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NetSuite World 2015

NetSuite’s annual shindig is just winding down now, and I wanted to put my thoughts together before they become stale. They are likely to be the only stale thing about the experience. I plan to either update this post with more specifics or (more likely) write another to cover them.

First, I have to confess a bit of failure on my part. I arrived at the show a day later than I’d planned, so I missed a lot of the opening news surge and had to catch up as best I could. It wasn’t quite good enough; I did my best posting the highlights of what I heard and saw, but I was always on the losing side. NetSuite is a company that engenders tremendous love among its partners and customers, so there’s always a lot to take in when they throw an event. This one was big enough that it was possible to miss a lot while staying busy, but not big enough that trends were easy to spot.

NetSuite remains one of the most vibrant ERP vendors in the world (more impressive than it sounds) and provides the operational and financial technology backbone for a large variety of companies. Despite the ERP focus, NetSuite continues to look and feel from the outside rather like a CRM vendor. To be fair, this is because it includes, overlaps with and ties into CRM by design, and in fact is a sensible choice for companies seeking a combined front- and back-
office system. The NetSuite environment is one that lets its users create a great customer experience.

Maybe it’s my personal and professional bias towards CRM and customer experience, but most of what I encountered here was that sort of thing. From the Bronto acquisition (email marketing for e-commerce) to the application updates to the keynotes, everything revolved around ways to improve the customer experience. I am obviously all for this, but it always strikes me as strange that an ERP company doesn’t try a little harder to focus its message for the back office. Maybe that’s confidence in the product, or maybe it’s a gap in the messaging. NetSuite is fairly successful, so it’s likely more the former than the latter.

Every so often, somebody asserts that CRM is dead. If that’s so (and it isn’t, at least not in the sense that those people mean), it’s because of companies like NetSuite and its competitors. They provide such a broad range of interlinked applications that it’s
sometimes hard to say where CRM ends and something else begins. This is OK for those of us industry watchers who say CRM is as much about attitude and strategy as it is about technology, and it’s easier for us to describe our expertise simply as enterprise software.

Open World 2014, open

So it’s official: Unless something bad happens, I will once again be in attendance at Oracle Open World this year. This is the second confirmation on my summer/fall conference list. (The other, CRM Evolution, was set months ago.) More to follow as they come.

Open World 2014 is the last week of September into October, so Big Red isn’t exactly waiting for the last minute or anything. This year’s AR/PR team has some new faces mixed with the veterans, and I know the experience, if not the same, will be just as good. Oracle has traditionally done a very good job with the cushier aspects of making potential critics feel welcome.

I’m looking forward to the conference, as usual, and figure now’s as good a time as any to ask readers and followers if there’s anything specific they’d like me to look for while I’m there. For my own part, I want to see a summary of how the half-score of Cloud initiatives launched last year have fared. Call me lazy—I do it all the time—but while I know how several of them have done, I want somebody to help out with broad context.

For another thing, I have to admit I am still excited by the Big Data and in-memory computing products that were on display last year. Big Data is tired and even a bit inaccurate, as buzzwords go, but the concepts behind bringing supermassive analytics to business users still astounds me. That and in-memory computing really appeal to the geek in me, even though I’m not competent with hardware.

Most of all, I will get to share thoughts and arguments with some of the finest minds in enterprise computing. I always come out of these things energized and enlightened, so I can pass on what I’ve learned.

Customer experience, via Ciboodle

[Disclaimer: Sword Ciboodle is a client of mine, and I’m posting this in response to a request from my liaison and friend Mitch Lieberman. While that’s the motivation, the opinions in this post are my own, and I have editorial control.]

Customer experience is a term that covers a lot of ground. Some get into the meta-experience of being a customer in a world where businesses compete loudly and intrusively for attention. Others use it to describe the look and feel of a brand when customers interact with it—what it means and how it feels to be a customer of that company.

I’m on board with those, but I am an especial fan of a third idea (imagine that!) related more to the second than to the first. Customer experience in this case is what a customer must go through to be your customer. Practically speaking, what happens when they have a question or comment? How often do you expect them to want to hear from you, or to reach out to you? What do your customers say about you to each other? Most importantly, what do they want from the relationship?

