Idea sharing but not caring

story-telling

Who owns an idea on the Internet? Apparently, it’s difficult to say since ownership of one, which to many people is something ephemeral, seems to depend on who capitalizes on its advance the most and converts it into revenue. If you write something down on Facebook that you feel is original, or even if you take a picture and post it on Instagram, and then someone shares it and eventually that idea goes viral and then becomes the topic of someone’s story or movie, should you share in whatever compensation results? Many people think no because while you had the idea, you stopped after the act of posting.

An article in the New York Times this week called, the Internet is where we share and steal the best ideas, doesn’t really clear up the debate but it’s still worth reading. It contains many of the fundamental elements of the kind of story that our societies seem drawn to these days. Innocence, theft, greed, personal affront. There’s no redemption, or at least nothing more than a whisper of it at the very end, but there is a kind of hope in the simple act the writer made of calling out the subject.

That subject of borrowing, stealing, copying ideas is worth considering in the business world where, it seems, most messaging are a rehash of other messages, either a company’s own or someone else’s. It’s difficult to be a marketer today with the widely available channels of communication and the endless deluge of messages our audiences receive each day from hundreds and thousands of people and companies. What target audience can absorb all that? It’s why in the Marketing world there is such intense conversation around the need for story-telling, to stand apart by being original. We’re focused on that because we’re worried that only original-seeming content has the chance to cut through the chaos and the noise of the Internet and stick in the eye (and hopefully the memory) of our target audiences.

We’re right to worry about it. Over 200 million people now use ad blockers, which tells you that they only want to see something they’re interested in. How to get around it as a marketer is to learn how to tell a story. It’s a struggle though because there is a fear that all the stories have already been told. There’s an old canard that all the world’s melodies have already been written and while most of us nod solemnly when someone states that as fact, other people dispute that claim. This guy even applied math to address the question and worked out that the world has 2.6 trillion years worth of melodies (humans have only been around for 200,000 of those years so there’s plenty of music ahead).

Taking other people’s ideas, co-opting them, spinning them, tossing them around to see which ones land and stick… we all do it but it doesn’t work over time. It actually works against us and if you’ve ever been in front of an audience and you present ideas that you know everyone has heard before, you feel diminished and (too harsh?) fraudulent. So let’s try to be original even if those ideas take flight and someone else profits. People tire of hearing the same thing over and over and so even if just a few people are positively affected by something original that we’ve said or written, that’s just fine because it means it is memorable. We’ll be remembered.

The importance of reading everything

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My parents had a rule for us when we were young. Well, they had many rules but this one applied only in the summer during our school break, regardless of the weather. They required us to read for one hour after our lunch. It seemed strange to us then, embarrassing, in fact, since none of our friends suffered under such an imposition and we were the targets of mild ridicule.

It challenged us at the time but I warmed to the activity after the first couple of years. After I plowed through the entire World Book encyclopedia set I turned my attention to something a bit more esoteric. I read the Warren Report.  At the age of eleven (fact). It took quite a few days during which I blew past the obligatory hour of reading, which alarmed my mother. But her alarm turned to interest (and then maybe, later, back to alarm) when I shared with her all that I learned about bullet trajectory, Cuba, and some chubby guy named Jack Ruby.

I thought of this today when I saw a link on Twitter to yet another article that discussed the problems associated with too much information. I know life is hectic. I know the Internet age has ratcheted up the volume of written material. I also know we shouldn’t complain too much about that. We’re fortunate. Suffering from plenty is better than enduring the longing of scarcity.

In praise of contemplation

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While synapses are not commonly associated with computing or with business, metaphorically they may hold the key to understanding how to unlock real business innovation.

Medical science has known of their existence for decades, going well back into the 1800s, and even then referred to them by the name we use today. It wasn’t until Charles Scott Sherrington conducted the research that eventually delivered to him the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology that the world came to understand that the electrical impulses occurring when brain synapses (the contact points of neurons) connect with each other is what activates the human body at the cellular level. If you’ve read any scientific literature on the subject you will have learned about the diffusion, the binding, the messaging, the triggering, and the reactions that take place at that moment of connection, moments that form the basis of all the activity we undertake through our lives. The connections are, literally, sparks of life.

Innovation, as a word, is a bit more problematic. It’s grown to become a business cliché and a catch-all for all kinds of activity that in less-breathy times we would have called work. Like a lot of other words that slide easily off the tongue without conscious thought, it’s become enveloped in fog and has lost its edges, its meaning. So let’s start then with a definition.

Innovation is the process of making changes in something established, by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. Take a moment to think of how you may have used the word innovation when you’ve described some aspect of your own work, the processes that you execute, the stuff you produce to collect your salary. Was the activity you called “innovation” really that? Did it improve upon something or was it just a really good execution of something that already existed and that produced a great outcome? If it was the latter, that’s good but it’s not innovation (even if you did it with more enthusiasm than your predecessor). It would be innovative if you created a new way of executing tasks that produced a measureable improvement to the outcome’s speed of delivery, quality (reliability), or utility for the end user.

Having stripped the word innovation back to its essence we can now visualize it in the business world as meaning a process whereby companies create something new and that the market values or, even abstractedly and perhaps without direct attribution, benefits from. The pressure to do this well is increasing each week. Static companies are failing but companies that focus on creating something new that the market needs ward off threats of commoditization (as described in this HBR article about artificial intelligence) and survive for another day.

How to create something new? Obviously you must start with knowing what you do and what you’re good at. Then you examine whether that thing you do has upward resonance in the market. Meaning, sure it had appeal at some point but will it still have appeal going forward? You look at what the market needs and will need. Can you deliver? If not, what will it take to deliver it? Start innovating. Start utilizing all your neurons.

Neurons = your people

Recall that neurons are nerve cells and for our business analogy are represented by a company’s people. The synapse is a contact point on a neuron and it’s that point where an electrical impulse is generated and transmitted to another neuron.

