Monday, July 11, 2016
The threat of Private Social to B2B business, especially in IT Products or Services
In the early days of the internet era, an IT consulting company started a forum of decision makers and senior IT leaders to gain insights on their pain points and opportunities to engage. Participation was by invitation to begin with, later opened up for aspirants, selectively approved. To keep the group focused, membership closed when the count reached 200. The forum created multiple threads on technology, leadership challenges, industry specific groups, and finally groups for current and potential users of vendor solutions.
Driven by some early adopters, the forums gained popularity offering candid and uninhibited sharing of views on various subjects, much to the nervousness of the company. They appointed a moderator who befriended the group fairly quickly with her friendly yet incisive comments, making her part of the inner circle. She seeded thoughts and discussions which benefited the company and thus no censorship was imposed. The most commented and visited forums pertained to ERP and other solutions gaining popularity with enterprises.
Quickly it became a forum that the group depended on for most of their technology decisions driven by experiential sharing overriding the marketing case studies shared by vendors or paid research from esteemed consultants and haloed market leading research entities. Pain points, what not to do, what to be wary of, formed bulk of the content; shared learning improved the possibilities of success for the receivers. Observing the unprecedented success, the idea was flogged by some of the IT vendors with limited traction.
The first mover advantage sustained itself even when the seeding company changed hands through multiple acquisitions until … on behest of one of the sponsors, the acquirer attempted to clamp down on some of the negative comments. The group had gained life of its own; senior IT leaders used their collective clout to create an independent group with no sponsors or any strings focusing on the magic sauce that kept the group cohesive; the unbridled sharing of knowledge and discussions on the now fast pace of technology change kept the group going.
At their annual conference, the Vendor’s senior leadership probably feigned surprise when the CIO mentioned that he was part of a closed mobile messaging group which discussed threadbare every vendor, their solutions, pros and cons of implementation partners, and at times even pricing ! The closed group on one of the most popular messaging solutions was a sought after group by CIOs. Most of them visited the group multiple times a day and posted their queries, trials and tribulations, to which responses were quick and worthy.
The story more or less repeated itself with another major global IT solutions vendor and a couple of amused CIOs who were giving feedback to the CEO and the Sales/Marketing team about why they have had challenges and slower takeoff in recent times. Their monopoly was shaking; while they had some doubts on seeds of the root cause, their fears were confirmed in this discussion. There was no social media feed alert or trends to analyze, this was scarily hidden from public view and it impacted them in a big way.
For the CIO group – of the CIO, by the CIO, for the CIOs – loved by the customer, the global giants as yet have no antidote; closed conversations within the group virally impact revenues and profitability though miniscule at the moment, can potentially grow to gargantuan proportions. Technology led disruption to technology providers who also offer social listening tools ! No one anticipated or were prepared for this impact. Consumers have used public social media to get better customer service, private social media opens new channels for B2B.
My CIO friend who coined the term Private Social, attempted to provide steps to reduce the impact to business (Click here). Largely behavioral, the outcomes will depend on the ability of individuals to imbibe them and practice with consistency. Reality is that vendors have to treat their customers with TLC to keep them happy; I am not recommending that they out of the way and pamper them, but sticking to the basics of supplying a product or service with fidelity to the promise made during the pre-sales period.
Is there a positive side ? But off-course, it’s a windfall for vendors who get leads out of the blue with customers calling them for discussions about their products and services referred to by existing satisfied customers. They should take the upside as an endorsement of living up to commitments, thank their customers and continue to use their mojo with the new wins too. The digital world continues to create new disruptions to entrenched forces, be prepared for the next unknown threat and opportunity !