Hey Esteban, What About the Physical Channel?

Anthony Nemelka is a long-time veteran of the CRM industry, having previously served as a senior executive at both Peoplesoft and Epiphany and most recently co-founder and CEO at Helpstream.  This is the second in his series of posts this week on “The Last Mile of Social Collaboration.”   And ending months of speculation, he’s finally letting us in on his next big venture…..

In my blog post earlier this week, I asserted that in order to really transform how businesses operate, social business collaboration faces one more big challenge. I called it “The Last Mile of Social Collaboration” and described it as follows:

“At the end of the day, business is all about getting the right stuff done. If the right work doesn’t get done, you really haven’t accomplished anything–whether it’s shipping a product, closing a sale, or fixing a bug. Making sure the most important work actually gets done is the biggest challenge for social business today. It’s the “last mile” in enabling social collaboration to transform the way businesses operate.”

After coming to this conclusion several months ago, I began to think about the skills, processes, and technologies needed to pull this off. Somewhere in the back of my head I kept hearing two voices. One was the voice of that delightful Yankees fan (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron), Paul Greenberg, who time and again has pointed out to all of us that the social part of CRM is all about engagement—engaging with the customer on his or her terms. The second voice I kept hearing was that of my Argentinean friend, Esteban Kolsky, the esteemed host of this blog. Esteban’s voice kept drilling into my head that online social collaboration is nothing more than a channel for CRM, not a replacement for CRM. To do CRM right you need to be effective across all channels, not just the so-called social channel.

(See, Paul and Esteban, I do listen to you guys, despite being a Dodgers fan—God help me–and preferring Chinese over Spanish)

These two critical insights led me to wonder that if the social side of CRM is all about engagement and online social collaboration is simply one channel for that engagement, what’s going to happen to the physical channel?  You know, that’s the face-to-face, voice-to-voice channel that in the old days was considered the only social channel. Somehow we’ve forgotten all about that channel, yet it’s the one that defines what it means to be social.

Is the physical channel doomed to extinction, permanently replaced by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Sharepoint? Are we going to find a way to integrate the physical channel with what we describe as social business? Or are we destined to abandon the very core of what it means to be social—live face-to-face interaction?

The answer lies in a comment made by @CobraA1 (whoever he/she is—how social is that?!?) in response to one of Paul Greenberg’s recent posts:

“The best CRM is a friendly smile and a great attitude.”

Wow, @CobraA1 is a genius!  And if he/she is correct, then the physical channel is alive and well. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that as long as we’re human it will always be the primary channel.

So what does all this mean, and how does it relate to the questions I posed in my previous post?  Where is all this social business collaboration activity taking us, and how are we going to address The Last Mile of Social Collaboration?

I believe the answer lies in going back to the roots of what it means to be social and applying some proven tools for effective management. From a methodology point of view, that means

  1. enabling face-to-face engagement,
  2. embracing and extending physical means of communication,
  3. integrating online social collaboration with how people work in the physical world,
  4. modifying how people interact with existing computer systems and business processes, and
  5. making it possible to constantly deliver “a friendly smile and a great attitude.”

From a technology point of view, by far the most promising technology I’ve come across that’s capable of addressing each of these requirements is commonly referred to as immersive technology. The goal of immersive technology is to pull people into virtual environments that mimic the physical environment they’re accustomed to. And, after spending a lot of time looking into it, I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing immersive technology do for business what James Cameron’s “Avatar” did for the movies. We’re about to enter a whole new world. If you want to begin to understand what that world will look like, I strongly recommend reading Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge. This book has quickly become the blueprint for immersive technology innovation by companies around the world (and will forever change the way you think about your retirement).

After reading this book you’ll easily understand why I’ve decided that my next big venture will be in the immersive technology space. And today I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted the position of President and CEO of Teleplace (www.teleplace.com), one of the leading immersive technology vendors in Silicon Valley. Together with other immersive technology companies like Proton Media, VenueGen, On24, and others, Teleplace has been quietly engineering the underlying technology required to enable large enterprises—both in the commercial and public sectors—realize the efficiency and effectiveness gains derived from integrating immersive technology with the people, processes, and technologies they depend on to effectively run their organizations.

As a veteran of the social business software community, my vision—and passion—is to apply this same technology to the challenge of bridging “the last mile” of social business collaboration, enabling enterprises of all shapes and sizes completely transform the way they do business and deliver “a friendly smile and a great attitude “ to every customer they serve. Thank you @CobraA1, whoever you are.

Yes indeed, it’s great to be back!

