Small Business Solutions

Marketers Need To Quarterback (or own) Their Technology Decisions

Over the last year, the role of a marketing team within a company, particularly the CMO, has evolved drastically. Being able to market in its most traditional sense is no longer they key: businesses expect marketers to become digital and technology leaders. The marketing department now consists of technology builders, who have to create new channels (websites, mobile apps, facebook apps, etc), implement new tracking systems (marketing automation, CRMs, mobile analytics), and integrate these into their customers’ experiences. More importantly, they have to quantify each step of the marketing funnel.

As Gardner Research often points out “Technology is the heart of Marketing, and CMOs will outspend their company’s CIO by 2017.” This new responsibility requires looking at their job through a different prism. They need to conduct business in a completely different manner because now, it’s vital to the success of their business. CMO’s now have to:

  • Find the right technology provider whose nimble

  • Ensure they can easily fire your technology provider just as they would do with with their ad agency

  • Build in performance goals for the technology provider

  • Rely on the CIO to drive the technology purchasing decision

  • Make key decisions by extensively kicking the tires of these technologies. (Note: To this day, it still surprises how many technology providers do not have sandboxes or a demo product for CMOs to properly evaluate their products.)

As a result Marketing will have to quarterback the technology acquisition and licensing process for their companies. To accomplish this, they will need to:

  • Sync up with the company’s business goals

  • Prioritize and identify the critical few projects

  • Facilitate projects and communications between marketing and IT

  • Prioritize funding for marketing technologies

  • Select, evaluate and choose technology providers

  • Define success for these providers (hold them accountable)

  • Design and implement technology keeping digital business models in mind

  • Plan ongoing reviews of technology provider and your goals

  • Push your technology provider to continue to ameliorate their technology

According to IBM’s CMO study, however, there are many barriers to adopting technology. See below:

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None of these, however, focus on being able to leverage technology to improve the overall customer experience or extract actionable data. Marketers need to carefully consider how implementing a new marketing system impacts people visiting their site. This needs to be carefully looked at by capturing VOC (Voice of the Customer and looking closely at data.

I am surprised, however, how many still don’t focus on lifetime value or retention. As eMarketer shows below, there tends to be a focus on one time activities (campaign tracking) and brand analysis (which does focus on their customers behaviors and competitive intelligence.

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Understanding your customers data is the fuel of your marketing organizations. Since marketing is now a key for major technology buyers, CMOs need to know how to evaluate, implement and leverage new systems. All parts of marketing is impacted by technology.

To prepare for their new role, CMOs then need to

  • Be able to quantify each step of the funnel which means they need to have the technology to accomplish this.

  • Identify or hire individual who has the technology background in Marketing Automation, CRM, and Web Analytics. In many cases, you don’t even need to have a Marketing Technology officer as some companies are beginning to do. As a result, a new job title has come on the scene – “Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO). Within large companies — more than $500 million in annual revenue — 81% of them now have a chief marketing technologist role, up from 71% just a year ago. Another 8% expect to add that role within the next 24 months. However, smaller companies might not be able to afford to pay for an additional Marketing chief.

  • Have this person map out your technology and challenge them to figure out how the many pieces of the many technology puzzle fit together (no solution will solve all your problems) — how your marketing automation system fits with your CRM system, for example)

  • Be committed to a just-in-time agile approach (they can learn from their engineers meet Agile Development process and apply it  marketing)

  • Map out the process too before buying the technology (but be flexible)

  • Embrace technology — pick a few technologies to learn. Yes, I think CMOs need to understand how some of these products work.

Marketers need to understand that any change in a company’s infrastructure can impact the overall customer experience. They need to embrace technology vs. fear it. They can no longer say ‘it’s too technical to understand.’ As Phil Fernandez, Marketo’s CEO said, “The days of ownership are being replaced with the days of partnership.”

In the modern, connected, mobile environment, companies need to connect with customers with personalized and differentiated services. So called “stickiness” is essential and CMOs should be better equipped to meet those demands, regardless of whether or not they have the same level of technical knowledge as the CIO

Despite all of the above, CMO’s should not be lead by technology and should remember that it is just an enabler. Instead, marketing leaders should:

  • Map out the ecosystem of everyone who impacts your product

  • Focus on a few target audiences at first (prospects, customers, partners)

  • Map out each of their customer journeys (online and offline)

  • Identify their water holes and where they spend their time

  • Understand how they speak about their work, your product, etc.

