Perspectives on Lead Management

Published in Marketing Tech Outlook on June 20, 2019.

By Michelle Killebrew, Vice President, Head of Marketing, PwC New Ventures

Lead Management can be complex in its own right. Try to explain it in simple, relatable terms to your counterparts that may not appreciate the nuance of what you’re trying to achieve, and the craft you have honed to make it a reality.

The thing about Lead Management is that it sounds easy; Marketing should create demand via campaigns, collect and manage leads and pass the warm and hot leads to Sales to close. Job done. In reality, Lead Management is a “thing”. Actually, it’s more than a thing in its own right, it is a functional specialty—and beyond that, it’s a technical specialty.

I am a multidisciplinary marketer, but I grew up in the performance world,navigating ecommerce and SaaS marketing analytics before going Enterprise and (literally) teaching teams and our agencies how to be performance-minded. I had a “quota.” That is to say, I had revenue objectives both direct and indirect, and so optimizing spend, conversion and revenue was part of how I measured my success.  Additionally, I’m a tinkerer, so good enough was never good enough. There is always a “how might we” question to test and improve around.

I’m assuming Marketing Tech Outlook readers are technical marketers with an appreciation for the meaning of the phrase “the art and science of marketing.” I will also assume that most of us have, as part of our day jobs, the task of explaining the reality around Lead Management: what it is, why it’s not easy, why it’s not foolproof and why it’s not “free.”

How to Describe Lead Management to Non-Marketing Stakeholders

According to Wikipedia, “Lead management is a set of methodologies, systems, and practices designed to generate new potential business clientele, generally operated through a variety of marketing campaigns or programs.” Which translates into the people, process and technology required to create demand with prospective buyers. It is the way by which Marketing sources prospects to Sales, including the data integrations and infrastructure to pass leads from one place to another. I believe it’s best to set the stage simply at first and then unpack the complexity in subsequent conversations that address the what and why.

Why Isn’t Lead Management Easy

Simply put: scale. If you want to close meaningful revenue, you have to engage with a lot of prospective clients in order to drive the volume needed to convert leads into buyers. Despite sophistication in targeting via digital channels, Marketing will attract far more prospects than those that will convert to actual clients. Maybe those leads represent real opportunities, or maybe they’re just researching options. Maybe they can’t afford it in this budget cycle, or maybe business priorities changed, and the project is no longer in scope. Regardless of the reason, only a small percentage of prospects that engage with marketing convert to client. I’ve found that explaining this to unknowing stakeholders in second-person story form helpful “Have you ever researched a software tool or even a gift idea and changed your mind…?”

Why Can’t Marketing Promise Results

Just like the stock market, there are many external factors at play. And just like the stock market, micro- and macroeconomics play into clients’ willingness to pay. Building a lead management system from the ground up is rife with uncertainty. The only way to validate actual performance for your offering, to your target audience, with your campaigns/messaging, your systems and your team is to actually put it in market. Benchmarking is a great place to start, so that you can make some educated performance goals, but you will never know until you know. Test and iterate. Build it, launch it, and optimize. While marketers by reputation aren’t known to be math experts, Marketing is math. Complex math, given the infinite number of external factors that weigh in. Lead management is literally a numbers game. One that those with the best conversion rates will win. Yes, there is consumer psychology that can and should be leveraged to boost performance, but at the end of the day, it is good to remind your stakeholders that people and markets are fickle.

Why Do You Need Extra  _________[People, Technology or Budget]

Companies that do lead management well have entire functional departments dedicated to this. We’re talking technical marketing staff, data science teams, fully integrated MarTech stacks and an understanding that the expense to optimize lead flow directly impacts gross margin and customer satisfaction (i.e. retained customers and therefore compound growth rates). If you’re just standing up lead management processes, it can be perceived to non-Marketers as super simple: “Can Marketing just sent customer lead lists in Excel to Sales?”

While you know that’s not the answer (because of issues with data privacy and personally identifiable information just to start), you may need to explain that website (CMS), marketing automation (MA), customer relationship management (CRM) systems, minimally, will need to have data integrations to make Lead Management work. If you get more sophisticated, landing pages, digital analytics, data lakes, and more come into the fold. People need to manage these integrations and ensure everything is running smoothly. Then you’ll need to determine (math; automated math) when a Lead is ready to talk with Sales; that’s Lead Scoring. Is a prospect the right profile? Is their behavior indicating that they are ready to have a Sales conversation? This automated math needs both strategy and a practical way to deploy it – again, at scale.

