Attensity Acquires Biz360, Shows Roadmap to Social CRM

Today Attensity – an analytics and eService vendor –  announced they were acquiring Biz360 – a community and social media monitoring vendor.  Biz360’s main product will be relabeled Attensity 360 and be offered as part of the Attensity portfolio, pricing will be similar to what is available today.  Attensity announced earlier this year a partnership with Radian6 to analyze the output from Radian6’s tracking and monitoring.  They are now embedding those capabilities in their product for a deeper integration, although they will continue to work with Radian6 and similar solutions that want to leverage the Attensity analytics engine.

During a briefing with them earlier this week we discussed the commingling of assets and the resulting solution.  One of the key points, at least for me, is that Attensity now has all the components in place to offer three things:

  1. A more complete solution for their eService product by adding community and social media monitoring and tracking
  2. A tighter integration between their analytics product and social media monitoring
  3. A roadmap for a SCRM product by integrating the three main components of SCRM: analytics, CRM functionality, and social media.

Of course, the key question is whether or not this will work (operationally speaking), to which I can say that since I was not involved in the due diligence looking at the architectures technologies I have no idea.  You should be cautious as to the promises, manage and monitor your risks factors, but I see no roadblocks to execution.  Both companies have embraced open and hosted models for their solutions, and they both can be deployed on a SOA with integration provided by the core architecture.  At the very least, you would end up with two hosted products with tight integration.  At the very best, with a SCRM solution that offer service and support.  I do have faith in them, have been working with Attensity for analytics and Empolis and Living-e for eService for some time and they do deliver on what they promise.

Of course, I will continue to work with them to push them to do better — so you always have that to mitigate risks…

What do you think? Should Social Media, Analytics, and CRM functions integrate to create Social CRM? Something else missing from that – no pun intended – analysis?

disclaimer: Attensity is a client, Biz360 is not — rather it is now (darn, I just engage with them last week).  Attensity did not pay me to write this, or to publish it, or to do much about it.  My access to information was not privileged as I received no advance notice beyond what normal people (who just happen to be analysts) would.  The opinions above are mine, duh, and they represent my evaluation of the current situation.  If you happen to find this post in, say 30 years, and you make decisions then based on that — your loss, not mine. Disagree with my opinions (and you are not a competitor or stalker-type)? Comments are wide open for you to use.

How to Solve the Problems of Social X

I wrote this post before on deciding what is the problem we are trying to solve with Social X (where X represents media, CRM, Business, etc.).

Today I want to take a few moments to tackle something that is a pet peeve of mine: how to solve the problem you have identified.  There are two schools of thought to solving problems: pragmatical and academic (at least from my perspective, I am sure someone can point me to 1,200 more models — but in my experience in the business world, one of these two is the approach chosen).

Pragmatical, my choice, focuses on what has worked in the past, how it has worked, the lessons learned, best practices gathered and applies all of them to a new problem.  I did not say you attack each new problem the same way — that does not work.  You just take the lessons your learned, deconstruct the new problem, and figure out how to use what worked before in this new problem.

Academic is the one that bothers me (I am being honest here).  Yes, there are excellent pieces of research produced — most of it via observation and scientific methods.  The vast majority of them were great conclusions of specific studies that were done at some time in the past 5-10 years.  In controlled situations.  Looking for a specific answer.  Knowing what the results would or should look like (stop me when you see the flaw in this reasoning).  In other words, if the world was perfect and we could simply produce the best possible scenario for each of these studies – we could replicate them and get the same benefits.  Maybe.

Alas, the world is not perfect.  A study that proved that in 2005 a group of retailers that applied a new theory of managing relationships got a 20% increase in sales is not likely to be applicable today.  Not only has the economic situation changed, the retail industry has changed, the technologies we have available have changed — even the way we understand retail and customers has changed!  How do you expect to have similar results?  Or even close?

Besides, as the Generation C (or the Social Customer if you don’t like Paul Greenberg’s description of the generational shift we are undergoing) changes the way the interact with organization and the balance of power and control changes — don’t you think the previous theories will prove to be wrong under these new settings?

