Last Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on digital privacy in Palo Alto hosted by the Business Association Italy America (BAIA), a network of entrepreneurs, managers and professionals focused on innovation. Personally, an event like this is always a bit of a stretch for an introvert like me, but I’m very glad I was coaxed out of my shell to engage on this important topic.
On the panel with me were two fascinating people, Professor Alessandro Acquisti and Andrea Vaccari. Andrea was a hot commodity that night, as he is co-founder and CEO of Glancee. Glancee had just been acquired by Facebook, and Facebook was going public the next day. Alessandro is a true expert in the field of Information Technology and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon.
As panel moderator Mary Trigiani put it, we were two Digital Immigrants and One Digital Native coming together, representing diverse perspectives. And the difference in perspective on on digital privacy issues between the Digital Natives in the room, who were more comfortable with their persona, behaviors, and lifestyle being out there and accessible on the Web was noticeable that night. The Digital Natives were not necessarily pushing the boundaries, but more were either unaware of the boundaries being pushed or not at all bothered by them, seemingly confident that things would be okay. The Digital Immigrants, on the other hand, expressed much more concern about how acquired data can be used by Companies for great good and great evil.
Alessandro shared his thought-provoking experiment, where he and a team of research analysts constructed a mobile App to generate a person’s social security number from a snapped photo of a stranger’s face. All based on freely available software, online databases, and statistical processing.
Andrea pointed out that we all leave “digital footprints”—data that is left behind, collected, and available for use. As an example, he related a story from Business Insider that told of how Target got into some hot water when they used observed shopping patterns to indicate women that are likely pregnant, and then used this statistically derived information to send coupons to those theoretically pregnant women. The technology proved to be so good that it exposed a teen girl’s pregnancy to her father when he found the coupons that had been sent to her.
In my view, this technology is still way ahead of the law. Living and working in Silicon Valley, every day we see analytics technology being applied relentlessly to redefine business and the way businesses work, online retailers challenging the way states levy sales tax, and online shopping experiences getting more and more targeted. Digital Privacy law requires legislation, and legislation is the purview of governments, regulatory bodies and advocacy groups—in other words, it’s not a speedy process. Structurally, legislative timelines will always lag the incredible pace of technology adoption, with the result being that most of what is technically feasible has not only not been regulated, but probably isn’t even being thought about yet in our legislative bodies.
In this digital privacy environment, many companies simply state they are “in compliance with all federal and state laws…”, but what does this really mean? Given this known lag, companies should be responsible for operating at a higher standard when deciding how to best to manage and protect information from inappropriate use. Setting internal privacy boundaries and codes of behavior proactively mitigates the negative effects of overstepping the mark and the subsequent consumer backlash. At FirstRain two of our core values are “Act with integrity at all times” and “Take ownership for the company’s success”. For us, keeping these values at the forefront helps maintain the balance between ethics and profit.
FirstRain provides our customers (B2B sales and marketing professionals) with relevant customer and industry information to increase revenue and strengthen relationships. Our users are business professionals who want to quickly and efficiently access only the information they require to drive revenue in their businesses. Now, the more we at FirstRain know about each customer, the better an intelligence solution we can then offer. But often they do not have the time or patience to enter a boat-load of personal preference information—and therefore the tension between relevance, business objectives and customer analytics. In this case, I believe the use of a thoughtful combination of “self-declared” information, combined with “observed” behavior (e.g., likes/dislikes, click-throughs, etc.) and “inferred” statistics can make a massive difference. The key is using the information with integrity and only for the intended purpose of delivering an improved customer experience.
I am concerned about digital privacy, and the lack of tools for consumers to access, verify and fix incorrect or inaccurate information out there. I am also sure that in the years ahead we will see businesses continue to push the digital privacy boundaries. There will be some notable scares, subsequent backlashes and regulatory adjustments. However, I am personally also looking forward to a massively improved user experience.
A big thank you goes to our hosts Giorgio Ghersi and Mary Trigiani at BAIA, for being wonderful hosts, and our own Daniela Barbosa, here at FirstRain, for her tireless focus on making sure this introvert turned up and participated.
Today’s Facebook’s IPO although a more consumer focused interest story then what most of our customers are interested in, brought a huge amount of tweets on the subject as expected. (I would even venture to say that it was more then a ‘consumer interest story’ but rather a ‘human interest story’). None the less, being that FirstRain is a Silicon Valley based company, the buzz is also being felt strongly outside the digital world for those of us that live here and have friends and acquaintances that are being directly impacted by facebook’s IPO. Exciting times.
Yesterday, prior to Facebook’s IPO we ran some stats using our FirstTweets™ technology and then redid the same exercise at the close of the market today. FirstTweets™ uses our patented FirstRain technology to uncover and deliver only high-quality, business-relevant tweets to sales and marketing professionals across the enterprise. Our analysis shows that less than 0.1% of daily tweets contain quality, business-related content, yet this still represents more than 200,000 tweets per day of business-focused intelligence.
The picture painted by the stats that we captured, aren’t surprising but are interesting and illustrative on why our customers are seeing value in our FirstTweets- as YY Lee our COO tweeted this morning allowing them to “cut through the frenzied roar to net out the actual business discussion…”.
