Towards the end of my keynote on Putting the Relationship Back in Customer Relationship Management at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past week, I made a statement that, 2 years ago, would have got my throat slit. Stated as a wake up call plea to focus on metrics that matter, I said:
"For five years we’ve been engrossed in one giant collaborate group hug, measuring things that don’t keep executives up at night"
Unscientifically judging from reactions on Twitter, this sentiment I expressed got me the equivalent of a vigorous virtual head nod, pretty much across the board. And not for some genius insight put forth by me, but because seasoned practitioners know this already. This, and from what I heard about other tracks, summed up a big part of the general mood and current state of practitioner mindset at the conference. For those who know this community, you will appreciate how significant it is that enterprise social and collaboration practitioners have started to either realize that they need to move beyond measuring nebulous stuff like engagement, "getting social", productivity and adoption.
The market is moving forward. Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business practitioners are no doubt getting more strategic at the outset or along the way, but as important, we’re at the early stages of understanding both the challenges and opportunities that will come from the emergence of an increasingly connected and vocal customer and as a result, the changing contract between her and organizations she choose to do business with. Most critical, the ramifications of this on how we need to be wired internally to meet her expectations of meaningful engagement, expert insight, minimal latency and localized relevancy. The most trusted voices, in my opinion, echo this in their own unique way. I’ll talk separately about the sales and marketing track in another post, but its important in this context to call out impressions from those previously considered outsiders to our work of internal collaboration. Folks who have a clear view of tomorrows expectation of customer service, of co-creation and feedback management, of authentic customer advocacy than most, provide their insight into how the internal and external business worlds can come together: Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky, Brian Vellmure, Mitch Lieberman the man himself, Paul Greenberg, and many others.
Paul Greenberg had a great comment that sums it up:
What makes social business greater than the sum of its part is also why it needs both parts to work seamlessly inside out and outside in. Customers and the need to acquire and retain customers are driving it. It is being driven by the same imperative of business that has driven business since its inception, But it is being driven by the changed expectations of those customers.
What that means is that not only do we now need not just an enterprise value chain, but a collaborative value chain that engages customers who we know enough about to keep engaged, but that the employees of the companies that are trying to reform and restructure what they do are empowered to act both internally and externally to do something about it.
There’s no question were slowly starting to embrace critical performance acceleration opportunities that existed long before social x showed up and that’s evident.
Some highlights of the event that represent the state of the state with respect to all things Enterprise Social and Collaboration:
More Customers at the forefront: Bert Sandie (Electronic Arts), John Stepper (Deutche Bank), Bryce Williams (Eli Lily), Kristen Hersant (Strong Mail), Tyler Knowlten (Dept of Foreign Affairs, Canada), Tony Martins (TEVA Pharmaceuticals), and scores more. These are the types of companies we all do business with or have heard of. Bill Ives and Emanuele Quintarelli have the goods on customer keynote sessions.
More Business and Infrastructure Focus: A Sales and Marketing Track and HR Track, Supply Chain Collaboration Case Studies and various IT Tracks (Mobile, UC, Integration and Apps) moved the discussion from ‘this is everyone’s problem’ (read: it’s no ones problem) to a mature discussion on how social and collaborative concepts can be a serious weapon in the arsenal of execution initiatives that help drive customer, partner and employee performance. Folks like John Stepper even dedicated a keynote on why not to get caught up in social for social’s sake.
More Depth: Dedicated how-to discussions on how to grow and sustain meaningful communities beyond launch for advanced practitioners that need to take it to the next level. Many of the sessions show where social and collaborative efforts fit in the larger organizational fabric.
Broader Vendor Representation: The Social software tapestry is being yanked from four different ends: Pure-play upstarts, ERP, Unified Communications and Specialty Application Vendors (e.g. HRIS, CMS). Besides the usual suspects, we had folks from Oracle, SAP, Salesforce.com, Avaya, Cisco and others. Clearly, a plethora of supply-side folks are seeing the value of folding in collaboration offerings.
All in all, the surgical use of social and collaborative concepts to drive performance is finally here. And the event provided that platform to ascertain progress and identify what else we need to do to get it right.
I had a chance to speak with the very smart Jon Reed about my overall take on the state of “Enterprise 2.0”. Jon is an Enterprise 2.0 curmudgeon who spends his time working on gnarly enterprise integration problems that make transactions work. He’s great at holding our feet to the fire when it comes to the finding the tangible value of collaboration:
Some changes we need to consider though.
