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October 2008 Archives

Planning Your Community Initiatives: Thoughts from National Instrument's VP, Product Marketing, John Pasquarette

Posted by Bill Lee on October 20, 2008 at 03:23 PM

One of the most thoughtful attendees and most probing questioners at last week's 2008 Communities Exchange Summit John Pasquarette, shares these takeaways. He also provides  a framework for moving forward with his community initiatives. This is good stuff - as he did during the conference, John focuses on the business case and business impact of community programs.  I'm urging other attendees to contribute their own takeaways and ideas for moving forward. 

Take it away, John:

Community today reminds a lot of the Web from 10 years ago.  I was thrust into a position of running our Web team (and defining our Web strategy) in 1999.  Everyone knew "web" was very very important, but nobody really knew why, or what we should focus on.  For us, as a b-to-b business that sells fairly low-cost components and development tools for engineers at a very, very broad level (global presence, 25,000 customers, $700M in revenue) we settled on a couple key areas where we really used to web to drive our business strategy.  For a lot of things, the Web ended up reducing our costs and made us much more efficient.  


This isn't brain surgery, but we used the web to drive huge impact in the following areas: 

1. Reduced support costs (discussion forums, more/better technical info online, etc) 

2. More efficient/productive sales (product advisors/configurators to handle simple product discovery and compatibility, part numbers prices and basic info, e-commerce) - our goal was to make our Web handle the internal sales person role to allow them to serve our big accounts/orders 

3. Reduced marketing costs with the same/better reach (literature costs were slashed - our 700 page product catalog was completely eliminated last year, online events and webinars, banner ads instead of print ads) 

4. Intangibles (NI is "with it", they are a modern business that understands where we should be going, not where we've been, etc) 

All of these efforts are obvious now, but back then they weren't.  Also, because it was so important, we separated a lot of this activity into the Web team so we could fund it aggressively and move fast.  Today, a lot of this has been rolled back into the functional groups to become integrated with our business.   Our online event/webinar strategy is owned and executed by our Events team, who also run our physical events.  Again, makes sense, but it was an evolution. 


To me, the value of the community discussion is how do you tie it to important business objectives and how can we share best practices for using "community" to drive these different business objectives. Any discussion about "I'm rolling out a new community platform" or "what technology platform are you using" is totally irrelevant to me without some understanding of "what business objectives are you trying to drive with your community effort".  I agree that every company is a little bit different, but I heard a couple common themes this week that I think you can capture and start to build best practices around - I also think for each of these topics, you can have a parallel discussion about using open, broad-based community efforts or private, smaller communities): 

1. Influencing product roadmaps (the whole crowd-sourcing thing) - R&D and Product Management 
        - Ideamarket for broad-based 
        - advisory board for private, more intense engagement 

2. Increase your marketing footprint at a fraction of the cost - Marketing 
        - internally-driven bloggers 
        - highlighting/promoting customer bloggers 
        - getting involved in conversations away from your web site (facebook, etc) 
        - building non-branded community sites (the Dell "mobile computing" site idea, or the girl site about dealing with their changing bodies to influence them later to look at certain products) 

3. Closing larger deals/acquiring new customers (sales) 
        - Customer reference programs online 

4. In-house, low-cost primary research - business intelligence 
        - using your broad-based community to get a read on customer attitudes, loyalty, etc... 

5. Intangibles 
        - your company listens, acts on customer input, in general your company cares 

In addition to these business topics, I think there are plenty of orthogonal discussions that could be organized: 

1. Internal engagement - in addition to the obvious "how do I get executive support" question, there are more practical questions even when you do get support, like 
        - what does a moderator do?  where should they live?  what makes a good moderator?
        - what do we separate into a different department and what do you integrate into existing groups?
        - best blog policies for internal bloggers? 

2. Technology platform questions 

3.  Private vs broad-based communities 

Anyway, these are fairly obvious ideas, but I think too many business people (i.e. executives) might equate "community" with "facebook" and that immediately turns them off.  We need to start to equate "community" with "lowering costs", "expanding marketing reach and brand awareness" or "closing new accounts".    I look forward to continuing this discussion with the group of people you assembled this week.  Perhaps there is a good community platform we can all join to keep the discussions going.  

Dell's Bob Pearson on the Future of Communities: Tips for the Fortune 500

Posted by Bill Lee on October 16, 2008 at 12:38 PM
Some takeaways from yesterday's mind expanding presentation by Dell's Vice President of Communities and Conversations at the Communities Exchange Summit.

The best community  builders will be students of this emerging  field.

Why is engaging with customers online critical? About 500,000 people go online every  day for the first time in their lives. Why is internet literacy in multiple languages critical? Most of them  come from  outside the US.

Only 12% of the Fortune 500 is blogging. Small business is blogging 3x faster.

You'll encounter1 million reasons in your firm to not  blog

"What if customers ask for what we don't have? What will we do with

customers' ideas?"

But there are 1.45 billion reasons TO blog. 75% of those "reasons"  trust  their peers, not advertising.

- Get the best monitoring software in the world. You need to understand how

your brand is being  redefined every day by customers. There are  about 600m

conversations going on every day online.

