Friendfeed: Inspiration for Sales Intelligence in an Enterprise 2.0 world?

Lately I’ve been spending time with enterprise sales and marketing leaders discussing what elements in the Enterprise 2.0 bag of tricks are best positioned to serve the needs of a direct sales force. Given the unique characteristics of a typical sales rep (more on that below), common participatory models that epitomize social networks (i.e. the stuff that has to do with sharing) would run counter intuitive to how a sales rep operates. That said, there’s plenty of good stuff bundled in the E2.0 moniker that absolutely can make a significant impact. I’m hoping to start a discussion of what those elements are with this post.

Having completed over two dozen sales related “voice of field/customer/management” engagements for extranet and community platform execution, it’s clear that sales reps within a given industry have very similar work patterns. I’m generalizing here but lets honestly call out some important characteristics of how a typical sales rep at a large organization rolls:

– Media watching is not a sport for sales reps. Feed them the good stuff & they’ll consume it.

– Data/Intelligence extraction over collaboration. “Give to Get” doesn’t fly with most sales reps.

– Good reps know exactly which 8.75 data types help them bust quotas. No more, no less.

– In spite of the above, don’t expect them to dig for it. They’d rather use the time to cold call a lead.

– Sales often ignore a lot of what marketing might offer or recommend.

– They don’t personalize portals & intranets.

– They rather search than browse; they want answers, not search results. (ok, who doesn’t!)

– CRM apps often morph into reporting mechanisms that sales reps are mandated to use.

– Pre-sales engineers (in the case of High Tech) often do most of labor intensive tasks in the sales cycle (assembling proposal components, finding SMEs and references, etc).

With that in mind, what kind of social architectures can truly help a sales team find and close more business? A possible answer: a seriously dummed down version of FriendFeed.

Image representing FriendFeed as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

For those of you that are not familiar with Friendfeed, it’s an information discovery platform that aggregates a user’s activity across social media services such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp and Delicious, amongst others. Dubbed a “lifestreaming” utility, you can subscribe to a persons updates, search across people profiles for topics or subscribe to “rooms” (in other words persistent search around topics) that aggregate conversations and links on a given subject. Whilst you have access to topic and people based content fire hoses you also have good control over what you see and what you don’t. Here’s my Friendfeed stream for instance and here’s the Enterprise 2.0 “room“. See Hutch Carpenters post and discussion for more on this.

Friendfeeds’ overwhelming user experience, litany of features and interaction design would never work for a sales team. However at its core I think Friendfeed serves as good inspiration to executing a sales focused enterprise 2.0 program. With Friendfeed:

– You don’t *have* to contribute to get value.
– You can follow topics or people and continue to filter down.
– You can generate pointed discussions around broader topics or posts.
– Important topics bubble to the top providing a birds eye view into the best of the best.
– Pose questions on Friendfeed and optionally rope in your extended network on Twitter.
– Notifications of important content and events, via RSS or Instant Messenger.

Here’s the beginnings of a framework to identify what works for a sales organization at large organizations:

An information management architecture that can surface the good stuff as well as support a 90% consumption / 10% contribution model.

Traditional collaborative systems and social networks are built to enable…well, collaboration and being social. As a sales rep what I need is aggregation around news and information (person, customer, prospect, industry news) relevant to my customers that show up in SalesForce or HighRise. User and topical tags help me drill deeper and find authorities or stories on topics that can help me engage a new lead, up sell a customer, build a more compelling proposed solution, or deflect a customer satisfaction train wreck that’s about to hit. The kicker is that I shouldn’t need to browse too much or worse, contribute to be able to extract.

Augmenting or if necessary, even by-passing some of the traditional marketing qualification processes by providing a direct contextual lens into prospect and customer activity

New qualified opportunities are just as likely to show up on these social platforms as they are via traditional marketing programs such as events, email and webinars. Based on accounts I manage or territorial prospects, as stated by my CRM system, dynamically assemble a direct, real-time view into customer and lead activity. Examples are customer activity on support and developer forums, prospects commenting about specific products on blogs, or lead activity on LinkedIn, Techmeme and Satisfaction that might help me spark a conversation.

Federated, persistent search that folds social discovery into SFA/CRM processes and technologies, thereby enrichening the data available at each step of the sales cycle

For instance, say I’m in the proposal creation phase of the sales cycle: Let me look up preset searches and tags on specific content sources (e.g. specific wiki spaces where SMEs hang out, highly rated solution white papers, links to relevant online demos that everyone’s raving about ) so I’m putting my best foot forward.

A push architecture so the critical intelligence can find the sales rep (not the other way around)

I’m not going to keep revisiting content sources (blogs, wikis, forums) to see if there’s anything new that I might care about. Make it easy for me to filter and subscribe to specific events on blogs, support and community forums, wikis etc., (e.g. a new white paper emerges or my customer comments on a blog) via Email, RSS, SMS, IM. Let the information find me.

The ability to broadcast a question and receive an answer

Sales reps want answers. Search functionality provides results; people, however, provide answers. The ability to ask questions to groups of relevant people and quickly crowd source the best solution or identify experts that can credibly address a solution is imperative. This needs to be both open ended as well as around an existing topic (a bookmark, link, comment, video, etc.)

There’s certainly other technologies or components to consider when trying to conceptualize how Sales can benefit from an Enterprise 2.0 enabled world. For instance, ESME is  designed to let globally disparate users easily huddle around tasks at hand and the recently announced lifestreaming capabilites from Yammer is trying to bring Friendfeed-like capabilites to the enterprise.

