I foolishly thought that I'd get a chance to blog about my international rellocation. However, all of my time has been spent on the move, and I haven't had much chance to put virtual pen to paper. We'll be moving into our new house in Dalkey, Dublin this weekend, and our belongings should be turning up the week after. So hopefully I'll be able to draw breath and write something with a bit more substance soon.
Google have announced a platform for building offline capable web applications (Scoble covers the details well). I think everyone has noticed the inherant problem that SaaS desktop applications only work online (in fact, even I posted about offline problems with SaaS a couple of months ago), but this now removes that barrier.
This is a huge deal - it really challenges he traditional software model - and Microsoft must be a little concerned about how this impacts MS Office!
Seattle is a wonderful place. It's been my home for the last four years, and what a four years! I've got married, had a son and made many great friends. But with the implending arrival of Yoshi in November (we've nick-named him/her Yoshi in honour of the Flaming Lips song, not the Nintendo character of Super Mario fame) we've made the decision to return to Europe to be closer to our family.
Never one to make things easy on myself, rather than move back to our home-land (UK) we're actually going to start afresh in a new country - Ireland. I've been offered a job with Google in Dublin, and we're all very excited to be moving to such a vibrant, friendly and, let's face it, funky place (Dublin and Google).
We'll be arriving in Dublin on the 4 July, and I'm sure that I'll make a post or two on the move.
I have a lot of respect for sub-editors. Writing catchy headlines is a skill that amazes and eludes me (as evidenced above). With that in mind I have to take off my hat to the sub for the Benton Crier who came up with a wonderful headline to describe a high-wire act performing over a famous Korean river. The title?
In a recent post Tim O'Reilly asked what would Google do if they were your bank or credit card? It got me thinking about Customer Reference programs, and how they would change if Google (or Amazon or any Web 2.0 company) built them. Most of the reference programs that I've been involved in have been run by the marketing department, and they gather the positive feedback of top customers and turn it into reusable material (like case studies, videos, podcasts or a customer-to-customer phone call). They essentially consists of a one way publishing process where the company controls the information and pushes it to potential customers (phone calls are a bit different, but the company still controls who's involved in the conversation).
In a web 2.0 world all of this changes. Jeremiah's written a lot on the subject of social media and reference programs, and I think that it all boils down to the fact that reference programs should be conversations with your customer, and they should be embedded deeply into your organization. Sure, if a customer says something great about you then it should be fed out to PR, advertising and sales. But equally if your customers have a problem with your product then the product team should know about it, and you need to be able to respond in a sensible way. In other words, you need to listen, as well as talk.
The LSE published an interesting study in 2005 showing the importance of dealing with negative as well as positive word-of-mouth. A 2% reduction in negative word-of-mouth has the same effect as a 7% increase in positive word-of-mouth. Those are pretty compelling numbers to encourage you to expand your reference program to deal with negative comments as well.
So what would such a program look like? It would impact the scorecard of every department in the company, it would provide instantaneous monitoring and response, and it would open up the company so that everyone knew the customer. Let's face it, it wouldn't be a customer reference program at all, it would simply be the way that we do business.
There's one company that I've found that already implement programs like this - Satmetrix (in the interest of full diclosure, Satmetrix have been a client of ours in the past). They talk about the netpromoter number a lot, which is great, but I'm not sure how involved they are in the instantaneous monitoring/response side of things (I'm sure they can answer that). Anyway, I'd be interested to hear what's really happening from all the reference professionals out there, and if there are any other companies who are doing a good job implementing their own (or other peoples) Reference Program 2.0.
Steve Ellis talks about the major roadblocks in implementing a reference program within the Enterprise. I agree with his over arching theme - that organizations lack commitment to reference programs - and I'd suggest one way to help resolve this is to change the perception of reference programs.
A lot of the problems that I see are due to the Sales force's perception of references as a favour. If it's seen as a favour by the Sales force then it's also going to be seen as a favour by the customer, and they're going to be reticent to do you a favour unless they get something back (such as a price break).
The key is to reinvent the reference program so that it provides real value to your customers (and that doesn't just mean price breaks). Once you do this the Sales force will be keen to jump on board, moreover, if you do it well then your customers will be approaching your Sales force to be included.
Of course, the other thing to consider - as Jeremiah points out - is that in the Web 2.0 world, reference programs will be about opening up your customers views - good an bad - and listening to them, rather than trying to control them. The companies that get that right will really reap the benefit.
I've heard a lot of concern from marketers about "the dangers" of exposing negative customer comments as well as positive ones. This concern is obviously heightened in today's social media age. However I think that the approach of encouraging an open conversation between customers has long been recognized by sales people.