Of course, the cynical in you is asking, other than ranting — why is he going on-and on about academic versus pragmatic?  We are reaching an inflection (sorry – 1.0 term, the 2.0 would be tipping) point in the market and this is the time when knowing what to do becomes critical. Action driven by knowledge of what works is essential to success.  And what works in a new, unproven model is not what worked before.  Simple, ain’t it?

So, where to now? Easy.  Let’s collect the war stories (lesson learned, best practices, choose the word that you like best) from those who are doing something right (even those that did something wrong and learned from it) and begin to build a collective knowledge of what this new thing is and how to solve the problems.  Let’s be very pragmatic about it, if it worked once it is likely to work again in somewhat similar circumstances.  If it did not work the first time — well, it could still work under different circumstances.  As my friends in Montana like to say – if you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes.  In other words, if it did not work before, wait for a change in market conditions and try again.

Through all this change keep in mind one thing: this is a business transformation  — we are writing the theory that will be proven by academics and then drive business for the next several decades.  At the very least, have fun doing it.

What do you think?  I am wrong in claiming that there is a difference between academics and pragmatism? Are we really transforming the business and searching for new models?  Would love to hear you thoughts…

SugarCRM Introduces SugarCRM 6.0 (and the crowd goes wild…)

I am going to get this out of the way right now: I am not a big proponent of Open Source for Enterprise Applications (feel free, the comments section is all yours).  I totally believe in the concept of Open Source, I am just not sure of how well it works for mission critical applications.  My experience has always been that most organizations that embrace Open Source are just looking for cheap solutions and not too concerned about the quality and innovation that Open Source can bring with it.  In term, that becomes a problem for the vendors providing extensions 0r support for Open Source applications, since they have to deliver what their clients are asking for (cheap, not always good).

I was at SugarCon last week (I was there to participate in a Social CRM track, which will be covered in a further post) and decided to listen to the keynote.  Honest truth? I was not expecting much: just a couple of minor announcements, maybe a new version release that followed in the steps of the previous version with 2-3 more features, things like that.  What I saw and heard was a company that has changed the way we have to look at Open Source for Enterprise Applications.

Where does SugarCRM get the idea that they can take an Open Source application and turn it into an enterprise-ready, fully comparable solution to commercial vendors? The gall, I tell you…

They announced SugarCRM 6.0 (available later this year, so this is all still slideware and demos until then) last week with these four key improvements:

Its all about the cloud – I said before that starting now and for the next few years we will become a lot, if not all, about the cloud when it comes to technologies.  Also wrote about platforms becoming the next battle zone for enterprise software applications.  I still believe that the cloud is where things will be fought, and where enterprises are headed in the near future.  To this end, Sugar’s partnership with Microsoft is quite interesting, allowing their customers to slowly migrate and take on the cloud – if that is what they need.  There is no rush to adopt it, but if they want to move into it — Azure will be there waiting for them in four potential models for deployment.  Very clever way for Sugar to support the cloud, and for Microsoft to make some name for their Azure platform (I have my reservations on the value of Azure, but I am not a cloud analyst — better people than me have said it works and I will take their word for it).

EAI for the web – One of the most lacking areas for hosted, SaaS, and on-demand applications have been integration.  One of the reasons I am enthusiastic about platforms, they can solve the issue of integration.  But, I digress.  Sugar has partnered with Snap-Logic, a vendor that creates connectors between on-premise solutions and web-based applications to be deployed in the cloud.  I talked to them for a while and looked at their offers and shows lots of potential.  Snap-Logic has created what I affectionately call an EAI (Enterprise Architecture Integration) layer for web-based applications and something that brings a lot of promise to the cloud world.  Again, very clever for Sugar to partner with them to offer integration capabilities without actually having to write the code (thus the EAI comparison).

Highly likely we will be there for you – To me this is the most significant announcement they made, and one that puts them in equal footing with on-premise and other on-demand and hosted vendors.  Sugar partnered with SIOS to provide High-Availability (HA) services.  That means that enterprises that want to use Sugar can now depend on load balancing, scalability and continuous operations no matter what.  This is significant and allows for much larger, and more mission critical, implementations to take on SugarCRM.  Now, if you were to combine the cloud and “EAI” layers mentioned above with HA — it creates a very interesting position for a CRM company to be — even more so for a platform (not that I am calling them a platform, I am just saying what an interesting position that would be).