My Two Cents (Esteban): I talked to Anthony about Teleplace before, saw and discussed the product,  and chatted about the vision – it is so very cool!  I am very excited, and of course — as a disclaimer — they are not a client, and Anthony is a friend.

The Last Mile of Social Collaboration

Today’s guest post is by Anthony Nemelka.  Anthony Nemelka is a long-time veteran of the CRM industry, having previously served as a senior executive at both Peoplesoft and Epiphany and most recently co-founder and CEO at Helpstream.  Rumor has it he’ll be announcing his latest endeavor later this week.

We often save the biggest problems for last.  In the world of business, that’s often because problems sneak up on us so slowly that we don’t notice them until they’ve gotten really big. Such is the case with the unintended consequences of social business collaboration, also referred to as Enterprise 2.0 (#e20) or Social CRM (#scrm).

Though still in adolescence, social business collaboration has already had such a positive impact on business that few seem to question the benefits anymore.  Questions like “what’s the ROI?” have given way to statements like “help me do it better than my competitors!”  But as the benefits of social business collaboration have become clear, so too have the next set of issues—as those of you working at the forefront of social business innovation have learned all too well.

Since leaving #scrm pioneer Helpstream a year ago, I’ve been on a quest to try to figure out where all this social business collaboration activity is taking us. In hockey parlance, I’ve been trying to figure out where the puck is going to be.

To do that, I spent a year at Socialtext, learning the ins and outs of the internal side of social collaboration–complementing the #scrm experience I gained at Helpstream.  I also spent a lot of time with members of the #scrm and #e20 analyst communities, gleaning deep insights from folks on the front lines of implementation–making some close personal friendships along the way.  And I spent hours and hours talking with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are working on “the next big thing” sure to be needed by socially-enabled businesses.  I discovered a lot of very smart people out there with a lot of amazing ideas and insights, and to all of them I owe a deep debt of gratitude.

Throughout this process, though, I found myself coming back again and again to one major theme.  I sum it up like this:

At the end of the day, business is all about getting the right stuff done.  If the right work doesn’t get done, you really haven’t accomplished anything–whether it’s shipping a product, closing a sale, or fixing a bug.  Making sure the most important work actually gets done is the biggest challenge for social business today.  It’s the “last mile” in enabling social collaboration to transform the way businesses operate.

So there you have it.  That’s my big insight.  Social business collaboration’s success or failure will be determined by its ability to ensure that the right work gets done inside—and outside—the organization.

The early challenge of social business collaboration was to prove that work really does get done faster and more effectively.  But it turns out that isn’t enough.  The right work needs to get done.  As they have begun to implement social business collaboration methods, companies have found that the increase in the number of problems resolved through this type of mass collaboration has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of critical problems never resolved.  Why does this happen you ask?  It happens because of how we’re solving the problems we’re discovering in the social ecosystem.  Even though we’re solving a lot more problems, the social collaboration methods we’re using are surfacing a lot more issues, with a lot more issues going unresolved.

Here’s an example.  Before social collaboration, of 10 problems identified by an organization, perhaps 9 got solved rather quickly but 1 really tough problem remained.  With social collaboration methods in place, an organization may now get 100 problems identified and 90 of them resolved quickly by the same level of resources.  But that leaves 10 really tough issues requiring the attention of their most highly skilled, expensive resources.  So they get 81 more problems solved than before, but they’re now left with 10 really tough ones to deal with—9 more than before.  Ouch.

Don’t expect the social collaboration Genie to go back into the bottle anytime soon.  We’re not going to solve this new problem by going back to the old way of doing things.  Clear visibility into problems we never knew we had before is not going away.

What we need is a modern, social way to solve this problem–one that brings big issues to the attention of the right people, in the right way, at the right time, while allowing everyone to collaborate in real time.  Most importantly, this real time collaboration needs to become part of the social record—not just a bunch of hollow words that disappear into a speakerphone or erased from the whiteboard at the end of a meeting like they do today.

It’s a difficult problem, but answers are on the horizon.  Before I delve into those in my next post, I’d like to hear what you think about all this.  Are you seeing this problem among your clients or inside your organization?  What are companies doing to try to solve this problem?  Let me know your thoughts and I’ll summarize them in my next post while introducing some emerging technologies I’ve found that are poised to completely transform the way we think about social business collaboration today.

It’s great to be back.

The Evolution of CRM on Display in NYC

I came back from two days (technically, 36 hours) of CRM Evolution 2010 last night with my head spinning and lots and lots of new ideas.  The event was everything I expected and more, lots more.

