July 30, 2007

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 Gears – any guessing who will come next?

May 30, 2007

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!

Scoble, also just posted an update that someone else is “going offline” tomorrow. With all the talks of acquisitions lately I’m hoping that it’s salesforce.com. Now that would be something!

<update> So I guess I got that one wrong – looks like Real Networks have taken video content offline. I’d still love to see SFC do the same.

Google, Ireland and Yoshi

May 16, 2007

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.

What do Star Wars and a famous river in Korea have in common?

May 11, 2007

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? 

Skywalkers in Korea cross Han solo

What else 🙂

How would Google build a customer reference program?

May 11, 2007

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.

Program Perception is the key to Customer Reference Programs

April 30, 2007

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.

References aren’t all good

March 16, 2007

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.

Customer Advocacy and community marketing

March 16, 2007

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.

We’ve recently been working with Bill at the Customer Reference Forum and Jeremiah over at PodTech, talking about customer advocacy 2.0 (that’s pretty rich really, cause most people didn’t know there was a CA 1.0).

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.

What is customer advocacy?

March 13, 2007

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. 

Organic chocolate ice cream!

March 12, 2007

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.