January 23, 2018

Where is the utility in mobile apps for B2B?

Mitch Joel has a nice post on HBR this week about bringing utility to marketing and social media.

As is often the case, his advice pertains more to B2C than B2B, as I point out in a comment:

“Utility” is a clear, succinct way of putting it. I am concerned about the B2B side of things, though, for complex technology solutions in particular. For customers in this realm, I think utility has long meant access to their peers and to expert advice during the purchasing and post-sales processes. The utility would be in making that easier to do than it is now (going to vendors for customer references, calling up their networks of peers for recommendations and advice, sifting through analyst reports and trade magazines, going to trade association events). Social media hasn’t taken off for B2B because it doesn’t provide any more utility for making those things happen (except perhaps for finding old colleagues on LinkedIn). Online communities try to offer it all in a box, but I don’t see much utility there except for technical people looking for solutions to specific software and hardware problems. For the real customers of complex technology solutions, it doesn’t seen like utility will ever come through an app, unless that app links to a much deeper, rich experience that combines all of the things mentioned above. Perhaps we need to wait for the second coming of Second Life for that. 😉

Awhile back, I tried to get at this concept, though much less elegantly than Joel, in terms of how B2B could make use of mobile apps. I wonder if anything has changed since I wrote it. I’m not seeing the killer app for B2B utility emerging yet. Are you?

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6 ideas for sifting the mobility chaos

For about 20 years (sad to say I was a journalist for even longer than that) it seemed that every white paper that crossed my desk began with some variant of this sentence:

“As the world becomes more global and interconnected, businesses need a way to see through the complexity. [Hire us.]”

But now the ubiquitous opening sentence seems to be:

“Businesses are awash [drowned, buried, you get the idea] in data. In this increasingly global and interconnected world [hey, we can’t deny the past, right?] of data overload from social media and mobile phones, businesses are looking for a way out. [Hire us.]”

Last week, I went looking for some good ideas on mobility. My destination? New Jersey.

Turns out they’re doing some good thinking about mobility down there. See if these ideas do anything for you. [This is cross-posted on the SAP Services blog]:

Mobile applications are a little like vacation snapshots: They are informative, sometimes fun—beautiful, even—but they don’t tell a full story on their own. As I discovered during a panel discussion on mobile for the enterprise last Thursday sponsored by the New Jersey Society for Information Management, the state of mobility so far is that developers are running around like Japanese tourists, snapping away at every little slice of life and business activity they see and stuffing it all into app stores without thinking about the bigger picture.

Of course, that’s not to say that the unprecedented level of connectedness we are getting with enterprise mobility is a waste. Far from it. Connectedness equals productivity, as we discovered (eventually) with PCs and laptops in earlier times that began just as chaotically as mobile has. My colleague JP Finnell, Senior Director of Mobile Strategy for SAP Services North America, pushed his panelists to offer concrete ways to get past the chaos. I heard six:

Mobility changes business models. When customers can take a picture of a check with their phones at home and banks can make the deposit based on the photo, suddenly the models of banking customer service, cost (ATMs and branches), and profitability comes into question—and must be rethought, said Vinod Kachroo, a senior IT executive who has spent decades managing corporate infrastructures in financial services companies.

Mobility isn’t about applications; it’s about an integrated experience. PCs and laptops have always been about the applications they enable rather than an overall experience that they create for users and customers. Not so with an iPad, said Bob Egan, VP of Mobile Strategy for Mobiquity, Inc., who is a veteran of corporate networking (he helped develop the first devices for connecting PCs on the corporate network). Now companies can show off their brands and their wares in demos that are immersive, and repair people can find their way around a ship to a broken part (and a 3-D rendering of how to repair it) without help from anyone on board. But you can’t do this with one app. It requires thinking through the entire experience.