First, the event itself:
- More Marketing Cowbell: We’ve now got functional tracks – we’re not talking social ‘X’ but sales, marketing, HR, supply chain, service, and so on. The conference needs a far stronger effort around attracting functional and IT decision makers who may or may not care about social but really the larger challenge of connected ecosystems to meet functional objectives that they are goaled on. The content is here; now we need the awareness that goes with it.
- We’ve moved from vendors talking to practitioners leading the discussion. I concur with Megan Murray when she says that we need end users to talk about benefits in their own words.
- Don’t forget middle managers: We had great broad coverage on the future of business. We also saw excellent tactical how-to content for practitioners. We need to start to talk to another really important constituency that’s missing – those that get sandwiched between strategy and delivery – the middle managers. They need all the help as its their next on the line when it comes to turning strategy into execution plans.
Second, as an industry:
No doubt we’re talking business problems now but we’re still far too hypnotized by that group collaboration/social/engagement group hug. There’s still a sizable (and in some ways growing) ‘movement’ feel that we need to shed, which understandably so, appears as a very self-congratulatory when seen from the outside. I say this not based on just lobby talk but based on what many Sovos customers tell us and who will not come to Enterprise 2.0. Granted, we deal with some of the most conservative industries and organizations in the world but that’s a big chunk of the market that we need to address. Threatening executives with hyperbole around bottom-up ground swells and flattening designs that defy org chart physics, all said in many different ways, takes away from the true promise of collaboration as a business performance accelerator. Don’t get me wrong, we all need an enthusiastic pat on the back that our efforts are worth it and there’s no question that many practitioners and pundits have the chops to tackle real business objectives, head-on (I know most of them personally). But if you superimpose some of the current rah rah uprising rhetoric (and in and of them selves, nebulous end results such as more engagement, more productivity and more social) in the face of stark revenue increase, competitive, cost reduction and risk mitigation objectives that most of our businesses struggle with, we come off the camp that’s doing ‘stuff’ that will not really satiate wall street or our shareholders with any certainty.
The reality is that line, staff and executive HR, Customer Service, Marketing professionals and others have established problems to solve – changing customer expectations, prospecting demands, employee turnover, dismal on boarding and missing WD-40 that results in lethargic and expensive supply chains. That’s the stuff that needs fixing.
The intent behind our work as an industry is solid. And we will have in fact changed how organizations will ultimately well….organize. But to earn the currency to engineer that change, we need respect the transactional and connectivity challenges of 9 to 5 (for employees) and quarterly heartburn (for managers) and do our part to fix these, alongside painting that picture of a possible future, three-five-ten years out. Again, it’s the messaging, design and execution planning that needs to be decisive, not the cause.
We’ve come a LONG way and we have so much experience built in thanks to those pioneering the way forward over the last three-five. And as we saw at the event, business managers are in fact injecting social in decisive ways. But we need to push harder at embracing the problems and opportunities that keep our executives and shareholders up at night and become indispensable weapons that deliver tangible results. The good news is that it’s really within striking distance – we saw many examples at this event already.
Lets just make sure we don’t find our selves revving in neutral.
(Hat tip to Tony Martins for that great line).
To close, an expression of deep gratitude from my end:
- - To the TechWeb team for pulling together a great event and for inviting me to keynote. I know there are a ton of folks who do stuff behind the scenes but I want to especially thank Manuela Farrell, Colleen Kraskiewicz, Natalia Wodecki and of course Steve Wylie for making my life as a track chair as painless as possible. Its really an amazing operations team that exceeds its own high bar at every subsequent event.
- To panel moderators who I consider leading lights and consummate professionals and who I have the privilege to call peers and colleagues. They put together amazing panels, recovered from last minute panelist conflicts and yet, brought it home: Paul Greenberg, Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky and Mike Fauscette.
- To a few in the vendor community who really worked hard with their customers to create great presentations for sessions I managed: Jeff Nolan (getsatisfaction), Karen To (Jive Software), Sara Campbell (Appirio) and Mitch Lieberman (Sword-Ciboodle). Paul, Esteban and Brent have done the same for their panelists in the blog posts above.
- To all of you who took the time to comment during my keynote as well as our track sessions.
Next up: A wrap up on the Sales and Marketing Track, Interview highlights and notes on some of the Tracks I attended.
If you want more, Jim Worth has a wicked wiki up that collates all press and writing on the event here.