Your Customers are Talking, Are YOU Listening?

Charlene Li shared this great video in her presentation, “Understanding And Capitalizing On The Groundswell” at the  SVAMA panel discussion at HP’s Palo Alto campus last week.

It humorously highlights how companies/campaigns that talk AT their customers instead of listening TO them, fail.

As Charlene says,

“It’s about the relationship”

Pushing content out is ineffective and you will turn off your customers in the process. The key is to engage your customers and build sustainable relationships with them. 

Your customers are talking, are YOU listening?



Lessons from SAP: Reinventing Marketing to Compete in a New Media Age


Recently, Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP walked a packed room at the NewComm Forum through a study on how his company redefined the traditional role of marketing communications to compete in a highly dynamic social media landscape.


As part of the global communications management team at SAP, Bulmer is responsible for leading the Industry and Influencer Relations organization. In 2007, the SAP communications organization was challenged by their executive board to rethink all their programs and processes. They were asked to identify changes that were required to meet company goal and to double market opportunity over 5years. 


SAP started the journey with discovery, research, and benchmarking for 6months. The communications team talked to experts at P&G, IBM, HP to understand communication best practices. As a result of this discovery phase, the team came up with several critical realizations:

– SAP was a transactional communication organization (tactical) and  it had to change in order to sit at the table as a credible partner with its customers.

– There was an inherent flaw with its traditional model of CIO at the center as the decision maker. The new media landscape had become a complex and highly connected network. 

– It had to create competitive advantage and also, become much more strategic in its approach to marketing.

– Many of the company communication programs were not adequate to deal with this new social media space.

– Everybody had a voice, employees became an important constituency in driving change.

– There was an urgent need to align the company goals to a central vision and to create sustainable competitive advantage. 

As a result, the SAP team went through a comprehensive re-framing exercise. They started by redefining functional roles as processes and connecting each role to overall company objectives.

SAP needed an organization in place designed to identify the customers/prospects and influence the world around it. So their next step was to define what constitutes influence and influencer, and how it affects the brand and the company. 

Who are the influencers? These are good corporate citizen within customers sphere of influence that support sales by accelerating the adoption of SAP tools. Influencers helped SAP create competitive advantage. Bulmer’s team also recruited researchers from Columbia and Emory to measure the value of this influencer community and track its influence.


SAP took a methodical and pragmatic approach to create their influencer marketing model, where customers are at center of the equation. These were the people who made the technology decision at both IT level, like CIO,  and at business level. SAP team worked hard to understand the process of decision-making at these customers and what sources that the decision makers turned to, ie, the influencers.

Bulmer’s team identified the following categories of influencers:

 – Universities

– Analysts/IT influencers

– Business thought leaders

– Partners (ISV, Channel)

– Customer communities (User Groups and Peer Networks)


Each of these influencers had varying degree of sales impact for SAP. Universities had the highest impact. Bulmer said that, when you get into fast growth areas, research and academics are the ones who have the most influence. Customer Communities had the next largest impact, followed by the Analysts/IT influencers and Business thought leaders. Partners have the least impact of all influencers.

So SAP created a Business influencer relations group that was tasked with working with the influencers. They first used social media in SMB segment and designed the strategy to penetrate this segment. SAP built relationship-building social networking site in collaboration with Social Media Today called “My Venture Pad” which is geared at the owners, employees of startups. They made it a content-rich technology site that provides content from experts, monetized it via sponsorship.  Here are some best practices that SAP adopted to make their new media influencer model successful:

  • Create a symbiotic relationship with the influencer network by connecting the user groups through collaborative workspaces such as discussion groups, wikis, and web 2.0 platforms.
  • Bring voice of customer directly into the product and collaborate with users to provide value at every step of the relationship.
  • Provide thought leadership through webinars and event sponsorships.
  • Build strategic relations with universities to build the curriculum around supply chain. This helps build the experience of SAP into the pre-professional experience and the early exposure helps cultivate future relationships.
  • Last but not the least, connect all these groups – Universities, analysts/it influencers, business thought leaders, partners channel , customer communities (user group).

Bulmer stressed the importance of getting management buy in upfront, demonstrating value to the customer, and showing direct link to the bottomline.

He ended this highly informative session by saying, “We empowered our stakeholders to tell the story and strengthen our strategic communication goals. We learned how to use communications as a strategic tool for furthering our business goals. “

Essential Tips for Building a Successful Online Enterprise Community


Here are some key highlights from a brilliant presentation by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks and SNCR Fellow, at the NewComm Forum last week where she provided excellent insights into how to build highly effective and engaging enterprise communities.

DiMauro provided some valuable best practices for folks building their first enterprise community or those looking for ways to increase engagement in their existing communities. 

A successful enterprise community requires extensive strategic planning and as DiMauro put it “Begin with the end in mind”

  • What does the business need for the community to be successful?
  • What do community members need from the community to get value?