Forget about “big data,” focus on “right data.” Big data is nothing new, said Egan. Companies have had big data since the first mainframe. The problem is that this data sits in silos—and everybody’s silo says something different—sales’ is different from marketing’s, which is different from finance’s. The challenge to create a single source of the truth is no less relevant today than it was 20 years ago—except that now many more people could make advantage of that integration through their mobile devices.

Make mobility “fit the purpose.” Many employees have mobile devices who shouldn’t, said Kachroo. There’s no way that call center employees can be as productive and deliver as high quality service from a mobile phone while in their PJs at home as they can when they are at the screen of a PC delivering them carefully chosen scripts and real-time advice. Companies need to examine the usage patterns of the people who get mobile devices and apps. Without following employees through “a day in the life,” as consumer product goods companies do, you won’t enable the right people with the right devices and apps.

Mobility should be corporate owned, personally enabled. BYOD is overrated, says Egan. When BYOD came along (because companies were slow to allow anything but Blackberries), companies lost important advantages, such as corporate discounts for devices and line fees, security controls, app deployment, and network integration. Now that it’s possible to bring other devices in, we should. Users simply want to use the device they like best; they care less about who owns it (indeed, many would be happy to have the company buy it for them).

Stop securing devices and start securing data in motion. The era of securing your company by locking down a PC on a secure corporate network is over, says Egan. Now we have to figure out how to secure data while it is being passed literally around the world.

What do you think? How would you end the enterprise mobility chaos?

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15 things marketers should stop doing and thinking in 2011

Here’s a list of things I wish we would stop doing and thinking as of December 31st:

Social media

  • Social media cause people to waste time at work. Companies have a long and pointless history of resisting new forms of communication. From Facebook to email to putting telephones on employees’ desks (remember, the telephone started as a “consumer” communication technology, too), companies think that every new wave is going to lead to gajillions in lost productivity. Dude, this stuff isn’t heroin, okay? The problem is not with employees or with the communications technologies, it’s with the premise that employees come into work determined to waste time. Guess what companies, people wasted time at work long before Facebook came along. If the company is well managed, people who waste time will get fired. People who sell your trade secrets on the internet will go to jail. Stop wasting money on pointless, ineffective efforts to block this stuff and start finding ways to make these channels pay.
  • Social media relationships are shallow and meaningless. We all know twitter can’t start revolutions or substitute for gazing meaningfully into someone’s eyes over dinner, but what I don’t understand is why the critics can’t see a link between the bonds that we form on social media and the deeper links that we forge offline. For example, the viral relationship model of Twitter adds a new dimension to relationships, it doesn’t subtract. You meet tons more people than you would in more traditional permission-based environments and some of those relationships will wind up becoming the kinds of deeper, more meaningful exchanges that the critics say we are losing through social media. I’ve formed a handful of excellent business relationships on Twitter this year—we know each other on sight and (gasp) we’ve even spoken to one another. Now, are a handful of real relationships a good return considering that I have 1400 followers on Twitter? Yes, because these relationships would not have happened otherwise. Shallow relationships don’t have to remain that way and existing relationships don’t have to go all shallow just because you start interacting in social media.
  • Interactions substitute for relationships. Many seemingly logical, intelligent people send me automated direct messages (DMs) when I follow them on Twitter, making them seem like robot spammers rather than people. They think that by throwing that extra interaction in there that it is somehow going to deepen our relationship. Soon, we’ll be able to automate our social media relationships through bots that can judge sentiment. The theory is that social media powered by humans doesn’t scale well. It’s nothing new; authors automated their interactions with readers centuries ago with the printing press. Just don’t go believing that these interactions can ever be substitutes for a human relationship.
  • Filtered conversation reduces risk. The ultimate risk in business is that your customers stop buying from you because they don’t trust you. Preventing employees from speaking to customers because they might make a mistake ignores this much bigger risk—which existed long before social media came along. Customers want to speak to the people they will be working with. That’s why employees and subject matter experts should be on the front lines of social media rather than marketers or PR people.
  • External social media marketing is more important than internal social media collaboration. We did some case studies at ITSMA this year that showed that companies could easily blow up half their offices and do away with most of their administrative and bureaucratic structures without a single customer noticing. The technology for virtual collaboration is finally catching up to the promise of internal knowledge management that we’ve been hearing about for years. Plus, it can make both employees and customers happier than they are now.
  • More volume creates more influence. In traditional media, influence comes from sheer numbers—the more subscribers to your newspaper, the better. But influence in social media isn’t purely a numbers game (though numbers can certainly help). It’s also about the degree of interconnectedness. There’s a scary analogy here, to viruses. Viruses ultimately benefit more from infecting 100 people who travel widely across the world than from infecting 10,000 people in one place. The most influential people in social media will be those who can combine large followings with diverse groups of followers who themselves also have many diverse followers.
  • Social media has ROI. Unless you are selling products, and inexpensive ones at that, it is impossible to track a tweet or a blog post directly to a sale. For expensive, complex B2B products and services, social media can improve relationships with customers and increase awareness. Do you call that ROI? I don’t. ROI should be measured on a higher level—as in the ROI of all of marketing to the business.