Lead Management can be complex in its own right. Try to explain it in simple, relatable terms to your counterparts that may not appreciate the nuance of what you’re trying to achieve, and the craft you have honed to make it a reality. And at the end of the day, show your results. No one can argue with the revenue that you can prove Marketing has delivered.

 


From food to software: why you need digital transformation

Interview published on the Skuid blog on August 17, 2017.

Michelle Killebrew knows a little something about digital transformation.

She led the strategy for the social business division at IBM, where she expanded the product line from 89 to more than 400 products to help the company’s clients understand and successfully undertake digital transformation. This covered everything from internal collaboration solutions and communication systems, talent management and analytics, digital marketing solutions, infrastructure security, and information technology (IT)—everything an organization needs to transform to meet the customers’ high digital expectations. In her time at IBM, she was passionate about helping to build that story so that IBM’s customers would know where to begin the daunting journey of enterprise transformation.

Not only has Killebrew won multiple awards as a senior marketing executive, she’s been a TEDx speaker and written numerous articles on the topic of digital marketing. I spoke with her over the phone about her newest role, trends we are seeing in digital transformation, and the growing role of citizen developers in the enterprise.

Skuid: Let’s talk about your background a little bit. What is your current role?

Michelle Killebrew: I’m the chief marketing officer for a food technology company called Nomiku. The founders of Nomiku created the first ever sous vide (precision cooking) immersion circulator for the home. The story goes that the founder was working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York and had a desire to bring home one of these sous-vide machines they keep in the kitchens of all of the top restaurants. But they were thousands of dollars and really bulky. While on the first date with her now husband, who’s an astro and plasma physicist, they created the first home immersion circulator. This was in 2010. They’ve since had two successful Kickstarters. They’ve been invited to the White House for an honored Maker Award. Now, we’ve just launched our third generation product.

It’s really exciting because it’s bringing Internet of Things technology into the kitchen. But their focus has always really been on the food; with a mission of “how can we eradicate every obstacle between you and a delicious plate of food?” Which is why we’ve just launched our food program, which is revolutionary because of its RFID inventory management capability as well as future opportunities around health data. For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be at the crossroads of health, food, and technology, and how digital transformation of all kinds is making its way into every aspect of our lives, including how we prepare our meals.

Before that, I was working in financial services—wealth management to be specific—where they found me to lead their digital marketing transformation. As you may know, digital transformation is especially challenging for the financial services industry at-large. Given the regulations that financial service organizations are bound to, keeping up with consumer expectations has been difficult.

For me, digital transformation is all about customer-centricity regardless of industry, and customer’s expectations are shifting dramatically towards instant, personal, seamless experiences — B2C and B2B.

While we’re talking about digital transformation, it’s a topic that’s on a lot of people’s minds—not just in the tech industry, but in established enterprises. I’m curious if, in your experience, you see digital transformation as a trend that’s been around for a few years and then in a few more years it may go away? Or do you think it’s something that’s here to stay?

It’s certainly not a trend. I think that things will continue to change as technology changes and consumer expectation changes. What digital transformation is today may not be what digital transformation is tomorrow. It’s interesting if we look back at the transformations that have happened in business history, whether it’s through, say the advent of the telegraph or just in terms of condensing that communication cycle. Or in our more recent history with e-business, when we introduced email and the internet to how we operate on a standard business practice perspective—digital transformation is yet another one of those moments in time where we are pivotally shifting to meet consumer expectations which is advancing rapidly.

Part of this, of course, is the fact that we’re all walking around with smartphones in our pockets. We expect to be able to access information, from corporate information to customer information, to any type of information, at the swipe of our fingers. Those expectations are shifting how businesses need to meet their customers’ demands. It’s easy for customers to switch to their competitors very easily with the next click of a mouse or the next touch of their fingers on their mobile phones. There is less loyalty for loyalty’s sake. You really have to win that loyalty from a customer, and integrate that customer experience across all of your channels, to make that experience seamless and desirable for your customers. There’s a really high expectation. I think that that’s really where the pain points of digital transformation are coming from.

