It’s been a month since I attended Cloudforce in Paris, followed by the Radian6 User Conference in Boston – so I thought it would be about time to gather my ideas and impressions and ‘commit them to paper’, so to speak. Especially in the light of the acquisition of the latter by the former just before the events. Salesforce clients in particular will stand to gain through the connection of social customer insights to the Sales and Service Clouds, by identifying new opportunities to engage with customers and to explore the customer’s context in order to facilitate service interactions.
In Paris we were graced with the presence of Marc Benioff – a gifted and convincing public speaker who delivered a well-constructed presentation – let down only by his apparent need to jab his rivals. Marc took us through not only the rapid growth of Salesforce, but also through the entire evolution of business computing. The way it was presented that Cloud Computing is the next level up from mainframe, client/server, personal computing, and the internet. Although I would agree that Cloud Computing has disrupted the way we organize IT by turning it into a utility, changing it from a CapEx to an OpEx that potentially moves the deployment decision from the CIO to the Line of Business – I would challenge that the platform features by themselves correspond with the term ‘disruptive innovation’.
Let me elaborate on that. What we have seen is that the delivery mode may have changed, but what the user sees is still the same contact database and Sales funnel designed primarily to efficiently help management keep tabs on sales activity rather than make the Salesperson more effective. Although tools have been provided to customize the interface (or DIY it thru Force.com), there is little room for example to take into account approaches more aligned with customer buying cycles, such as the McKinsey Consumer Decision Journey. You may counter that argument by saying that the Sales Funnel is a method that has proven to be effective in the past – but then again, how would you know whether you’re not losing a lot of business opportunities because you interacted with the prospect at the wrong time? With the Sales funnel, these would fall by the wayside, with the tacit hope that your Marketing or Inside Sales team will pick them up again when they call back in 3-6 months without any nurturing…Furthermore, if all of your competitors are using the same approach, there is no competitive edge to be gained as this effectively levelling the playing field.
This is not something that is specific to Salesforce however: I’d say that CRM Vendors offer systems that in 95% of the cases all have the exact same features. And as such I believe this is where I think the Radian 6 acquisition makes the most sense, beyond just the social media engagement toolset.
It is not just the listening capabilities of the platform, but also the mindset of this dynamic company from New Brunswick (Canada) that can help bring about a new conciousness about other approaches to CRM systems that better cater to the expectations of the Social Customer . This is where the real disruptive innovation can be had in my opinion. As we come to better understand the relationship between customer activity (not only on social media, but also on other channels such as the phone with a CSR, at events, thru geolocation clustering – anywhere that we can get extra datapoints) and their buying and advocacy behaviour, we’ll need to the flexibility and agility to be able to adapt our systems. And Radian 6 is in a position to provide many more datapoints than Salesforce has ever had access to, so all is needed now is some Sensemaking. Easy peasy!
Oversimplification aside, one caveat that I’d like to highlight is that as were still very much in the early days of discovering how monitoring social media activity can improve business, and furthermore there is still very little awareness as to the capabilities of the various listening and monitoring platforms. Radian 6 does a very good job of scraping the various blogs, twitter streams and so on and putting this in reports, but it should not be forgotten that at best, you’ll get some trends that can be used to steer your messaging in quasi real time – or with a bit of luck discover some hitherto hidden needs. Salesforce on the other hand is about managing data about individual customers – which you can then group into segments with similar characteristics (demographics etc.) so as to optimize your marketing spend for example.
Just to make the distinction more clear, there is a gap between trending “customers” and getting specific social activity about an individual customer to get their context, kind of like the difference between having market intelligence versus having customer intelligence. Radian 6 has added features such as the Engagement Console which allows you to apply rules-based filters to extract events that require attention, as well as mechanisms to assign a reaction workflow to the Response Team, or create tickets in Salesforce’s Service Cloud (whether third-party CRM Systems will continue to be supported remains to be seen…).
An interesting development that was presented at the Radian 6 User Conference in this light is the Insights platform. Even before the announcement of the acquisition, they were working to become a pluggable platform, allowing you to add Best-of-Breed second-pass datacrunchers such as Clarabridge for Sentiment and Text Analysis, or Klout to measure influence and thus potential for Advocacy (or nuisance) in order to figure out some level of prioritization – even though I have my reservations about the validity of the algorithms used…
The Insights platform is where Radian 6 and Salesforce will come together – where the linking and analysis will take place to enrich customer profiles with insights derived from social media engagement as well as from other channels in order to better understand customer contexts and provide adequate responses in line with customer expectations.The missing piece of the puzzle (which I talked about in this presentation I gave at the Social CRM 2011 London event) is collaboration to actually optimize how how we organize in order to meet customer expectations and needs. Furthermore, Insights is an essential part of the package as pouring an unfiltered firehose of social media events into Chatter could inundate it with a lot of static, and lead to it becoming impossible to use effectively.
The question that remains for me is the pricing model. Radian 6 has announced it will continue to function as an independent company, but I am still in the dark as to whether clients will be obliged to go through for example Force.com to get access to the data – and thus need to pay access to the intermediate platform as well. If anybody can shed some light on this, please do so in the comments below!