Two of your people communicating about solving the same challenge = a synapse

Your people possess both considerable knowledge of discrete aspects of your processes and an informed, higher view of their purpose and the expected outcomes. There are no better individuals to consult with regarding process improvement than your own people. Why do you think management consulting companies insist on interviewing individual contributors when they begin their massive consulting gigs? They know where to go for the details, for the information that will fuel their own ideas for optimizing your company’s efficiency. But the neurons, your people, cannot do it alone. Here’s what they need.

Customers – By this I mean both future customers and existing ones. In both cases, through their behavior, demonstrations of interest and disinterest, pertinent statements on any channel, buying patterns, all should be viewed as critical data elements about the market’s needs, appetite for solutions, and validation for the very reason you exist as a company. Data collected about them is synonymous with fuel and the customers themselves as neurons.

Peers – their peers are their cohorts, the ones who are invested in the company and its success to a similar degree. They share the ups and downs of the day to day job. Their peers are the ones who’ve already shared complaints they have about processes, disappointing results, poor communication between teams.

Contemplation – the effort made to quietly, and thoroughly, examine a subject. Critically, undisturbed solitary time is required to allow staff members the opportunity to review all aspects of the processes they execute in their role. This should be a recurring activity for them and its output should become a recurring subject of staff meetings throughout the year during which staff members would be asked to deliver a brief of their ideas for revamping, improving, and perhaps even inventing new, processes. A prerequisite though is for staff members to educate themselves about their own company’s products, the company’s challenges, the customer’s business, and the market dynamics that affect the customer. Having the opportunity for uninterrupted thought will create the environment for the human synapses to fire and for them to generate ideas that can be shared with peers (through the business synaptic process, to coin a phrase and as shown below).

In the wheel below are depicted the various elements of innovation. The lightning bolts signify the locations where a synapse exists, where new information is communicated and where it has its moment to flourish or die.

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Without contemplation there can be no foundation for innovation. It is the element most commonly ignored in the business world. Make time for contemplation for it’s how ideas begin. An idea begins in the solitude of one person’s mind, as a spark between neurons. Those synapses will be more plentiful in the solitude that accompanies contemplation.

Make transformation mean something for them

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They’re not buying it.

They hear the words the executives say about digital transformation but, unconsciously, they aren’t buying it. They read the periodic communiques from the management team about the various transformation initiatives that have been launched but the messaging doesn’t really stick. They may even take the time to read industry material that describes the urgency for companies to transform the way they operate and go to market but most of it gets sucked into the swirling dark matter of their mind. They attend the town halls and nod approvingly when each VP reviews their plan for the coming year, but they’re also thinking, obsessing, about that deadline that looms this Friday for their own project. They are as close to being riveted as one can get in a corporate setting when their dynamic and engaging CEO artfully tells a story for why the company needs to evolve but they can’t get past the fact they never see her at any other time than these town halls.

Then they go back to their desks.

If they are individual contributors they might first quickly check their Facebook feed to see what they missed before jumping onto the fileserver to locate that document they were looking at yesterday, the one that describes the steps they’re supposed to take when they want to requisition a new territory report. Then they go to lunch.

If they are a manager they might go back to their desk and make a quick note to include a brief reference to the town hall content in the next staff meeting scheduled for next week. Then they’ll quickly open the email app and start working through the backlog while munching a sandwich they brought from home.

The digital transformation messaging they heard in the town hall was both interesting and a little nerve-racking but at the same time it was abstract. If you asked them, they wouldn’t use the word skeptical or cynical about the prospects of the digital transformation initiative being successful or even mattering. Instead they might say this sentence, “I don’t see it affecting the way I work any time soon.”  Or this, “I’m glad the execs are the ones who have to worry about that. I have my own set of projects I need to focus on.”

Can a company’s digital transformation initiative succeed if frontline employees don’t buy into it, or if they don’t even understand it at all? Can sheer will of the management team, on its own, drive the initiative towards eventual success? What are the odds that redesigned processes will accurately reflect intimate knowledge of the customer if their creation excludes the involvement of people within the company with whom the customer most frequently interacts?

Bubbles can be beautiful… in bathtubs and kitchen sinks, or when blown by a child threw a ring. Management bubbles though can be deadly to business.

Communication is critical and we can see from the example at the beginning that the company is doing some of the right things. The missing piece though is their ability to ensure a sustained and clear flow of communication from top to bottom and, almost more importantly once the initiative is launched, from bottom to top.

So how can a company ensure its digital transformation initiative is both clearly understood at every level while being inclusive of every level at the same time? The same way any other successful company transformation has happened in the past, by practicing good, transparent, consistent, fair, and respectful management. By understanding that to be digitally transformed it means the entire company must be transformed. Each layer. Each process. Each person. Each partner.

Communication is the key enabler. Its power lies in its relevance for the listener. If you want the buy-in of your employees, make transformation mean something for them, for their daily work, for their hour to hour work, for the way they see themselves making a meaningful contribution to the company’s success.

I’ll close with this thought on communication. It is my Friday gift to you, the reader. This post is exactly 700 words in length. Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, as mentioned in this article, was the same length.

Digital Transformation: Thinking to Level 2

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I attended my regular Friday morning BodyPump class today and the instructor didn’t show up. She called in sick but too late for the gym to organize a replacement and so since the class is filled with very serious regulars one of them simply walked over to the studio computer, tapped the BodyPump icon, and down came a massive projection screen. A 20 second countdown later and I was in my very first virtual class.

I know virtual exercise classes have been around for many years for both studio and home use so I’m not revealing anything revolutionary. What struck me as soon the class was 5 minutes old though was the realization that, in my mind anyway, our real-life instructor, the one I’ve been raving about for weeks as being the queen of the perfect cue and of the engaging and constant chatter, had been digitally transformed (replaced). Has anyone ever heard of Wally Pipp? He’s the New York Yankee who took a day off in 1925 and was replaced by some unknown bench warmer (to that point) named Lou Gehrig. The latter took over Wally’s spot and went on to play in the next 2,632 consecutive games over more than 16 years. I wonder if our real-life BodyPump instructor is going to become our very own Wally Pipp.

