Taking Sprout Social for a Testdrive

While exploring social monitoring software last week, I ran across Sprout Social – a ‘new’ entrant (at least to me) in this fast-and-everchanging space.  Since Sprout Social has a free 30-day (no credit card required) trial, I decided to give it a go.  I have been a user of Hootsuite personal and corporate accounts over the past several years, and I will use that as my competitive benchmark.

Listening is key to social media — Since listening is the first step in any social media strategy, finding a tool that you like (and can afford) is critical to be efficient in this process.

Sprout Social pricing — Sprout offers two plans – Pro and Business.  The Pro plan costs $9 per month and includes the ability to track 5 identities (Twitter, Facebook Personal, Facebook Fan, Google Analytics and LinkedIn accounts).  The Business plan costs $49 per month and lets users monitor 10 identities and adds support for location based social media leaders Foursquare and Gowalla.

Other Sprout Social features — in addition to the listening and analytics feature, Sprout Social also helps users manage the interactions with their followers and has some neat features to find new followers.  The Business version lets users follow a team-based approach to managing social media interactions.  Like Hootsuite, there is also a feature to schedule tweets and other interactions.  Lastly, there is a Social CRM feature that will let you track all communications with customers who you set up as contacts in Sprout Social.

What I like about Sprout Social — There are many things to like about Sprout Social:

  • Visually appealing — the software is visually appealing and intuitive to use (see the screenshot below)
  • High level metrics — the high level metrics and graphs provide instant feedback to key measures and a weekly snapshot
  • Engagement and Influence measures — I like the engagement and influence measures, but I still need to understand more about how these measures are developed
  • Training and help — Sprout Social works hard to make sure that new users get training and assistance; I have been getting near daily emails with tips and tricks for using Sprout Social (although I have been mostly ignoring them)

Where I think Sprout Social falls short — There are several areas where Sprout Social falls short:

  • No permanent free option — unlike Hootsuite, there is no permanent free option so I will unlikely stop using it when my free trial is over; while $9 per month won’t break my bank, I am not convinced yet that I need to incur that monthly fee
  • No URL shortener and tracking — I am a big fan of the Hootsuite Ow.ly URL shortener and find that it is a great way to add links to my tweets; while clicked tweets are tracked, I didn’t see a way to track my URLs in Sprout Social
  • No Yelp support — if I were a small business, service or restaurant, I would want to be able to track Yelp in the same monitoring tool; I didn’t try the Foursquare or Gowalla features, so I cannot really judge if Sprout Social simplifies management of these social media services
  • Keyword search — I had trouble getting the keyword search to work – Sprout seemed to get stuck in a “no results yet, but we’re working on it” loop

Sprout Social Dashboard for Tom Humbarger

There was an interesting article in Gigaom two weeks ago titled “Can Sprout Social Win the Social Media Monitoring War?”  First, this article intrigued me because they used WAR in the title as that assumes that this solution space will be hotly contested over the next year or two.  And as noted in the article, social media is a “very difficult space to get right”.  According to the Gigaom article, Sprout Social is “aimed squarely at small businesses, with a paid service that provides a single dashboard for managing your company’s social media presence.”  

For another take on Sprout Social, check out the WebApps.tv video review of Sprout Social from last week – they gave it a 9/10 rating.

Finally, here are some links for Sprout Social:

While I am not recommending Sprout Social (yet), I do recommend giving it a try and seeing what it will do for you or your business. 

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Groupon is *Not* The Anti-CRM

I saw a blog post in CRMOutsiders written by Chris Buchholtz yesterday titled “Groupon: the Opposite of CRM” that essentially stated that “Groupon is the anti-CRM” and makes for undesirable customers.

I strongly disagree – Groupon is the anti-CRM only if companies do a poor job of managing the consumer and process.

For the uninitiated, Groupon is a locally-based group buying site that combines the power of crowds to deliver daily deals offering up to 50% off services and products.  According to the Groupon ‘tote board’, more than 46 million offers have been purchased saving consumers $1.9 billion.  Companies participating in Groupon offers typically split the offering price 50/50 with Groupon – which means that an offer that is used will generate about 25 cents on the dollar to the offering company.

While there are many consumers who use Groupon solely to get good deals, there are many things that a business can do to keep it from becoming an anti-CRM experience.   By using standard customer relationship best practices, introducing consumers to your brand and products can be a profitable and repeatable experience.  Essentially, the key is to turn Groupon into a very targeted lead generation tool that differs from online ads because you actually get to interact with a new consumer to demonstrate why they need your product or service.

