In continuing my conversation with Jon Ferrara, CEO of marketing, sales and service process automation software

vendor Nimble, we take a look at the changing nature of enterprise processes. Previously, I posted on the rise and fall of the first generation of CRM software, from Jon’s perspective from first startup Goldmine, a pioneering company in this field.


As we left it, CRM eventually went from enabling a team of people across a company to document, interact and share their knowledge about each customer, to essentially favor data collection about customers to find common cross-customer issues and forecast planning. Individual customers and companies became anonymized into aggregate profiles and scenarios, rather than enabling employees to collaborate on specific issues of each customer.

In this article, we move back to looking at the how ‘R’ in CRM may be coming back. Sameer Patel, then Partner at Sovos Group (and now SVP and GM of Social Software at SAP) gave a keynote in 2011 on this question, “Did we forget the ‘R’ in CRM?” [as captured by friend and fellow social business blogger, V Mary Abraham].

[ Note: This is a part of my series–please click on link to see all posts tagged in this series–How Social Business Leaders Lead, focusing on how leaders of existing social businesses are evolving their own skills, along with their views of future models of work, the evolving nature of management, and the evolving structure of the organization.]

Rawn Shah: “Do you think how we sell is changing with social business?”

Jon Ferrara: “In the old days, we used to yell at our customers how great our products would work, and we expected them to line up like lemmings in front of our salespeople who would control the conversation and get the order, and then they would line up in front of our 800 number and get the service people and be serviced, and that was it. The executive would hide behind the wall. The marketing people would rarely engage; product people, forget it. And that whole thing was just being torn up from the inside and the outside in.

To give you an idea of the model that I think we are moving towards… If you go into a Houston’s Restaurant [part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group], you don’t have a waitress or waiter, you have a team, and they work together to affect the engagement, transparently to you and to themselves. In the old days, we used to use marketing to get the attention, and then basically the salesperson would engage.”

RS: “Why do you think the model has changed?”

JF:“Customers have shut down. They are fast-forwarding the commercials; they are throwing the advertising away; they are ignoring marketing materials; [and instead] having conversations [among] themselves on what to buy. And then [once] they’ve bought, they are yelling back at the company to whatever department they want, through whatever channel they want to … and they expect and authentic and relevant response in a timely fashion.

There’s no salesperson involved in that process anymore. I actually think there is a new role evolving, whether you call it Customer advocate, or Customer Wow; they are people within the organization that are actually part of the conversation out here. Whether or not you are waiting for people to come through your door, they are actually involved in what I call the five E’s of Social Business: Educate, Enchant, Engage, Embrace, and Empower the customer.

You educate with content. You enchant them with relevant, authentic conversations. And if you do that right, you are part of the decision process that happens today.”

RS: “Can you share an example of this in action?”

JF: “I was just tweeting about this today—there’s a guy named, Kevin M Green and I think that he was involved in scaling IBM’s #socialbiz [twitter hashtag] participation. Because I watch the channels, I listen. I’ve seen that IBM has globally empowered ambassadors across the whole organization to be educators, listeners, engagers and conversationalists throughout the whole organization. That is amazing. That is IBM. Are you aware of that?”

RS: “Yes, and to me there are still not enough of them, when you consider the size of the sales force versus the ambassadors.”

JF: “It is enough to be noticeable. That is all you need. What you guys are doing is practicing what you are preaching.”

RS: There’s a disintermediation of the sales force, and that works easily [in some industries] for simple retail. Now, for complex sales, do we still need a sales person?

JF: “I don’t think that we will ever do away with people who are engaging the prospecting customers [in their] decision cycle. What you call them and how you incentivize them, and how you structure it, will change.

It always bothered me that salespeople got the lion’s share of the compensation when in many respects it was the [sales engineer] who was doing a lot of the work, and I know that because I was that SE. I’ve been in sales, and a sales manager; I’ve been in each of those cycles. I think it’s the way we compensate that causes the fear and distrust and competitiveness, where they backstab, and the customer feels that.

So, going back to your question about the complex sales process, I think the whole idea about solutions selling and the methodologies come and go out of fashion. Now there’s Challenger sales, and everybody has a theory because they want to sell a book. But ultimately, the customer is going to dictate how the process shifts, not the sales person trying to fit the customer into a particular pattern or methodology.


And I think that the power of mobile and social, and the commoditization of technology, the shift in the way that we consume content – I was just reading today that the [media] networks are at the lowest low of content readership. People walk around all day like this [looking down and pretending to text on phone or type on a tablet]. The world is shifting beneath us.

Companies will still have to still sell their goods. People will still have to buy them. The way of engagement is shifting.”

[In the next part of my conversation with Jon Ferrara, we will take a look at the full picture of what an organizational model looks like with engagement at its center instead of Sales. Please feel free to comment here or reach me on Twitter, @rawn.]


Jon Ferrara

CEO of marketing, sales and service process automation software vendor Nimble


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