The good people at Sword Ciboodle have turned out a white paper on the topic of Total Customer Experience. You can see the paper on their site at the previous link, or here on Customerthink. Not surprisingly, Ciboodle gets it right.

The paper leads with an important figure: 86 percent of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, up from 59 percent four years ago. That’s taken from the Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Report, an important study that I and many of my colleagues refer to each year it comes out. Customers are getting more frustrated with companies’ attempts to get and hold their attention, and are less forgiving than ever.

Why, you may ask? The old standard from Cool Hand Luke: failure to communicate.Another telling figure, this one from the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, is that 88 percent of CEOs said “Getting closer to customers” is their top priority for their business over the next five years. As the following chart from that study shows, this is probably a Bad Idea.

Customers and businesses are different animals. As much as we talk about community, co-creation of value, and relationships, the fact remains that there is a power imbalance. Customers hold all the power; they do not want you to get closer to them unless it is to give them what they want. And the bad-experience figure quoted above shows that customers are readier than ever to drop you like a wet hairball if you cross them.

The Ciboodle paper goes on to discuss how to allow for the disparity in customer and executive priorities—how to get closer by giving customers what they want, how they want it. I won’t spoil it for you—it’s twelve pages of good work, and I want you to read the whole thing, not just my opinion of it—but there are some key points to consider.

Be sure you know where your customers are and what they value;

Be sure that your infrastructure is in place and your fundamentals are sound; and

Be cautious of the shiny new objects which can distract you from youre core customer service focus.

The bit about shiny new objects is especially important. Of course the other two points are as well, because if you don’t know your customers and have the means to serve them, you’re in more trouble than a white paper can solve. But we have all fallen in love with the possibilities of social CRM, and what we can do with the technology that enables it. Those tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves; if they don’t first answer the core need of serving customers, they have no place in your company. Integrating new tools with your existing CRM approach must be done in a way that doesn’t annoy your customers, or they won’t be your customers anymore.

Personal Update; Real Business to Follow

Hello, all. I realize that this page hasn’t seen an update in quite a while. I wanted to take a quick moment to explain why.

Without going into too much detail, let me just say that early 2011 has been a total crapstorm for me personally, to the extent I had to curtail some of my professional responsibilities. I had to become a temporary full-time caregiver at the same moment I was trying to change apartments, while coping with the New York Snowpocalypse and also getting a sudden uptick in business inquiries. The two good things on that list synergized with the two bad ones, and the result was paralysis.

Things are (much) better now, and you’ll see a return to form in very short order. I owe you lot an update on Sage North America and Salesforce.com at the very least, and I’ve got some opinions to share on a host of other topics as well. I’m trying to forget about the changeover from 2010 to 2011, and will be thinking in terms of the Year of the Rabbit until further notice.

That’s how it goes with us social media guys—sometimes we share too much. Talk to y’all soon.

—Marshall

Message Perspectives: Salesforce.com

As promised, here’s my evaluation of Salesforce.com’s messaging, as compared with that of RightNow Technologies. This is the continuation of a previous article, so please read that one for any context you might find absent.

Salesforce.com is a big company. It’s on its way to being a $2 billion company, with current annual revenues of approximately $1.7 billion and growing. Despite this, the company still tries to position itself as an upstart, leading the software-as-a-service revolution against the entrenched interests of traditional software vendors. In many instances, it succeeds—but there’s no question that it is an established business in its own right.

Like many other big businesses that have reached “mission-accomplished” phase, Salesforce.com keeps adding new pieces to its core value proposition. It does this by adding “clouds,” of which it can now boast more than a half dozen. These include:

  • Sales Cloud
  • Service Cloud
  • Jigsaw Data Cloud (new this year)
  • Chatter (the collaboration cloud)
  • Force.com development platform (development cloud)
  • Database.com (cloud database, coming soon)
  • AppExchange (the application marketplace cloud)

Somebody at Salesforce.com will probably want me to clarify that all of these things exist within Cloud 2, the next-gen cloud computing world that is way advanced over everybody else’s cloud.