  • Gather data – While Groupon will not share email addresses with you, that does not stop you from getting consumers to sign up for your email or newsletter list.  Tell them about your Facebook fan page or Twitter feed.  Use every effort to get the consumer to share information with you as part of the ‘deal’ that you are providing them.
  • Upsell – You are not limited to just selling the Groupon offer to the consumers who are using the service.  Show them other options and how other products or services will enhance their purchase.
  • Engage – As with any customer interaction, use the Groupon experience to learn more about your customer and start developing a relationship.  Ask them questions, have them share their experience with their friends and social networks, get them to share additional information and learn how you can serve them better in the future.
  • Train your staff – If you are going to use Groupon, you need to make sure that all of your frontline employees understand the process and the objectives of the offer.  Give them tips and tricks to gather data and upsell.
  • Leverage the buzz – Groupon can generate significant buzz for your brand so make sure that you can leverage that buzz on your website, Facebook page and on other social media outlets such as Twitter.  For some companies, the buzz by itself is worth the effort and expense.

Groupon may not be for all businesses, but it can be worthwhile if CRM best practices are followed.  In the same vein, I also found several other resources that have great tips for getting the most out of Groupon:

To learn more about Groupon for your business, visit the Groupon Works section on their website.

What Do You “Prize”?

We prize making the impossible possible.

That’s the slogan for the X PRIZE Foundation.  I saw the slogan in an interesting and inspiring video posted on their website last week:

In case you don’t know anything about X PRIZE, here is a brief description:  “The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity, thereby inspiring the formation of new industries and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck due to existing failures or a commonly held belief that a solution is not possible.”   The X PRIZE Foundation hosts competitions in four categories – Energy, Exploration, Education and Global Development and Life Sciences – and current competitions include the Google Lunar Prize, the Archon Genomics Prize, and the Wendy Schmidt Oil Clean-up Prize.

After watching the X PRIZE video, I decided to jot down the things that I prize from a world, professional and personal basis — and it turned out to be a great exercise for me for putting things in perspective.

From an X PRIZE perspective, I prize a world:

  • where all people have the same access to educational and technical resources
  • where everyone receives quality healthcare
  • that takes the environment seriously
  • that continues to explore its physical boundaries

From a career perspective, I prize:

  • a company of passionate and curiously smart people who want to make a difference
  • a career where individual performance and excellence is rewarded
  • an environment where teamwork and collegiality is encouraged and expected
  • an entrepreneurial environment where experimentation is the status quo
  • a company that is doing great things on the cutting edge
Personally, I prize:
  • early morning runs
  • ocean sunsets
  • smiles
  • baseball
  • a good book
  • holding hands
  • my wife and children
  • optimism
  • long time friends
  • a fine lager (ok, just about any micro-brewed artisan beer)
  • Tony Packo’s hot dogs (harkening back to my Toledo, Ohio roots)
  • Jujubes
So, what do you prize?

I “Heart” CRM (and Always Have)

I Heart CRM

I have been involved with customer relationship management in one form or anothe for more than 20 years.  My journey started when I was analyzing customer profitability (and building customer profitability systems) for large banks when I was at First Manhattan Consulting Group and continued into my days with software provider Treasury Services (TSC).  At a TSC customer event in 1997, I even met Martha Rogers when we hired her as a speaker while she was beginning to ride the wave of 1-to-1 Marketing with Don Peppers. When Treasury Services was acquired by Oracle, I moved into a product strategy role within Oracle’s CRM Development group and focused on marketing automation and analytical CRM.  Since then, I have spent significant time launching and managing communities, and getting immersed in social media.  For me, this completes the circle – which makes sense because true customer relationship management has to encompass both community and social media (or social networking).

While thinking about my early days in CRM, I began wondering about the terms that have been used to describe the phenomena of managing customer relationships.  For fun, I looked at the Google Search Timelines to get a rough idea of how various terms are growing (or fading) in popularity.  The terms I searched on included ‘traditional’ terms such as CRM, customer relationship management and 1-to-1 marketing, and the more ‘contemporary’ terms of customer experience management, social CRM, voice of the customer and CRM 2.0.

CRM and Customer Relationship Management returned the largest number of results but they along with 1 to 1 marketing are declining in volume and relevance.  On the contemporary side, both customer experience management and social CRM are on the rise (especially in the last year or two) while voice of the customer and CRM 2.0 seem to have peaked quickly and are in decline already.

Personally, I think customer experience management is the right term that should be used by the industry as companies need to ensure that their customers have the best experience wherever and however they choose to interact — but I can also see the merits of using social CRM as a complementary term too.

Below are screenshots of my Google Timeline Searches:

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While that was a fun exercise, the bottom line is that customers rule now more than ever and that it is now much easier for customers to ‘demand’ a better experience because they know that they will be heard (at least by smart companies who value providing a great customer experience).