We’ve obviously seen it this year in 2017. We’ve been talking about the retail industry shift over a number of years. But I think we saw the closure of 2,000 retail stores this year. We’re starting to see, just now, that it’s impacting areas that I’m certainly focused on with food and technology. Especially with the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon and some of the other food and technology integrations, with people ordering their groceries online. I think that in other industries, some of this change has been happening a little bit less visibly than perhaps retail. But it’s really coming to the foreground in terms of customer expectations and how they pivot their companies to meet those expectations.

How do you see digital transformation affecting the way employees use technology within the enterprise?

Well, similarly to consumers, employees have high expectations from their employers as well. They expect that they’ve now been groomed with a technology experience. Think about your Apple experience and your iPhone. If you go into an enterprise and you’re still leaning in to lengthy, archaic database systems to get your work done, it’s frustrating. You really don’t have the patience for it from a productivity perspective, especially when you’ve got this “Apple” experience for your personal life. We’ve seen this extensively in enterprise technology; just the expectations of employees with how they’re able to communicate, whether it’s their email systems or their instant messaging systems, how they’re able to collaborate in real time. Document sharing, especially over locations, because you don’t often need to be in the same location. How can you bring those collaboration solutions into a ubiquitous format so that you can collaborate with your colleagues all over the globe?

It’s certainly something that’s just part of that social business category, the solutions for employee empowerment and collaboration. Ultimately, if your employees aren’t happy, your customers will not be happy because your customers are being served by your employees. They’re the frontline of your brand expression and that customer experience. I think over the last several years, digital transformation has really brought home the importance of employee engagement and meeting the needs for their technology requirements. And making sure that the work they are doing is fulfilling and that they’ve got those growth paths. Because it certainly impacts the bottom line.

Do you feel digital transformation is a luxury, or a necessity? And is it strictly for larger, more established enterprises? Or do you feel that’s something that even smaller companies can achieve?

I think it’s for survival. All companies will need to address it. It’s actually probably more difficult for a large company because they’ve got established systems and databases. You really have to think through your data flow and how your systems and processes and people are actually speaking to each other in effective ways to embrace new ways of doing things. For small companies, though, it may be taken for granted that they don’t need to worry about it. But that’s not true. We see this even, say, with small, local restaurants that need to adopt food delivery. Whether it’s on a Grubhub or an Eat24, customers want to be able to either order their food and have it ready for them to pick up immediately, or have it delivered straight to their door. These are just customer behaviors that small businesses need to adapt to as well. Just really being accessible to their clients and thinking through how their clients want to be able to engage with them for communication or for services. That’s why there is a huge market for meal delivery services, like a Blue Apron our our Nomiku Sous Chef Meals, consumers preferences have shifted. They’re extremely time constrained, but want to know what’s in their food, where it came from and have it ready-to-eat on their terms.

Is it something that should always be led by sales and marketing teams? Or, is it something that IT is starting to lead the charge on?

We’ve seen industry-wide that Marketers have really carried the torch. But that’s because they’re customer-facing, and the requisite to change has really been born by the customers’ expectations. That said, for digital transformation to effectively stick within an organization and to be carried-off successfully, it really needs to happen collaboratively between all of the departments. There may be aspects of digital transformation that may be explicit to the department.

Thinking through IT, for instance—it may be restructuring the database or bringing on different technical solutions. However, all of the departments need to collaborate to make sure that they’re not transforming in the wrong directions, that their transformation is happening in a synchronized fashion, so that it truly becomes just as effective across the organization, and that information is flowing. Because the customer experience traverses all departments. Your customer doesn’t care that your call center’s on one system and your email system may be on another. They just know that they’re speaking with you as a brand and want to be able to have their problem resolved as quickly as possible. It doesn’t matter which department spearheads the initiative. It needs to be collaborative between the different departments. There needs to be a clear vision as to what digital transformation means for that particular organization, milestones and roadmaps for how we’re going to get there. Then a real understanding that legacy key performance indicators (KPIs) and measurements of success of before may not be the same KPIs that you need to measure in the future.