While it irks me to no end that there are multiple clouds instead of a single cloud with multiple possibilities, I understand Salesforce’s desire to compartmentalize its many available functions, and to differentiate itself from other SaaS providers. But the end result is what I have decided to call the Hype Cloud.

Salesforce.com is always innovating, and provides the tools for businesses of all kinds to transform their operations and achieve greater closeness to their customers. Its industry events (such as Dreamforce) illustrate these points, and do a lot to increase enthusiasm—but sometimes it feels like a circus.

It’s hard to imagine the company any other way, though. All this drive and energy comes from Marc Benioff and the team of extremely talented individuals he’s assembled. I seriously doubt that Salesforce.com would be anywhere near as big or successful with another person at the helm. Marc is a great showman—probably a shade too great for my personal taste—but he is also a shrewd businessman, a steady leader, and a philanthropist. He believes his message, and he believes in the causes he supports.

The showmanship may have led the company into a strange place. The Salesforce.com message has changed so much in the time I’ve been paying attention that the starting point is barely recognizable from the current position. There’s very little messaging about sales force automation, or CRM in general, despite CRM being the company’s NASDAQ stock ticker. The ability to create and trade apps on the AppExchange hasn’t gotten much press lately either, although it was the company’s lead for a couple of years. (I expect it to make a comeback now that database.com and Heroku are part of the story, but this remains to be seen.)

If I had to say what Salesforce.com’s message is, rather than what it isn’t, I’d go with it being a provider of possibilities. You can run your business with the core functions of SalesforceCRM. Internal communications and customer outreach are available via Chatter. You can add your own business functions designed on Force.com, and even sell them on AppExchange. You can manage mobile apps via database.com, which by the way is going to be open-standards for your convenience. It’s not quite operating-system-as-a-service, but it’s starting to get close.

The flexibility of Salesforce.com is clearly one of the company’s main strengths. Could it also be a weakness? Maybe so—when you have a product as broad as Salesforce.com, operating in what’s already called a cloud, one can be forgiven for thinking the benefit of a relationship with the company is a bit … nebulous. With most other vendors, you know what they do and what they don’t do. Salesforce says, “What don’t we do?” and that leaves a lot of room for a competitor to steal deals off the table. I don’t know how often this happens, but I do wonder.

All of this criticism, though, comes from a place of respect. Salesforce.com built itself into a billion-dollar company in a decade, and continues to be the most vocal proponent of cloud computing. It donates heavily to what I consider good causes, and helps businesses serve their customers better. I think Marc and company can take a little flak from me.

Still Evolving

Last week a lot of very smart people gathered in New York for CRM Evolution 2010, and it was fantastic. Let’s start with kudos to conference chair Paul Greenberg and CRM magazine’s David Myron for putting together a great three days. As reported by Paul, the show’s attendance was nearly double the previous year’s for the second time in a row.

It’s not just numerical growth that encourages me, though of course greater attention to the disciplines and technologies of CRM is always a Good Thing. Who attends these things is at least as important as how many. The link to Paul’s ZDNet blog I gave you in the last paragraph should give you an idea of the brainpower in attendance, and these folks weren’t there to sniff around—they came to teach and to learn, to make alliances and discuss plans. The link, and those found when you follow it, probably do a better job of summarizing the event than I can hope to, but I have a few thoughts anyway.

There was a different buzz in the air than there has been in previous years, a feeling that our efforts are coming together into something greater than the sum of their parts. Social CRM is a movement now, not a fad or a trend.

The structure of the conference changed this year as well. CRM shows are typically arranged along three tracks: Sales, Marketing, Customer Service. Sometimes there’s a Strategy piece thrown in, or a nod to Social CRM/Enterprise 2.0, but it’s usually all about the three main silos CRM has struggled to break down. This time, the tracks were Traditional CRM, Social CRM, and Implementation. Each track had a fair amount of conceptual overlap with the other two. It acknowledged that these are not areas that can truly be separate, that there will be interplay and it will be beneficial. I’m not always comfortable with separating social CRM from the traditional brand, since they are interdependent and it perpetuates the belief that CRM is a failure, but this year’s structure worked for me.