In fact, there was an interesting survey that I “bumped” into while I was on Slideshare today.  A copy of the RightNow-commissioned survey insights are included in the Slideshare presentation below or you can find the entire report on the RightNow website.  The insights are not surprising – customers expect great service, they will share good and bad experiences with their friends and with people they don’t know, and they will pay more for great customer experiences.

Using Your Own Customer Interactions To Improve Your Marketing

I had a conversation this week that reminded me of an article I wrote in 2002 when I was doing some consulting work for Island Data (now Overtone.com which was recently acquired by KANA).  Fortunately, the article lives on in the Greater China CRM website (GCCRM.com) including a picture of a ‘youthful’ me.

It is interesting to read this article almost 9 years after I wrote it as so much has changed and is now taken for granted.  Even more interesting is that the 4 recommendations I make at the end of the article are still applicable today – except that it is much easier in 2011 to listen to customers using any of the now-common social media channels.

  1. Analyze the content and intent of Web-based customer interaction information from email, chat and the Web in near real-time
  2. Identify and categorize opportunities by segment (new sales, cross sales and up-sales, and retention or attrition risks)
  3. Take action immediately by pushing the leads and information to the appropriate group, channel, database or other software for execution
  4. Review and measure the results of the actions taken and learn from the experience

In 2002, interacting with your customers consisted of email, chat and maybe some web channel discussions on forums or comments.  And it was not easy to discern the tone or tenor of those conversations without a great deal of manual effort or through a tool like what Island Data was then selling to automatically scan and categorize customer interactions.

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Here is the complete text of my 2002 article:

Using Your Own Customer Interactions To Improve Your Marketing

There is so much going on in the CRM world these days that it is easy for some of the simpler ideas for improving your bottom line to go untouched. Worries about profitability and growth, integrating multiple solutions and customer views, analyzing and segmenting customer data, acquiring and retaining customers, reducing costs and meeting customer satisfaction goals all set in an environment of downsized corporate budgets could make executives overlook the obvious.

Communications Are Probably Ending Up In A Black Hole Or Dead End

If you are like most companies, you are wasting your best source for identifying new leads, cross-sales, up-sales and customer attrition risks. And it’s your own information that has been freely-offered by your customers and prospects.

What I mean by wasting is that your customers and prospects are trying to communicate with you – and their communications are probably ending up in a black hole or dead end. A majority of your customer and prospect contacts originate in the Service Channel via email, the Web, or customer forums and chat rooms. For many companies, the Service Channel is only seen as a cost or operational center and is often viewed in less than positive terms. Like oil and water, Service Operations generally do not mix with the Sales and Marketing sides of the business.

A Simple Categorization Of The Evolutionary Continuum 

Heads in the Sand – These companies have not made customer service a priority and do not offer multiple access methods for customer inquiries, such as email or self-service from their Web sites. If they do answer email, they do so sporadically and in an untimely process. Most companies have moved beyond this stage.

Cost Growers – These companies have started to realize that service interactions are a critical ingredient for customer satisfaction or that they have to offer multiple means for customer contact to match the competition. Many have addressed the issue by hiring more people to answer customer inquiries in their contact centers. Unfortunately, these companies do not have their eye on the bottom line and their profitability suffers as costs spiral out of control.

Cost Avoiders – These companies “get religion” on operational cost control – and usually, the zeal for eliminating or avoiding costs comes at the expense of customer satisfaction. More often than not, the goals of cost reduction are only on paper and the planned reductions of staff and increased productivity never materialize.

Enhancers – These companies really get it, and unfortunately, many companies will never make it to this stage. The Service organizations in these companies are cooperating with the Marketing and Sales organizations to present a unified front. They answer routine emails and questions automatically and efficiently, they escalate service issues promptly, they capitalize on sales and attrition opportunities in near real-time and they use the intimate knowledge of their customer interactions to improve their products and services.

The “Enhancers” listen to what their customers and prospects are telling them. In this final evolutionary state, customer satisfaction will improve substantially and profitability will dramatically increase.

6% Of Their Daily Email Volumes Relate To New Sales Opportunities

Preliminary statistics from one company who conducted tests in this area have identified that 6% of their daily email volumes relate to new sales opportunities. And by rapidly pushing the opportunities to an outbound call center staff (in ?almost? real-time), they have were able to positively contact 25% of the prospects and converted 60% of the contacts into closed sales. This conversion rate is more than 10 times the typical response rate of 2 to 4% they had achieved using more traditional sources for prospects.

To date, very few companies have made it to the ?Enhancer? stage for three major reasons. First, very few companies have realized that there is so much potential in their own service information due to organizational blinders and structural impediments. Second, it is difficult to analyze the intent or content of customer service interactions in real-time, and very few vendors offer robust solutions with this natural language capability. Finally, most companies are ignoring the obvious possibilities of their own service data because many think they need to invest in an expensive, sophisticated and time-consuming solution.