If you’re operating differently and you’re then optimizing how that engagement may be expressed, you need to look at a different set of optimized KPIs to reach that goal. And then look at your foundational KPIs and make sure that you’re really focusing on profit and growth margin, if that’s where you are in your digital transformation. Or, if you’re trying to really protect and grow market share, and you have a longer-term strategy to survive the digital transformation and then focus on growth and profit at a later date. That’s one thing that I think is really challenging is that you’re going through and changing systems and practices. But a lot of the reporting and how business has been run and measured in years past needs to be shifted as part of that transformation.

What’s the role of citizen developers when it comes to digital transformation and enterprise technology?

It’s an interesting question. I think the concept of the citizen developer in every single department outside of IT is going to be standard. We’re going to grow into that whether it’s developing marketing apps or HR apps. We can’t operate in waterfall anymore, right? Everything has to be agile. For everything to be agile, you’re going to have a lot more of this pod-style development where you’re going to be able to iterate fast and test it. And then once it proves that it’s worth expanding upon, bring that into a more formalized development process. Because that’s how we’re going to be able to evolve in a very competitive digital transformation world where everybody’s trying to figure it out. Nobody’s written the guidebook because everybody’s going through it together. Quite honestly, that guidebook is going to look different for each organization.

That said, I think that we need to be mindful of not going rogue. As we know, in today’s technical and digital world that we live in, cybersecurity is one of our biggest concerns. We just need to be very mindful that while we may be trying to iterate and develop very quickly, that we have really robust sets of security regulations, especially around customer data or employee data, and to be mindful of the potential risks. I certainly think that the citizen developer is going to be the core to how we reorganize our teams and how we function as we go through this transformation and into the future. But the risk right now is that we are shifting so quickly that we need just to be very mindful of the potential risks that may come along with that.

Dreamforce is coming up in November. Since you live in San Francisco, is it a conference you usually attend? Will we be seeing you there this year?

I’ve been in the lucky position of being able to attend a lot of the satellite events over the years, which has been great for me. I still feel like I’m connected to the community but not necessarily in the throes of the conference itself. The great thing about Dreamforce and being at the amazing event that it has become—and quite honestly it’s truly remarkable, the production level of the event that it’s become …I don’t know how they pull it off—is that there are so many ways to participate in that content, even if you’re not here. People are syndicating or writing a perspective or bringing video live from the event floor. Whether you’re able to make it or not, it’s a wonderful place to bring this whole concept of digital together and get some great minds and hear some perspectives. I’m looking forward to see what the biggest news is this year!

Charlie Moss, Senior Copywriter

Charlie Moss has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Week, Slate, MOJO, VICE and other publications. He has a passion for comic books, Star Wars, and The Beatles.

New Content Economy? What’s Old Is New Again!

Published in ClickZ on February 19, 2015.

As the marketing ecosystem evolves, we can look to our past for inspiration on how to deal with the new challenges we face.

"What will it take to win in the new content economy? The best way for publishers to earn more is to interrupt less. The best way for brands to emotionally connect is through meaningful content. But for the new content economy to thrive, all of these efforts need to happen at scale." - The Rise of the New Content Economy, VentureBeat

I was reading the above article - by now you know I read a lot; philosophically agreeing with B. Bonin Bough’s thought "I'm so scared to become irrelevant so I try to spend time constantly learning what’s new" – and struggling with a massive case of writer’s block for this piece when an epiphany hit: as with most things, we’ve been here before! I actually agree with what is stated in the article, that we, as marketers, need to think through how we properly engage with our audiences given the latest advances in technology. But with that said, the fundamentals of marketing are just that: fundamental. They still hold true even if we think of "modern" ways of applying them.

Recently I had the privilege of presenting at TEDxUniversityofReno. My talk was called "How Technology Can Make Us More Human," focusing on how we, as people and as brands, are leveraging technology to enhance or interrupt our experiences with others. In preparing for my talk, I researched current data points, forward looking global trends – but I also reflected back on past predictions of what our future may hold. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 (written 1953) and 1984 (written 1949) - which, if you haven’t read in a while, I highly encourage you to do so! I’m also adding Brave New World to my "on deck" reading list – and was reminded how our human history is cyclical. Our discovery and re-discovery of how we engage with one another is both fascinating and humorous.