Afterwards, the situation got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of a gym utilizing a virtual class format over a real-life instructor. I wondered whether they’d tried it before on a more programmatic basis and whether they’d ever surveyed the members to learn whether there was an appetite for that kind of class delivery. What are the potential cost savings? What can virtual programming do to the cost structure of the gym when less people are required to administer, schedule, and deliver a set of classes?

I was Level 2 thinking.

Digital transformation is all over just about every form of media and yet for those of us buried deep in its strategy and roll-out we can easily forget that whatever it is, it’s not readily obvious to everyone. Sometimes we’re required to offer up an explanation to people who (mercifully for them… I honestly think this sometimes) lead lives that seem to operate at a wavelength that is at odds with society’s rush to embrace the digital realm. That’s why, for me, the story of our instructor being replaced by the pixels of five perfectly fit Australians, pixels that can be replayed a multitude of times all over the world at any time, is an apt analogy.

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When the business world talks about digital transformation, it isn’t just blowing smoke. It’s real. It’s significant. It’s going to separate the strong from the weak, the smart from the not-so-smart. And it’s going to trigger conceptualization on a scale that’s hard to comprehend. Why? Because while we can hazard guesses, we just don’t know the extent of change to come when we apply the power of computing (fast and cheap), robotics (eventually ubiquitous and infinitesimal), process automation (time compression), real-time customer and business process interactions (customers fuel the processes), and the limitless power of the human brain (it still confounds science). It means that for a company to get to the state of being truly digitally transformed it is going to have to systematically excel at exploiting those elements. It will have to have processes in place that automatically collect, compute, and perform actions against customer data. It means that a company will need to be a lot more intimate with the target of its affection. That’s you, the customer. Companies are going to want to get a whole lot closer to you. And you know what? You won’t mind at all. You will actually want them to because up to now through your actions and your choices for how you live you’ve demonstrated that you expect better products, better service, and better solutions, all at a cost you can afford. To satisfy you, to be that responsive and agile, companies are going to need data. Lots of automatically collected data about you, about what you want, what you expect, how you’re doing, why you did what you did with the product, how you managed to get the result you received, what you hope to do next. And this is where the human brain becomes a more significant factor. All that data can be taken at face value (Level 1 information) but what smart people do with Level 1 data is they start wondering about why the data is the way it is (Level 2 thinking). This eventually leads to Level 2 data.

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Mostly, today, the data that companies collect is Level 1 information. It’s important but it’s high level and is for now just the first step towards creating stronger insights into their customers’ behavior. The pyramid above graphically represents the magnitude of expansive thinking (the amount of questions that are triggered) at each level of the data.

Let’s use the Marketing department to help explain.

When we consider what it means to measure the digital readiness of a marketing organization we right off the bat look for binary information like this:

  • is the Chief Marketing Office (CMO) a member of the senior leadership team?
  • does the organization consider itself customer-centric?
  • is there a systematic process for data cleansing?
  • are the processes designed to allow for consistent cross-channel messaging?

Those are just a few questions we consider and the answers to them provide us with high level information (Level 1) that helps inform us to a small degree about the state of the organization’s maturity and digital readiness. I say small because even though they are binary questions we actually think of them as open-ended because depending on the answers provided many other questions can follow on. For example, the fact that a CMO is not a member of the SLT and is instead part of another organization (typically Sales) that reports into the SLT tells us something about Marketing’s strategic relevance from a corporate point of view. Meaning, how seriously is the CMO seen as a strategic leader by the members of the SLT? Is the CMO new and relatively lesser known? How much of a voice does the CMO have in the industry through published articles in trade magazines? Likewise, if the Marketing organization has yet to implement a consistent messaging experience across multiple user channels, we can ask why not. Do they know how their peers are doing? Have they bench-marked? It’s highly likely they are behind the curve and are probably bleeding customers to competition that provides a better experience.

Level 2 information is a follow-on activity from Level 1 and a follow-on question can look something like this:

  • if the CMO reports into Sales leadership, how does the Marketing organization gather experiential data about existing customers?

Level 2 information is tougher to do in a binary manner. It’s not impossible but because the line of questioning is more consultative in nature, Level 2 questions tend to be more open-ended. They also tend to surface more actionable insight.

Why does it matter where the CMO reports? Because knowing how a Marketing organization gathers knowledge about existing customers helps determine the state of their digital readiness and the state of their ability to optimize the experience of the customer through their entire life-cycle (not just when they were in the state of buying, which is the conventional focus area of Marketing). Why is that important? Because considering the customer as having an entire life-cycle with you, the company, is the first step in recognizing the need and opportunity for making improvements at each step in their journey. If Marketing reports into Sales they are less interested in pursuing the customer’s engagement post-sales. They have little incentive to do so.

For a company to be digitally ready they must view the customer as a living and breathing entity with a lifespan that can be influenced and enhanced with smart injections of specific and relevant attention and sincere interest at certain points in their journey. This approach ultimately drives up engagement and loyalty, which should translate into stronger revenue. If the Marketing organization is going to be responsible for managing that overall messaging then they defacto represent the customer inside the company. Having the Marketing organization on par with other SLT leaders therefore puts the customer in the same room.

Level 2. It’s richer information for our Transformation Services team at Oracle Marketing Cloud that allows us to plan a strategy for helping our customers evolve to become truly digitally ready.  Level 2 is also a way of thinking for any organization that wants to digitally transform. Level 2 thinking is not just for Marketers. Anyone who works with customers and is interested in evolving the relationship to a higher plane should exercise this deeper abstract way of thinking. It opens pathways to critical information that leads to full digital capability.

Think to Level 2. You don’t want to be Wally Pipp, nor do you want to be my Friday morning BodyPump instructor who was replaced today by a virtual version for a microscopic fraction of the price.