Last week I interviewed a sales rep as part of a consulting engagement with a hi-tech company. During the interview he mentioned a sale that he'd won by asking a current customer to have a direct call with his prospect. This is nothing new, and isn't unusual at all, except this was a competitive bid against another hi-tech vendor. The competitor also arranged a reference call. However, the sales rep at the competitor insisted on sitting in on the call! My interviewee was convinced that his openness to letting his customer discuss their product, warts and all, contributed to him winning the deal.
One of the areas that I work on is customer advocacy. In particular, Metia (the company that I work for) designs, implements and manages customer advocacy programs for a number of high-profile tech companies.
I've long thought that customer advocacy is just one end point of the word of mouth marketing activities that have become so popular today. In particular, customer references are asking to be integrated with social media. If one of your customers is blogging positively about you, then why aren't you aware of it, or asking them if they'll help you in other ways? My gut feeling is that most reference professionals don't know what's being blogged about them. The "community managers" within the company might be keeping on top of the blogs, but I haven't seen much communication going on between the community managers and the reference professionals. Perhaps I'm wrong? I'd love to hear that this is already happening.
Maybe the reference professionals are already hanging out with the community guys? Jeremiah's posted a question on his blog to see if this is true. I'm really interested in the results.
I've been doing some work with a tech company in silicon valley, helping them to review and improve their customer reference program. I've interviewed a number of people around the organization, and every person that I speak to has a different take on what constitutes a customer reference.
When I'm planning a new system, I use three different terms:
Customer Advocacy: A programmatic approach to using the positive experience of your customers to support your sales and marketing activities through references and evidence. In some programs, Customer Advocacy is also extended to deal with neutral and negative customers – aiming to convert neutrals into promoters, and negatives to neutrals.
Customer Reference: Using a customer's time to discuss the benefits that they gained from the product/service. This may include a visit from a prospective customer, a phone call, press interview, analyst call or conference appearance.
Customer Evidence: This is the recorded material that results from a customer agreeing to be a reference. This may include logo use, quote, case study, video, podcast etc.
Why do I separate them in this way? Mainly because references and evidence are typically managed by different groups of people. References are typically controlled by the sales organization, and evidence is typically owned by marketing (with the blessing of sales).
If you're producing a system to support your customer advocacy efforts you should start by definining which types of advocacy you want to manage.
I was over at Google's mountain view campus on Friday, and got to experience their legendary food. It lived up to all expectations - even their vegetarian offerings were amazing. I particularly fell in love with their organic chocolate ice cream! I can see why their engineers would never want to go home.
I've only just discovered this wonderful little plugin for iTunes and Windows Media Player called iLike. It posts your music playing history to a community site that you can then use to find new music, or simply see what your mates are listening to.
One of the current issues with SaaS for desktop apps is the lack of support for disconnected users. I don't think it's any coincidence that Google apps doesn't have a PowerPoint equivalent yet - how many times have you made last minute changes to your presentation on the plane
"Software plus services" seems to be a sensible choice for desktop applications at this point in time. However, I suspect this will change once we have broadband connections from our aisle seats.
I'd just like to go on record: Toby Ward talks sense (well most of the time anyway). In a recent post, Toby discusses the language barrier between two groups who frequently get involved in intranet deployments - IT and Internal Comms (Toby actually uses HR as his example). I've had similar experiences with IC and IT, and the relationship between them can make or break a project.
However, I don't think it's enough for the communicators to put themselves in the shoes of the other party. Mutual respect fills in a big part of the communication gap, but there also needs to be recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each group.
In general I've found that Internal Comms are the visionaries and IT are the pragmatists. The groups can work really well together as long as they play to each other's strengths. I've seen intranet projects go badly off-track when the visionaries are expected to produce GANTT charts or the techies lead the design.
All I would say is that completing an effective intranet without both teams is pretty much impossible. So having everyone involved from the start, and defining roles up-front is the first step towards the perfect intranet.
The other thing that I've found is that most of my clients (IC and IT) aren't prepared for the level of detail that's involved in putting together an intranet, but that's a subject for another post.
With the launch of Google hosted applications that compete with Microsoft Office, it seems natural to look at the history of hosted apps to see if Google Apps will really threaten Microsoft. Mary Jo Foley compares Google Apps to Microsoft's 2001 hailstorm service. She has some good points, and anyone launching a hosted service will face the IT department's resistance to letting go of company data. However, I also think that things have changed significantly in the 6 years since hailstorm and I think that Google will get a much better reception in 2007. So why do I think things will be different this time around?
