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The Muddled “Customer Company” Vision


February 27, 2013

Doug Hadden, VP Products presented a vision for the “customer company” yesterday “live from New York”. A muddled vision. To be fair, far more articulate about customer centricity than what we hear from traditional ERP vendors. I tweeted throughout the event and curated some tweets.

FreeBalance is a Salesforce user, particularly for customer support as a mini multi-national corporation. We have developed processes designed to improve customer-centricity. And, Salesforce tools like dashboards and Chatter are used with commercial and open source tools to enable our global business. We’re also a technology company so have some unique insight here.

The Customer Company Journey

Salesforce explicitly links social technology with being a customer company. Technology, as we have found, enables a customer company – but is not necessary to become a customer company. Leaders in customer companies recognize that the notion of “customer intimacy” as a business model has been around for some time. The technology implications of this trend has been well-known since the 90’s as one of the disciplines of market leadership. from Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema. The trend towards customers having more leverage in the power relationship with businesses was articulated by Regis McKenna and Patricia Seybold . Not to mention how Geoffrey Moore identified the stages of the technology adoption cycle where customer-centricity was critical to success. And, the work of Peppers and Rogers at the time.

I’m saying that Salesforce is joining the party late. That’s because social technology, as Salesforce rightly point out, is changing the nature of how companies communicate with customers.

The important point is that using social technology does not a customer company make.

Organizations need to build a strategy of customer centricity (or citizen centricity). Processes of engagement and measurement needs to change. And, organizations need to constantly adapt processes to do what’s best for the customer.

Salesforce Customer Company Vision – the good, bad and ugly

Salesforce has got some compelling tools to enable customer companies. Yet, these tools can be also used by non-customer companies to generate revenue and profitability with little or no regard for the customer. As you will see below, I became increasingly distressed during the webcast about the examples used by Salesforce that seemed to include concepts such as:

  1. Prioritizing services to customers who have more social media impact than those who do not
  2. Leveraging technology like big data and predictive analytics to sell more with little regard to customer privacy
  3. Use of social technology as if it was broadcast – using it as sales and damage control channel rather than a customer engagement channel
  4. Manage marketing campaigns for shampoo or television programs without any concern of whether these products are valuable for customers
  5. Facilitate getting out the vote for an election rather than for continuous policy engagement with citizens

The best event example was the way in which a small jewellery business customizes products for customers. And, the notion of having relatively (for Salesforce) small events for customer engagement is a good customer-centric strategy. After all, Enterprise Software companies tend to be mute about new products and services until the annual user conference/shindig/media/hype event.

It has been my experience that Salesforce is far more open in customer engagement than traditional Enterprise Software companies. I’ve had engagement at a Cloudforce event and had a feature request for Chatter picked up via twitter. And, tweets with the #SalesforceLIVE hash tag were shown on the webcast event site whether positive or negative. As I’ve said before, social is was social does and Salesforce uses social channels for engagement.

Advice for Salesforce

  1. Better vision articulation to separate the technology from the strategy
  2. Advice on the why and how of customer centricity
  3. Speakers at events who have researched this business model
  4. Examples of customer engagement rather than customer manipulation at events
  5. Use of customer surveys and feedback live
  6. Salesforce muddled "customer company" vision

    As a small global multi-national, FreeBalance leverages Salesforce software for sales, marketing, support and collaboration. Salesforce provides an important tool set that enables us to be customer centric.