General Marketing

  • Analytics can wait. We need to close the loop on what buyers do with our content and use that insight to predict what they will do next. Buying marketing automation tools or social media analysis tools aren’t enough. You need people who know how to create analytical processes and algorithms and all that stuff. Wall Street is already trying to make sense of the massive river of online conversation for business purposes. We need people who can do it, too.
  • We must measure the ROI of social media (or any other individual marketing tactic). CEOs don’t care about individual tactics; they want to know whether marketing in general reduces the time to revenue and improves the productivity of sales. We need to start measuring the larger impact of marketing rather than measuring activity or individual tactics.
  • Publish it and they will come. We have a crisis in marketing channels. All year, marketers have been telling me that they are having a harder and harder time getting noticed in traditional channels like white papers, email newsletters, and events. This is a typical comment: “I’ve got plenty of content. It’s getting people to pay attention to it that’s the problem!” We need to mashup some new channels out of combinations of new and old to stand out and be heard now. A few examples of things that ITSMA clients did this year:
  • Describing what you do is thought leadership. Creating compelling offers and descriptions of products and services is an art, it really is. But it ain’t thought leadership. Customers want ideas for fixing their problems and proof that they can trust you. Most companies still try to sell what they have rather than figuring out what customers need.
  • Sales support is marketing’s primary role. Many companies think that they are maximizing their investment in marketing by limiting it to sales support. What they don’t realize is that buyers have removed salespeople from the earliest stages of the buying process by doing their own research with colleagues, peers, on the web, and in social media. Marketing is most effective at this stage, when buyers want nothing to do with salespeople. Marketing organizations that don’t break out of the sales support role will be trapped in a Catch-22 of increasingly poor performance and waning confidence from the business side.
  • Email will always be cool. Hey, we’re humans. We resist change and we have irrational hope for the future. So we keep doing stuff we’re comfortable doing for longer than we probably should rather than embracing new stuff. Email is inconvenient, impersonal, slow, rife with spam, and not particularly intelligent. But we’re used to it. The kids have already dumped it in favor of texting and social networking. Email won’t go away tomorrow but it will gradually be starved of all meaningful human interaction until it becomes a graveyard of official business communications and, wait for it, marketing. We should probably start planning for email’s funeral now so we don’t miss it.

What things do you wish we would stop doing and saying in 2011?

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Why serious games are a serious form of idea marketing

LOS ANGELES - JULY 15:  In this photo released...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I’ve been looking at the growing connection between gaming and thought leadership this week. I know, I know. It’s hard to utter thought leadership in the same breath as video games, avatars, and conversation balloons, but all of these pieces have converged.

Turns out that video games have a role in making the complex (i.e., almost every B2B service ever created) explainable.