  • Understand the jobs/tasks they get paid to do

  • Map out potential experiences in the funnel

  • Determine the right technology to collect data at those key touch points

Much of the change in the CMO’s role is due to customers’ every increasing influencer. More and more conferences, articles, etc. will focus on this. For example, next month, the Incite Conference in San Francisco will focus on the CMO’s evolving role. There need to be more detailed blueprints for Marketers to follow. Hopefully, this post provides some guidance.

This will be the first of a series of posts that look at CMO’s evolving role in companies, especially as the move from ‘run and gun’ campaign approach to building longer-term customer relationships. My next article will discredit the myth that the marketing funnel is dead.

10 Reasons to Build a G+ Community

Google+ had a big 2013. With over 1 billion registered users and 340 million active users, it is steadily gaining ground on Facebook. Part of its success is the result of  the rapid adoption of Google+ Communities, which resemble instantly creatable, lightweight discussion forums and are full of prospects and potential followers.Google-Plus-is-here-to-stay-and-marketers-are-missing-out-on-major-engagement-opportunities-if-they-arent-using-it.-299x300

Here are 10 reasons why you should use and build your own Google+ Communities:

  1. Embrace User Created Content: Google+ Communities allow you to leverage a platform where your strategic partners and customers can share best practices, answer each other’s questions and share valuable information. In essence, you are creating a place where your stakeholders can interact with each other. For example, National Geographic is one of the most memorable and traditional brands that has a thriving Community. It is called Exploration, not National Geographic, and is dedicated to an open “community of people who share a joyful sense of adventure, a passion for exploration and discovery, a love of learning, and a desire to make a difference.”

  2. Understand the mindset of your customers: By mining your Community’s content, you will gain a better understanding for how people talk about your company and its products. Their phrases and words can be incorporated into your marketing communications, your SEO, etc. I remember when I presented to Scott Cook, the Founder of Intuit. He would always say “don’t tell me the numbers, share the verbatim”. In other words, he wanted to know what were people saying and how they said it.

  3. Drink Google Juice: According to Google, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. By leveraging what you learn from Google+ Communities, you can determine the general sentiment of users on certain topics and identify keywords that can be used to have a positive impact on your SEO efforts. Google reportedly also favors Google+ content in search. With the number one search engine behind it, your Google+ business page and content will be indexed effectively. This alone makes quite the case for marketers looking for new brand visibility outlets.

  4. Let the people speak for you: By letting your customers and business partners speak about and show their appreciation of your products with +1s and clicks, your brand will gain credibility. Google reports that ads using Google+ get about 5% more clicks because the addition of +1 button. This adds credibility to your brand because people trust recommendations from people they know. indicates a sign that the ad is trustworthy.” Authorship certifies a certain credibility that sets Google+ apart as well.

  5. Establish Thought Leadership in the Industry: By having an open forum where people can express their opinions and share their experiences, you can become known for more than your product features or your brand name and logo.  Your brand will be associated with thought leadership within a certain category. It will become a trusted voice within your industry.

  6. Flexibility to create Private or Public Community: By setting up a private Community for your most avid customers and Power Users, you can create a VIP community of sorts. You can even have both a public and a private community and use the latter to demonstrate that ‘membership has it’s privileges.’ You can give your All-Stars direct access to employees, special content and unique offers. Several of my clients have a public community and a private community for their power users and AllStars. In a private community, they can be like the United Nations in a closed assembly, planning and voting on the future direction of their open Communities.

  7. Generate leads: By implementing what I call implicit marketing tactics—link users to useful information on your site vs. highlighting a new product—you can drive traffic to a landing page and then launch visitors into your regular lead-generation process. Think of your Google+ Community as the top of the marketing funnel.

  8. Enables you to segment content: By building out categories and using hashtags, you can filter your content and thus improve the discoverability of content. Users can just select the content they want much more quickly.