Currently in the headlines as being new and "must execute" trends:

  • Native Advertising and Content Marketing: While I’m sure it goes back further, native advertising in our modern world can be traced back to the 1930’s advent of radio soap operas - where the brands were in charge of creating original content with which to engage their target audience: housewives.
  • Social Technology: This is really a technological application of our human nature in "word-of-mouth" conversation. Applying this to promote products, brands, and services is as old as time immemorial. Yes, we need to continue to refine our methods of speaking authentically through these channels and yes, tools and analytics can help us do this more effectively, but the concept is not new.
  • Relationship Selling: The latest resurgence in building out sales teams is a trend resulting from our over-reliance on technology (marketing automation, etc.) and people’s true desire to seek advice from a human during complex buying decisions. This seems like common sense to me and apparently customers are beginning to demand it, as shown by the business models supporting the headcount to fund for these new teams.
  • Print Marketing: I’ve been saying this for a while now - print marketing is not dead. In fact, as we focus more on digital channels, the physical, tactical, and experiential nature of print makes it even more special, and I agree whole heartedly with Tessa Wegert in her recent ClickZ article on the topic.

What can we learn here? As we are faced with new and more complex marketing challenges, we can look to our past for inspiration on how best to use these seemingly new obstacles. Tried-and-true foundational marketing practices can be re-imagined and re-engineered to meet today’s expectations.

I love that that as people seek to engage with one another, they are looking for more "natural" ways to do so, a la Snapchat. "'You know this conversation we just had? Snapchat is just like that. It’s like real life. It’s just between us and you’re left with nothing but the memory.' It sort of puts the fun back in social again; just like when some of us were kids," says Steve Tobak.

So, as we look forward, take a moment to look back – we’re an amazing human race, and we have likely already thought through similar challenges.

PS – I also love that Millennials have this affinity for nostalgia; I consider it a proof point of the above, plus it makes me smile to see the toys from my own youth on the shelves today!

Michelle Killebrew, IBM Social Business: DMN 2014 40 Under 40 Award winner

Michelle Killebrew
Program Director of Strategy and Solutions, IBM Social Business

Published on DMNews on September 30, 2014.

Direct Marketing News 2014 40 Under 40 Award

Winning ways: Killebrew is all about optimization. With analytics as her guide, Killebrew led and launched the first integrated digital campaign across the IBM Smarter Commerce portfolio, introducing role-based messaging and providing best practices and Web analytics globally to in-country marketing teams. Additionally, her data-led work has resulted in revenue increases across several areas of the business.

Defining moment: “It's been a number of progressive experiences that have built on themselves. The biggest opportunity is taking advantage of them…. [First], I was the director of marketing for an online retailer. I was able to tinker around with Google Analytics, really look at the user flow and what was made to optimize that user flow, and increase revenue significantly. Then in my next role working for Coremetrics…[I] implemented campaigns with more sophisticated digital analytic capabilities and looked at optimization and trends in a much more sophisticated way. When that company was then acquired by IBM, I was able to pilot specific trends that I had learned from Coremetrics and apply those on a much larger scale with IBM.”

Words to live by: “Concentration is my motto—first honesty, then industry, then concentration."  –Andrew Carnegie

Head swivel: “When I rolled up my sleeves and really delved into the discussions around content marketing, I realized that this is something that we had already figured out, to some degree, and were implementing it in some of our customer engagement strategies.”

Good advice: “The best thing for [young marketers] to learn is the desire and passion to keep learning.”

First job: “My very first job was babysitting. My first official pay-check job was in a shop in a retail environment. Both of those really teach you to be patient and think about other people's needs first. In the first instance, it's the child. In the second instance, it's the customer. It's really putting that end-user hat on when you think about how you approach different problems.”

On your nightstand: “I'm currently reading Brisingr—book three of The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini.  It's a fantasy, hero journey about a young farm boy and his dragon [and how] they hope to overthrow an amazingly strong and sadistic king from his control of the Empire. At the end of a long day plugged into the digital world, I enjoy escaping in the storytelling evoked in fiction on paperback. That said, of course there are always life and career lessons that can still be learned and applied: how one gains skills to succeed, the promise of overcoming obstacles to achieve, the importance of people that help you along the way, to name just a few.”