Think about it. Case studies are great for building trust, but they don’t do something that video games do by default: put the user at the center of the experience. Ask anyone forced to sit out a video game session while his (gamers are mostly guys) friends play and they’ll tell you that experience trumps observation every time.

Games destroy complexity
An example of what I’m talking about is IBM’s Innov8 online game. This game deals with two of the most complex issues in B2B technology today: business process management (BPM) and service oriented architecture (SOA).

Now in its second generation, the game is part PlayStation and part knowledge management repository. It aggregates some of the typical decision scenarios that IBM customers must make when trying to improve processes in three major areas: customer service, supply chain, and transportation.

In the customer service game for example, you learn through some earnest virtual characters that there are two big issues in BPM for customer service. First, after receiving advice from virtual characters you get three chances to map the process—i.e., how should calls flow through to our call center?—with points for picking the most logical flow. Second, you play with business rules for automating the processes you’ve just mapped—i.e., if we want to cross-sell and up sell, what percentage of calls should be routed through our most experienced call representatives vs. our less experienced (and less costly) representatives?

The connection between gaming and thought leadership
The game succeeds in a number of ways. First, it frames the discussion of BPM in a way that makes sense and that connects it to business results. Second, it establishes IBM as an expert—after all, if you developed the game, you must understand how this is done, right? Finally, as you play with the business rules and see the impact they have on revenues, you get a visual, visceral demonstration of the role that IT automation plays in business performance—which helps IBM sell its Websphere SOA software (the stuff that enables the automation).

They call these things serious games. I think they will force us to seriously rethink our approaches to thought leadership. What do you think?

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Integrating mobile into B2B marketing

Great conferences have impact that lasts long after the day (or two or three) that they occur. MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum is one of those conferences. For example, the Twitter stream from this thing (#MPB2B) is still going strong weeks later. You should check it out; it’ll give you a great list of B2B marketers to follow.

Another sign of a great event is the people it attracts. I met two of my favorite B2B bloggers at the event: Christine Kerley (AKA @cksays) who writes CK’s Blog and Jeff Cohen (@jeffreylcohen) who, along with Kipp Bodnar writes the Social Media B2B blog. If you’re trying to stay on top of B2B marketing trends, you should be reading both of these blogs.

CK kicks butt and takes names. She collared me in the session I ran at the Forum on B2B mobile marketing and sat us both down with Jeff, who interviewed us about our views on the subject. CK has tons more content on B2B mobile that you should check out.

I’d love to hear your views on our interview.

B2B Mobile Marketing from Jeffrey L. Cohen on Vimeo.

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Why Tut would have been buried with his iPhone

Sure, sure, I know it’s Apple and Apple is to the ’10s what Sony was to the ’80s. But there must be more to the fact that the iPhone/iTouch are the fastest growing technology launch in history (and the iPad so far is on pace to outdo them both).

Now of course you know that the iPhone and iPad are popular because of the way they look. The smooth contours and the shimmering black glass bezels make the devices look more like something out of a Swarovski store than a Best Buy. They bring out our primitive attractions to the bright and shiny. (For sure Tut would have shoved some of the gold trinkets aside to be buried with his iPhone and iPad.)

The default Home screen of the iPhone shows mo...
Image via Wikipedia

But there’s something else here that brings out another primal drive in us. When you look at the screen of the iPhone or iPad you see beautiful little jewel-like icons beaming at you from beneath the glass. What I realized is that the iPhone and iPad aren’t just jewels, they are jewel cases. They contain our collection of applications. And these collections bring out our hunter gatherer instincts like any other collectable—from beanie babies to giant balls of string.

