February 13, 2013

It's Time to Do More...Now!

This morning the folks at Do.com, the collaboration platform from Salesforce.com built for the way small businesses work, announced their Do More ecosystem of apps that integrate with Do providing users with a more efficient way to get their work done.

According to Do, you'll now be able to use the following apps with Do.com to:

  • Market to current and future customers: Engage with prospects and customers through Wufoo online forms - the filled out forms automatically become contacts, deals and tasks in Do.
  • Sell to customers: Contactually automatically creates Do Contacts for people and prospects you Do-com-logo interact with via email. It also creates reminders and Do tasks so you can follow up with the right people at the right time.
  • Share files with customers: Sharing content with customers with Dropbox and Google Drive. All it takes is one click directly within Do to circulate content and materials 
  • Collaborate with customers: Do Chat enables real-time collaboration on projects and tasks directly within Do.
  • Bill your customers: Harvest on Do makes time tracking painless. Click on the clock within a specific Do task to quickly log your hours for a specific customer
  • Service your customer: Link Salesforce Desk.com, the leading service cloud for small businesses, with your Do account to handle customer service issues quickly and collaboratively to give your customers the best experience possible. 

By making it easier for small business folks who use a number of these popular services within the context of the collaborative platform, Do should make their 100K users more likely to spend more time collaborating and less time app switching.  And by syncing data from these apps through Do, users won't have to go through the "data dance" of making sure they are working with the right information - which is really huge not only from a efficiency standpoint, but also an accuracy perspective.

Do-more-2It's a nice mix of efficiency (Harvest, Dropbox, Google Drive) and relationship building (Contactually, Desk.com, Chat) enablement that makes for a good start to their "marketplace".  I had a chance to check out the Contactually integration with Do and was really impressed with the level of cohesiveness achieved between the two apps.  I haven't had an opportunity to check out the other Do More integrations but if they all are done at the level of the Contactually one this will really make Do an attractive tool small businesses will gravitate towards to get things done.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Do will be able to add partners to the program.  I like that we're seeing integrations between the apps Salesforce acquired (Do.com was acquired from ManyMoon and Desk.com was originally Assistly), and also apps from other vendors.  

A few years ago a lot of folks were questioning whether Salesforce.com was starting to leave SMBs behind in their quest to go big game hunting in the enterprise space - OK I was one of questioners.  But over the last couple of years they have really refocused their efforts, and Do More is just another indication this. Let's hope they keep it up! 

January 22, 2013

InfusionSoft Buys GroSocial - Another Sign of the Times

My January column for CRM magazine focused on why I thought 2013 would be the year marketing automation went mainstream for small business.  Larger companies have been relying on it for years, and many SMBs have been implementing it as well.  But I think a large number of smaller businesses have been slow to get involved with MA because of the perceived complexity and expensiveness of the tools available to them.

But with more vendors focusing on the needs of smaller organizations, and with smaller organizations understanding they need to change their approach to engaging customers and prospects, I think both parties are ready to do this….

Infusionsoft has been helping the Under 25 employee crowd do marketing automation even before I became familiar with them in 2007 – and they’ve always been true to that market.  And while the service has always had a robust functionality set, in the early days it wasn’t for the faint of heart to try and use.  You could do some really complex sequencing, but you needed to devote some serious time and effort in order to do so.

But last year at InfusionCon when they rolled out a much prettier, easier to use interface – along with even more functionality – it signaled to me that some of the barriers to using marketing automation were beginning to come down. 

And when InfusionSoft announced raising $54M from Goldman Sachs a few weeks ago, I figured they would begin to put that money to use to keep up their momentum - which would also further the mainstreaming of marketing automation to The Under 25ers.  Based on today’s announcement of InfusionSoft acquiring social media marketing platform GroSocial, I figured right.

GroSocial helps small businesses do a better job of generating leads from Facebook by managing the process of creating Facebook tabs, timelime covers and backgrounds.  It also helps manage Facebook interactions and create contest /promotions, with the goal of turning fans and followers into leads and eventually customers. 

 

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 2.49.33 PM

Currently there is an InfusionSoft widget for GroSocial users that allows them to capture leads and trigger automatic actions in InfusionSoft.   But eventually there will be an integration between the two services to create a fully automated customer lifecycle process – from content distribution and social engagement, lead generation, lead nurture, sales conversion and customer retention.

With the acquisition binge that started with last year’s purchase of Buddy Media by Salesforce.com (and really Radian6 in 2011) and continued on through December with Oracle buying Eloqua (and Vitrue & Collective Intellect before that…and Market2Lead way before that) you could see where things were going in the space.  And you can’t forget about the big money raised buy companies like Marketo, Hubspot and others.  But most if not all of that was really aimed at companies having more than 25 employees. 