The face of things to come – The interface for SugarCRM 5.x was rather primitive (did not use it before version 5.2, so I cannot comment on that), and that is being generous.  It almost looked like one step ahead of my first web-based application in 1995.  The new interface, using AJAX and pop-ups, is a tremendous improvement.  This is not the biggest part of the announcement, although it does make it easy to look at and navigate, but the availability of the new interface to all partners to create much better applications is a very interesting part of this announcement and one that i am looking forward to explore further when the product is released in June 2010.

So, there you have it – an Open Source company that took the challenge of becoming enterprise ready to heart and delivered a good first two steps towards it.  I like the potential, a lot.  I can see how their partners can now work in building very high-level extensions (saw some of them already at their Expo, more on that in some other post) that will create an integral solution to deliver a very comparable, very scalable solution for Enterprise CRM.

Disclaimer: I did not get paid by SugarCRM to write this, nor are they a client.  I did attend the conference as their guest, and my expenses were paid in exchange for a presentation I did in the Social CRM track (which was way cool, but the topic of another post).  These are my opinions, and they are positive because I can only see the good in people.  No, not really.  They are positive because I am focused on the potential that this can bring to enterprise applications.  Will it come through? Not my call, but I hope so.  If it does not happen as predicted, you are welcome to lend me your crystal ball next time and maybe I can get it right.  If you made your decisions solely on the contents of this posting, I do have some ocean-front property in Arizona I would like to sell to you for a steal. Do your research, look at other opinions, consider due diligence and then make your decision.  If it agrees with my opinions – cool.

SAS Introduces Social Media Analytics (and the crowd goes wild…)

Isn’t there some sense of irony that the largest analytics company in the world, with the most products and the highest scalable solutions (yeah, go ahead and tell me about better, larger, cuter companies in the comments) had not even entered the Social Media world until now?  After all, we are talking about a ready-made solution for a problem looking for one.

The problem is the amount of information organizations have to process thanks to the Social (r)evolution has grown to volumes that we could never had imagined.  I talked about this volume when I discussed how to leverage communities with analytics, but something else I learned this week really drove the point home.  Not only have we grown to processing petabytes (as in a 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000 gigabytes) on a daily basis, we have also increased the amount of unstructured data we collect.  Back in the days when I was touting Feedback as the do-all and end-all of the world I found out that 90% of the feedback was unstructured.  I learned this week that in addition to having grown that number significantly by volume it is now 95% unstructured.

That means that we need to process (in as close as needed to real time) that much data and make sense of it.  And that is where SAS shines – massive volumes, quick processing. During an interview I had with Dr. Goodnight, legendary founder and CEO of the company, he discussed how they are moving to do all processing in memory since it has become as inexpensive as storage once was (OK, done name-dropping — although I do admire him).  And the speed of processing cannot be matched — heck, it cannot even be compared.

Now that they can process obscene volumes of data very, very fast we are ready to tackle the volume of social noise to extrapolate a signal out of it.

Their Social Media Analytics solution is very complete and CRM Guru Paul Greenberg wrote a detailed  review of it that you should read (including my favorite demo-feature, timelines and sliders and emphasizing the company culture – a key aspect to their approach).  I cannot think of much they are missing in their attempt to enter the market and become competitive immediately.

Alas, there are three features I really, really like in this release (and, if you followed my live-tweeting you already know) that I consider game-changers:

First, they have created a unique way to manage influencers.  OK, so the fact that they have influencer management is pretty big by itself – acting as a first level filter for the noise captured, but even bigger is the fact that users can manage rules to both identify and analyze key influencers.  In other words, the notion of who exerts influence in any specific market or situation is not limited to a pre-established opinion, each organization can determine who their influencers are and analyze data according to the rules.  Very significant for a world that is going to depend on reputation and influence going forward.

Second, I was quite taken with the claims for accuracy.  No, not because I believe that 90% accurate is significant (actually, any solution can get to 90% with very limited learning and training, it is interesting they can claim it out of the box, but not a significant differentiator).  Rather the methodology and tools they have to help improve the accuracy over time.  This is a theme that is worth exploring in more detail — which is why I will post more details in about a week when I round up my research.

