brand and Analytics

Social TriangleMention social and we immediately think about the dizzying number of people using Facebook and, as businesses, how we reach them as customers or prospective customers.

 

This is only part of the story though.  Today, my own business, a provider of information software and services, will not find it’s customers on Facebook however hard we look.  However, this doesn’t mean that social isn’t relevant to us. That would be a limiting and ‘traditional’ view of Social as a Brand only which is a single point on the Social Triangle.

 

Michael Brito, SVP of Edelman Digital, commented in a recent article on Brainyard distinguished between the Social Business and the Social Brand.  The Social Brand, he argues, is a company, product, or individual that uses social technologies to communicate with social customers, their partners and constituencies, or the public. The Social Business, on the other hand, is one that has integrated and operationalized social media within job functions internally. The third point on the triangle is Analytics, the practical use of information to make decisions.

 

The aspiration is that both Brand and Business are for engagement not just broadcasting and that Analytics is used as actionable information. Let me offer an example.

 

I recently tried to book a London hotel room for my Son because he had a very early train journey on the Eurostar. I wanted to pay so that it was one less thing for him to be concerned about at 4am. I made an advanced reservation and several days, calls, emails and faxes (yes faxes) later and the hotel chain could still not confirm this part of the arrangement. Whilst I don’t do this often, I resorted to tweeting a #fail.

 

What happened next was pure Social Brand. A number of other hotel chains messaged me to offer me deals in London Hotels. Indeed, they still do. It left an overriding impression that everyone listened but no one heard.

 

A Social Business with a Social Brand using Social Analytics would have behaved completely differently. The tweet would have appeared in a dashboard and tagged as negative sentiment and that this related to dissatisfaction with the booking process.  Social Analytics would have been able to identify that I was a frequent traveller with children in university and that I was highly likely to use UK hotels over the coming 12 months. Social analytics would also have been able to identify the level of influence I have with others in this socio and demographic group (not as high as I think)

 

The information would have been shared around the organisation not just Marketing and it would have been shared efficiently using social tools not email.   A customer services representative may have tried to resolve the specific for me but the general issue would have found it’s way to a manager responsible for the booking process after which a decision will be made to  either fix this in their booking systems to attract other ‘surrogate bookers’ or to continue to deal with it as exception or even to do nothing. Next time a frustrated parent booking arrived everyone would know how to handle it or what the policy was because the whole dialogue would have been captured and tagged in a searchable activity stream. The marketing team might even build a new campaign that focused on how they understand their customers better and the ease of parental bookings.

 

A Social Brand engages in meaningful dialogue with it’s customers, a Social Business engages a motivated workforce to fix problems or to exploit new opportunities. Finally Social Analytics keep the whole process informed with timely and relevant information so that the focus is on the right customers and products and that effective, insightful and informed decisions are made.

Social Gestures and Social Business Intelligence

Social Gestures

If, in the middle of a conversation,  I put my index finger to my lips you would instinctively lower your voice. If I held my hand out flat towards your face whilst you were talking you would stop mid-flow. These social gestures are powerful forms of human communication. They are efficient communication short-cuts.

Cheque Please

One of the most universally useful social gestures is pinching the thumb and forefinger together as if holding a pen followed by a short wave in the air as if writing. Used in restaurants around the world it invariably results in receiving the bill even if your previous attempts at the local language resulted in you getting the wrong dish which you ate whilst wishing you had swallowed your pride rather than what ultimately arrived and pointed clumsily at the menu when ordering. Human social gestures are shaped by culture, history, collective memory and there are are a growing amount of equivalent online social gestures.

The Power of Online Social Gestures

Online Social Gestures are specific and granular interactions supported by social tools. In a single gesture or click it is possible to ‘like’ a document ‘rate’ it’s value or ‘share’ it’s content. Online Gestures in social tools are powerful for two reasons.

Firstly, they simplify interactions. Let’s take another universal human gesture, lifting a single thumb in the air to signify our approval. A single click on a thumbs up icon communicates the same message as adding the comment ‘I like this’ but it’s easier. It’s a single click rather than two clicks and nine key strokes. The difference in ease of use is marginal but it removes a barrier, albeit a low one, to participating in the social discourse.

The second reason though is more significant. In adding a ‘like’ button we have identified a common interaction within the universe of interactions that we can isolate, capture, analyse and make further use of. For example, we can capture and count how individuals rate a document. The availability of that document in searches and lists can be influenced by the rating. The more readers positively rate a document, the more others will become aware of it and the wider and audience for good content as decided by the ‘crowd’.