Here are some specific advantages of having an online community:

  • Break down geographical barriers globally
  • Allow for more detailed and sustained conversations
  • Offer interactive access
  • Build trusted relationships

DiMauro presented a simple model to depict what constitutes a community and highlighted the key differences between Consumer (B2C) vs. Enterprise (B2B) communities that are helpful in planning the goals and designing the community:online-community

Consumer communities typically have large numbers and it’s easier to get to a critical mass. The participation in the consumer community is based on personal experience and it’s a low-touch environment with very little hand-holding. The consumer community has interpretive mission (it can be whatever you want it to be) while it’s quick to scale, users have weak ties (once the need has been fulfilled, the member moves on).

  • On the other hand, enterprise community numbers vary with the industry and the members are motivated by a common purpose. In stark contrast to the consumer communities, these tend to be high touch and while, adoption is slow, the members have stronger/ more persistent ties. Enterprise communities usually have a common mission or charter that is visibly embraced by the community.

 When it came to enterprise community design,  DiMauro stressed that,

 “Enterprise communities must be more intuitive and simplified than consumer communities”

While this may seem counter-intuitive to those who want to add as many Web 2.0 bells and whistles as possible, DiMauro cautioned against making any assumptions about usage of Web 2.0 tools as even the “basic” Web 2.0 tools like RSS feeds may not be well understood. The key takeaway here was that the underlying technology is not important. What is important is the need that’s being solved.

She also went on to explain that consumers are more agile users and they are also more tolerant than the enterprise user. The features of the community should be tailored to meet needs of the community and that’s why understanding the community and knowing how the audience uses the information is critical.

Mauro’s take on User Generated Content (UGC) was also very insightful. She said that UGC is the most important content you can offer to an enterprise community because more likely than not, the community itself is the expert. DiMauro stressed the importance of connecting information with a purpose for any enterprise community. The focus should always been on solving a business problem or suppose a business process and each content piece must be useful, usable and engaging.

When it came to internal business processes and roles, DiMauro said,

“New tools onto an old process won’t yield desired results. Enterprise communities require a business process redesign.”

or enterprise communities, relationship between marketing and community needs to be clearly defined and rules of engagement should be well-thought out. It’s essential private community, respect the member’s words and thoughts. It’s not uncommon to mistake the purpose as lead-generation. DiMauro was very eloquent in her description of the difference between marketing and community,

“Marketing brings community to the door, community welcomes them home.”

She said that a great way to kill a community or shut down the conversation and information is to spam the community with direct mail or hard sell messages. Outsourcing community programs – great for large enterprises but that’s a very important channel, outsourcing competitive intelligence and minimizes impact of the conversation.

Last but not the least, DiMauro stressed that the success of any online community is highly dependent on engagement, which is typically lower in enterprise communities than in consumer communities. Critical mass easier to reach in consumer space and as a result the community is much more engaged with high levels of participation. In a professional environments, a great deal of hand-holding and outreach needs to take place.

Especially at the executive level, there’s always the fear of being wrong or looking stupid, That’s why executives need support to engage and need to be shown the value that they are adding to the community. They need to be educated on how to participate. Offer a value proposition that’s so compelling (from the user’s POV) that they must engage to survive professionally.

DiMauro highlighted the strategic role that a community manager plays in an enterprise community. She said that Gartner established this long time back, but it‘s a common best practice that the community manager is the most important role in the enterprise community and the  serves to facilitate linkages between the community and members. She said the participation in a B2B community typically breaks up in to the following ratio:

1 : 9 : 90 – leaders : activists : members

  • 90% won’t do anything
  • 9% will participate actively
  • 1% will emerge as leader

Constituency identification is key in designing the community, said DiMauro. Understanding whom you serve and how you want to serve them provides the driving business rationale for an enterprise community program. This leads to members who engage with each other and the enterprise and sustains their interest.

“Who dictates the where, when, why, and how.”

Until you decide who you want to serve and how, you can’t design a successful community.

Here are the success factors outlined by DiMauro,

  • Solve a business issue or enable a business process improvement – faster or better than in person
  • Be easy and intuitive
  • Involve users in co-creation
  • Have a strong executive sponsor who is willing to lead by example
  • Generate clear revenue or returns
  • Outcomes of use must be linked to key internal functions like marketing, sales, product development
  • Have a well crafted user engagement plan (beyond the 100 days plan)

Common Missteps that businesses make, according to DiMauro:

  1. Business goals don’t match the community features. Intention and outcome need to be aligned for a successful online community.
  2. “Tool talk” before business strategy. Understanding what you want to do with the tool is more important than figuring out which tool to use.
  3. Building Mausoleums instead of Sherpa tents. DiMauro stressed the important of constant learning and developing an evolutionary process to guide the enterprise community to success. She recommends an evolutionary approach – build, learn, evolve, build, learn, evolve, build..
  4. Excessive Exuberance. DiMauro discussed how many people look at the wrong numbers and get carried away because it justifies what they’re doing. It’s important to measure the right metrics.
  5. Lack of business integration. A big mistake many enterprises make is to that they don’t leverage what they’ve learned internally. She recommends mining the raw data for trend analysis and report findings and outcomes to sales/marketing/product development.

Vanessa DiMauro’s presentation is available on the NewComm Forum website.