Favorite mobile app: “Right now, I'd have to say TripIt because I'm traveling so much. It really [keeps me] on the ball as to where I'm supposed to be next. If I'm thinking about engagement, it's probably Hootsuite in that it allows me to stay engaged on a variety of different social fronts and understand how I can engage with my audience while I'm sitting in the airport or traveling in a car on the go.”

Click or tap here to read the stories behind the successes of the other Direct Marketing News 2014 40 Under 40 winners.

Rethink Social Media War Room Strategy

Published on ClickZ on March 19, 2014.

As a former email marketer, I love a good subject line, and just today I saw one that got me thinking: "Time to rethink social media 'war rooms.'" The email was for a short video interview, but it was the subject line that sparked my thoughts. This is a topic that we have discussed internally quite a bit, because we believe that social communication is about people-centric engagement and not about war with or through media. It is certainly not about command or control of social conversations. So I'd like to spark some thoughts for you around how you approach your dashboarding and interaction.

By thinking strategically through engagement beyond just listening, we looked to the types of dashboard information that can help provide deeper insight and meaning around people's intent and our success in delivering to that want or need. We dug into our own tool bag and utilized a number of the key solutions we have that provide detailed analytics into real-time conversations and listening, sentiment, behavior, and even psycholinguistics.

To begin our journey, we have brought a large physical "center" to key events. It's made up of multiple large touchscreen monitors that allow attendees to interact with the data that is being captured live about the specific event. The engagement is both physical and specific and carries out to the socialverse.

Response to this type of visualization of people-centric engagement has been overwhelming. I believe it's because we're getting beyond the basics of social media and are really looking holistically at how people are engaging by examining a series of powerful analytics. Analytics that can help us serve people better. Analytics that can help us create real, valuable insight for the business. Analytics that can help impact the bottom line. We are bringing to life this insight with powerful visualizations that people can make sense of and react to-drill into for deeper understanding.

So what are some of the things that you should think through as you approach the creation of a center of engagement for your brand?

  • Social listening - for customer service, sentiment, product innovation, trends
  • Web analytics - to understand behavior, ensure customer experience, measure interaction and revenue
  • Real-time benchmark data - so you know how you are performing against your peer competitors
  • Cognitive analytics - for powerful personality profiling that will help to better serve customers based on their personality traits to improve conversion rate, acquisition rate, revenue, and profit
  • Business intelligence - for deep comprehension and analysis of how the above translates into bottom-line business results, and insight into trends over time
  • All including visualizations to help drive rapid insight and action from your engagement response team

At the end of the day, to think strategically you need to put your prospects',  customers' and peoples' needs front and center. You need to listen and watch to the cues they are giving you. The tools to do this are changing rapidly. But please remember that your intent should not be to wage war with media or to command social, it should be to engage with people. After all:

  "Social media and technology are not agents of change. They are just tools. We the connected people are the agents of change."

                 - Stuart J Ellman, President of 92Y at Social Good Summit 2012

Get To Know: IBM Social Business Global Marketing Program Director

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Michelle Killebrew leads the go-to-market strategy for IBM Social Business. Her team focuses on messaging, solutions, and value content to shape the new definition of what defines a social business, and how organizations can embrace this next information revolution in the workforce.

“I am passionate about marketing, especially innovative online marketing strategies that deliver a superior brand experience—from initial acquisition through to loyal customer—and increase growth and profitability,” says Killebrew.

Read more > 

Are You Ignoring Your Best Brand Advocates?

Published on ClickZ October 30, 2013

I joined a Twitter chat about the value of social this week and during the course of the conversation, was surprised to learn that for some people, the idea of enabling employee advocates was a novel concept. So many people recognize the power of social media for marketing and external evangelism, yet they neglect the power within their own organization!

We all know that social technology enables human connections. But the thing is, there are no boundaries between consumers or employees, because most of us are both. Technology has also amplified the speed and reach of every type of communication. This evolution in how we share information and knowledge goes far beyond just social "media." It's a complete transformation in the way we interact. When businesses fail to take advantage of the valuable assets in their organization, they miss out on an excellent way to create both customer engagement and employee empowerment.