What InfusionSoft’s acquisition of GroSocial means is the integration of social marketing automation platforms with traditional marketing automation platforms is here for the real little guys – or will be when InfusionSoft merges these services together.  This should make it easier for smaller organizations to fully realize the power automation can bring to engaging customers and prospects across social channels – and then transition them to more traditional processes at the optimal time to close the deal…or execute the transaction for ecommerce businesses.

I had a conversation with InfusionSoft CEO Clate Mask that will be published this week as part of my interview series over at Small Business Trends.  We talked about a number of issues including why Goldman Sachs for the funding, as well as why specifically did they go after GroSocial.  Stay tuned to hear what he had to say.  But one thing I had to ask him about was if these two moves signified a change in direction with respect to swimming upstream to go after bigger companies.  Clate said in a pretty definitive manner that InfusionSoft will not be doing that.   He says their passion will continue to be to serve the Under 25ers.  I expected him to say that, because he’s said the same to me for the past six years - and he's been true to his word.  But it also makes a lot of sense from a business perspective, as this is a segment none of the big boys are focusing in on….not yet at least.

So I guess I should say thanks to Clate and the InfusionSoft gang, as they're already making me feel pretty good about my prediction. So....thanks! 

 

December 19, 2012

Enter Sandmen: The Bullpen Group Cometh

I’m writing this while listening to Metallica’s Enter Sandman.  You may want to do the same, or maybe go to YouTube and do a search for “Mariano Rivera Enter Sandman” to get the full effect.  Just click on any of the hundred or so videos of “Mo” bolting out of the Yankees bullpen to that song in order to save one of his 600+ games.

Bullpen_medium

Now are you watching one of the videos? Do you feel it?  I mean, do you FEEL IT???  I know I get amped every time I see him coming out of the tunnel…to that song.  So when presented with the opportunity to join forces with Denis Pombriant, Esteban Kolsky and Paul Greenberg to form The Bullpen Group (BPG), you know what started running through my head…

Here’s why we started the BPG (besides the fact that we’re all buddies who like baseball and wanted to find more ways to work together):

The group’s purpose is to provide an ad hoc model for senior analysts collaborating on important market research projects that concentrate on some of the most important trends and topics from front office, CRM, social business, collaboration, to cloud computing and mobile computing.

Here’s how it will work:

The four principals will continue their individual practices while coming together under the aegis of the Bullpen Group to perform research that requires the talents of more than a single researcher at a time. 

Here’s what we think:

Denis Pombriant: “In bringing together four of the best analysts in the front office market we plan to leverage both conventional research modalities and social approaches to provide vendors and end users with some of the most in-depth and actionable research in the market.”

Paul Greenberg: “We know what the trends and practices that need to be investigated are. Our mission is to bring together the right resources to make sure that the research is of the caliber needed.”

Esteban Kolsky: “This is the way primary research should be done – aggregated knowledge from experts shared across channels and time.  I am very happy to be part of this new endeavor.”

Me:  “Things are happening faster than ever before, and it still feels like we’re in the early innings.  While individually we are able to dig into a few areas, working together on projects allows us to cover more ground, provide deeper analysis and add more value to the industry”.

Off to Never-Never Land… in 2013

We’ll be announcing some things around what research areas we’ll be tackling in the not too distant future, so stay tuned.  A website will be coming shortly.  Our Twitter address is @BullpenGroup, and we also have a Facebook page we’ll be using to keep you up to date with our activities.  And we’ll all be together for the first time as the BPG (I think) for Breakfast with the Bullpen Group, a special session that will be a part of Social Biz Atlanta 2013.  I’m still nailing down all the details for the event, but STAY TUNED if you are interested in learning more. 

All I can say is that I’m very honored to be a part of this group, and excited about the projects we’ll be able to do together.  The only thing though is the guys didn’t like my initial suggestion for the group’s name.  Since there are four of us, I thought maybe we can be thought of as the Four Horseman.  But they thought being called The Apocalypse Group probably wouldn’t be the best name for a research/analyst partnership – especially with December 21st being right around the corner. 

So yeah, the Bullpen Group was definitely the best way to go!

September 17, 2012

See you at Brentforce, I mean Dreamforce!

I’m just having a little fun since I’ll be participating in four sessions at Dreamforce this year.  Plus I’ll be doing a series of video interviews with executives at Salesforce.com, Facebook, Cisco, and a few others as part of the first SMB track ever at Dreamforce.