(Pssst…. I’m hoping the gym doesn’t find the cost-savings so compelling that they drop the real-life instructors. I’m still a little old school in some ways).

Can math help clarify the CS mission?

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Customer Success professionals need to start thinking of their mission in a similar way that professionals in Sales and Marketing see theirs. On the Marketing side, they see their mission as finding, nurturing, and qualifying interested parties and moving them further along towards a decision to commit to a financial contract with the marketer’s employer. Straight-forward. On the Sales side, they see their mission as helping those interested parties make that decision to sign the contract thereby securing new revenue for their employers. While the processes and tasks executed by these organizations can be complex and fraught with bumps, their missions are simple.

What is the mission of Customer Success? Is it as clear-cut as those other missions? What is it primarily about?

  1. Renewing customers?
    • Goal = keeping customer numbers up to improve the vendor’s balance sheet
  2. Expanding the business with customers?
    • Goal = growing revenue to improve the vendor’s balance sheet
  3. Helping customers adopt more of the product’s capabilities but motivated by how it benefits the vendor?
    • Goal = helping customer utilize more of the solution so that they feel invested in it and have more of a propensity to renew the financial contract. Symptoms of this behavior are when Customer Success is asked to intervene in sales-sensitive situations to clear technical challenges that are perceived as hurting the chances for renewal or expansion.
  4. Helping customers adopt more of the product’s capabilities but motivated by how it benefits the customer?
    • Goal = helping customer achieve their business goals so they can improve efficiency, or increase market share, or solve other business challenges that prevent them from growing
  5. All of the above?
    • Goal = do whatever is needed

Usually the answer is #5, which makes it not so straight-forward nor so simple. If companies take an honest look at it though, they might admit that they have their Customer Success teams focused on achieving #3, which when it’s considered as starkly as it’s written above, sounds crummy, like it’s short-changing the customer and causing damage to the relationship.

Unlike Marketing and Sales, whose missions are clean and easy to understand, Customer Success is too often charged with having to equally prioritize the following: implementation, enablement, support, consulting, coaching, nurturing, negotiating, selling, closing deals. Why the lack of focus? Pardon the straying into the theater of politics but it almost sounds like Donald Trump’s foreign policy. It’s all over the place, it’s inconsistent, it sends mixed signals, satisfies very few, accomplishes only a fraction of what it hopes to do, and is confusing to the people it’s meant to deal with.

There needs to be some order introduced into the Customer Success world so to make things easier I propose applying some basic math.

Adoption = quality product + clearly defined outcomes + enablement + quality, timely guidance
Renewal = adoption of the solution + quality relationship based on trust
Expansion = adoption of the solution + quality relationship based on trust + clear business need

Looking at it in reverse, Expansion won’t happen until there is Adoption of the solution, the relationship between the parties is good, and the customer has a clear business need for investing more with the vendor. Renewal won’t happen unless there is Adoption of the solution and the relationship is sound. Adoption won’t happen unless the product works, the customer has articulated clear business outcomes, they’ve been enabled with the right skills and knowledge to use the solution to achieve those outcomes, and they’ve received high quality guidance in a timely manner along the way. This is obviously a proactive methodology that prioritizes Adoption above all else. When you see things laid out mathematically they make sense. The logic flows. Changing the equation to prioritize Renewal or Expansion before Adoption defies science and human nature. It might work for some situations but it’ll work against you over time.

To close, and speaking of proactive, I’ll leave you with a line from Silje Nergaard‘s song, Two for the Road.

“I’d rather hit the road than have the road hit me”.  

Maybe it should be on a t-shirt.

 

 

The lab coated CSM

I’ll say it now.  In five years the job of a Customer Success Manager will be almost 100% focused on managing the performance of algorithms that drive the customer towards achieving their goals. We’ll see a 180 degree flip in how things are largely done now. CSMs in that near future will spend their time reviewing new findings of consumer/customer behavior and the data that show the progress customers have made towards their expected outcomes. They’ll use that information to tune the algorithms. CSMs will be more data scientists than customer relations experts. Provocative? Not really. Inevitable? Yes. Impersonal and detached from the reality of a customer’s experience? I can see that it might be perceived that way but, no. How can I be so confident? Because this type of work style is already being done everyday by a department employed by most companies but whose mission is aimed at a different target group (buyers) than the one targeted by Customer Success. Modern Marketers conduct themselves more or less this way now.

In the April 3, 2017 edition of The New Yorker magazine is an article entitled, The Algorithm Will See You Now. The piece mainly states that medical technology is advancing so rapidly and the pressure to reduce costs of the healthcare system is also increasing at a similar rate that the two together are forcing a rethink of how diagnostic medicine can, and should, be most efficiently and accurately delivered. My quick take for you from the article (written by a biological scientist)… it’s cheaper, faster, and in some cases, more accurate for machines to do the job of radiologists. There are limitations though that have to do with what are referred to as factual knowledge and experiential knowledge and while the state of the technology is quite sophisticated and there is enthusiasm for its ability to augment the diagnostic process, it isn’t yet seen to be a complete replacement of the human expert. Pick up the edition and read the article to get the complete picture. I can’t do two things here: 1)I cannot include the link because of the paywall, and 2) I cannot give the article the justice it deserves.

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A similar state exists in the Customer Success industry. Many people operate on experiential knowledge (gut) without a lot of factual knowledge. Conversely, we have vendors who focus a bit too much on factual knowledge and don’t give enough weight to experiential knowledge. That’s what I meant last week at the Toronto Customer Success Executive Breakfast (sponsored by Gainsight) when I said that the future of Customer Success will see smart people focused almost entirely on managing processes. They’ll exercise a blend of factual knowledge (from tools like Gainsight) and experiential knowledge (a highly mature gut instinct stemming from the experiences they’ve had themselves working directly with customers and also from conclusions reached by AI machine learning software) to determine the most accurate course of action that should be taken in order to improve the algorithms. Otherwise, how will it be possible for Customer Success to effectively perform, scale, and personalize its approach so the customer feels they get the right attention at the right time? This is especially true when you consider the implications of the data represented in the McKinsey chart below.