Where to start? Quality of presentations was amazing:  Ray Wang, Natalie Petohouff, Brian Vellmure, the panel by Paul Greenberg with CRM Executives, and so much more.  I will admit that I just peeked into some of the presentations briefly, and attended parts of others — but what I saw blew me away.

Denis Pombriant was amazing in the quality and quantity of information he presented — and the topic and perspective he lent was just above outstanding.  In NPS terms, I am definitely a promoter for Denis’s Thought Leadership.  He posted his own summary of the conference if you want another perspective on it.

The presentations I missed, I got to “watch” via Twitter – thanks for Prem Kumar Aparanji, Mitch Lieberman (who stoically was up for a sunrise session at 8 AM — something I wish I could’ve done; sorry Mitch), Jacob Morgan and many others.  The quality of tweeting from the conference was incredible, with great analysis and links to more relevant information not just repeating what was said.  Very well done.

Absolutely incredible what the partnership between Paul Greenberg and David Myron was able to accomplish in just two short years: go from a vendor-led conference where each session was an advertising for their products, to the highest quality content available (and, yes, I was at other conferences recently).  The conference grew in attendance this year, beyond all expectations, but I will not be surprised if it sells out early next year.  Yes, it is that good — and the content is that superior to anything else that I have seen out there for CRM.  Thanks Paul, David, and the staff of CRM Magazine for the incredible work.

But you want to know my impressions… here we go.

  • Social CRM is not going anywhere anytime soon.  It got past the point of novelty, as it was last year, and it was firmly embedded as one more item in all presentations and all tweets I saw.  Alas, it was not the main issue, just one more — that is a great evolution from 12 months ago (yeah, bad pun – I know).  Even Oracle’s CRM Boss (Anthony Lye) who is not the biggest fan of the Social Movement discussed it in his panels and presentations as one more part of CRM (which he reiterated at dinner on Monday).  I am actually encouraged by this, I can see how it is making CRM better – not replacing it – and I am glad that the people talking and writing about it are getting the idea. [side note: I have been informed / invited to two great conferences (not related to CRM) that are being made better by adding a Social CRM track to them for this conference season – definitely not going away… and will provide more details soon].
  • CRM has more staying power than Social CRM pundits give it credit.  Not only did CRM not disappear as predicted, virtually everyone I talked to at the event agreed that spending budgets for CRM in 2011 are growing, and two-thirds of the money is being allocated to traditional CRM (the other one-third is going to Social CRM in many different models and definitions).  CRM growth will continue unabated for some time, regardless of the numbers that Gartner and Forrester and IDC will publish, mostly because companies woke up to the realization that customers are neither forever, nor easy t0 replace.  The trifecta of an economic recession, the social evolution, and the rise of analytics in the enterprise finally convinced organizations that customers won’t stand for abuse, won’t stay forever, and are always looking for more value and better interactions.
  • Analytics, analytics, and analytics. In case you ask me what  is going to be the hot topic for the next two-to-three years (lots of the presenters will agree with me here).
  • Collaborative Enterprise, Convergence, Collaboration.  Same question, but for five-to-ten years.

Paul, as I mentioned above, did a panel with four of the top five CRM vendors.  Salesforce was missing — which I cannot comprehend for the life of me.  A major conference is not the place to take a stand on — well, whatever the reason they chose not to be there.  What made that bad decision worse: CRM Magazine awarded them with best CRM solution for large, medium, and small enterprise.  I will tell them this in person – but they need to seriously reconsider their spending priorities for conferences.

Back to the panel, an interesting “vendormercial” as someone noted – but if you got past the good and bad lines, it showed the focus that each of the other vendors has for the future.  I tweeted this during the conference:

I wanted to expand on that here, since I think it is critical to understand the direction these CRM (notice I did not say Social CRM) vendors are focused on.