The need to share information outside of the corporate network is bigger than ever. In order to do business, companies need to communicate quickly and efficiently with their geographically dispersed colleagues, suppliers, partners and customers. We all know that emailing large spreadsheets around is a poor way to manage information and an efficient alternative will be welcomed by information workers.
SAAS has also become part of the IT manager's scorecard. The use of portals, and application servers means that they are used to working with data that sits outside of their control, so the tight grip on company data is loosening slightly.
There are clear precedents for outsourced applications (the obvious one being salesforce.com, whose subscribers only really started to take off in 2004/5).
And finally, I've seen a huge change in the way that IT is adopted by companies. BlackBerries, iPods and RSS all began their life in the hands of the end-user, and IT departments had to adapt to the ever increasing demands of their clients. IT departments are becoming more service oriented (I wonder if this has anything to do with the increased offshoring of IT). And if they're not service oriented, then users are willing to go elsewhere. (I've just got off the phone from a client who was complaining that it took 6 months for their internal IT team to update the fields of one of her databases. She's now looking to outsource it (and host it externally) so that she can get more responsive updates.
That's not to say that Google Apps is going to have it easy. Attitudes towards enterprise outsourcing are changing, as the business benefits become clearer, but there still a long way to go before the default choice is to rent your application over the internet.
In my post on "The Death of Internal Communications" I mentioned the fact that "Web 2.0" technologies are altering the way that intranets are governed. In a recent article, Colin White discusses something similar. Usefully, he separates out two elements of Web 2.0 - "information collaboration" and "application development". For me, these two are at the heart of everything 2.0'y.
The collaboration piece addresses the function of 2.0 - it aims to bring people together, to democratize information, and distribute the governance.
The development piece addresses some of the technical benefits - providing easy ways to integrate disparate applications (mashups) and rapid development of server based applications that run like desktop apps (AJAX et al).
I find it helpful to have a clear distinction between the two. The first is about the site vision, the second is about implementation. They are separate but equally important to define.
For any particular project I might want to deploy a web 2.0 vision (collaborative spaces) without the web 2.0 implementation (ajax), or conversely a web 1.0 vision (publishing company info) in a 2.0 implementation (a mashup). Understanding which elements the project calls for (if any) helps me to avoid getting caught in a sticky 2.0 web just for the sake of it.
One final thing, I'm convinced that for an enterprise deployment such as an intranet, the 2.0 vision doesn't work in isolation. You always need the traditional top-down publishing piece to support it. So the Razorfish example in Colin White's post only works if there is an "official intranet" to support it.
Toby Ward writes in his blog that "internal communications is evolving, if not dying". His comment may be a bit melodramatic, but in general I agree with him. I've also found that Internal Comms are managing most of the intranet projects that we work on these days, and they're having to come to terms with a dramatically different way of looking at one of their key tools (the corporate intranet).
Social software (web 2.0) has been popular on the web for quite some time, but in my experience there has been a lag in seeing the social element appear on corporate intranets. One of the main reasons is that word - "corporate". Many see that as a justification for turning the intranet into a one way publishing tool. But in the same way that corporations have started talking (and listening) to their customers through the web, they are now finding that the intranet is the perfect platform to do the same with their employees.
This means that Internal Comms are losening their grip on the information that they are managing. Sure, there is still a need for the "official corporate view" - a company is not a democratic institution, and the views of the senior management are final (almost), and still need to be communicated. However, if these views are to be respected, there has to be an open conversation and weighing of the evidence/views of others (employees, ciustomers and shareholders) before any decision is made. Again, this is where the intranet helps. Some of our IC clients definitely get this evolution in roles, others are slightly behind, but catching up.
I'd be interested in hearing if any Internal Comms people out there feel that there is a change afoot, or am I just imagining it?
There's an article in the Economist this week that paints a convincing picture of outsourcing your email (and Office applications) to Google. The software as a service trend is no longer on the fringe, and with Googles agressive aquisitions they've got to be a real threat not just to Microsoft, but to anyone who is building software as a packaged product.
Do any of you have experience of GMail, salesforce.com or another SAAS, and if so how did it compare to your desktop experience?
Dave Franklin has spent the last 15 years working in the hi-tech industry all around the world. For the last 10 years he has focused on software that supports sales and marketing functions within large enterprises. He currently works for Google at the European HQ in Dublin.
In a previous life as a developer, he got to see the immediate results of changing a single line of code. These days he gets to plan the destruction of software many months in advance.
English by birth, Dave lives in Ireland with his English wife and 2 sons - one American, one Irish.