  9. Launch an event: By leveraging Google+ Hangouts technology, you can broadcast (one broadcaster to many viewers) or conduct small town halls (many to many, up to 10 people at a time). From Google +, you can schedule events, send out updates, and provide guests and manage updates. Hangouts are increasingly becoming a valued asset in communities.

  10. Ring around the Circles: By leveraging the Circles functionality, you can extend your network and segment and send customized messages to different groups of users. Once you have, you can then invite these segments into relevant communities. It is also a way for you track different types of content. For example, every morning, I check two circles I created: One for Small Business Influencers and one for Google+ Communities managed by Google employees.

Over time, Google will increasingly integrate it’s Google+ platform with the company’s other products and services. Today, Youtube and Photos work nicely with Google+, making the social network more dynamic, engaging and attractive for users. Tomorrow, we will see even more ways to build Google+ Communities into Google’s offerings. Therefore, if you want to be ahead of the curve, you need to jump on the Google+ Community bandwagon now.

Article was originally published on Hootsuite.com

Personalization with Big Data

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Back in the 1900s (1991 to be precise), I trained in a database marketing type of boot camp. I worked on American Express (AMEX), managing it’s Gold Card direct marketing efforts. Amex, a leader in personalizing printed communications, had created its most successful program when it highlighted in the direct mail pieces that someone was a “Member since XXXX.” Yes, membership had it’s privileges. But also, for American Express, this personalization triggered a lift.

Show me what you got

Now it’s 20+ years later. And while 2013 was the year of Big Data in the back office where companies tried to set up the proper infrastructure and human resources to be part of this phenomenon, 2014 will be the year to personalize Big Data on the screen.

Of course, the term personalization has many meanings to many people. For the purposes of this blog, I am focusing on ‘the content on the screen.’ Customizing what the user reads and sees will be the challenge, especially because a responsive design approach still requires careful consideration about what is personalized on a tablet versus an iphone.

Big Data will be operationalized

With personalization being a key theme in 2014, marketers will need to get their hands dirty and truly understand the different categories in their customer database. They need to design their digital platforms with their database in mind, knowing that different areas of the screen can pull in content from both the customer and product database. For example, Amazon pulls in two different types of data based on my purchase behavior: books on digital marketing, which I am interested in, and children’s videos, which I access every night via their Instant Video. Their customer database might carry just the title name, the author and the price. The assets for that information would be in a product database. The two need to work closely together on the screen.

Every day, Netflix and Amazon demonstrate their ability to leverage this kind of data to talk to their customers on an individual and personal level. Sometimes, I think they could go a step further in personalizing info on the page, especially because one of the big battle grounds in 2014 will be same day delivery. Amazon and Wal-Mart can incorporate GPS data to determine potential offline purchases or product drop off points.

Intuit’s 2013 Turbo Tax product offers a nice personalized solutions for its loyal members. It automatically transfers returning customer’s personal information and prior year tax return data, including wage and salary information from their employer, and then adapts itself based on that information to splash screens and questions that are not relevant to their specific tax situation. The company leverages all the valuable preexisting info that sits in its databases.

Size doesn’t matter

Smaller and medium size companies need to take their old school ‘face-to-face’ approach to the next level and personalize more than just ads or emails. They need to personalize at all touch points, including customer service, Skype, Hangouts, etc.

It’s important to remember that having the largest dataset or most sophisticated database will not guarantee an effective personalization program. It requires testing out and knowing what data elements will motivate a customer or partner to take an action.

Getting under the hood

Here are simple steps to get you started:

  1. Assume any data element in your customer or product database can be used to personalize information on the screen.

  2. Identify the type of tribes/segments who will visit your site or your app (or even call customer service).

  3. Prioritize a list of 3 CTAs (call to action) you want each of these segments to take when they use your product/site.

  4. List out the information you want to display on screen.

  5. Map out these info elements for multiple screens (Tablets, Smartphones, etc.) because you can’t share the same information on a smartphone as you can on a PC.

  6. Confirm these data elements are stored in your database(s) and if not, plan on capturing and storing them.

  7. Work with your designers and programmers to determine how many characters, picture size, etc. you can fit on the page.