McKinsey

IoT, automation, escalating customer expectations, increasing calls for higher share value, accelerating business disruption… all these things and more are conspiring to force companies to deliver increased, personalized customer attention faster and at less cost. Scale is the only option but not just any scale. Personalized scale.

Do you have difficulty seeing this evolution of Customer Success? If so, I have one question for you. Is diagnosing customer health any more complex than diagnosing the health of the human body?

ABM and Customer Success, two ships passing in the night.

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At what point does a phrase or term become a cliché? Who decides? When I took creative writing classes a number of years ago, the professor critiqued our work by spotting cliches with the tenacity and ferocity of someone who perhaps had once been mortally wounded by one and was out for revenge.

The word cliché is defined as:

a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, such as: sadder but wiser, strong as an ox, happy as a clam, as old as the hills, every cloud has a silver liningour company is customer-centric

Of course I added that last example but let’s talk about it. It seems every company is either saying they are customer-centric or they are on their way to becoming customer-centric. Usually they can articulate a definition that approximates this…

We are working from the outside in. We are placing the customer at the center of everything we do. They fuel our processes and inspire our people. They are the reason we exist as a company.

Can’t argue with that passion. It’s actually the correct way for companies to strategically think in today’s business environment when disruption not only creeps up on you but given the right conditions it can swamp you in a matter of weeks. The customer must be the center of everything a company does. Anticipation of their needs, wants, hopes, and expectations must fuel your processes. The alternative is failure.

Still, if so many companies understand this and so many companies are seemingly headed in the right direction, then why does customer-centric sound so resoundingly empty? Can we call it yet? Can we say that customer-centric is a cliché? Not yet but we’re getting close. It doesn’t mean as much anymore when you read it or hear it. When a phrase is uttered and it doesn’t register a brain wave, it has become a cliché. Or when a phrase irritates and forces you to probe and dig deeper to really understand what the speaker meant, then it has become a cliché.

Words need to mean something so let’s all try to avoid clichés. Let’s agree that if we’re going to continue using the term customer-centric we will be prepared to describe how our companies have organized ourselves and our processes to encompass the entire experience of the customer, from their unknown buyer state all the way through purchase to their eventual state of organically-felt advocacy on your behalf.

Okay, Armaly, we need an example.

As both a marketing and a customer success professional I am accustomed to looking at enterprises and seeking opportunities where these two disciplines could be cross-leveraged, opportunities that might be overlooked by those with a more discipline-specific focus.

The classic (simplified) pre-sales portion of the sales process calls for Marketing to find and nurture leads and to pass the qualified ones off to sales who close the deal. Typically, the only post-sales involvement of marketing is leading the customer reference program.

The classic (yes, simplified) post-sales process calls for Customer Success to lead the effort of ensuring the customer gets properly on-boarded and that the path they need to take in achieving their desired outcomes is detailed, made smooth, and governed. Typically, there is close to zero customer success involvement in the pre-sales portion of the sales process.

Let’s move on to ABM (account-based marketing). ABM is the hot, new(ish) thing of marketing and ITSMA, which bills itself as “the leading source for insight, community, and hands-on help for B2B marketers in the connected economy”, explains it this way: “ABM is a strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.” In essence, ABM is about focusing specific messaging on detailed personas in key accounts. There is a lot of increasing interest in applying Artificial Intelligence in this space. Nudge is one company keen to be a player here. See also, this post from Oracle Marketing Cloud for additional clarity on ABM. So rather than marketing to the masses of unknowns, ABM is about focusing your marketing on identified accounts, where the odds of success are greater, and tailoring your messaging so that the recipient feels it is meant just for them.

All good, right? Well, yes, except when it’s not enough. What do I mean? So far, ABM has been all about targeting accounts for new sales. While I have no argument with that, I do wonder why it doesn’t go further.

Where is Customer Success in the ABM play? With its rich knowledge of the customer’s experience with your solution and with intimate knowledge of the customer’s relationship with your company (good, bad, indifferent) along with knowledge of all the strengths, weaknesses, and quirks of the various stakeholders, the information collected and influenced by the Customer Success team should be seen as a perfect input into the ABM process. Wouldn’t ABM messaging be even more precisely tailored for the audience if Marketing knew that their audience (the customer) has been suffering trying to implement or adopt a certain feature? Or that they’ve been wildly successful with it and have been championing it on social media? If ABM factored that side of the equation in, then that would be how a customer-centric approach is demonstrated. Because it would be about the complete customer who is experiencing everything your company intended to do and didn’t intend to do in all your interactions with them.

A phrase is a cliché when it’s meaning is lost. Customer-centric is not a cliché when the customer feels they are at the center. It is a cliche when they don’t.

Oh, and yes, I realize the title of this post includes a blatant use of a cliché.

Picture courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

Yes, it’s about the customer but it can be about you too

In the first post of this series I mentioned I believe there is a need to bring digital transformation down a level or two, to make it practical. Now I’ll add the word actionable. First, let’s agree on a definition of digital transformation for today’s business. Many definitions are afloat and this McKinsey piece describes a particularly good executive level one but I think we can make it more actionable and relate-able to the front-line employee.

So let’s work with what McKinsey said but let’s do less skirting of the details and elaborate to the level of our target audience. Digital transformation means companies will re-imagine the way they work so their processes: a) are data-driven and automated; b) are focused on data that’s about customer behavior and experience; c) are administered by employees who are so absorbed with the mission that they attack their work each day with a sense of purpose and a belief that everything they do, even if it’s upstream, makes a difference to the customer’s experience. To borrow a phrase, now that’s transformation you can believe in.