    Storified by · Tue, Feb 26 2013 14:15:52

    It’s not that Salesforce doesn’t suspect what a “customer company” is or is being disingenuous. They have good ideas and have some insight into what makes a customer intimate company. But, the market is weighted by the large companies. And, Salesforce is a technology company (as we are) that can often confuse the difference between function and technology.
    Are you customer obsessed? That’s the nature of a ‘customer company’ says @Benioff. #salesforceLiveSalesforce Live
    #salesforceLIVE @Benioff: a Customer Connected, Listening, Focused, Obsessed, CompanyKevin Marks
    The customer revolution #salesforcelive Hunter
    Rather than continue through the Storify, you can just read Ray Wang’s 140 character analysis.
    #salesforcelive messaging sounds like… #frontoffice is back #b2b and #b2c is dead. #custexp is kingR Ray Wang
    In much the same way that Salesforce stumbled when trying to trademark “social enterprise” (and it’s OK to me that they stopped that), the company is tripping over what it means to be customer-centric. I watched the webcast from New York on Tuesday and say the good (really customer-centric) and the bad (not customer-centric)
    Love the way @benioff gets off the stage and walks among the audience #salesforcelive Heaton
    @ldignan #Salesforce a bit confused about what ‘customer company’ is all aboutFreeBalance
    First the good: the connection between being a customer company and doing “good”. And, engaging and listening. Most importantly – the recognition that the customer can fire you.
    .@benioff: #philanthropy is the greatest drug I’ve takenFreeBalance
    RT @kevinmarks: #salesforceLIVE @Benioff: Eight questions to become a customer company: Reid
    .@Benioff is right that all industries (& government) ready to be disrupted through customer centricity #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    We may be connecting – but HOW are we connecting? It’s all based on trust says @benioff #salesforceliveGavin Heaton
    RT @SalesforceLive: Customer companies don’t just create satisfied customers, they create evangelists. #salesforceLIVEDave Humphrey
    yes, #SalesforceLIVE: in the biz world, the client can fire you at any timeFreeBalance
    #SalesforceLIVE: swarm around cases in service #cloud (we call that a #SWAT team)FreeBalance
    #salesforcelive “the client can fire you anytime by moving to someone else”Kevin Marks
    compelling #SalesforceLIVE @Benioff idea of the "social" front officeFreeBalance
    Well done @Benioff giving stage time to SMB’s. Now just get one admin up there to give us a brief look behind the curtain. #salesforceliveSteve Williams
    .@benioff on advantages of "smaller forums" to engage customers during year #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    And, the bad. The examples and verbiage related to the old way of business. Of broadcast rather than engagement. Don’t get me wrong, there is a value for old school companies to make customer processes more efficient and effective. It doesn’t make these companies “customer companies”.
    This is where I started this “Sorry #SalesforceLIVE” when the company or example was outside the parameters of customer centricity.
    IMO, find this notion of #NBC talking about "properties" seems very, very #oldmedia #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    @freebalance: LOL. Paying for TV that has commercials is very old media. ( #salesforcelive live at Knowles
    sorry #SalesforceLIVE, #NBC #oldmedia ability to sell advertising vs. #NBCfail = really bad exampleFreeBalance
    sorry, #SalesforceLIVE: being a customer company much more than reacting to problemsFreeBalance
    sorrry #SalesforceLIVE: having efficient support #cloud not necss customer-centricity b/c have to accept inefficiency of doing right thingFreeBalance
    sorry #SalesforceLIVE, customer company has nothing to do with engaging only with influential customers, it’s about doing right thingFreeBalance
    you know that marketing campaigns about the Beeb is all about being a customer company #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    apparently in a "customer company", you only care about customers with immediate impact rather than what’s the right thing #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    creepy #MinorityReport moment? @Benioff recommends that stores know what you’ve bought wehn you walk in the door #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    #MinorityReport & #Burberry as a value proposition may not be so with many #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    #SalesforceLIVE LOL moment: spiffs. that’s 21st Century ‘customer company’ stuffFreeBalance
    sorry #SalesforceLIVE, identity, #bigdata & #custserv tech doesn’t a customer company make it’s more profound than thatFreeBalance
    @kevinmarks ie opinions & actions in battleground states help win election but this isn’t citizen centricFreeBalance
    also, #SalesforceLIVE – customer companies respect identify & #privacyFreeBalance
    Then the ugly: assuming that customer centricity is a new thing. It’s the notion that technology will immediate change the business DNA. (Or pave the cow path.)
    My takeaway from $CRM’s unveiling of "Become the Customer Company": ad interruptions, black box targeting are passé #salesforceLIVE [1/2]christine nakatani
    sorry #SalesforceLIVE, being a customer company isn’t new (1 of the 3 possible "disciplines of market leaders"
    becoming, as we are, a customer company is a journey – not a destination, requires customer #innovation #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    There are implications to customer centricity for technology. My sense is that Salesforce understands many of the bits an pieces. Somehow Salesforce aspires to be advocates for the ‘customer company’ concept but gets bogged down by technology categories.
    mind you, not unusual for tech types to see social change in terms of the bits of enabling tech #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    "There are 9 things that are creating the #CustomerRevolution." ~ @Benioff, #CEO, @Salesforce at #SalesforceLIVE Jeans
    seriously, being a customer company has less to do with tech as enabler + more about process, vision, mandate #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    sorry, #SalesforceLIVE, correspondence management has been around since the 80’s (not on the #cloud)FreeBalance
    The holy grail of the social enterprise is collaboration, and connectivity/integration, says Unilever’s CIO #salesforceliveCRM
    RT @servantofchaos: POV: The internet of things will transform customer experience and Salesforece are onto it #salesforceliveR Ray Wang
    brilliant #SalesforceLIVE comment: the ‘Stockholm Syndrome" of #EnSw implementationsFreeBalance
    Bruce Richardson: customers no longer want the 3 year #SAP implementation #SalesforceLIVE (tho, don’t have to be the CIO whisperer to knowFreeBalance
    no question that #Salesforce marketecture diagram clearer than most #EnSw firms (perhaps b/c of less c/s legacy?) #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    .@Benioff: customer companies don’t silo technology #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    IMO: #mobile @Salesforce apps more usable/elegant than web versions #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    In today’s market, in order to connect with customers "We are all technology companies" @Benioff #salesforceLIVETravis Dion
    .@Benioff: we’re all becoming "apps companies" #SalesforceLIVEFreeBalance
    We have to respect the struggle Salesforce takes to adjust products and messages. Sure, the company operates in many ways as a traditional enterprise software company with slick PR. But, unlike traditional players, Salesforce engages the community in deeper ways. Case in point: some of my feature requests about Chatter were managed via Twitter.

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    Doug Hadden

    Doug Hadden

    Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
    Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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