Dreamforce_logo2And while it sounds like I’ll be all over the place, this year there are roughly 750 breakout sessions at DF12.  And they’re expecting anywhere from 50K-75K people to be in San Francisco – an amazing number of folks.  DF12 also has some great keynote speakers like Gen Colin Powell, Sir Richard Branson and GE CEO Jeff Immelt.

So if you’ll be at DF12 this year, I’ll be there too.  And here’s where I’ll be:

Service Cloud: Analysts Panel - The Future of Customer Service (panelist)

Wednesday September 19th, 12-1pm

With big time influencers/analysts Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky and Kate Leggett – Moderated by SFDC VP of Cloud Services Charlie Isaacs

Marketing Cloud: Best practices in Social CRM (panelist)

Wednesday, September 19

4:30-5:30PM

Rm: Grand Ballroom 

With big time influencers/analysts Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant – Moderated by SFDC Radian6 Chief Adoption Officer David Alston

How Small Businesses are Using Social Media: Top Trends for 2013 (presenter)

Thursday, September 20

9:00-10:00AM

Rm: Foothill F

With me

Marketing Cloud: How Social Media Personalizes Your Brand and Grows Relationships (speaker/moderator)

Thursday, September 20

10:30-11:30AM

Rm: Union Square

With Wendy Arnott - Vice President, Social Media and Digital Communication at TD Bank

Hope to see you in San Fran!

June 12, 2012

With iPad in Hand, Jim Fowler is Back with an Army of Info

We live in an era where Clouds and Crowds dominate pretty much everything… as long as those crowds and clouds are accessible from an iPad.  But even with these devices made to make the content consumption experience more “exciting and new” (only people of a certain age will get that…) much of the traditional business information on companies and contacts still comes in very traditional formats….translation – boring formats.

InfoArmyEnter Jim Fowler, or should I say re-enter Jim Fowler with InfoArmy.  Jim was the force behind Jigsaw.com, the crowd-sourced account and contact database in the cloud (before we called it that) bought by Salesforce.com in 2010 for a cool $175M.  It lives on as the foundation of SFDC’s Data.com.

According to Mr. Fowler, InfoArmy is the first and only business information provider to harness crowdsourced competitive intelligence about companies and make it available in comprehensive and affordable Competitive Intelligence Reports(CIRs), which are viewable on the iPad.

Jim gave me a sneak peek to the InfoArmy iPad app and I have to say it’s pretty cool to see this kind of company information delivered taking advantage of the iOS user interface.  I took a look at the report on one of my favorite companies – BatchBlue – and I did learn some things about the company that I didn’t know before - very quickly. The CIRs include information on products, people, press, customers, financials, statistics, and a look at the competitive landscape.  The information looks pretty good, but I wouldn’t have Oracle in there as a competitor to BatchBlue.  And I’ll have to corroborate the info with BB’s CEO Pamela O’Hara just to make sure it’s accurate, but I did like the way the app made it easy to select and view these CIRs.

So I like what they’re doing breathing life (and attractiveness) into business information, but it has to be more than pretty to become the Wikipedia of business information – or should I say the iPad app version of the Wikipedia of business information. It needs lots of good, solid, trustworthy business information added on a continuous basis.  But Fowler is using a crowdsourcing model similar to the one he developed and used at Jigsaw.  And InfoArmy will split the revenue from the sales of reports 50/50 with the researchers who create them.   Each report costs $99, which includes three quarterly updates, including trend analyses.  So if the information is full and accurate, this would be a inexpensive way to gain some potentially valuable company insights.

I really like what Jim is looking to do with InfoArmy.  Utilizing the iPad’s interface to deliver important competitive intel in an attractive way is an idea way past its time.  And with his track record of attracting and harnessing “crowd power” I think Fowler is onto something.  Business information doesn’t have to look stodgy to be good.  And Fowler is putting a million of his own dollars (and has raised an additional $3M) to do again what he did with Jigsaw.  But content curation for these CIRs will be critical to the success of InfoArmy, which adds a layer of complexity into the mix.  But I like what I’ve seen at this early stage.

You can check out the InfoArmy app for free by downloading it from the iTunes App Store -  it includes sample reports to look at.  There are also free and paid reports available at www.infoarmy.com.

 

May 31, 2012

Desk.com's Multilingual Support and Its Potential Impact on Accidental Customer Acquisition

Who wouldn’t want more accidental customers?   As the world gets smaller and smaller there are more opportunities for prospects that weren’t on your radar to find you.  And customer service collateral like knowledgebases, community generated responses and the like are great SEO bait for those looking for solutions to challenges they face.  So even if you don’t target a potential customer segment, they just might find you anyway.  Even if they are in another country and speak a different language…or languages.