  • Oracle – Oracle focus is making companies run better, improve their bottom line.  They want to save them money by providing a complete stack to run the organization, hardware optimized to their apps (nee Sun), and what they need.  Oracle is going to be doing lots of avant-garde development, but not usually incorporate it into their product until it becomes mainstream.  They have a good base for Social CRM, but are not promoting it since it is not what their clients are asking for.  Once that changes and clients ask, expect acquisitions and a fast move to capitalize on their research and development investment.
  • Microsoft – Microsoft wants to provide a single solution, living in the Azure cloud, for the entire enterprise.  They would like nothing more than to have organizations standardize all their applications on Microsoft – and if they run on Azure even better.  Their applications are very focused on the jobs customers (their customers, the organizations out there) do and deliver against that.
  • RightNow Technologies – As the premier cloud member in the panel, they are very focused on extremely well run operations for their clients.  They continue to innovate by providing their customers everything they could possibly need (twitter integration? communities? knowledge management across channels? got them) — as long as they need it in the cloud.  They invested heavily in creating a “private cloud” (although not such beast exists) for the government while not losing their core architecture.  Their next frontier? Massively Large Contact Centers (and they got a good person as the “Boss” of the Center of Excellence for Contact Center – Ted Bray, I am very bullish on him and his experience and expertise).
  • SAP – SAP continues to have a technology focus, they want to have the best technology out there, the most advanced model of infrastructure.  I wrote before about their dichotomy (great technology, not so good implementation of it in their products) but recent conversations with their CRM Team is leading me to believe this technology is being implemented now.  Fingers crossed, it will be good to see SAP grow based on their innovation.

    While there I also presented.  I did two presentations, I co-presented with Michael Krigsman on the Success of Social CRM and CRM Projects (he likes to talk about failure, I like to talk about success).  I also presented my view of Customer Service in the future ten years (some habits die hard, I always did that while at the Gartner conferences).  I put the slides in slideshare if you want them, and you can also view them and / or download them here.

    I also got to talk to a lot of people.

    This was by far the best part of the event for me, as I got to catch up with people I had not seen for a while, met some twitter- and blog-people in person (like the keynote speaker, Emily Yellin, one of the most delightful people I met in a long time and a true southerner to boot; I wish i would’ve had more time to spend talking to her — she did an amazing job in her keynote), and even got to meet some people I have been admiring from a distance.  One thing that can and will always be said about Paul’s events (yes, he is only the chair on this one — but that counts): camarederie, friendship, and networking trump content.

    And that, to me, is the essence of being social.

    Were you there? What did i miss? What was the most awesome thing you saw? Did you learn something new? Was it as good for you?

    Is The Social World The End Of EFM? (Cross Posting)

    Last week I wrote a guest post on Vovici’s blog to discuss the link between EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) and Social CRM.  I want to provide you with a link to it so you can get to it if you are just getting this via the RSS Feed (OK, I was told I am not good at pointing to all my content around the web — so I will try to do so starting now).

    You can read all about it here.

    Feel free to leave comments either over there or here, I get notified of both.  Thanks for reading!

    Where Are We Heading with SCRM?

    This is a reaction to a Twitter “conversation” that needed more space to be understood.

    Last Thursday (July 29th) in the morning (the twitter timeline is not displayed in the pictures below), Prem Kumar  Aparanji (@prem_k on twitter, and one of the early and most prolific pioneers in the Social CRM movement by way of always thinking ahead of the rest of us), twitted the following:

    I thought it was an interesting question (autopoiesis refers to his post here, the definition is on wikipedia here, and Ouroboros has a definition  here — the basic concept he is tweeting about is that we stopped innovating, stopped growing the concept of SCRM) considering the heated battles for definitions and positioning we recently experimented.  He is right – we stopped moving forward with the concept.  We never did agree completely on a term and a definition, but we had some very good ones come out of it (I am going to refer to the curation that Prem has done for a list of links that are useful to compare and contrast definitions).  I think we have reached a a curious level on the way to defining a market, and said so in my tweet.

    It is fairly typical for any cycle, and a market evolution is just another cycle, to reach this stage.  It is almost as if gathering steam to continue growing.  It happens when you start a new exercise regimen, a diet, even wars reach this impasse.  What is important is not that we reached this level – but how we get out of it.  As usual, friend and fellow CRMer Paul Greenberg reached a similar conclusion ahead of most of us and wrote so in this blog here.

    Bottom line, where are we now? And, more important even, where are we going?  This is the critical step in the market; this is where we define the long-term success, or the flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder status.

    We reached the stage of Applied SCRM versus Definitional SCRM.  The conversations on what is SCRM are done; the battle for definitions are over; the “winners” and “losers” are all continuing (well, in most cases anyways).  This is no longer about what it means to be Social CRM, but what it means to do Social CRM.

    I was having a great conversation with one the most grounded people I know in this market this morning, Mr. Brent Leary, who has been writing about Social CRM a little over four years (yes, I promise you that the concept of Social CRM is at least that old).  He  confirmed something I have noticed more and more lately:  It is no longer the role of the vendors to try to define what Social CRM means, nor the role of the pundits to take on that battle (if you want a great effort at summarizing where we are, Brian Vellmure collected a great resource guide right here).  It is now the time for the users to start doing and showing us what can be done, and the time for the small startups to create amazing new things for those same companies to try.