  8. Work with your analytics team to set up the proper tracking

  9.  Remember: Start simple. You don’t need to personalize each area on the screen.

  10. Also remember, give your marketing team a basic course in database marketing.

Training Marketers on how to leverage their customer and product databases will take time. The more they can understand about how data can be pulled from a system and displayed on a screen, the more effective they will be in selling their products and services. This will take time. This will require marketers to get their hands dirty, get under the hood, and understand more than the fundamentals of big database marketing. This is true even if they work outside Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

The question is: Do they have the desire to acquire this skill set?

Operationalizing Social Business

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Earlier this week, I sent a Brandwatch research study to my brother, who manages a radio station, about the importance of Twitter. The report indicated that radio stations do not interact with their fans enough, and instead are stuck in the old paradigm of just blasting and broadcasting their message with their traditional one way approach.

The Brandwatch study also highlighted the fact that 75% of their interactions are with celebrities and brands (who pay the advertising dollars) and not their fans. The most important (and probably obvious fact to most people) is that people follow the personalities on the radio more than the station itself.

Even with the opportunity to highlight their DJs and newscasters more, most stations do not have specific goals and strategies for leveraging social networks. While they may be on it and posting a tweet here and there, they’re not optimizing their social media presence. This number increases substantially more when you consider how many don’t know how to operationalize their social efforts.

To get started, here is a basic checklist on how to operationalize your social efforts:

  1. Set up your primary account and keep your   password information in a safe place. Also, don’t let your digital agency or PR firm set up your account. Make sure one of your employees is the lead person and manager of the account in case there are any conflicts. Note, however, that you should make sure that employee shares all info with you and signs a legal document stating they will turn over the account when then leave. There will probably be no issues about this if the employee uses your company domain account

  2. Organize Team and Identify Moderators: Use the DACI approach with clarity around who is the Driver (project manager) of the project, the Approver (who owns the budget in most cases) of the project, the Collaborators of the project (moderators) and who needs to be Informed. While it might be a cost to hire your moderators before launching, getting them on board early can help set up some of the infrastructure you need to build a successful social network presence. For example, they can create a stockpile of back up posts and also be involved in establishing the tone and spirit

  3. Document the tone and spirit of your posts and tweets: Most mature and established companies have documented their brand positioning and how they want to communicate their brand to their customers. It’s more beneficial to do this early on, rather than blindly posting and tweeting. Even smaller companies should take some time to think this through.

  4. Build out your page: Appearance is important, even on social networks. While you’re thinking about your brand positioning, the aesthetics of your page should play a role too. Leverage company branding, photography and graphics guidelines. You should have a cohesive look and feel across all your pages.

  5. Create a content calendar: Build a content calendar for each social network (and their pages) that you manage. Throwing up posts last minutes can lead to too many issues. Vice versa, planning too far ahead won’t allow you you to factor in recent newsworthy topics. Ideally, you want the calendar to cover all content for at least two weeks into the future. You can plan for a longer period of time, but I have found that it is often difficult to plan too far down the road.

  6. Create a stockpile of back up posts: There are some posts, such as standard customer service posts or event announcements or welcome posts, that you will post/tweet over and over again. You might as well have a stockpile of them ready to go.

  7. Identify tools: The cost of good social media tools is quite minimal these days. Many of them are even free. I recommend that you have at least three types of tools ready to go: a posting tool (Hootsuite or Sproutsocial, a listening tool (Radian6 or Social Mention) and an analytics tool (Twitonomy).

  8. Create Rules of Engagement, Workflow Process and Answer Decision Tree: List out desired response times, the type of posts you will respond to, and all potential issues. Then try and place them into categories and assign and and owner to each of them. You’ll be able to be quantify how successful you are by setting these rules.

  9. Outreach to relevant influencers and followers: I am big on focus, focus, focus. Don’t try and boil the whole ocean and sign up as many followers as possible. It’s about quality, not quantity. I recommend reaching out to people who would have a vested interest in your products, services or offerings.

  10. Focus on a few critical metrics: There are so many different metrics to track on a social network. Concentrate on 3-5 levers, establish a benchmark, measure your success against them and keep raising the bar. Make your goals more challenging. Hold each person on the team accountable for these goals. Social Media is a team sport.