And if enough of these accidental customers show up and speak foreign languages, the best way to keep them happy (and to attract more like them), is to start speaking their language – quickly.   And the quicker you can add support for accidental foreign customers the better it is in this competitive landscape, which is why the news from Desk.com about their new multi-language feature support caught my attention.

Desk logoFirst is it makes it easier for any business to manage support content (FAQs, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) in multiple languages.  The work isn’t fully automated, but they make it easier to track updates that need to be rolled out in the languages you need to support.  So if you have customers across 5 different languages, it’s much easier to keep knowledgebases in synch – as a change in a KB document in the main language sets a visible status to the related KB document in the other supported languages.  Then each document can be manually updated to match the original.  Also the tweets and Facebook posts associated with a KB doc can be updated to.

As you can see the more languages you need to support adds a lot of content that has to be managed, so anything that helps to manage that is helpful.  As any change needs to rifle through.  And although there is no auto-translation function at the moment you’d have to think that will come somewhere down the line.  The other thing I hope they add sooner rather than later is an easy way to tell what content has changed on a KB article, so that when you go to edit in the other languages you can see the change right away.  That will be a HUGE HELP to make this process less time consuming and more efficient. 

All-in-all it’s a nice new set of functionality that they’re adding for free to all their customers starting on June 6th.  So this is great from a support perspective, but with customer service being the new marketing (or at least I hope it’s on its way to that) this also is a marketing story.  Anything that makes it easier to bring on new customers speaks right to support being a marketing play.  And adding the ability to engage customers in their native language does that.  And also creates localized, native content that just might help you find more accidental customers – I guess I should say help more of them find you.

 

May 18, 2012

Technology For Business Sake – The Return!

Back in the days (November 2006) before Facebook had 10 million users, Twitter was mentioned on anybody’s TV show, and the iPhone was even around – I hosted a radio show with my friend Michael Thomas called Technology for Business Sake.  It was on Business Talk Radio here in Atlanta, and gave us the opportunity to talk with some awesome folks at great companies, best-selling authors, and people I just thought were pretty cool folks.

The show lasted until March of 2008, which went way beyond the three months I originally expected it to last.  But I really enjoyed doing the show, and always hoped I’d be able to do something similar somewhere down the line.  Well, welcome to “somewhere down the line”.

Bs_logo - smallI’m happy to announce that Technology for Business (2.0?) is back!  Starting this Saturday, TFBS will be back on the Atlanta airways 5pm ET on Newstalk 1160am, WCFO.  The show is a partnership between me, the radio station and The Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine, where I write a monthly technology column and sit on the editorial advisory board.


I am extremely excited to be back in the saddle again, and talking small biz tech with the leaders in the space.  So even if you don’t live in Atlanta, you can “tune in” to Newstalk1160.com Saturdays at 5pm et, or catch each show in the archive section.  And the old show site – BusinessTechnologyRadio.com - will be updated soon….I promise!

So check it out and tell me what you think.  And believe me there is plenty of rust to be knocked off.  Just giving y’all a warning….

 

May 09, 2012

Getting the Big Picture on a Small Budget

I wrote my first post for Yahoo! Small Business Advisor yesterday on the challenges of using the myriad of disparte online marketing tools and tactics to build customer relationships today.  I mean trying to get the full picture of how successfully a small biz (or any for that matter) is using all this stuff in order to "win friends and influence people" in the age of SoLoMo.  

This came about after checking out Yahoo!'s new free marketing dashboard that integrates with Constant Contact, Orange Soda (SEM/SEO/PPC management), Google Analytics and a few other services to provide a high level view of how your marketing initiatives are helping (or hurting) the cause. The dashboard pulls in campaign activities (email, SEM, SEO, etc), website activity, and local visibility info (review sites, local blogs, directories, etc) into a single high level view.  It also includes the ability to manage your company's online reputation - and see how your marketing activities may be impacting it.

Some of the services call for the premium editions that costs a few bucks a month, as well as being customers of Constant Contact and Orange Soda. But the functionality is pretty nice - even at the free dashboard level.

So if you have a chance please check out Using the Big Picture to Keep Up with Today's Customer.  But you may also want to check out the free marketing dashboard and see if it's worth your while to try out.  