The reason is the iTunes/AppStore model. It lets us do everything that feels good about collecting:

  • Collecting is social. All collecting is driven in part by the desire to connect with others and show off and share what we have with them and talk about it all. Though iTunes could be a lot more social than it is, most applications have dozens or hundreds of reviews. The next step is to create communities around the applications so they can all geek out on it together.
  • Collecting is fun. Is there anything fun about collecting applications for your PC? Though the threat is much less than it was, installing new applications on PCs has always meant the possibility of taking down other applications or the computer itself. And the experience of finding and adding applications is almost always different from application to application. You can’t have fun when you’re anxious. Though the iTunes application store is tightly controlled—probably more tightly than it should be—it is easy and predictable.
  • Collecting is valuable. One of the most depressing aspects of PC applications is that they are basically time bombs that self-destruct with each passing generation of operating system or processor. Now, there’s no guarantee that our iPhone/iPad application collections will survive each new generation of device, but if they don’t, they’re cheap to replace. And in the meantime, they update themselves automatically. All we need to know when we’re collecting is that we’re not being idiots for investing our time in it (it’s okay to look like an idiot for what we collect—in fact, that’s part of the fun).

How to use iPhone apps for marketing
I’m not saying that the iPhone/iPad is going to take over the world, only that the model Apple has developed—and which every other phone manufacturers now trying to copy—is going to endure and will cross over into the business realm.

But as marketers, if we’re going to break into someone’s collection, the bar is set really high. Applications that convert your voice to text or instruct you on which turn to take are hard to top.

We must have the center of gravity for our mobile apps elsewhere. We need to create vibrant communities that customers will value so much that they will want a mobile application so they can keep up with the action anytime from anywhere. That’s how we get into their collections.

What do you think?

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Where is your mobile marketing center of gravity?

For marketers considering creating mobile device apps, the bar has been set very high. I mean, c’mon, a free app that gives you voice directions to your destination? An app (also free) that lets you convert your spoken words into written emails?

These are hard acts to follow. (I’m sure you have others; tell me about them in the comments—I’m an iPhone geek in my spare time.)

iPhone Geocaching Toolkit
Image by TahoeSunsets via Flickr

So how are we as marketers supposed to compete with apps like these? I’m going to be moderating a panel on this question (among others) at next week’s MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum in Boston.

From phones to computers
Mobile is going to become an important part of our marketing, whether we like it or not. The number of smartphones continues to explode. More important, the way that people use these phones is changing. According to a recent survey by ABI Research, 28% of respondents said that they access web sites from their phones at least once per day—up 75% in a year. And while 3G makes the download speeds bearable, the price of the handsets continues to drop—making them really cheap and increasingly functional computers.

Our customers and prospects—especially the younger ones—will be looking at smartphones as one of their primary computing platforms—if not the primary platform. I always take analysts’ forecasts with a grain of salt, but ABI’s prediction that mobile marketing (ads on mobile phones) will be a $4 billion business by 2014 makes you stop and think.

How do we compete?
I’m sure that there will be opportunities and reasons for B2B to advertise on these things eventually, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is finding a way to get and keep people’s attention by carving out a spot on the phones next to the magic voice and directional applications.

Seems impossible, doesn’t it? On the surface, yes. But the reason that these applications are so impressive is not because they were developed as standalone mobile applications but because they take advantage of a deep reservoir of thinking and intellectual property developed over many years—elsewhere. Dragon has been perfecting its voice-to-text abilities for decades through its PC software and MapQuest (I still prefer it to the Google Maps gorilla) has been honing its route guidance for many years.

Good mobile apps start somewhere else
Their mobile apps are like tender shoots that emerge from the trunk of the tree; with that supply of DNA, food, and protection, they have a much better chance of survival than a seed dropped on the ground.

I think that’s how we have to view mobile apps for B2B marketing. While it may be possible to build an outstanding standalone app that wows your audience, I think the chances are pretty similar to an individual seed’s chances of surviving to become a mature oak—really slim.

And Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind having lots of oak trees that all look pretty much the same. Your audience will mind. And frankly, they are really, really jaded.