If employees could start now and apply a digital mindset, what would that look like? Want an example? I have one that’s about 5 years old, ancient and almost quaint now in this digital age, but it’s illustrative of how employees can tackle a problem themselves and make a big, measurable impact on customers.  It happened during the time I was the head of Customer Success for the Americas for BMC Software.  A persistent problem for us was that the company offered no Spanish speaking support and for my Customer Success Managers in Mexico that created a huge productivity hit. During their onboarding phase new Spanish-speaking customers invariably called my CSMs seeking assistance to overcome problems, sucking up approximately 25% of the CSMs’ month. 25% is a lot when you’re expecting staff to develop and execute strategies to proactively support other clients. When we examined the problem a pattern emerged in the types of questions asked by the customers and we soon realized we could address it at scale by creating a video of the guys walking the typical customer through the product configuration steps. So that’s what they did. But to make it a digital process we did this:

  • we embedded a trigger in the CRM so when the welcome package was sent to Mexico-based customers of the products in question, it included a link to the video
  • we collected stats on the consumption of the video
  • we wrote a program that compared the video consumption statistics against support cases to see if there was a correlation between the two and produced a report
  • during our QBRs we shared information with the customer about what we observed about their adoption rate vs their consumption of education, including the video

How did we do? For those accounts we increased NPS by 10 points and we were able to transfer that 25% of CSM time that was previously spent on providing repeatable onboarding work over to a proactive adoption focus with other clients.

That’s digital transformation.

Thanksgiving

It’s the day before the long Thanksgiving Weekend and I have a moment after signing off from work to write a quick post.  For a number of reasons all pertaining to work, it’s been the most brutal of weeks for me. Though I accept it as a price of the role I’m in, in this IT industry, and in this time.  Despite the intensity of conversations I have had and the range of emotions covered, I remain thankful for a great many things. They can be symbolized by a million photos but in this moment I choose this one.

Toronto

I took the photo from the Toronto Islands towards the city in August one evening when Mamie and I were there with our nieces and a group of friends.  Yes, the silhouette of the towers set against that Raphael sky is striking but here is what I think of when I see this picture.

  • People and dreams
  • Faith and luck
  • Hope and future
  • Peace and thoughtfulness

Happy Thanksgiving

Of half-skinned steers and moonshots

In this summer of the soak, this reign of rain, and with the sun’s kiss so rarely offered, my mind wanders to reading. Perhaps it’s also because of the perceptibly slower pace of the city. Business loosens its grip enough to notice a few less cars on the street, a few less frowned and earnest foreheads in suits walking against the traffic lights. Summer is 30 on the speedometer of life. Reading in this time of the year further calms the heart and nudges the mind.

Interested readers of this blog will know I have my favorites.  For fiction these days, I cannot get enough of Cormac McCarthy. Everywhere there is sadness and hope, there you will find his characters, fascinating, awful, and proud. His work is weighty and light, easy to read and difficult to accept. Sometimes I read one of his sentences and I pause to stare at its brilliance. How is it possible for a writer to describe a scene of such vividness in so few words? Annie Proulx is another.  Her depiction of the beauty and danger of place and people rivets me. I have read no other who can give me the perspective of a half-skinned steer  as it exacts its revenge on a mean farmer. Who else? Alice Munro. Around 80, she can still write a short story that runs gently over the surface of normalcy then turns a corner and confronts some sort of dread of physicality or spirit. I am glad I’ve read their body of work before the imaginations of these giants go silent.

But I also read non-fiction and I’m particularly attracted to writing that timelessly speaks of universal truths. Often such pieces are in the political realm and I will end this post with something I came across today. Remember Apollo 11? Its mission was the first manned moon landing. I was 10 when it took place and I distinctly recall thinking, “What happens if something goes wrong and they can’t get back?” What I don’t remember is anyone asking the same question out loud, on TV, on radio, or among the people who populated my little life. Well, apparently, I was not a unique thinker. As it turns out, it was a thoroughly thought out scenario to the extent that William Safire, President Nixon’s speech writer, wrote a speech in the event the President would need to bid farewell to the astronauts. I close with the link to the letter. Enjoy your summer reading.

In the event of a moon disaster

Bridging Time

Do you know what happened in 1872? Here are a few things. The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in New York City; Susan B. Anthony in defiance of the law, voted in a US election; Popular Science was first published; Yellowstone became the world’s first national park; trade unions were legalized in Canada; Ulysses S. Grant, the general who won the Civil War just a few years before, won the US presidential election; and the Great Boston Fire destroyed 776 buildings in the financial district. Born that year were Zane Grey (famous American writer), Bertrand Russell (Nobel prize in Literature), Bill Johnson (jazz great said to have influenced Louis Armstrong), Roald Amundsen (Norwegian explorer of the South Pole), and Elias Armaly, my grandfather. 141 years ago!!

My father was self-employed and his business necessitated a considerable amount of travel around the Province of Ontario and when we were of an age where muscles developed and could be put to good use, he brought my brother and I along to be laborers.Trips were usually around 4 hours one way. One trip took us to Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of 12 hours one way! So there was a lot of time to listen to my dad’s version of entertainment, classical music, opera, and talk shows on CBC Radio. Mostly we just listened and kept to ourselves but sometimes we talked. Really, what can a guy approaching 60 talk to young teenagers about? Yet, he tried and did find things.  I remember he asked me once, out of the blue, why I liked the music of Stevie Wonder.  Not sure why he knew that. Maybe he was just guessing.

One time I recall he spoke about his father, the guy I never knew, the guy born in 1872.  Maybe he brought it up because I called into question the 10 year age gap between he and our mother. Nothing negative was implied by me and he didn’t take it as such. I remember he suggested it was normal, given his parents had an 11 year gap. He said men took time to grow up. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. I do now.

I like knowing I have a tenuous link to those names I mentioned above. I like knowing I have a close blood link to someone born only 5 years after Canada. I like knowing I have a close blood link to someone born only 7 years after the US Civil War ended. Much as I admire his body of work, I doubt Daniel Day Lewis can claim the same.

 

 

Why write?