- 78% rank customer  recommendations as the most credible form of

advertising  Most companies are not thinking about  how they  can leverage


- Old marketing: how do we create great content? Then send it out. New

marketing: listen to what's being said by customers.

- Customers want to speak with us in their language of choice.  English

reaches only 1/3 of the world's population, on a good day. You need to be

fluent in 10 languages to reach 90% of the world. How many is your firm

fluent in?

- Facebook has 100 million members,  or more. If that was a country,  you'd

be planning to engage its members, big  time. What are you doing to reach out  to the Facebook community?

- The world's greatest brain is the web.

- People  spend less than 1% of their time online buying stuff. They are

doing other things.

Some Recommendations:

- Know where conversations about your  firm are going. Use tag  cloud to do


- Know where your first impression is formed. Your home page is really the

Google page people land on. Customers will  help "design" the landing page.

Are you in touch with them.

- Customers are unbelievably willing to help other customers. Not you. Your

customers. Partner with them. Listen to them.

- Why get involved with Twitter? It's not that widely used. But look at it

strategically. There are about 65 Dell related Twitter groups. They might

have members who want to be informed about  new products.

- Innovation. Would you rather do a focus group with 10 people for a  day?

Or  listen to 100,000 people debate ideas for months and ask them  questions

throughout the whole process?

- Check out Latitude, a customer generated laptop. Dell engineers became

obsessed with Dell's IdeaStorm community during design  phase.

- Your fans are often the unofficial  leaders of their communities. Treat

them  like family.

EMC's Susan Zellmann-Rohrer on Building the Business Case for Communities

Posted by Bill Lee on October 15, 2008 at 03:58 PM

Notes from our afternoon session at the Communities Exchange Summit. Susan started with a simple framework. Communities must be "Purposed, Engineered, Mined"


Susan is a deep thinker, and cites some heavy hitters for her foundational arguments.

-- You need to address a critical  question: if you let community customers participate in the innovation process,  will it result in profitable products? (Eric Hipple, Democratizing Innovation - provides useful guidance in addressing this. His book is free and downloadable.)

-- If the network is the computer,  the supercomputer is the community. (check out IIC on Harvard,edu. When increasingly siloed scientists get exposed to ideas/ methodologies in other disciplines -- amazing things can happen)

-- Size matters: you need to address whether the community will be large or small, open or private (gated). Each has its place and purpose. 

Questions to ask,  and answer when building the business case:

- What specific business initiatives will this community support?

- What business decisions will this community inform? 

- What hypotheses can this community can test?

- With what business processes will this community be aligned?


Consult with your customers. Use surveys. Find out what they  want to know about, discuss, learn. Who do they want to engage with? What vendors do you use.


Decide on the reports you want to provide to stakeholders. Figure out ways to "pulse" - that is, provide short informative updates,  using perhaps a weekly summary, a few key quotes,  RSS or email. Be creative

Provide a quarterly  review that provides summaries of key activities.

Be an "insight broker." Be a bit of a concierge to executives into the minds  of executives - such  as when  one is planning  a speech to customers. Offer to go to the community to find out what they  want to hear about. 

How Makes Sense of Customer Input

Posted by Bill Lee on October 15, 2008 at 12:10 PM

Blogging from the 2008 Communities Exchange Summit. We've had incredible  presentations from major B2B customer community programs: Intel (Josh  Hilliker, Rhett LIvengood), Intuit (Scott Wilder), Oracle (Jake Kuramoto). Bill Johnston at ForumOne Networks gave results  from their most recent research . . .'s Kingsley Joseph - who created SFC's highly respected IdeaExchange platform for  making sense  of customer  input (used by Dell, Starbucks) -- just got done. What are you  doing with your customers' input? How do you make sense of it? How do you prioritize it? How do you make sure it gets, you know, implemented by your company?

Here's my take on Kingsley's answers, plus some tips to keep in mind:

IdeaExchange was inspired in part by Digg, combined with a prioritization platform (which  SFC acquired).

The way employees participate in a customer community is the single most critical  factor in the success of a community.

Moderation: the point is not just to weed out spam, but to encourage and reward participation  from members.

Handling "inconvenient" ideas from the community

- Reconsider - is it really a bad idea of lots of  people want it.

- Often adds useful  ammo for internal  debates

- Is it an opportunity for partner  solution?

- If it just can't be done, state why, if possible

Competitor activity on your site: let the community deal  with it. (they'll typically either ignore it, or dispute it for you). Be reluctant to take postings down.

Analytics for  Product Managers: These are the things that Kingsley's team  reports to PMs. How many of  these can you report?

# of Ideas – by product line, each release cycle

Top 20 Most Popular

% of All Ideas Delivered

% of Top 20 in last quarter that were delivered

# of undelivered All-Time Top 20 ideas

$ of Opportunities Lost due to Undelivered Ideas

Ideas From High-Potential Customers

Ideas From At-Risk Customers

Then, of course,  report back  to the community on progress in implementing product ideas.

