It all started with a surprise project in 2008 – I wrote about it on my personal blog and on some public blogs like Customer Think and Social Media Today. And as promised I continue writing about it.
Here is the whole story from the very beginning:
2008 – One morning…
… a small group of sales and service people from Company-Red realized that they could go to Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo Groups and YouTube and get a list of all the people who were discussing the good, the bad and the ugly about their products. After spending some time and doing some digging, Company-Red realized that this list was basically their customer list with lots of insights about usage, problems, advantages and more. It was a shocking event as the customer list was one of their best guarded secrets – now publicly available to everybody. Of course nobody published the list but customer discus and explore solutions and as such out them as a customer of whatever they use.
One manager said “Hey, this is a huge threat – anybody can get the same information if only they know how to dig them up. Friggin Social Media is a wide-open and completely accessible public space. As a matter of fact, this is even worse than publishing our customer list because the comments and postings actually describe our new products, they discuss what we do right and why they bought our products in the first place. Worse, they expose all our weakness – and some of that stuff we don’t even know ourselves. ” The Chief of Staff consulted me and some experts and we launched Operation “Big Dig”.
The Big Dig
The “Big Dig” was a project to analyze and dissect the customer base. It was a project to use social media to find customers with problems. An elite team was created. There was only one mission: “Get into all the social networks, groups and communities, identify our customers, and help them solve their problems. ” – Within only three months Company-Red was receiving a lot of positive feedback from customers who appreciated the effort and the improvements in service. People loved Company-Red.
The project sparked new ideas. In one meeting we concluded: “If we can get that information about our own customers, then we can get the same information about our competitor's customers – right?” Another team – we started with ten people, were assigned to perform a similar task but for a VERY different target group: “Find and help the customers of our competitors.” The new group called themselves “Yellow Submarine.” They dived into the social media space, identified the issues of the competitor’s customers and tried to help. Sometimes it was as simple as putting them in touch with their own customers who had similar problems and letting these experienced customers explain how Company-Red’s products had helped them.
Winning the first battle
The “Yellow Submarine” group did no selling, no pitching, no arguing about products and solutions. All they did was to make introductions and solve problems. Sure enough, the helpful customers from Company-Red posted lots of information to benefit the sometimes struggling customers from Company-Blue, Company-White, and Company-Green. Eventually, several of the Blue, White and Green customers started buying now familiar products and services from Company-Red.
The Changing Battlefield
Company-Blue struggled. They were losing the battle by fighting a traditional war against a modern enemy. Their generals blamed the economy for the devastating situation. Inevitably, Company-Blue announced they were going “back to their roots.” They downsized and fired their newly hired social media manager, announcing “we need to get back to our product values and strengthen our solution selling model. We will not be distracted by all that social crap that costs money, wastes resources and weakens our company values that made us successful in the last 50 years.”
2009 – the show goes on – bigger – different.
Ground Troops Affaire
We introduced some significant investments in direct relationship building. Company-Red understands that warfare has changed. We reviewed past experience and decided that the best weapons to gain mind share are no longer carpet bombing raids using advertising and public relations. The most effective tactic is sending ground troops into battle with order to identify and help one customer at a time – regardless of whether they are a customer of Company-Red or Company-Blue.
Time is of essence
Company-Red knows what it took to develop that inner culture of helping any user (customer or not) developing social relationships on all levels and maintain those relationships. They know that their advantage is based on time. So they encourage almost all levels and functions to engage. Their model: It takes 6 month to get comfortable in the social web. It takes 6 month to develop relationships beyond the "economic buyer" but to include whoever is of relevant influence. To get everybody in the company engaged is not a matter of command and control – but a matter of encouragement and educational support. Now over 2,000 are engaged.
The new numbers game
If a sales person can touch base with 50 people per day through social media, by visiting sites, profiles, groups etc. and only takes 1 hour each day, 100 sales people can touch 5,000 a day, or 100,000 a month. If they do a good job and those 100,000 only talk to 10 within the course of that month, Company-Red can reach 1 Million people – not through email blasts, advertising or TV commercials, but the social way – with only 100 sales people. If those 100 sales people would have a second hour each day to respond and communicate to their base – it would actually not be just a new form of "getting the message out" but a real human conversation. Now who can compete with that kind of sales force? No traditional organization. Company-Red is way ahead of the curve by now. Some of their competitors were bought in the meantime, one went out of business and the rest is still struggling.
2010 — Social Competition
The next phase is in the making. The leaders of Company-Red know one thing: There is no time to rest. New ideas have been maturing on top what has happened in the past two years… It'll be not short of social innovation. The best of all, customers like it. Feedback is continuously growing and the level of advocacy is accelerating the evolution.
We'll see end of 2010 where this lead to.
2010 – Competition in a new dimension
Like in any war – alliances play a strategic role
Expanding the engagement continues to be a numbers game and a race against time. There are only so many people within the company who can engage. But there is a force out there that is even better suited to compete: Business partners. The indirect channel of distributors, resellers, retailers, dealer, brokers… has a significant advantage in the relationship building process – they simply outnumber any direct sales organization. We decided to make any possible effort to empower the channel of company red and make the channel a recommendation amplifier.
The owner of customer relationships
Channel partners are typically owning the customer relationships. 75% of the world trade is conducted through any kind of channels. Involving and empowering channel partner to build better relationships with their customers by representing the brand as a trusted adviser – instead of a simple sales force strengthens relationships and forces partners to advance in the development of their competencies. The old "middle man" who's primary role always was to recommend the best solution to their customers has not changed – but with the power of social media the "middle man" has a broader reach and is more important than ever before.
The partner evolution
One partner came and said: "I finally see social media as strategic engagement – not a fluffy marketing gig. We doubled the number of attendees to our webinars, our tweets were almost always re-tweeted by our vendors, we are invited to speak, get more meetings and completely outperformed some of the competitors who virtually don't exist in social media. We usually start our presentation with a slide 5,000 reasons to talk to us – showing our networks, blog posts and tweets that we wrote or are connected with." But unlike the speed we had in the first two years, mobilizing an entire ecosystem of independent companies is much slower and more challenging. The good news for company red: those who just now begin to explore the social web are already three years behind.
2011 – The year of social technology
In this next phase on the journey, technology will play an important role. While we want to expand social relationships, we also want to strengthen them at the same time. What sounds like an oxymoron is an important nut to crack. And as always, end of 2011 we will see how it evolved.
Please touch base with me if you like to get some more insights