Third, they have included forecasting and trending tools that work together with their reporting of historical data (up to two years) to determine which way things should or could go, and help plan for it.  This is another example of an analytics company taking on a new problem (Socialitycs, as Mike Fauscette describes it) and giving it a total different spin, more inline with what you would expect to do  and see in analytics.

I wrote before about how platforms are the new combat zone for enterprise applications, and this release has shown how a platform can play a key role in an organization’s adoption of specific technology.  The fact that the power of this solution can be unleashed in a SaaS model, using it as PaaS component, speaks to the power that platforms can bring to the table.  We are not just talking about hosted solutions, rather the ability to use them as a platform that leverages all security, data models, business rules and all other information already existing in the organization.  That is going to change how we do applications in the very, very short term.

Yes, it is expensive (starts at $5,000 per month after a setup fee of $50,000) but large brands pay more now for market research services that yield less quality analysis.  And, yes — it still needs to prove it can do it in massive scale for lots of concurrent customers, but I certainly like what I saw.  A lot.

Disclaimer: SAS invited me to their event, and paid my expenses.  Alas, I am not that cheap of a date and takes more than a few meals and hotel nights for me to “put out” and write what they tell me.  But, you already know that since you have been following me for some time.  This is all my opinion, and there are certain issues with their solution that need to be worked out — but the overall impression is that they are onto something cool.  As usual, time will tell whether I just like drooling for nothing, or got a knack for drooling over the right innovations.

Why We Cannot Get CRM (and SCRM) Quite Right

Before you look away, this is not about Social CRM definitions.

Paul Greenberg wrote a Focus brief earlier this week, comparing Social CRM and Traditional CRM.  I want to extend the thought a little bit with a post I have been writing for a couple of weeks now.  Paul’s post gave me the nudge I needed to release it before my thinking became too “outdated”.

CRM is defined, Social CRM is defined — and it keeps getting redefined each time somebody adopts it.  As it turns out each organization is different and CRM and Social CRM (even Social Business) don’t mean the same to everyone.  Want to know what SCRM or CRM is? No one but you can answer that question… but I digress.

A few weeks ago we had an editorial board discussion for TheSocialCustomer.com where we discussed how organizations can get SCRM projects approved, who “owns” them, who is running them and what content we need to  assist organizations in their efforts to become Social Businesses.  Part of the discussion was comparing CRM 1.0 (the original version, 1990-present) and Social CRM (the now version, aiming to focus on the Social Customer, 2007-present).

I kept reflecting on lessons learned the past 20 or so years doing CRM.  It occurred to me that “ownership” of CRM has almost never (with very, very, very few exceptions) been where it belongs: with the business as a whole, focused on the customer.  Instead, there has always been “someone” pushing for adoption based on their own agenda.  And this agenda is what changes the “flavor” of CRM that organizations end up adopting.

CRM 1.0 was a Sales-driven effort.  Sales Force Automation ruled while we worked in getting the other components (Marketing and Service) to work better.  The business support for CRM 1.0 came from Sales organizations and the intent of “managing” the relationships was to sell more.  Other departments and business functions leveraged what was being done (my first CRM implementation was a SFA application, and we “added” call center functions since they were included in the package).  Yes, we did Marketing — but to bring more people in.  Yes, we did Service and Support, but only to solve the problems that would allow us to sell more.  Same can be said for most other functions and deployment models we used back then — it was all about sales; it was a sales tool.

Then CRM 2.0 came along, organizations struggling to respond to the rise of the Social Customer.  Social CRM (called briefly CRM 2.0) emerged as the “company’s response to the customer contol of the conversation” (thanks Paul).  The question quickly came out, what is the purpose of Social CRM? It is to manage customers better? Is it to Sell more to them? To make them happier? To solve their problems? Unfortunately, the business did not understand sufficiently about what the Social Customer wanted or needed, so the rise of CRM 2.0 (sorry, Social CRM) was delegated to the people who are more used to dealing with customers while controlling the message: Marketing.

