Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

March 2, 2010

Relevance of Marketing Tools/Media in Customer Acquisition

The topic of lead generation and the role of various media solutions in the lead generation process draw significant conversation. From a survey of small businesses done in the summer of 2009 and detailed in my blog, GoToMeeting‘ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand. ‘Small Businesses interest in Social Media Increasing ‘ and with regards to tools used by small businesses to promote their business (not generate sales leads), 77% of small businesses are using or plan to use social media tools. Why has the use of social media seen such a dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by several factors:   

  • Change in the personal communication environment and habits of consumers and business workers  
  • Low barriers to entry: the cost of participating in the social media communications are very low and some—tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and LinkedIn—are even free 
  • Social media solutions are a one-to-many form of real-time communications
  • Social media is much more than a digital form of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network  

   

Traditional Media tools. On one end of the spectrum, marketing is responsible for Demand Generation by driving awareness. Traditional media tools such as radio, television, newspapers and business journals (in their print form), provide broadcast opportunities and are good for creating broad awareness to develop interest among consumers and businesses – otherwise known as Outbound Marketing. Successful examples include the TV commercials like ‘GoToMeeting’ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand.

New Media/Digital Media include Social Networking tools (Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), Webinars and Podcasts, and Search Engines. Such ‘inbound marketing’ tools enable businesses with product/service increase awareness already developed to a certain level through traditional tools to further draw in consumers and encourage their further investigation of the company’s product or service.  

An SMB survey from Citibank found that some small businesses saw little reason to hop onto the social-network bandwagon. The majority of them found sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to be of little help in finding new business leads. While social media can certainly provide channels to network and help a growing business flourish, many SMBs do not have the manpower or the time required to take advantage of them—that is, use them to look for business advice or information. It is up to the business to bring in the relevant social media conversations related to crowd-sourced recommendations for their company and solutions into their company website or other discussion forums. Techniques that do this are illustrated very well in the “Inbound Marketing” book by founders of HubSpot

Personal-touch Media tools like company website, e-mail marketing, live webinars, and professional advisors provide the information to convert exploring consumers and business buyers into potential leads. The new media-based inbound marketing solutions drive the explorers to the company website and/or additional personal touch based media and channels. However, SMBs must work to channel their company relevant social media discussions into their website. These social media conversations are similar to word-of-mouth and personal communication methods. Ultimately, these personal-touch media solutions are directly involved with actual lead generation, ongoing lead nurturing and finally conversion to customers as well as cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers continually deepening prospect relationships    

Some of the new marketing automation and lead nurturing solution companies like Marketo, HubSpot and Demandbase are combining some of the key aspects of New Media/communications and Personal-touch Media/communications solutions that provide great value to the SMB and mid-market companies for both outbound and inbound marketing – and most of these solutions can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of a marketing person.    

September 27, 2009

Interest in Social Media among Small Businesses Correlates to Number of Years they have been in Business

 

Related insight to my recent blog Small Businesses interest in Social Media increasing rapidly , related to the Number of Years a small business has been in existence. See figure below:

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Adoption and use of social media is correlated to ‘Number of years in business’ and indirectly to the age of the owners. As the figure above shows, longer the small businesses have been in existence (indirectly correlated to the age of the small business owner), the usage of social media declines. Small businesses that are in existence for 10 years or less, most likely will have Gen X or Gen Y business owners who have grown-up in the internet age and are well tuned to and more likely to use online communication and collaboration – are much more likely to adopt social media. In their personal lives, they have extensive experience in using web-based tools like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and real-time communications tools like chat and text-messaging – for one-to-many and one-to-one communications. They are more likely to be influenced by online communities and collective ratings of products.

Small businesses that have been in existence for more than 10 years would have Baby Boomers as their owners. Boomers interact with others in their communities around shared interests and common issues, but they prefer to use more traditional communications tools like e-mail and voice communications. Boomers participate heavily in word-of-mouth and value personal recommendations and expert opinions, but they have not embraced social networking in any significant manner. It is difficult for people to change habits quickly. However, if the owners of these long established businesses find that their customers and prospects are increasingly communicating on the social media sites, then it would be prudent to hire a Gen X/Y person who is very familiar with these social media tools to help you develop a social media strategy to cater to your audience based on the social media tools they use.

Even though small business use of social media tools is increasing, not all small businesses need to invest in social media – this needs to be decided based on the nature of your business, your business location and your audience (customers, prospects and partners). Some small businesses that serve local communities in rural areas may continue to do business in the traditional manner, until their audience is ready to communicate with them using these new tools and their revenues and customer satisfaction is impacted by it.

August 28, 2009

Deciding what survey software to use?