On the day before Facebook’s IPO:
At the close of Market on the day of Facebooks IPO:
Note: This post was originally published on the Huffington Post
The world is slowly climbing out of the great recession as companies around the world begin to increase investment and hiring. But for B2B sales teams looking to recapture growth during these early days, it’s critical to understand who’s really paying their bills and keeping the lights on–and guess what? It’s not your customer … it’s your customer’s customer. And if your sales team doesn’t deeply understand the business problems of these folks, then you’ll lose to competitors who do.
Before I get into the reasons why this is, consider some of the big, underlying changes happening in the market today. As companies start growing and investing again they are spending money, but they have fewer people than they had before. This means less time to accomplish key objectives and an even stronger focus on developing efficient strategies and processes to drive revenue growth ahead of the competition.
As a result, they are changing the way they do business, innovating in the vertical integration of their product lines and socializing their go-to-market, because if they can innovate and out-execute the competition in the way they serve their customers they can gain more market share as spending comes back.
To accomplish this, large companies are now talking about “business transformation” in their sales teams, “cultural transformation” in how they interface with their customers, and building a “social business” as a new way to look at their internal collaboration process.
With all these trends, the end objective is the same: How to better solve their customer’s business problem and so gain market share.
And so how do you solve your customer’s problem? Well like you, their challenge is revenue, profit and market share. So when your sales team understands their customer’s customer–and the business dynamics, competition and growth opportunities that their customer has–magic happens.
Here are the top 5 reasons:
It’s a cliché, but a true one: your customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions. But you can’t sell them a true solution unless you know what problem they are trying to solve, and understanding their customers will give you the insight you need to hold a useful conversation with your customer.
If you pitch product you become a tactical vendor; if you can discuss their customer and how they are serving their customer you become a member of your customer’s team. For example, is their customer driving price down on them – and so is your opportunity to help them take cost out of their operating expenses? Or are they focused on revenue and end user growth – and can your solution help your customer reduce their time to market?
Understanding the customer’s problem is sales 101 right? But it is surprising how many sales people still pitch product. It’s essential you provide your sales team with the intelligence and systems to stay on top of the customer’s ever changing end-business problem (see #5).
2. You can align your solutions with your customer’s evolving needs.
While the customer is always right, reality is they may not actually be asking for the right solution. Maybe this is because they lack specific knowledge of the options available, they have budget concerns or because internal politics are at work.
But consider a recent study by the Corporate Executive Board — buyers don’t contact vendors until they are, on average, more than half-way through the buying process. This means that by the time you are contacted as a vendor (if you are contacted!), it may be too late in the process to help your customer identify a better solution mix for their needs.
If, on the other hand, you truly understand your customer’s problems and challenges because you have studied their customer, and you are engaged with helping them meet these needs, then you can design specific solutions to meet the needs of their evolving business–before your competitors are asked to get involved.
3. You can design your marketing programs to address what you customer cares about
It is possible today to understand what an end buyer cares about in ways that have simply not been possible before. The Web and social media create an unprecedented level of transparency into a market, and can show you what’s top-of-mind at your end B2B customer. And it’s a noisy, Big Data world which means you need technology to do it.
There are millions of articles, blog posts and Tweets posted on the Web every day, but using newly emerging semantic analytics you can monitor intelligence in a very precise way. You can now analyze the intersection of three views of your customer’s business and so understand what the top issues are for them. When you can see the intersection of:
- the vertical market you are targeting
- the business line you are selling and
- the role which is going to buy your product (e.g. CIO, EVP Sales et al)
you can then target your marketing campaigns to speak to the specific issues the companies in a vertical market care about.
By monitoring what your target market is talking about you can ensure your messaging–and your value–speaks to their top-of-mind problems.
4. You find new customers.
Many businesses have triggers that drive new customer opportunity. It could be generic management changes, like a new executive being hired, but just as often businesses are driven by precise, industry-specific changes that create new opportunity for you. Is there a government RFP released that impacts your customer’s business? Has a competitor created a dislocation in your customer’s end market? Does your customer need to execute M&A flawlessly to execute their strategy?
When you understand your customer’s customer you can monitor the very specific events and changes in their business that signal an opportunity for you.
Automatically alerting your sales person on their iPad or mobile phone each time there is an industry-specific event which impacts their customer will win you new business.
5. The majority of your sales team can be as effective as the top 5%.
Most sales people don’t like to do research, but the top 5% –your rainmakers–do. They already do the work to understand their customer’s customer, they plan out a campaign, they do research every morning before they place any calls. They study the customer and understand the customer’s business and many will spend 1-2 hours a day doing it.
When you provide Enterprise Customer Intelligence to your sales team and teach them the Why and How needed to focus on their customer’s customer, you’ll raise every team member’s productivity. And when you integrate the intelligence into the CRM and social enterprise systems they are already using, there are No More Excuses.
Your Customer’s Customer is the real revenue engine behind your business, and the B2B companies who truly believe this, and are investing in the systems for their sales teams, are the ones who are already pulling ahead of the competition, even in this lukewarm recovery.