Becoming a Customer Company: Why and How?

February 26, 2013 Balakrishna Narasimhan

customer companyToday, Salesforce unveiled the next phase in their evolution as a company. Over the past few years, they have been the most vocal evangelists of the “social enterprise,” or the idea that businesses need to become social if they want to stay competitive. Initially, the message was focused around internal collaboration and making enterprise applications as powerful, simple and collaborative as Facebook. Over time, Salesforce’s notion of social business grew to include building a social profile of a customer, marketing and engaging with customers on social networks, selling and servicing them using social networks and making products social.

The idea of social has been a great unifying theme for Salesforce and has been one that has clearly differentiated them from other enterprise software companies. However, it took some storytelling panache (think Marc Benioff on stage) and the right audience to really connect the social enterprise concept to business outcomes. The other issue with the focus on social business was that it was not as closely tied to sales and customer service, which are still Salesforce’s core business areas.

So, it makes perfect sense that Salesforce is reorienting themselves around the idea of helping enterprises become “customer companies.” Salesforce’s definition of a customer company is one that has connected customers, connected employees, connected partners and connected products. Customer companies use the latest technology trends – social, local, touch, big data, identity, ecosystems and communities – to better connect their customers, employees, partners and products. It may sound like a lot of buzzwords at first, but it’s truly a compelling vision. In a world where customers are no longer at the mercy of corporations, have more choices than ever and have loud voices with which to proclaim their satisfaction (or not), companies have to put customers at the center of everything they do. Salesforce has assembled and will continue to build out a set of platforms and assets that help companies achieve this vision. The advantage of this positioning is that it immediately links social, local, touch, big data, etc., to a business objective that is indisputable. Second, the idea of being customer-centric is very closely tied to sales and customer service, while still having a much broader frame.

So what does all this mean for Salesforce customers and prospects? 

  1. There will be a renewed focus on the core, as the recent Spring ‘13 release shows. Social and Touch aren’t going anywhere, but it’s clear now that Salesforce recognizes that core Sales and Service are just as critical to helping their customers become customer companies. 
  2. Salesforce Touch and mobile are going to grow up fast as mobile devices become the main ways end users access Salesforce. Today’s Service Cloud Mobile announcement and the Touch features in Spring ‘13 are just the start.
  3. The Chatter feed will become the primary interface to Salesforce (and other enterprise apps) going forward. We’ll start to see more and more of the things we do in Salesforce through menus move to the feed. This also means that the feed will have to become much more contextual and intelligent.
  4. Salesforce will integrate with and acquire employee-facing applications to build out a full employee engagement lifecycle. Salesforce has already acquired Work.com, and integrated with Google, Workday and Cornerstone OnDemand. There’s more to come as these innovators create a new employee experience for truly engaged company evangelists.
  5. Salesforce’s portfolio of offerings is likely to expand to include a big data offering. We also expect new products to enable a next-gen ecosystem beyond portals and communities.
  6. Connected products and big data will come together for game-changing use cases only hinted at by GE’s connected products. Think medical devices or other mission-critical systems that can detect when they’re close to failing and notifying the manufacturer (using Chatter, of course).

Ok, all the technology stuff sounds great, but how does one actually become a customer company?
Now comes the hard part. While Salesforce, Workday, Cornerstone, Google and others provide a great technology foundation for interacting with customers, partners and employees, there’s a lot more work to do to actually realize the vision of becoming a customer company. The biggest thing to do to become a customer company is to align all of a company’s employees around this vision. This means not only great technology to find the right employees, engage and inspire them, help them collaborate and reward them for the right behaviors, but also the workforce and talent strategies to actually turn the right customer-centric behaviors into a reality. These strategies could take the form of truly innovative ideas like Zappo’s bonus for new hires who want to quit, to less mind-bending but equally innovative ideas like replacing employee satisfaction surveys with employee net promoter scores (something Appirio is doing in 2013). We live in a great time for enterprise technology where it’s possible to build a truly customer-centric technology foundation. But, without the right people, culture, processes and metrics, your business will be just as inward-looking as it was before, even if you can now access your business applications from an iPad using a feed. More to come about how to become a customer company over the coming weeks!

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