I bumped into a friend the other day at the St. Lawrence Market, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of months.  During our chat he mentioned that he’d been reading and enjoying the posts in this blog of mine.  I was touched and thanked him, and also said that it’s interesting he likes it since this blog violates a fundamental principle of blogging.  That is, it doesn’t really have a singular focus on a topic or theme.  I admitted to him that I’m all over the map with my commentary and maybe that’s because I don’t do it to accomplish anything other than to satisfy a keen personal interest in writing.  I blog because I like thinking, and I enjoy the mechanics of transcribing thoughts to written word. If you read this blog, you might think it does not make complete sense all the time or even part of the time. That’s okay because  it’s not about the reader. 🙂 It’s about my wish to express thoughts and tell stories, as a means to understand myself and the world around me.

I’m being a little glib when I say it’s not about the reader but just a little. It’s the same attitude I have about my engagement with Twitter (@peterarmaly). I tweet for the same reasons I blog, for the enjoyment I receive when sharing thoughts and opinions.The number of followers I have is a minor consideration. I acknowledge that a voice needs an ear in order for sound to be heard but a voice can also do its thing even if there is no ear there.

I’ll finish with a quick story. I was about 8 years old and I had written a tale about an astronaut on a space walk. He ran into some sort of trouble which caused his tether cable to snap and there was no way for him to be rescued. He had an oxygen tank and the short story was mostly about his thoughts of life and loneliness as he drifted slowly into the void, waiting for the oxygen to run out. Waiting to die. My mother loved it and I recall one of my older sisters WOW-ing about it. I was embarrassed because it was never meant to be read by anyone (I had hidden it within a book in the bookshelf) and declared that I wanted it destroyed. My sister argued with me but in the end my mother sided with me and said, “Your stories are yours; you don’t have to let others read them. Lots of people would probably love to but it’s okay to let your imagination create for the pleasure it brings to you alone.”

Egos, two takes

This post is not about Lance Armstrong. But it is about ego.

Remember Mike Laziridis?  The creator of the smartphone?  He is, unfortunately, probably better known these days as one half of the team that messed up Research in Motion and tanked the future of Blackberry through hubris (my opinion) and poor management (pretty much everyone’s opinion).  Anyway, he’s been quietly going about building something new out there in the Mennonite farm country of Waterloo, Ontario.  And it’s not something that will likely have a significant impact until after he’s well past the normal retirement age. It’s quantum computing and simply put, because the article in that link gets a little technical, it will allow for an exponential increase in speed at which a computer can do its thing. We’re not talking about a doubling or a tripling of speed. We’re talking about a quantum leap (sorry), of orders of magnitude faster than today’s fastest super computers. Star Trek fast, in the way that Data could deliver an answer to any question as quickly as he took a breath. That’s really, really fast. And because it has the potential to so profoundly change our lives, the fact that Mike is investing massive amounts of personal wealth and will only see the early stages of the project’s benefits speaks, to me anyway, to ego in a different way than say for Lance the Eternal Blood Doper. My impression is that Lance’s ego is about basking in glory now, as a craving for power over others, and a delusional love of oneself that (tragically) comes from the unqualified applause of those others.

I do not know Mike Laziridis, although I used to know many of his blackberries very well, but I do suspect that in the matter of his investment in something that is still decades away from bearing substantial fruit, his ego is about a lasting legacy and applause that he may not get to hear.

Family values

He’s squinting which makes him look mean or unhappy, his posture is a little off-kilter, and he’s wearing a tatty old cardigan.  On the other hand, he has a name that sounds great in any time period (Elias… cut-off but shown on the window of his store), he’s wearing a nicely knotted necktie over a crisp white shirt and his hair is combed.  I’m not sure what to make of his pants that look like jodhpurs but maybe horses were one his interests.  He’s my grandfather on my dad’s side and I never met him.

grandfather

He was gone for probably 20 years before I was even born but he’s always been a force somehow in my life.  Perhaps I romanticize his influence.  After all, our lives never intersected, but the notion of a solid upbringing and the passing of enduring values cannot be easily dismissed.  I think his son, my father, channeled his father much as I often feel I channel my father.  

There’s only one other picture that I’ve seen of my grandfather, an elaborately formal family portrait in which he stood regally behind my grandmother.  Strong, erect, and almost dashing in a sort of Omar Sharif kind of way, the portrait was taken about 30 years before the one I’ve included here.  Fascinating, for me anyway, to see this rich history of him, of me one could say.

Thoughts on Twitter

I’ve been in the Twitter-verse quite a bit for the last few weeks trying to assess the value for me of the application.   I think I can draw some conclusions about it at this point.

– it’s a good way for me to keep in touch with the husband of my niece in NYC. He doesn’t use email (neither does she for that matter) but he is a strong Twitter user and here’s why.  He’s a photo artist and he captures random images in that fascinating city and posts them online using Instagram.  I love his art and getting his tweets is a simple way for me to participate in it and retweet with commentary.  This, I believe, is a perfect example of Twitter’s main strength, it’s ability to extend a message and add value at the same time.

– there’s a lot of noise, otherwise.  I follow over 200 people and that naturally creates a lot of tweet in my stream.   I actually peruse through the list because everyday I find some nugget of information I would otherwise have been unaware of.  That would be okay; my life would continue pretty much in the same way.   But each day some tweet catches my eye and stimulates a thought that allows me to learn something I didn’t know before.  This is good.

– I’m not addicted to it. There is value for me but there’s quite a bit of effort too.  I’m getting tired of some of the people I follow, finding that their messaging is too narrow, too within tight line of interest.  I suppose I wish they would show a bit of personality but then again, they may use Twitter for different reasons than me so I shouldn’t be harsh.  Still, I will continue to be judicious in who I follow and unfollow.

– it’s a great way to steer some attention to causes you support, whether they be charitable or artistic.  Basically, any cause that typically struggles to get a thin slice of society’s attention bandwidth benefits from even a single person tweeting about them, even if your following is rather small.  