CRM (Sales, Suppport and Marketing) - an often overlooked component of community programs. The community can do great things for you, but only if it's tied back  into CRM. Community information can provide context and nuance to otherwise static CRM info.

How Built a Large Community of Innovation

Posted by Bill Lee on October 1, 2008 at 08:28 AM

Just caught up with Kingsley Joseph, Senior Product Manager,, who created's IdeaExchange platform. It's being used not only by SFC but also Starbucks and Dell to attract large number of customers to their community sites, make sense of their input, de-dupe their feature requests, and prioritize them in remarkably innovative ways. IdeaExchange makes ample use of popular community tools such as Digg, Twitter, Linkedin and others.

Kingsley will be speaking at the 2008 Communities Exchange Summit on October 15.

Q. Kingsley, if you would, tell us how you got involved with's online customer communities. Who were these people? Where have you taken the program?

A. I became involved with the community in early 2006 when I joined Back then, we had about 50 pages of content, mainly developed by us. Over the last 2 years, we've created a system that has almost every product manager blogging about their product, as well as lively discussion and idea communities that now span 200k pages of content that attract 100k visitors a month. We're more engaged than ever with the pulse of our community, and have found innovative ways to incorporate it into the way we do business.

Q. What have you learned about engaging with your customers? What works? What doesn't?

A. The key lesson we've learned is that it is a two way street. If you want customers to engage, you have to engage first, and be willing to take the relationship to a new place. Passionate customers expect a responsive business in return.

Q. Let me see if I've got this straight. both engages with its own customer communities via the IdeaExchange, plus you provide a platform - Salesforce Ideas - that helps other companies engage with their communities, correct? How did IdeaExchange come to be?

A. We first created the IdeaExchange in October 2006. Our rapid growth had caught up with us, and we needed a new system for processing feature requests that could scale with our customer community. The key challenges in feature request systems are prioritization and de-duplication. I was looking for a good web 2.0 solution to these problems, when I realized that the social news site model pioneered by Digg would be a great way to solve them. I located a small startup providing an on-demand social news solution, and implemented the IdeaExchange using their product.

The success of the IdeaExchange brought calls from customers (incidentally, on the IdeaExchange) to provide them with the same capability. We acquired the startup that had provided the solution, and we've since re-written their solution on the cloud-computing platform. It's now available to customers as the Salesforce Ideas product.

Q. Who are some of your marquee customers, and how do they use Salesforce Ideas?

A. When Michael Dell came back to lead Dell, he wanted to have the company reconnect with their customers. During a chat with our CEO Marc Benioff, he showed Michael Dell the IdeaExchange, and before we knew it, Dell IdeaStorm had launched. Within the first week, Dell IdeaStorm had collected more than 500 ideas; by the first month it had collected 2,500 ideas. Soon, Dell deployed EmployeeStorm, a secure community that allows employees to post ideas regardless of where they sit within the company; in the first two weeks of launching it had gathered more than 700 ideas. EmployeeStorm breaks down the silos natural in corporate life and increases collaboration-allowing, for example, tech support employees in Asia to communicate and share ideas with sales reps in Round Rock, Texas.

Customer feedback on IdeaStorm led the company to build select consumer notebooks and desktops pre-installed with the Linux platform. Dell also decided to continue offering Windows XP as a pre-installed operating system option in response to customer requests.

MyStarbucksIdea is an important part of how CEO Howard Schultz isre-inventing Starbucks - to instill what he calls "a seeing culture." While it gives their customers unprecedented say in the business, MyStarbucksIdea is also an always-on focus group for Starbucks to test product concepts. 48 Starbucks Idea partners play the role of representing customer ideas internally, as well as providing responsive feedback to customers. Customers go to MyStarbucksIdea, not to complain, but instead to offer creative solutions.

Q. In soliciting ideas from a large community of customers, how do you a) cull out the bad ones, and b) make sense of the ones that are left?

A. The nice part about Salesforce Ideas and a healthy community is that they do a lot of the hard work of culling out the bad ideas for you. As long as you maintain a healthy community, the application makes sense of what the community wants. Ideas that the community does not like disappear very quickly, and the ones that are ignored by most community members slide slowly into purgatory.

The ones that survive can be ranked by the total amount of interest in the community. Tie this in with customer relationship management (CRM) data and you gain remarkable insight into questions like "what do your most valuable customers want, what does your fastest growing customer segment want?" etc. The power of community becomes many times more valuable for product planning when you can connect it with your customer data.

Q. By the way, why don't you bring us up to speed on what is doing these days.

A. We are in the middle of two very exciting transformations. The first transformation is that, from leading the software-as-a-service revolution, we're now making rapid progress towards becoming the trusted cloud computing platform of choice. The platform that was unveiled recently, puts the power of's dependable, multi-tenant infrastructure in the hands of developers everywhere. The second transformation is that we're expanding Salesforce CRM into exciting new frontiers like community, innovation management and content management. We're excited about both transformations and are working very hard to deliver more than what our customers expect from us.

As always, we have some very exciting announcements coming out at Dreamforce, our annual conference in early November, so I would hate to ruin the surprise!