The Business cannot get behind Social CRM, Marketing and Communications control it as Sales did before for CRM.

If you look at how organizations are doing SCRM you will notice that Marketing, Branding, and Public Relations are the leaders in this movement.  This is why when we talk about it being a business strategy it rings hollow – only marketers are listening, while others are trying to see how they can leverage Marketing’s budget and power.

Why does this matter?  Because it means that CRM is continuing to evolve.  There will be much debate on what Social CRM is, how it works, what it does, and related questions.  There will be claims to own it, and define it, and to make it be something that it is and then something that is not.  We went through this before, and we will go through it again.

The bottom line is that CRM is about companies engaging in relationships with customers.  That has not changed,nor will it change.  Even if the focus changed to marketing and communication functions in version 2.0 (as it will change when we reach version 3.0 and shift to Service, and version 4.0 when we finally understand that it is a business-wide initiative, not driven by a business unit), it remains the same thing: evolving culture, business models, and technology that assist organizations to have better interactions with their customers.

CRM is not the end-game, nor is Social CRM a destination.  They are both stops in the evolving journey to work better with customers.

If we can agree that CRM is continuously evolving, and that it never ends regardless of what business changes we see maybe we can stop these ridiculous arguments about definitions and to see who is right and who is wrong and focus on how we can evolve into the next generation. Or two.

What do you think? Are you really focused on how to have better relationships with your customers — regardless of business function and channels? Would love to hear what you are doing.

Forget Listening and Engaging, Managing Conversations is "Da Bomb"

You probably heard the many experts telling you to listen and engage with your customers.

Do it! Today!

Get on Twitter!

Get on Facebook!

LISTEN! ENGAGE!

If you just followed the advice you already know that in the long run it just consumes resources for no gain.  Sure, you can engage with an upset customer and solve their problem – but how do you find and fix the faulty process that led to the problem?  Or, you can promote via Facebook and get lots of people to buy — but how do you know if they did come from Facebook? Did they only “fan” (or “like” you to use the more modern term) you for the special offers or coupons?  How do you retain customers and grow loyalty via these interactions?

So, if listening and engaging don’t yield tangible, long-term results – then what does?

Managing conversations.  Yes, I did use the M word… after all, you are running a business and you need to get results you can track – right?

I talked to beRelevant about this problem and demo their platform for managing conversations.  These are my impressions.

You heard me probably too many times talk about feedback being the fourth pillar of CRM, and how the sole purpose of doing SCRM is to obtain actionable insights that are then converted into process-fixes, which in turn provide better experiences.  The biggest problem you will face when trying to do this is to figure out which conversations make sense to listen and engage in, not how to capture feedback. Feedback, shows up when not expected.  You can be having a conversation about a service issue, and a customer will give you feedback.  Or they could comment with a call-to-action in your marketing materials online, or provide a killer idea on a post about your product elsewhere.

Capturing the feedback is not that hard, we have lots and lots of tools to capture it from the many different places these days thanks to Social Media Monitoring tools and the fact that every vendor figured some way to capture it by now.  It is the doing-something-with-it that becomes tricky.  Quickly you realize that you need more details.  What seemed like perfect feedback during the service call (e.g. the product should also come in brown and green) now is no longer so clear.  What parts should change colors? Just the cover? Maybe we need more colors, not just those.  Does the customer still feel the same way, or was it because they were on a “nature” week?  The lack of answers  is what thwarts the efforts to make the  feedback actionable.

Having that follow-up conversation, in a controlled environment — oh, snap; now I used the C word — and being able to make something of it is what having a conversation is all about.

You can do that with a focus group, or customer council, or whatever method you used before.  Or you could have those conversations online, using a platform that is geared to it.  That is where beRelevant comes in.  It takes the feedback, finds the author, and invites them to contribute and converse in an online, controlled, managed environment.  They make the platform that manages conversations.  And it works, from what I saw, pretty well.

This is an early release in a not-yet-born market.  As long as we continue to push the myth that management and control are bad words, we won’t advance the use of Social Media in the organization.  However, if we ever decide to actually do something with the money we are investing into social media, and we want to have meaningful conversations, a platform like beRelevant is something you need to consider.