Archive for CRM

Systems of Engagement are… What?

Like “New Wave” in the 1980’s, the term “Systems of Engagement” seems to be developing as a catchall term for a new breed of enterprise software that doesn’t fall neatly into other categories. Traditionally, end-user facing software could be categorized as a system of record such as CRM or ERP, productivity software including office applications, communications such as email, and enterprise content management which helps companies manage vast troves of unstructured information. There is also been a class of software that helps companies understand the information collected and stored in these other applications which is now called Big Data and Analytics but is also known as business intelligence and data warehousing or simply “reporting”.

None of these describes a whole new set of applications that are meant to improve social interactions between people, be they customers, partners, or employees. These interactions may revolve around marketing or selling with customers. They may try to increase collaboration or innovation in a company through sharing. This new breed of application differs from other software in that they act to disintermediate – remove the middleman – interactions between people.

Most software is designed to provide support for some type of business interaction but only at one end. If a customer calls a company for help, the CRM helps the salesperson or customer support representative to carry out that interaction. The customer doesn’t interact with the CRM system directly but through an intermediary. Social software backed by analytics and cognitive computing, on the other hand, allows the customer to interact with company resources and people directly without the middleman. In theory, this builds meaningful engagement between the company and the customer that leads to a long lasting relationship that is profitable for both. Hence, we call these systems of engagement.

The problem with the systems of engagement tag is that, like so many other technology movements, it has been applied too broadly. Take marketing automation. Most of the functions of marketing automation software automate internal marketing functions. They help the corporate marketer to organize and manage marketing. It’s the marketing professional not the software that is creating engagement with customers. Just because there are a few social features tossed in or the system can help manage social media responses does not make it a system of engagement. Some vendors though talk about marketing automation as a system of engagement when, in fact, it’s a system of record.

The lines can be blurry. Sometimes a system of record can have some system of engagement features and vice versa. True systems of engagement, though, have two main qualities. They facilitate interactions between people – they are inherently people-oriented not data-oriented – and they disintermediate that interaction. The term “systems of engagement” has merit but only if it is not rebranding other types of software to latch on to the new trend.

 

And Tell You of My Dreamforce

With apologies to Blondie…

 

Dreamforce was bigger than ever this year. Salesforce.com claimed an impressive 135k registrations this year. It’s unlikely that all of those registrations actually turned into bodies on the show floor, especially the free expo and keynote registrations. I can, however, personally attest to the nearly overwhelming crowds. I think this says something about the reach of the company and the considerable cult of personality around founder and CEO, Marc Benioff. He may well be the true heir to Steve Jobs.

Despite the scale of Dreamforce, there were really only had a handful of themes and one big announcement that were hammered home relentlessly throughout the show.

  • The big announcement was the launch of Salesforce1. Hinted at over the past several months, Salesforce1 is a complete redesign of the mobile experience and the Salesforce platform complete with new and expanded APIs for all the Saleforce.com services. Besides introducing a unified and elegant design, Salesforce1 enables lightweight integration of Salesforce.com’s applications and partner applications based on the Force.com platform. This is an extension of the trend toward integration of applications through social conversations, RESTful APIs, and other lightweight methods as opposed to backend integrations.
  • Salesforce1, while exciting to development partners, was quite frightening to integration and solution provider partners who make a living helping customers with more heavyweight, backend integrations. It was not clear to them how this would affect their business. Some partners I spoke with were worried that much of their high margin work they do would dry up. I’m not yet convinced that this is really a business problem as much as channel communication problem.
  • Salesforce.com also rolled out a new concept called “The Internet of Customers”. The basic gist was that Salesforce.com objects can be embedded in all types of devices to enable new ways to market to, sell to, and service customers. The idea of embedding Service Cloud objects into cars and medical devices to facilitate opening trouble tickets or getting immediate assistance is an especially compelling concept. It places the service in the context of the device. Most of us would love to have our car open up a service call with our dealer when we get an ambiguous service engine light. The “Internet of Customers” term is silly. Many of the people I spoke with who didn’t work for Salesforce.com were rolling their eyes at it. The idea it represents though is innovative and forward looking. I can’t wait to set it widely executed.
  • Other announcements were more modest.
    • Salesforce.com finally released that long awaited Salesforce Files product which is basically an enterprise grade Dropbox. Files’ ability to search and synch with SharePoint as well as desktops was especially well thought out.
    • The updated integration with the Pardot marketing automaton application which came with the ExactTarget acquisition, was also quite slick. I especially like how it gives sales professionals the ability to use nurturing campaigns to keep touches going through otherwise fallow periods of the sales cycle without begging marketing to do it.
  • The real blockbuster news for me was on the business side. Marc Benioff got cheers from the press, analyst, and financial community when he announced that the company has achieved its first $1B quarter and was on track for $5B next year while maintaining a 36% growth rate. Pretty impressive.
  • Mr. Benioff also told the analyst and press community that the idea of B2B and B2C marketing and sales was outdated. Instead, we should think in terms of B to Customer. That makes infinite sense. Why push customer into little buckets when it’s about building relationships? We are all consumers even when we act in the name of our businesses. The distinctions are getting too murky for such constraining terminology.
  • Finally, Salesforce.com’s and Mr. Benioff’s personal commitment to philanthropy and social justice was evident not only in the fundraisers but the constant promotion of causes, not-for-profits, and NGOs. His discussion about gender bias in the workplace and society with Facebook COO and bestselling author Sheryl Sandberg was a highlight for many attendees. I found myself texting quotes to my teenage daughter throughout Ms. Sandberg’s and Mr. Benioff’s discussion. Unfortunately, the warm and fuzzy was diminished by the inclusion of Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, both of whom have been in the news lately because of issues of labor justice (Yahoo’s work-from-home policy changes and QPR, Whole Foods stance against unions which CEO Mackey has compared to herpes). Ms. Mayer who also sits on the board of Walmart – not exactly a paragon of labor virtue – actually attracted protesters. People I know in the Bay Area talk about how genuine Salesforce and Mr. Benioff are with their giving. I don’t doubt their sincerity. Mr. Benioff’s conversation with Ms. Sandberg also left me with the impression that he has a heartfelt desire to create a more just workplace. I just have to wonder at the choice of two executives whose reputations are not as stellar.

If nothing else, Dreamforce gives the impression of a company that truly wants to connect with its customers and help them connect with their customers while doing good in the world. I’ve never seen executives who gained as much energy from being with customers as the Salesforce executives. That alone was worth attending.