The Keys To Turning Customer Interactions Into Better Marketing

  1. Analyze the content and intent of Web-based customer interaction information from email, chat and the Web in near real-time
  2. Identify and categorize opportunities by segment (new sales, cross sales and up-sales, and retention or attrition risks)
  3. Take action immediately by pushing the leads and information to the appropriate group, channel, database or other software for execution
  4. Review and measure the results of the actions taken and learn from the experience

Capabilities and demand for these types of solutions will explode in the near term – make sure that your company is not left behind in this area. Start by asking some of these leading questions to gain a deeper understanding of the gaps in your organization:

  1. How do we currently obtain prospect information? What is the typical response rate from those sources? What do those sources cost?
  2. How do we or can we identify sales opportunities in real-time? How do we find cross-sell and up-sell leads in our existing customer base?
  3. Do the Marketing and Service organizations in our company talk to each other? Does our Service organization give cross-sell leads to Marketing?
  4. How do we identify customer retention risks? How do we address the potential risks? How quickly do we respond?
  5. How do we measure or improve the sales closure rates or effectiveness of your campaigns?

What’s Your Personal Brand Score?

An article titled “Get Google Get Hired” on TalentZoo.com last week by William Arruda got me thinking about my personal brand.  Everyone is using Google these days to learn more about a person (or to check up on how they look when others Google them).  The idea behind the article is how to measure someone’s Google Quotient and introduces an algorythm called the Online ID Calculator which measures an individual’s Google Quotient.

The Online ID Calculator was created by William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson as a way to promote their book called “Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand”.  But using the calculator is a worthwhile exercise and takes just minutes to complete.  The model uses four key measures in the calculations – volume, relevance, purity and diversity.  A link was included in the article to a short video that explains these concepts in depth.

So I took their test.  Fortunately, Tom Humbarger is a fairly unique name which means that it pays a bit to have genetics on your side.  In fact, there is another Tom Humbarger who is an actor and lives in Los Angeles too – and it turns out that we are 6th or 7th cousins.  But the other Tom Humbarger only shows up once on the first page of a Google search for our name – and I was the first to claim our ‘vanity’ name on both Facebook and LinkedIn.  So, I guess he needs more help with branding than I do.

Overall, I do fairly (really) well on the Online Identity Calculator and it turns out that I am definitely Digitally Distinct.  But even though I am Digitally Distinct, I cannot rest on my laurels as noted in the excerpt from the Online Identity Calculator results page:

This is the nirvana of online identity. A search of your name yields lots of results about you, and most, if not all, reinforce your unique personal brand. Keep up the good work, and remember that your Google results can change as fast as the weather in New England. So, regularly monitor your online identity. That way, if something negative, such as an anonymous ad hominem attack on your character on a blog, crops up, you can address it quickly, before it gets out of hand

Online Identity Calculator – Results for Tom Humbarger

There was also a link on the Online Calculator page for Vizibility.  According to Vizibility, they “deliver the first SearchMe™ Button for Google which instantly returns the search results people want to see.”   Their approach lets users pre-select the information they want to see displayed in a search results and then give users an easy way to share those search results via a link or button.

Vizibility works by embedding search options into a standard Google search.  For my search, the options turn out as +”Tom Humbarger” AND +”social media” OR +”thcg” OR +”irise” OR +”marketing” OR +”Morphlabs” -“actor”  -“events.unisfair.com.  And the resulting Vizibility Search for Tom Humbarger can be found at this link http://vizibility.com/tomhumbarger or in the picture below.

Based on the growing use of Google to do background searches, it makes sense to invest a bit of time to make sure that your own personal brand is well represented.

Social Media for CPAs

Michael B. Allmon (my running partner and CPA friend) and I had our article titled “Social Media for CPAs” published by the California CPA Society this week.  The article appears in their 2011 Technology and Business Guide as the lead story.  In addition to answering the high level questions of “what is social media” and “why should CPAs care?”, we also describe how to get started in social media and provide some quick hit suggestions.

While this article was targeted at CPAs, the advice is relevant to all professionals including lawyers, investment professionals and bankers.  As the article states, social media is about networking and sharing with your customers and prospects.

You can view the article on Slideshare below or download it from this link.

I have been running with Mike three times per week for the last 6 years and during that time we have had many discussions about social media.  Our article is the culmination of the advice I’ve shared over the years as Mike as progressed from “what the heck is social media” to “hey, this social media stuff really works”.  I also helped Mike transform his corporate website, and got him involved in Twitter where he tweets as MichaelBAllmon and DeadAccountant.

While the article is fairly straightforward, I am available to do social media audits and engagements, and can help any professional with ramping up their social media presence.  See my Social Media Links for ways to contact and connect with me.