That’s it for now.  I’ll probably write again about this app but it will l likely be in the context of how I utilize social media in general to promote my thoughts and views.

Census questions

Boring title, eh? Do population statistics intrigue you? Does the break-down of those statistics into race-based fractions intrigue you more?  Some people would answer no to the first question and yes to the second.  Those people will find the report called  The New Metro Minority Map from the Brookings Institution, of interest.  Since I can tell from the WordPress stats I monitor that only a small percentage of you actually click on the links I embed in my posts, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of the article by saying this.  Basically, the report concludes that the United States has tipped over the point where whites are a majority of the population.  Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians are now, narrowly, a majority.  These kinds of reports feed all kinds of analyses by governments and private agencies for all kinds of guidance and recommendations.  That’s all good.  All I want to say about this is, the analysis is good but let’s not worry about what the data may or may not say.

I look around me at the office and I see people from Jordan, India, Sri Lanka, and Sweden (and that’s all within a 20 foot radius).  If I go for a short walk to another area of the floor, I say hi to people from Hong Kong, Taiwan (a guy who this weekend is marrying someone from the Middle East), Philippines, Mexico, Germany, Jamaica, Poland, and Turkey.  You get my point.  There are a lot of people who represent a variety of ethnic, cultural, and national groups.  We all play well together.  We don’t even notice that we don’t look or sound alike, until we read a headline about a report such as the one above.

One less reason for me to turn on the TV

Google announced today that they now provide weather forecasts through Google Maps.  So now that we’ll be able to check comprehensive, combined weather and location information completely over our mobiles, we’re getting closer and closer to the day where I will have zero reason to turn on the television.  With the exception of a couple of on-demand shows, the televisions in our home remain quiet and dark for probably 99% of time in any given week and month.  We get most of our news information online or the radio, or even via the traditional newspaper.  Better yet, I wait for weekly and monthly periodicals to get more intelligent reporting and analysis of news events.  Getting weather information was always something for which we looked to the TV.  Maybe not so much anymore.

I bring this up to make a point about the importance of maintaining relevance.  I’m not just talking about the rapidly fading relevance of traditional television broadcasting (that business model had its heyday, made many people piles of cash, but it got lazy and slow. Its managers and owners didn’t think to look around and pay attention). Maintaining relevance is true for individuals, as well.  The world constantly changes in the 360 degrees that surround us.  It’s always been so; it just seems more rapid now that there are so many ways to hear about the changes.  The key is to pay attention, to initiate required personal improvements and not wait until someone tells you that your relevance has waned.

Customer Service Stories – part II

One of my more popular posts (based both on comments and on the viewer metrics that WordPress collects) was called Customer Service Stories.  Clearly, that topic cuts across just about every societal and geographic boundary so I can’t resist offering up another story.

A friend was in town visiting the offices of Eloqua, my new employer.  This friend is from a company I used to work at and since I’m the Director of Premier Support, I thought it would be nice to take her and one of her colleagues out for lunch.  We zipped around the corner to a restaurant that specializes in healthy and delicious sandwiches/wraps/crepes, salads, smoothies, and soup.  I’d been there twice before and felt it would be a reliable choice to take clients.

I ordered a sandwich while my lunch mates mulled the choices on the extensive menu.  When they finally placed their order, the unsmiling girl informed the one that she couldn’t have any avocado with her “Turkey and Avocado Sandwich” since they hadn’t had avocado at the restaurant in a week.  (I passed bushels-full at a nearby green grocer on the way to work that day) But, she said, they would be able to substitute something else.  An alternate order was placed, this time for a crepe. “We don’t serve crepes anymore.  We haven’t for a long time.”  This was said as we all gazed up confusingly at the crepe menu above her head.  The girl waited.  “Okay, then I’ll have a tuna wrap and a soup.”  “You can have the wrap but we don’t have any soup today.”  I looked over at the soup pot, the one with the sign reading, “Home-made Soup” leaning against it.

Well, you know what happened after that.  No, we did stay and eat whatever food we managed to finally get but there is no doubt that the restaurant will never see me again, nor any of my customers and friends.  And the restaurant industry wonders why the failure rate is so high.

Social media and the occasional need to unplug

I unplugged last week, went north with my wife to our cabin in the woods near Parry Sound.  We brought our two nieces with us for a week of peace in the pure air and sunshine of cottage country, accompanied by the call of loons during the day and wolves at night howling at the crescent moon.  Without electricity, life completely slows to the pace of a moment. It’s de rigueur to say we should “live in the moment” but as we all know, it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Being away though at a place where electricity is sparingly used for lights (because I installed only a small solar power system) and water is collected as it falls from the sky, a person can’t help but be mindful of how he goes about living the day.  It’s very therapeutic.  Too bad our decision-makers can’t bring themselves to completely unplug and go away for awhile.  It makes you wonder that if they did, whether we would still have the real and manufactured crises we have.

It’s only slightly related but I read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal called, Social networks can’t replace socializing, in which the author, Jonah Lehrer, argues that we should treat skeptically the notion that social networks can effectively imitate face to face conversations.  I agree. I’m a fairly active user of social media but I don’t ever consider it as enjoyable as having conversation with friends over dinner, for example.  There’s no way technology can master or adequately represent the nuances of human facial expression or voice intonation, let alone the shared experience of consuming food and wine.  Mr. Lehrer goes on to cite other predictions of the past where communication technology was inevitably going to make obsolete the need for face to face communication.  The predictions seem absurd now and so will the latest one that Facebook and Google + will eventually replace the need for people to physically meet.

Why are these ideas related?  Because, in the end, humans need to unplug at times, whether it’s by removing themselves to a remote cabin in the woods or by calling friends over for beer and BBQ ribs on the back deck.  There’s no way social media can replicate these things and as Jonah Lehrer says, “…  the winner of the social network wars won’t be the network that feels the most realistic. Instead of being a substitute for old-fashioned socializing, this network will focus on becoming a better supplement, amplifying the advantages of talking in person.”