Executing well on the above ten areas will increase a radio stations or your probability of success. Remember, it takes a while to build an audience. Remember that Rome was not built in a day and neither is a social presence. Unless you are Nike or Madonna, it might take time to build your presence and generate a high degree of engagement on a social network’s page that you manage. The keys are to be persistent and consistent.

The Human Channel

Today, I am sitting in the Starbucks on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. I am watching everyone ear-plugged in and laptop ready. This is what I call the Starbucks Generation – Gen Y or millenials who work from anywhere there is an internet connection.To successfully reach this Starbucks Generation, it’s important to leverage the various Digital Channels, especially The Human Channel.

The Human Channel enables face-to-face interaction via the internet – either on a one on one basis or in a group setting. This is especially true on collaborative projects, such as demoing a complex product, troubleshooting a customer issue, or reaching influencers.

With more personal technologies, such as Google+ Hangouts and Skype, online human interaction is moving to the next level. Google Hangouts, for example, will fuse together best practices of call centers and digital marketing to create one type of Human Channel. Sarah Hill, a woman who has mastered the art of human media and is making a name for herself by being one of the most popular users on Google Plus, believes this technology will take customer service to the next level. She’s right. To learn more about Sarah Hill

Even Amazon, which once stated ‘the best service is no service’ offers personal human interaction on their Kindle. Their new feature Mayday, which is a single-click, that lets users work with a remote tech support representative to solve problems with their tablets: As Techcrunch recently pointed out “The service allows you to see a remote tech support person in a small window on your screen and also displays your screen on the support person’s computer where they can watch what you’re doing online, annotate the screen, and even tap through the interface”. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said it’s like “actually very similar to having someone standing next to you” and offering tech support. Imagine a company like Amazon moving in this direction. See their video about the service:

I recently did a Follow-Me-Home, Intuit’s term for watching customers use your product in their office environment, and played the role of a customer service rep at a client’s office. While on the phone, a customer couldn’t interpret or implement my suggestions for solving his problem. It wasn’t his fault. The client’s product is complex and requires creative problem solving to decipher the sites features.

I suggested to the customer that we get on a Google Hangout so I could watch how he used my clients application. The result was magical. I could see where he was clicking. I could listen to him describe how he used the program (it’s always valuable to hear the words a customer uses to describe their problem). But most importantly, I could record our interaction (yes, I asked for his permission to do this), so I could share everything I learned with the product development team.

Being face-to-face online improved our communication and our understanding of each other. It also opened up the opportunity to upsell or cross-sell additional services because I had his visual trust. I repeat: I had his visual trust. While there is a real and substantial opportunity to use Google+ Hangouts as a next generation customer service tool, it should also be thought of as a new sales channel.

One caveat: You need margin to spare if you are going to integrate this platform into your daily customer service, training or product demo operations. It might be costly to do one on one support using Hangouts. However, having a tutorial for many participants at once might not be as costly for a company. It’s expensive to do one-to-one training.

Despite this, the Human Channel will increasingly become important as companies begin to explore the digital space. In time, it will not only been an asset but a necessity for companies to  leverage the human channel. As tech savvy millennials get older, the need to reach this them through technology will become greater and greater. The Human Channel will enable companies to continue in their quest to humanize their offerings and get closer to their customers. It will also serve as a tool to reach a targeted audience.

Building the Everything Store with Many Silver Bullets

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In the new book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, author Brad Stone explores the rise of Amazon.com and the man behind it all, CEO Jeff Bezos. While we may all be very familiar with the brand today, the story of how Bezos and his team built an eCommerce giant from the ground up is quite astonishing. Stone states that Amazon needs ‘a chain of small advantages’ to stay ahead. I wish more CEOs thought this way. Almost all my clients look for a silver bullet that will take them to the promise land. It’s not that simple.

Unfortunately, digital products don’t work that way – the reality is that even big ideas require incremental changes via testing and fine tuning. One-Click checkout is a great example. Amazon implemented and tweaked it over time. However, they also prevented it’s main competitors at the time, Barnes and Noble (which has a preliminary injunction against them) and Borders (whose website I managed at the time) from implementing this innovative approach to shopping. In other words, implementing was one thing, preventing competitors from using it was another. Basically, Amazon won its case against Barnes and Noble, who was forced to turn their one-click into a two click approach. And Borders.com backed down and adopted the same type of functionality.