Being a market research, we make extensive use of market surveys, to measure market/customer needs and sentiments. For years I was outsourcing the programming, testing and hosting to outsourced survey houses. However, driven by the current economic conditions and reduced market research budgets, this year I decided to do try the survey programming/testing exercise myself.

My survey software solutions requirements are more complex compared to the standard small consumer type survey. They are usually long (30-40 questions each with several options), with complex and branching, follow-on questions based on previous responses, etc.

Finding the right survey software could be a hard task. There are a large number of vendors to choose from, a cursory look at any of them give an impression that most of them are almost alike. One needs to consideration several factors before picking the right solutions. Some of things you need to know and look for before deciding:

  • Survey tool features (considering the complexity of your survey)
  • Ease-of-programming and hosting
  • Cloud-based or on-premise server based
  • Price (use of software and survey hosting)
  • Reporting functions
  • Performance of solution, especially when reporting
  • Training provided
  • Support (both telephone, web and user forums)

After evaluating numerous survey tools from several vendors (Checkbox, SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, Vovici, Zoomerang, QuestionPro, NoviSystems, SurveyCrafter, etc.), I selected SurveyGizmo solution for my fairly complex survey needs.

SurveyGizmo is very easy to use; value priced and provides the most extensive set of features among all the survey software solutions I evaluated. It has a simple user interface with an extensive list of question types and survey action that makes designing and testing survey very easy. The reporting functions are also very good. Several other vendors that I evaluated had very poor performance, especially when using the reporting and analysis functions. They also provide very flexible pay-as-you-use pricing, without the need to commit a significant amount of capital upfront (as some of the other vendors do) – this is especially important in the current difficult economic climate.

 

June 15, 2009

Intuit’s Federated Apps Cloud Computing Partner Platform Will Provide Very Significant Benefits to ISVs

One of the key technology pain-point (for SMBs) relate to multiple disparate SaaS/on-premise based business and collaboration applications that do not talk to each other (requiring re-entry of the same data) and each with their own separate access, UI, billing and pricing schemas – making it very difficult for them to resolve problems when they occur as they cannot triage the source of the problem. These SMBs lack the IT resources to identify the source of problems in an environment of multiple SaaS applications or have the capabilities integrate multiple soiled SaaS applications (each with a different UI, access requirements and billing platforms) and infrastructure services.

Intuit has a deep understanding of the SMB market based on its proven track record as leading business applications vendor in the U.S. Based on this in-sight, Intuit has developed a much more expansive CONNECTED SERVICES strategy to address the above mentioned technology problem – by providing a platform to connect and distribute all the varied cloud-based SMB applications and also providing a cloud-based development platform for ISVs that want to develop on the Intuit QuickBase platform.

Why is this of value to the ISVs that want to service the 6 million plus SMB companies in the U.S.?

  • Aggregation of applications on a cloud-based online application store – the Intuit Workplace portal to be part of the Intuit Marketplace with single sign-on where existing Intuit customers and Intuit and other small business prospects can find, try and buy any of the cloud-based applications that are part of the Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) ecosystem.
  • The biggest attraction for ISVs to join the IPP is the large installed base of Intuit customers in both the SMB and mid-market segments – more than 4 million plus active customers (with 25 million employees); which can be referred to as Customer Cloud. Reaching potential customers was identified as the biggest challenge by both the IVS panel and the VC panel. Selling to this vast SMB population has been the biggest barrier for ISV (especially the ones with less than 50 employees). Existing VAR channels do not work for this segment, online marketing channels are also very expensive and do not provide an adequate level of exposure to these hard-to-reach small businesses – in most cases the SMBs are not even aware of the application solutions. Successful cases of viral marketing based on social networking are rare. The Intuit IPP provides a platform for these ISVs to ride on the coattails of Intuit (several ISVs that are developing on the Salesforce.com Force.com platform have experienced similar success, although that ecosystem is only limited to applications developed on that platform – the federated strategy of Intuit’s IPP has the potential of creating a significantly bigger ecosystem).
  • The flexibility to:
    • develop new (and existing web applications) cloud-based applications with any programming language, database, or cloud computing resource and then publish them to the Intuit Workplace.
    • host the cloud-based solution on Intuit Workplace cloud datacenter or an alternate cloud computing data center (Amazon-EC2, Salesforce.com – CloudForce.com, IBM-Blue Cloud, Rackspace, etc.) and at the same time be part of the Intuit IPP application ecosystem and marketplace and get all the benefits associated with it.
  • The Intuit Workplace will provide the Single billing and e-commerce platform for all the ISV applications in the Intuit marketplace. This is of huge value of these ISVs.

