Monday, January 09, 2006
In 2005, we learned through several dozen Phelon Group engagements that buyers are hopping onto the Cluetrain in droves. They're spending much more time taking control of their IT purchases by listening intently for word of mouth whispers and turning an ear towards the marketplace; they're also doing much more of this work "offline." This same theme cropped up over and over again as we built and architected reference programs and as we defined and implemented customer advisory committees, executive programs and end-to-end customer engagement models. We saw it through the constant churn of our voice of the customer practice as it created and managed several thousand touch points to our clients' customers in an effort to understand their perception and willingness to repurchase and refer. And, not surprisingly, we saw it as we dove deeper into word of mouth by helping companies understand and respond to negative word of mouth in the blogosphere and use blogging pundits in new and innovative ways. What I see is that, repeatedly, customers are leveraging their "informal" networks to help identify, shortlist and select technology vendors. They're also doing their own "surveys" to assess the satisfaction of your customers. (!?) Yes! Prospective customers want to hear the honest truth; and they're using your case studies, press releases and Web sites to get at it. To learn why people chose your company's products, how they're using them and if they'd recommend its solutions, many of your prospective customers are reaching out to your references and getting it straight from the horse's mouth before engaging with your company. What this means to you is that you need to be mindful of the customers you promote and to understand the word of mouth in the marketplace since it's also getting into the ears of your company's customers and potential customers. Negative word of mouth and reference calls and other such "unmanaged events" that happen outside of your program can take their toll and have the ability to surprise your program and your salesforce. I was recently speaking at a conference in San Francisco and, of the 300 or so folks in the room, only four had read the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven't read it either, no need to hold your hand up or anything-please read it for free on the Cluetrain site at www.cluetrain.com. The Cluetrain concept is based on 95 Theses, also found on the Web site. Here are three that mesh with what I see happening among technology buyers:
- Markets are conversations.
- The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
- People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
- Read the Cluetrain Mainfesto: www.cluetrain.com.
- Read the Beyond References article we did about this way back in August of 2004: http://www.tmcnet.com/tmcnet/columns/2004/081704pc.htm
- Keep an eye out for what is sure to be compelling results of research we conducted in December with over 100 IT buyers and influencers about their buying decisions and how they're leveraging your customer evidence, references and other related assets.