 

May 07, 2012

The Amazon Effect: Zuora, Citrix and the Acceleration of the Cloud Economy

When Amazon started making their infrastructure and IT processes available outside the company firewall in 2006 it was a tipping point of sorts for business consumerization of the cloud.  Companies of all sizes leveraged a variety of Amazon Web Services to store data, stream video, run online stores and a ton of other things. And now today consumers and businesses alike are adjusting quite nicely to life in the clouds.

IDC projects worldwide revenues from public IT cloud services to reach approximately $73 billion in 2015.  So now that the cloud (in all its many faces) is front and center, more technology vendors are exposing their internal IT architectures and capacity via cloud-based services to “feed the need”.  But one thing that could slow down the roll out is the provisioning, billing and metering services that have to be in place in order to manage these offerings. 

Having to build this functionality from scratch is not the core part of business for most vendors, and would extend the rollout time for services ready for consumption in the cloud economy.  Which is what makes today’s announcement that Zuora is partnering with Citrix to power the meter, price and bill capabilities for Citrix CloudPortal Services Manager.  According to the press release, “Z-Commerce for the Cloud solution will integrate seamlessly with CloudPortal Services Manager to provide a powerful billing and payment platform that allows cloud service providers to quickly monetize and grow their cloud services.”

It will be interesting to see how many of these kinds of partnerships will arise as more companies push to cloud-enable their offerings.  Services like Zuora’s would seem to be in a great position to accelerate the move to the cloud of technology providers by taking care of an essential part of the offering not central to the core business.   And that should accelerate the march to the cloud Amazon put into overdrive a few years ago. 

 

April 30, 2012

CRM Idol is Back on the Hunt for More Fun and Disruption

In the immortal words of Rakim – Guess Who’s Back?  And despite what LL Cool J said, you CAN call it a comeback.  Yup it’s CRM Idol time again, folks.  The 2012 version of CI kicks off today with the launch of this year’s event site.  You can check it out at CRMIdol.com.  And those who want to check out all the information from 2011 contest can click here.

And according to Paul Greenberg this year’s contest is Bigger and Deffer than last year!  OK he didn’t say bigger and deffer (LL did though), but he did say this:

“This is going to be a bigger more exciting year for the industry as we discover some new emerging CRM companies.  Last year was great and this year will be infinitely more amazing”.

Below is the official press release from today:

CRM Idol 2012 Kicks Off for Second Year; Founders Excited to Scout the Next Disruptive CRM Companies

 

April 30, 2012, Manassas, VA.  CRM Idol founder Paul Greenberg announces today the second season of competition designed to find the next disruptive, emerging CRM companies.  CRM Idol is designed to expose emerging technology companies to a front office business marketplace hungry for new ideas and business processes.  Greenberg said, “Last year was great but this year will be infinitely more amazing.”

Finalists in 2011 included Assistly, Crowd Factory, Stone Cobra and Get Satisfaction, which won the competition.  One indicator of the interest generated last year was quality of the participating class; other companies have acquired both Assistly and Crowd Factory for significant sums.

Crmidol
The first phase of the competition, which begins today, focuses on recruiting participants who must first prove their fitness for the competition by supplying basic information including company size based on revenue, years in business and availability of products.  All products in the competition must be in live use and no beta products will be accepted.  For the full rules and to receive an application visit CRMIdol.com.

The competition will focus on companies that provide CRM and related solutions from most major regions of the world including North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Asia.  Application deadline is 6 PM Pacific Daylight Time, May 25, 2012.  The contest runs through December 5, 2012 when winners from the competing regions will be announced.

 

Media Contact

Aly Saxe

[email protected]

Ubiquity Public Relations

602.690.0618

 

Ways to follow CRM Idol news and updates:

Website: Http://CRMIdol.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/CRMIdol

Twitter: @CRMIdol

Hashtag: #CRMIdol

 

Now we’re not saying that being finalists in last year’s competition was the reason why Assistly (now known as Desk.com) and Crowd Factory were snapped up by Salesforce.com and Marketo, respectively.  Or that another contestant – Connected– acquired by LinkedIn during last year’s contest - played a role in that development.  But hey, who knows?  Maybe….

And as tough as it was to narrow down the field to the four finalists (three in EMEA) last year, we believe it will be that much tougher this year.  So if you think your company has what it takes to be this year’s CRM Idol, STAY TUNED!  Make sure you join the CRM Idol Facebook page and follow our Twitter handle to get updates when push them out.  We tweaked a few things based on feedback from contestants, judges, mentors and of course the folks in the general CRM community who voted Get Satisfaction and BPM Online winners in 2011. 

So be on the lookout for more specifics in the very near future.  CRM Idol 2012 is back and open for business…DOG!!!

 

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