This federated application capability now available on the Intuit IPP. Every application on the IPP will work together, use a single username and password, and be accessible via browser. Some of the federated applications will also work with the Intuit family of products. To make all these applications work in harmony on the IPP – Intuit will run a security assessment and privacy policy review on these applications prior to publication on the IPP. The four integration points for the federated applications are:

  • Data: To integrate applications with Intuit Partner Platform data, developers must program against APIs provided by Intuit to enable data synchronization
  • Login: A Federated Identity Web API allows users to use their Intuit Workplace login credentials to access the federated applications within Intuit Workplace.
  • User management and permissions: Intuit provides developers with a Web API so that their application can handle processes such as inviting additional users to their application.
  • Navigation: Developers with existing SaaS applications may have to make minor User Interface adjustments, such as removing sign-in/sign-out links within their solutions. The Intuit Workplace provides this in its toolbar to provide users a seamless experience between applications.

June 3, 2009

The next generation Contact Center – Social Networking + Traditional Contact Center

The traditional contact centers now support more real-time communications technologies – VoIP, IVR, e-mail, IM. However, the intelligence and information repositories that are leveraged by these contact centers is very much static and internally focused.

With the growing popularity of social networking and community knowledge, where contact center agents can take advantage of consumers/customers helping each other with issues and queries – reducing the number of inquiry interactions the contact center service reps have to make, delivery real cost savings and improving the contact center ROI. The issue is – the lack of a comprehensive easy-to-use solution that integrates blogs, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, etc.) and search to easily aggregate the desired knowledge and mesh it with the internal knowledge repository, including the customer information stored in the enterprises CRM systems.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their service cloud strategy. This Service Cloud showed an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the contact center agents – this will help them take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress,

Traditional contact center solutions when integrated with an easy-to-use comprehensive community knowledge solution – presents a market disruption elevating this new contact center solution to one that provides significantly higher ROI and customer satisfaction. The Salesforce.com ServiceCloud can be integrated with the traditional contact centers solutions that have primarily relied on static internal information to service the customers, and have been separated from the community knowledge in the cloud from social networking conversations, blogs and Google. The Service Cloud presents an excellent dashboard to bring these two disparate clouds to establish a cloud-based customer service platform and knowledge for contact/call centers – for customer service agents, customer self-service portals and partners. SIP and presence enable this cloud service platform, and it is ready for some very significant communication and collaboration – via VoIP phones (click to call), e-mail, or IM based conversations.

Why is this of value to Customer Contact Center solutions companies? The current leading Contact Center solutions from the leading telecom equipment vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel are more along the lines of the traditional on-premise solutions and do not present an easy solution to integrate the cloud-based community knowledge, except in some cases they have integrated search solutions by integration with Google. The Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform can be used to provide an integrated internal knowledge base and the community knowledge/social network (enterprises can define the scope, and members of their communities) from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Google search, etc. In addition, one can include CRM to monitor customer satisfaction, address any questions/concerns, resolve problems quickly, provide product tips and tricks, and send out information in the customers’ preferred way of communication – without long waiting times or endless forwards and escalations. This could present a disruptive service solution which has the capability to significantly improve customer satisfaction and at the same time reduce the cost to provide this service.

This presents a good partnership opportunity for the traditional contact center application vendors to integrate with the social networking/community knowledge cloud-based service platform without the long internal development cycle. Adopting the Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform will provide a 1-2 years time-to-market advantage vs. the vendors that choose to do it themselves.

 


 

Social Networking – The SMB challenge and how the SMBs can gain value from Salesforce.com Cloud Service solution

Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress are all the range in the B2B and B2C world today. But does the SMB business owners/CEOs or a lone marketing person have the time to devote to track and follow these sites without spending an inordinate amount to time and effort – especially when there is no clearly identifiable direct linkage that this leads to increased sales. How can SMBs participate in and leverage these market trends effectively to address their business and marketing needs?

All these social networking sites present vast amount of unstructured information to the SMBs. In addition, SMBs are also beginning to see a large number of e-mails sent to our e-mail In-boxes from these social sites – leading to information overload, and in many cases turning away the SMB that could benefit from it. What is needed is a solution that aggregates information from all these social networking/community knowledge sites and presents it to the SMBs in a manner that make the information (which at times is very valuable) more easily consumable and easily searchable.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their social networking integration and service cloud strategy. The Service Cloud shows an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the SMB and mid-market enterprises – this will help the SMBs take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, etc. CRM platform has the potential to pull together information/community knowledge from the various social networking sites and meaningfully relate it current customers, prospects, and partners to deliver more engaging conversations and communications – providing significantly better ROI compared to an ad-hoc social networking access.

Social networking & community services do have the potential to:

  • Improve customer interactions and relationships
  • Actively engage customers and partners
  • Engage potential customers in technology education and learning
  • Interacting with the channel/VARs for information exchange and support

SMBs are actively exploring how to participate and incorporate all of these social networking sites/feeds to develop a social networking strategy that drives a broader marketing and services strategy.

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