Decision Making Gestures

There are specific Social Gestures for Social Business Intelligence and the interactions associated with decision making in an organisation. Today, the social interactions are very simple but we should expect these to grow as vendor offerings grow in their levels of sophistication. The following represent social gestures for Business Intelligence. Some exist today, some are inspired by the behaviour of decision makers as we see it so are effectively our suggestions to Social BI vendors;

  • Explain. Open a question to explain the real ‘meaning’ of a BI report is identified. This is likely to be a gesture initiated by a Senior Manager
  • Resolve. Explore the possible solutions to the issue now identified as a result of the investigation that has taken place.
  • Decide. Agree and announce the most suitable solution to the issue
  • Approve. Seek approval or challenge from those involved in the decision making discourse
  • Action. Execute the solution identified in the resolution discourse.

Capturing Decision Making Gestures

If we simplify and capture these gestures we can start to understand the significance of separating, capturing and analysing each of them;

  • Explain. Senior managers can easily delegate the task of discovery to domain experts and analysts until there is consensus on the meaning of a BI report. For example
  • Resolve. All considered solutions along with the discourse and debate can be tied back to the issue identified in the BI report
  • Decide. The chosen solution can be clearly identified along with all those that were considered
  • Approve. Those involved in the decision making process can agree, disagree or register a challenge to the decision either as part of a consensus driven approach or simply ‘for the record’
  • Action. The activity decided upon to resolve the issue can be tied back to the decision and it’s outcome as a success or failure recorded so that it can be considered as an option for similar future decisions

So online social gestures, as they relate to decision making are the starting point form which we can begin to understand the decisions in our organisations, how they came about and what they tell us about improving future decisions.

Social Media for the Keen Amateur

Social So Far

This week, I was asked to contribute some comments for an article in Vision, an IBM publication about Social Media. Clearly this was in my capacity as a keen amateur rather than a Social Media professional.

My interest in Social is partly driven by the converging fields of Social and Business Intelligence into Collaborative Decision Making Platforms but mostly as a fantastic way of reaching out and being part of a global conversation with those that share the same (and somewhat eclectic) interests.

We Don’t Own It

The key to being involved in Social, Twitter et al in a professional capacity (I only really tweet professionally) is to remember that it is not a marketing platform. First and foremost we corporate folk don’t own it! Social is a public conversation and like any other conversation, good manners and an authentic voice go a long way. If we are mindful of making a contribution to a conversation in a human voice then all other positive behaviours follow.

Vision Contribution

The article required a number of quotes about our experience as relative newbies in the world of Social. Not all of them were used, as is usual with any contributed copy so I have repeated them below for ‘the record’ Apologies to fans for the Emmin reference but I couldn’t resist;

Our Social Experience

1. With Twitter, we took time to listen first. We wanted to discover what others were saying, what generated interest, what subjects compelled a flurry of re-tweets. It gave us some interesting insights into what conversations were already taking place so that we could make contributions that would be considered fresh. We wouldn’t jump into any conversation without listening first and jumping into Twitter is like joining a conversation already in full flow.

2. Our Facebook friends and Twitter followers expect a professional tone on subjects that are related to our field which is analytics and information management. However, they also want to know that they are following a human, not a corporate collective mind. We have found that the occasional insight into how your day is progressing, the interesting people you meet or even something funny you heard on the train will allow your own voice to come through and make your company real to those that are following you. We don’t do it too often, maybe 1 in 10 tweets, but it’s interesting how often they get played back when you actually get to to meet.

3. It’s interesting who we have chosen to tune out over the couple of years we have been using Social media. Firstly the promoters, those that only tweet about their latest product or service offering are not kidding anyone that they are not contributing anything to the conversation. Their tweets are ad breaks and they get tuned out in the same way that we fast forward through the ads with our PVR’s at home. Secondly the road warriors. These guys only tweet about flight delays and long queues at the airport. It gets old quickly. Finally, those that I call ‘Tracey Emmin Tweeters’. These tweeters think we are interested in the minutia of their lives and tweet too often on subjects that really only tell us something about them and their lives. Apologies to the fans of Turner Prize winner Emmin but good conversations like good art tell us something about the world, ourselves and others not just you.

4. Blogging also takes time to get right. Don’t be surprised if there are times, after that initial burst of activity, that you feel like you are running out of ideas. Don’t expect to be a natural overnight and prolific blogger but don’t give up either. You will find that you need to read other peoples blogs to find out what your community are finding interesting. Like all Social Media interactions blogging needs to be more listening than talking. Take a leaf out of Seth Godin’s book (literally) He is a professional blogger but also an author of many books. I heard him comment on a radio show recently that he read 150 books as he was writing his recent (and inspiring) book ‘Lynchpin’.