What other utilities have you come across that have applicable features to the business of selling?

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FriendFeed enables you to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends.

Lisa Leonard
Lisa Leonard

Great post! I would suggest two items to your framework of what is needed for sales organizations at large companies:1. Simple to use and work within existing tools or workflow. Sales people don't want yet another tool to use. They should be able to get the information they need from within the tools they already use - for some that will be email, others may be prolific mobile users, some may spend most of their day within their CRM application or portal. Just don't make them go somewhere else to get what they need.2. Ability to distinguish and manage opinion and ideas distinctly from authenticated information. There are a lot of topics where idea generation and crowd sourcing are great and provide fantastic "feet on the street" insight into what is going on in an industry or with a competitor. But there are also topics for which a large company has a legal responsibility (and potential liability) regarding what is communicated. Questions about pricing and legal terms typically need to be answered by an authority - not a sales rep with 6 months tenure. Some industries even have restrictions on how products or services can be described. So the ability to distinguish, provide different workflow, and manage these vastly different types of content is very important.And now I have to add a shameless plug since you asked for other utilities....our application StreetSmarts has been providing these capabilities for large corporate clients for over 5 years. StreetSmarts unifies knowledge management, collaboration, document management, and enterprise social networking into a single business application leveraging internal and external sources of information.

John Held
John Held

Sameer, great points about question broadcast! Benefits to sellers are quicker turn-around on Q&A response which helps the sales cycle. At the same time, institutionalizing Q&A knowledge (that today is lost in person-person email dialogs) also scales the experts (experts don't have answer the same questions again and again). At the same time, marketing & training have a valuable window into evolving trends on the sales 'front line.' Questions are a signal about what knowledge reps should know, but don't (training), and what knowledge reps need that doesn't yet exist in formalized marketing materials (for example, brand new competitive threats). I look forward to other's comments about this area. Great article! John Held SAVO Group

John Held
John Held

Sameer, great points about question broadcast! Benefits to sellers are quicker turn-around on Q&A response which helps the sales cycle. At the same time, institutionalizing Q&A knowledge (that today is lost in person-person email dialogs) also scales the experts (experts don't have answer the same questions again and again). At the same time, marketing & training have a valuable window into evolving trends on the sales 'front line.' Questions are a signal about what knowledge reps should know, but don't (training), and what knowledge reps need that doesn't yet exist in formalized marketing materials (for example, brand new competitive threats). I look forward to other's comments about this area. Great article! John Held SAVO Group-P.S. posted the same commend on Friendfeed, but it's not very visible at least on this page.

Jeff Gaus
Jeff Gaus

Sameer:Great post and great discussion topic. I agree with almost all of your points; and, in fact our whole company (Prolifiq Software) has been focusing on this issue since 2003. Our application is designed for use by the sales people, and it bridges the gap between marketing and sales in that it allows marketing to post content for consumption and use by the salespeople in their daily selling activities. It is based on Web 2.0 principles and is in use by some of the largest brands in the world. I wrote a blog post about the marketing/sales disconnect (http://www.prolifiq.net/Blogs/Prolifiq/post/Say...) in which I describe a salesperson's attitued about marketing.I hope this discussion thread really picks up, because salespeople move the economy and god knows we could stand this economy moving better than it is right now.

Marc Perramond
Marc Perramond

You'll have to excuse the shameless plug but my company InsideView is focused on this exact problem for sales & marketing folks. Our application, SalesView, identifies selling opportunities across traditional editorial data sources (Hoovers, D&B, Reuters) and emerging/social medial (Facebook, LinkedIn, online news & blogs). All of this intelligence is then delivered directly into CRM mash-ups, where sales & marketing people can act on it (Salesforce.com, Oracle CRM On Demand, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, SugarCRM, Landslide).http://www.insideview.com/DEMOhttp://twitter.com/insideview

Sameer
Sameer

Hi JohnGreat point about how marketing and training have an incentive to participate and play on the more open web, albeit within the firewall. Can go a long way towards ensuring sustainable adoption. Thanks for the comment.

Sameer
Sameer

Thanks for the comments JeffI took the Prolifiq demo for a spin and it looks good. To your point about their being a disconnect: I think the stakes have just been raised by the proliferation of participatory media platforms where Sales can dis intermediate areas of marketing if the disconnect continues. On the other hand, marketing can seize the opportunity and become useful brokers of unstructured social media content and organize it in a way that sales can use to find new opportunities. But that's another post -)

Sameer
Sameer

Hey Marc,I welcome shameless plugs esp since I specifically asked for other examples of relevant utilities :)I'm familiar with InsideView and what you describe is a big problem that needs solving and so its a crucial element. However, to flesh it out completely, there's silo'ed enterprise content, data and access to experts that needs to be folded in to bring all the pieces together to provide a credible arsenal for a Sales rep. That to me starts to gets us to a true social architecture for Sales.

Marc Perramond
Marc Perramond

Sameer, I totally agree. We're in the camp that is focused on bringing editorial data and social media from the OUTSIDE into the enteprise ("socialprise"). There's a wholeo other camp focused on providing a "social architecture" and Web 2.0 tools to access silo'ed data & expertise that exist INSIDE the company ("enterprise 2.0"). Oracle is making some interesting moves here with their Social CRM suite (enabling collaboration within a sale org and data aggregation/analysis across internal sources.)

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