    In other words, we turned the market from Social CRM (with emphasis on Social) into CRM doing Social (with emphasis on CRM).

    It is the time for strategizing, deploying, implementing, failing, and succeeding in taking the first steps into Social CRM.  This is what you have to do:

    Vendors – If you have a product that you want to introduce, continue to sell, or use to lead the world of Social CRM now is the time for you to differentiate your product.  The excuse we had before that there was no real market created yet does no longer work (even though we still don’t have a market).  Your customers are coming up with more detailed and complex scenarios and problems daily and they want your help to solve them.  Sure, you can resort to the old tried-and-trued model of deploying professional services to “customize” solutions — but that is not a long-term strategy.  Defining your product in terms of what it does, how it does it, and (even more important) what are the limitations is critical.  Even more important? define your Partner and Alliance Strategy so you can offer your clients and prospects more options that are known to work.

    Pundits – (I am not keen on the word influencer, and analysts seems too limited of a group) – This is where the value we provide our clients is proven: it is not about selecting and rating vendors, although that is valuable as a start, but it is about collecting the stories, best practices, and pitfalls of each vendor and publish them.  It is time to work with vendors to help them create a better message, to explain better their differentiators, to highlight better what they can do.  It is time to help end-users understand the frameworks and the “stacks”, the strategic options they have to make, and how to proceed.  Stop hyping the “maybe, could be, would be” and start leveraging the “been there, done that” to help everyone.

    Organizations – If you are considering jumping into Social CRM, this is a good time.  True, we don’t have as many “proven implementations” as we would like, but we already know what we are aiming for, what the tools can deliver, what the strategies and goals should be, and how to get there — and we are getting better at all that everyday.  Most aggressive adopters have already jumped in and best practices and case studies are beginning to appear.  There is sufficient information to generate a solid strategy on how to take the first steps into Social CRM.  Leverage that information, spread it around your organization, reach out for help (see pundits above, before vendors, for hype-less information), and craft your first strategy.  Whether you can deploy it or not, succeed or not, the first step is the hardest — and since this work is reiterative, you always gain experience that will help you improve next time.

    Press – OK, I admit that controversy sells (or attracts eyeballs, or generates publicity – or whatever metrics you are using to measure success), but to grow Social CRM we need to forgo the controversies over what to call it, who is more right or  more wrong; forget the silly battles, focus on expanding the good that is being done and written.  Leave your enemities aside and focus on what works.  This Google blog-post is an example of a good curated article that even though it calls out the differences, takes some steps towards solving them.  And the application of those solutions (including the results – good or bad) is what the Press should cover at this time.  Maybe it is time to take a lesson from true practitioners who celebrate each other’s success as oppose to compete for a place under the spotlight.

    And what are the rewards you say?

    There is no Billion dollars or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I do believe that Gartner drew a line in the sand with their postulate that there will be a Billion dollar invested, but that is not what anyone stands to gain on this.  What we all stand to gain is a set of good case studies on how to implement Social CRM (from the practitioner’s perspective – even better!), some collective best practices to continue moving forward and doing more (and better) implementations, and a whole bunch of companies ready to take the next step: convergence with Enteprise 2.0 and build towards a Collaborative Enterprise.

    Sounds like Fun! Right? What do you think? Can we just move this to the next level and start doing?

    note: If you are an end-user or practitioner already doing Social CRM (planning, strategizing, or  getting started), I would love to talk to you. Please contact me.

    Another Year(ish) Gone, How Am I Doing?

    I started this blog right before coming to CRM Evolution in 2009.  I migrated  content from a WordPress blog I had for a few months and “cheated” by adding stuff I had from older blogs — but the stats in this blog go back just about one year (the actual first date was August 23, 2009).

    I was curious as to how well (or bad, you tell me) things have progressed in the last year so I went back and took a look at what interested you the most.  Here are the top five posts (if you don’t count the pages like Know Me, Hire Me, Contact Me and Home — all of them in the top 5 as well):

    The SCRM Roadmap – Part 1 of 5
    Let’s Call a Spade a Spade (and Social Media a Band-Aid)
    A Brief History of SCRM
    Why Chatter Matters
    Debunking Three Myths About the Gartner Social CRM Magic Quadrant

    Pretty obvious that you are interested in Social CRM, Social Media, and Collaboration… but, am I missing any big topics you’d like to see me cover?

    How about your favorite? Any of the above? None? All of them?  Let me know what worked for you the best this part year(ish) and what did not. Please leave your comments with what’s good and what’s not (don’t worry, my feelings won’t get hurt).

    Thanks a lot!