Social strategist Ted Rubin was featured recently in a great article by Cheryl Connor, in Forbes. He said, "When someone asks, ‘What is the ROI of Social?' I ask back...‘What's the ROI of Loyalty, what's the ROI of Trust?' In order to sell the concept, you've got to talk in a language they'll understand."

I'd take this a step further, to ask employers, "What's the ROI of employee engagement and effective communication with consumers?" When employees are empowered to make direct connections with the customers they serve, it fuels productivity and loyalty from within. In addition to having satisfied employees, an organization can create an internal army of brand ambassadors and influencers who can help promote the business.

So often in marketing conferences, we hear about an employee who has gone above and beyond for the sake of a customer. In this social and connected world we live in, this single experience can spread like wildfire, promoting the organization in an organic, authentic way. Giving your employees the power to speak out on behalf of your organization (with some guidelines in place) can only help broaden the voice of your brand voice and increase the level of visibility in the marketplace.

What does it take to develop a following of employee brand ambassadors? Start with these guiding principles:

  • Make your organizational knowledge accessible to all employees through the use of social technology within the business.
  • Empower employees to participate in social media on behalf of the brand. 
  • Put clear, easy-to-follow guidelines in place and have a plan for dealing with potential mistakes. 
  • Facilitate innovation by listening and encouraging feedback around processes, services and products. 

Over the next few years, it's going to become clear that businesses will need to give employees a social experience just like the ones they get in their personal lives. This will not only help businesses retain valuable employees, but it will also be a benefit to the bottom line--and a significant competitive advantage for those that do it right. It will improve employee engagement, productivity and innovation. It will help employees deliver exemplary customer experiences to consumers. It will allow organizations to rally their largest group of brand advocates: the employees themselves.

One thing is absolutely true in this new world of free-flowing information: everyone has a voice and the platform to use it. If you're not using it, someone else will.

What Does It Really Mean to Be a Social Business?

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Social media and social business are terms that are getting used a lot lately. But while one may enable the other, they're very different - and organizations that don't understand the distinction may be missing out on a huge opportunity to improve their business processes.

Debate Brewing

Social media continues to mature as both a channel and a market in its own right. It's even becoming an agent for social change. Technology made it possible for us to connect, and now social media has made it possible to do it in a more organic, human way. It's hard to believe, but Facebook and LinkedIn are each coming up on their 10th year, and Twitter is now six years old. Together, they've fundamentally changed how we engage with one another online. Millennials who grew up in a social world are entering the workforce. What happens next? Social business.

While the concept of a social business has been around for a few years, right now it's really gaining traction. But there's a huge difference between a business that uses social media and one that that empowers social connections and makes them a fundamental part of operations. In other words, some companies tweet about their products - and that's it. Truly social businesses use social collaboration to change the way their employees and teams interact.

Not everyone agrees - the debate is brewing, and a number of papers, research reports, and books appear on the subject every day. I recently engaged in a discussion on the subject during a Twitter chat hosted by @PamMktgNut. Check out the #getrealchat transcript to read the whole conversation. I love the fact that we were using social media to discuss the topic, and that we got to hear 136 perspectives in a real-time discussion. The consensus was that social media is a marketing and communication channel, and social business is a philosophy that combines process, technology, and people to be successful. Of course, social media is a part of the greater concept of social business, since it helps an organization communicate with external constituents. But an intrinsically social company infuses social interaction into every part of their business operations.

The Social Business

The way I see it, a social business is a connected organization where the expertise of the individual is accessible by all through the ability to collaborate. Internal and external social communication fuels the development of new product and service development by employing social listening and analytics. It's the application of the new communication medium that was introduced by social media into the very fabric of how we work.

I believe that social business is the next step in the evolutionary process in the day-to-day functions of digitally enabled enterprises. Much in the same way that the Internet revolutionized how we all work in the era of e-business; social processes, technology, and mindsets will revolutionize how people in organizations connect, collaborate, and share knowledge.

What Do You Think?

Of course, this debate continues in the marketplace, and since this is an ongoing evolution, it's likely to change. Large software vendors like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Salesforce.com are starting to formulate strategies for developing new ways business is conducted in the digital and social era. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what this means for you - and also for the future of your business.