Eventually, they surrendered their monopoly on one-click, but it wasn’t until they had sufficient amount of time to establish a competitive advantage. I know from personal experience, having designed and implemented one-click checkout on eToys, Borders.com, KBtoys.com and a few other websites. It is not as easy as putting a button on web page.

To be successful, small changes require:

  • Clear definition of the product and feature
  • Agreement on the incremental, evolution change approach
  • An agile first-to-market implementation
  • A simple method for measuring ROI and Impact
  • A process for collecting customer feedback
  • A mindset of continuous improvement

With the increasing usage of mobile devices, it will be important to think in incremental improvements. What was it that Neil Armstrong said – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

All of this requires the Bezos strategy of starting with the customer and working backward. While this sound obvious and somewhat cliche, I am constantly surprised how many companies don’t talk to their customers on a consistent basis. In fact, last year a client asked me “why would you want to talk to a customer if you already know what they are going to say.” Maybe that’s the problem. Customers often just want to be heard, But better yet, customers might even provide more insights the more you talk to them. Have you ever heard of the 5 Whys? It is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.[1] The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem. (The “5” in the name derives from an empirical observation on the number of iterations typically required to resolve the problem.) Here’s an example from Wikipedia:

  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)
  • Start maintaining the vehicle according to the recommended service schedule. (possible 5th Why solution)
  • Adapt a similar car part to the car. (possible 6th Why solution)

If you apply this technique to eCommerce, focus groups and quarterly check ins don’t cut it in this environment. You literally need to adopt a customer and become his/her best friend.

Obviously, Amazon continues to do amazing things. I was particularly impressed recently when they beat IBM in a contract to host the CIA’s web services. Hope they accidently share customer data with the intelligence community : ).

To hear a great interview with Brad Stone, the author of this new Amazon book, listen to the interview with him at NPR’s Fresh Air.

Employee Engagement: What’s the ROI

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media. Can they speed up time.

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media.
Can they speed up time.

A few years ago, I was called into my supervisor’s office because of her “concern” about my commitment to the company. When I asked what triggered this concern, she said I did not have any “pictures of my family or plants” in my cubical. Instead of telling her that she was looking at me an old-school corporate  lens different than her own (my last two years at Intuit, I worked out of a locker and didn’t even have an office), I uploaded some pictures of people from Google Images and put them on my iPad, which I displayed by my desk. Ironically, that seemed to do the trick.

When it comes to engaging employees, the biggest ROI is to think of your staff just like you would a customer: seek to understand their interests, their rituals, and their ways of communicating as well as how they want to be treated.

Your employees are key stakeholders in your company’s success. Several studies show that an engaged and happy worker can reduce a company’s overall health insurance costs and take less vacation time (not sure that’s a good thing). There’s an even more important impact, though. As a recent Tempkin Employee Engagement Study showed, high employee engagement impacts the bottom line:

  • Companies with strong financial results report employees to be engaged 75% of the time —compared to organizations with weak financial results, which report an employee engagement rate of 47%.
  • Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to go the “extra mile” at work. These folks stay late, collaborate with colleagues, and recommend organizational improvements.
  • 96% of engaged employees responded that they “always or almost always” try their hardest on the job (while 79% of non-engaged workers responded similarly).
  • 75% of employees at companies who report better-than-average customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged, while only 34% of employees in companies with lesser customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged.

Last year, I was hired by a major software company to help them use social media in their recruitment of college graduates. Like a good consultant, I convinced the company to expand its focus and concentrate on understanding their potential employees as a unique tribe (audience) and to reconsider how the company treated them. I pointed out that even if we did great job-recruiting candidates, the biggest challenge is engaging them in their work (a Gallup poll reports that 70% of first year employees do not feel invested/engaged at work).