We have to think about how mobile can be like the tender shoot that sprouts from the well-established tree if we’re going to be able to compete effectively.

But first, we need to establish the reason for going mobile. We can’t simply create an application that links to static website content, for example. Mobile doesn’t magically make static content exciting.

There has to be a purpose behind adding mobile. At ITSMA, we’re seeing four main reasons for doing it:

  • Help. The classic B2B mobile applications have been internally focused, giving maintenance people access to service information while they are out in the field. Is there a reason for you to offer whatever help you give to customers through mobile? Could your salespeople benefit from mobile access to a sales enablement application giving them advice in the field for helping customers?
  • Location. The addition of GPS chips to smartphones makes it possible to use people’s location as a driving force behind the mobile application. Right now Foursquare is the Twitter of location. People like it, but they’re not quite sure what to do with it or how it can be used for marketing (and making money). One possibility is to use location at your events so that attendees can find each other or share schedules and information. But Twitter and Foursquare already do that, so again, you need something more behind the app than just the location feature.
  • Continuity. Do you have situations where customers and prospects feel they might miss something by being disconnected from you even for a short while? An example of this is user groups. I could see techies catching up on technical issues while they have some down time at an airport, for example.
  • Timeliness. Of course, the Blackberry is the quintessential timeliness mobile app. Is there any aspect of what you do that customers would want to be alerted about the moment it happens?

B2B mobile marketing case studies
At the MarketingProfs event next week, I’ll have two panelists who have sprouted shoots from the tree. (Both are winners of the 2009 ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards—the 2010 Awards deadline is June and anyone can enter).

Xerox Global Services (XGS) built a mobile application as part of its internal sales tool called Competipedia. It’s a wiki-based tool where salespeople can go to find and share competitive intelligence. The mobile app that hooks into Competipedia is justified because XGS’ salespeople often need information while on the road (help) and can use competitive information as soon as it is available (timeliness).

Consulting firm CSC meanwhile, built a tree trunk called WikonnecT that is a B2B online community for the insurance industry. CSC added a mobile shoot to WikonnecT because its community is essentially a user group on steroids. CSC has been building the complex software that runs the processes of big insurance companies for decades—a kind of ERP for insurance. By making its software development processes transparent within WikonnecT—e.g., people can argue about and lobby for new features at any time and CSC responds within the community—there is a vitality to the conversation that satisfies the timeliness and continuity requirements for mobile.

As you can see, both Competipedia and WikonnecT’s success in mobile depends on having the center of gravity for the applications be outside the mobile apps themselves.

What do you think? Is this the way B2B marketers should approach building all mobile apps?

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When does content need to be mobile?

We got a question this week from an ITSMA client asking about developing a business case for creating mobile applications for their website content. I said that I haven’t seen any of those business cases yet. And I don’t think I ever will.

We’re seeing mobile be part of an integrated approach to social media, not as a standalone. In fact, I’m working on two case studies this week of websites that have mobile applications, but the mobile applications are a small part of the whole. And they both lead to content that benefits from being mobile.

The attributes that seem to matter so far are:

Location. Could other users of the application get value from knowing where others are?

Continuity. Do they feel that they will miss something by being away from the content for even a short amount of time?

Timeliness. Will content appear in the application that needs to be acted upon immediately?

One company’s mobile application is tied to a wiki-based sales enablement website that lets salespeople generate actions and updates and get updated information from the road.

The other company has a mobile application for its private, gated online community so that mobile members can keep up with message boards and forums that change frequently (there are over 100 subject-oriented communities within the site).

Creating a mobile application that leads to static content on a website isn’t going to build much interest or loyalty because there’s no real urgency to connect. The only reason I can see for creating a mobile application in this context is if the application makes the content easier to look at and interact with than on a web browser. Apple claims the iPad will make content look better than it does on a web browser. If that’s true, then it will be worth making an application that connects to static content. But not until then.

What do you think?

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