The down side to the three tracks and the relatively small size of Evolution 2010 was—honestly—too much goodness in too small a space. There were several times when no matter which session I chose to attend, I was guaranteed to miss something excellent in the other rooms. Fortunately all the track sessions were recorded, so I can spend the rest of the month catching up.

I’ll need that month, because I missed a lot of good content; not just because of crossed schedules, but because of all the meetings I took. No matter where you went, people were busy getting the word out about new applications and services. I heard enough to make me very optimistic about the future. I also did a lot of socializing, but never at the expense of learning. My colleagues and my friends are increasingly the same people, so how can I complain?

Shameless Plugs

This is a good-news post: I’ve been named a finalist in this year’s Azbee awards for my work on Pint of View, the monthly column I write for CRM. Given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, the Azbees recognize the best work being done in the industry, and I’m honored to be considered. I’ve won a few before, and so has CRM itself. We go up against publications like Businessweek, so it’s especially gratifying to play at this level.

If you’re interested—and I just know you are—you can see the specific columns they’re using for considering me here (June 2009) and here (October 2009). To get the full effect, you might want to look at the Digital CRM editions here and here.

Also on the subject of my dear friends and former employers: I’ll be moderating a panel discussion at CRM Evolutions 2010 in New York City, with participants from Lithium, Radian6, and Jive Software. We’ll be discussing the newest trends in customer engagement through social media on Wednesday, August 4 at 10:00 AM. Based on the list of attendees and sponsors (not to mention the tremendous amount of work the CRM mag folks put into every conference), I think this is going to be a great event.

Summing Up the Dreamforce Keynote

I was planning to put this in my other post (see previous), but I was forced to clutter that space with live updates when I reached my Twitter limit. I’m not the only person who hit that particular wall–friend and respected blogger Esteban Kolsky got locked out as well, and I’m sure a number of others were as well. Look for Esteban’s post on why this is a bad thing, coming soon to a link near you once he posts it (and I update my blogroll–I’ve been a bit lax).

By now you’ve likely heard a fair amount about today’s biggest news, Salesforce Chatter. To sum it up nice and tight, Chatter is a new, more collaborative and intuitive interface for business applications. It’s the Collaboration Cloud. If Facebook and Twitter had a child, and that child grew up and got an MBA, it would be Salesforce Chatter. Feeds, status updates, groups, messaging–it’s all there, along with the dashboards and everything else we’ve come to expect from good CRM. Chatter can integrate social contacts from customers into the mix and provide context for it all. Even better, Chatter will be standard on all editions of Salesforce.com, Force.com, and related products. Outsiders can acquire access for $50 per user, per month.

At least, that’s what Chatter will be. It’s not due until the end of 2010, which is a long way off. Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff went out of his way to point out the portion of Salesforce.com’s safe harbor statement that says the company is not responsible for what might be vaporware. That’s out of character for Marc, who usually waves his hand in the general direction of the statement and makes a joke.

But the other thing that was out of character was the level of energy Marc brought to the event. This is not to say he’s usually laid back when presenting–far from it. Today’s level of bombast, though, was one step beyond. Either Marc Benioff is very excited about his new Collaboration Cloud (which is likely), or he wants us to believe he’s very excited about it (which is also likely, CEOs having certain responsibilities and whatnot). Chatter is a big deal, and it will change the way business gets done, once it’s released.

I asked about just how Chatter will change business processes, but Marc’s take on the situation is that business is already changing to accept this model, and Chatter is the first tool that allows companies to do so securely, in an orderly manner, and with scalability. However, as Kraig Swensrud (SVP of product marketing) said in a followup interview, Chatter is not Twitter or Facebook. Just as we use business email and personal email differently, the internal and external feeds of Chatter will have their own character. Surfing the Web was once a workplace taboo; now it’s how many of us do our jobs. Salesforce.com hopes that Chatter will be the same.

There’s plenty more to say about this Collaboration Cloud thing, but there’s also plenty more for me to learn before I go further. My next post will probably deal with Salesforce.com’s messaging, not its applications.