Based on my recommendation, the company realized that to achieve a higher level of employee engagement, it needed to think of its staff as a human beings or ‘tribes’ of humans, who have specific and diverse needs, desires, and wants.  The company understood that employee engagement starts during the recruiting process, continues through training, on board, and even after the employee leaves the company. Yes, there is even a possible ‘reincarnation’ phase when an employee returns for a second tour of duty. Schwab calls these “Boomerangers.”

Besides looking at the employee through a realistic life cycle lens, there are several factors that improve employee engagement, a few of which I learned during my tenure at Intuit:

  • Create a Learning Environment. Today, when older employees have to reinvent themselves and learn new skills and younger employees have a desire to absorb information and learn new technology, it’s important to give employees the room to do this. Intuit had a great approach called “Learn-Teach-Learn.” It was a modified version of Noel Tichy’s virtuous teaching cycle. While Tichy and others focus on management playing this role, Intuit was able to bring this philosophy to the front line workers, meeting one of the key needs of its employees.
  • Believe in Voice of the Employee: After working with more than 10 Fortune 1000 companies in the last two years, it’s clear that very few of them allow their employees to have a voice at the table. Although corporate business decision-making is not always a democratic process, it’s important to let every group be heard, otherwise, you could find yourself in the middle of an Arab Spring. (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration : )
  • Create a creative environment: Employees from any department at Intuit, for example, could sign up for ad-hoc problem-solving pow-wows called “Idea Jams” that lasted a couple of hours. This “unstructured time” ultimately proved productive, enabling workers to apply their brainpower to any challenge that interests them.
  • Reward does always require money : While everyone loves to make an extra buck, sometimes symbols and rituals can go a long way. Intuit created custom imprinted poker chips that were small, easy to carry, and colorful, with each one highlighting one of its 10 company “core values.” When employees witnessed a co-worker living an intuit core value, they awarded them a poker chip. According to Brand Alliance , employee engagement scores increased 10% after their introduction.
  • Identify their personal goals. First time employees on my teams are always shocked when I ask them: “What are your career goals, and what skills sets do you want to learn for a future job at our company or somewhere else?” Google attempts this with their 20% time, but I try to get the employee to be more specific about what skill sets they want to acquire.
  • Allow Social Media participation. Years ago, I presented a How-To-Blog workshop at Dell to a large group of employees. Afterwards, the VP of Marketing stood up and reminded everyone that they could blog “only if corporate reviewed their content first.” When I heard that I felt sorry for Dell’s staff, especially because I came from a corporate culture that encouraged employees to participate in social networks. It is important to trust your employees (after all, why did you hire them in the first place?) and to know that whether you like it or not, they, like everyone else, are social media ambassadors for the company. For better or worse, many people spend a great part of their day expressing their views on social networks. So instead of constraining them, provide guidelines, guardrails, and guidance so they know the implications of posting online.

High employee engagement scores will reduce the potential employees’ misbehavior in social networks. After all, you don’t want your staff bad mouthing you on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine how a happy and engaged employee might represent the company on social networks. At Intuit, we provided an opt-in training program for employees that focused on how to participate in the latest and greatest social network as well as information on the legal and privacy implications of their online activities.

I hope old-school managers, like the one I referred into the first paragraph, reads this blog post, and realizes they need to wake up to the needs of today’s employee.

Community Playbook: Today’s tips

Some key plays for building a good community. All of which take place in the trenches.

  1. Launch and learn – each team  member must needs contact with users
  2. Understand the importance of sharing learnings directly to the developers (better yet, let them hear it from users)images
  3. User involvement in the development process never stops, never ends (especially as more and more web products are developed)
  4. Community is a great place to test new product development processes
  5. Change is never constant, it is always happening
  6. It is great to collaborate with your heavy users and most valuable customers, but don’t leave out other users, especially since you need to develop to the lowest common denominator, the less experienced and knowledgeable users
  7. Verbatims are just as important as ‘numbers and scores’ (Yes, everyone on the team should read them!)
  8. Find a users problem and solve it well!
  9. Make sure to do a post mortem after your failures and learn from them.
  10. Solutions are not always transferable from one product/service to another. (you can not plug in a previous approach to ratings to this group of users

And remember: This all sounds easier than it is. It takes hard work and constant effor