Previously on the Watchlist:
Community Platform and Overview
I’ve managed to squeeze out one more grouping – again, not a category – for community platforms. Good for me. That means we’re going to look at CRM Watchlist winners Jive and Lithium.
For the longest time, we’ve been hearing about the value of communities – and for the longest time, we’ve had communities. Prior to communities, we had (and still do in a pretty big way) user forums and prior to that, old people, we had Usenet groups. Prior to that we had (and still do) actual communities – meaning places where people actually lived and interacted. Meaning, communities have been part of our existence since long before we were digital.
But, while I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, there is a new reality. We…are…digital. That means that the channels that we communicate in have grown and the number of people available to communicate with us is manifolds greater, and the number of people who will respond to what we tell them is also much larger than it has been in the past. But, regardless of what we had and what we currently have –people continue to gravitate to what they know; in whatever format they have to know it. So if we’ve lived in communities our entire lives, to gravitate to a digital one when the opportunity presents itself for communicating with a population at large or at least a larger population, is kind of a natural no brainer.
Yet, despite the obvious reason to participate, i.e. it’s a place that people of like mind communicate with each other, there is still a fair amount of confusion about what communities are, both as a location/venue and confusion over what technology supports it. Let me clear them up for you.
Facebook is not a community. It is an external social network; as Twitter is to some degree. What distinguishes a social network from a community is that the social networks glue falls under the aegis of pre-existing relationships. Communities are based more on common interests or practices. Knowing someone before hand is not a prerequisite for membership in a community. Having a common interest is a reason to join. For some exceptional discussion on the difference, take a look at Dr. Michael Wu’s 2010 work here. Michael is the Chief Data Scientist at Lithium, and one of the thought leaders in the field.
This is a significant difference when it comes to business-related communities. What members have in common is an interest or a particular practice of some kind – it could be a brand interest, it could be a common interest in a skillset or it could be a practical matter. But one way or the other it is a community of common interest. What that implies is not the pre-existing relationship but either a desire to find like minded individuals or expertise that you need. That means the role of the community facilitator is not to curate interactions between or among friends but to matchmake or to find information or the source of information for the community members. So, for example, a sales person in an external social network is asking friends for something (though I'm ignoring the psychology of those kind of relationships to make the point) while in a B2B community is acting as a subject matter expert or as the lynchpin in the relationship between the buyer and the seller even if its about a customer service matter. Of course, there are, as all things in life have, lots of grey areas but, these are the differences at least in the most simplistic of ways.
Okay, enough of the pontificating. Lets boogie now. Jive and Lithium - what about them?
Jive is a company that never fails to amaze. It is better than it is given credit for and at the same time is always the subject of something unexpected. For example, Jive critics complain about its revenues yet it averages roughly $120 million annually and their run rate is greater than that. At the same time, there has been the uneven discussion about the marketplace that they are going after. Are they B2B? Are they going after the internal and collaborative? But wait, they are attempting the B2C market - or are they? OR are they providing customer service communities? Yet, they have made their intentions known pretty clearly with the release of their new Jive X platform – which means they are adding the B2C and customer community space to their existing target markets – B2B/ internal collaborative and enterprise. At the same time their direction and focus is becoming clearer and clearer, rumors are beginning to surface of both an interest in acquisition (sorry, can’t tell you who, but I know) and one in Jive putting itself out there for acquisition.
For a while, Jive’s biggest problems were their lack of marketing direction which spilled into what was a poor analyst relations effort in addition. But that has been corrected with the appointment of what seems to be a solid Chief Marketing Officer, industry veteran Elisa Steele (She also scored the role of EVP of Strategy). This is combined with an intensive effort to turn their analyst relations program on its head – which they have started to successfully do.
Yet, let me be absolutely crystalline. There is a reason that Jive won the Watchlist one more time. With all the uncertainties and changes, Jive is a force to be reckoned with in the world of communities. They are one of the two major players – CRM Watchlist 2014 Winner Lithium being the other (see below) – that are having an impact on what moves the community technology market and even the customer facing technology market itself.
What does Jive have going for it? This time around, as I have said, they’ve addressed a significant number of their problems. But there is one other thing. Their platform. Their Jive 7 release provides their strongest technology in years and a potential market slice that they didn’t have a few months before it.
There are several parts that are impressive. Since I’m not going to go into a deep dive, I’ll give you a couple of the highlights here.
- JiveX – This is the most important change of all. This is their new platform, designed from the ground up for external communities and integration into systems of record of varying kinds. JiveX is focused around a customer hub. It also brings real time to the platform – with persistent group chat (immediate sync provided). They’ve also built a JiveX for Salesforce cases specific platform instance that’s designed for handling salesforce related queries, including those that are asked and answered by customers directly. Their results have been particularly impressive in driving that kind of community customer service results with questions asked and answered by Cisco customers 84% of the time and an even more impressive one, Strongmail 97% of the time, among others.
- Analytics – There are four areas that they’ve added or improved on. Some not that exciting like SEO and data export tools; one interesting which is templates for reports based on natural language processing and one really important, given contemporary business mindsets – what they call Impact Metrics. Impact metrics essentially tell you how much impact your content has in the community. It provides you with a peek at how much your content is being viewed, who viewed it; who is referring the content, etc. Plus the sentiment. All of which is immediately available to the users. Gamified too. All one needs to know.
- UI/UX improvements – This was simple yet powerful – a Visual Nav widget that allows you to do a point and click customization of the user experience. This is particularly important, since the idea that style, i.e. design matters is now not only in vogue, but in white hot demand, as more and more companies are realizing that customers like working the way they like playing – with ease and coolness. This leads to a need to make the work tools something that someone wants to use, not just has to use, which is, at its heart, how something not only provides capabilities, but does it with a great look, feel and navigability.
Another very important differentiators for Jive is their provision of strategic consulting services. To be clear, their offering is strategies in service of their technologies – e.g. SEO strategy that maximizes the use of Jive’s SEO functionality. But their consulting services are a serious and strong group who are good at that. This is not a new model – I remember back in the day in the late 90s in fact – Salesnet, an early SFA competitor to salesforce, used to offer “business analysts” whose sole job was to look at your sales operations and then figure out how to make Salesnet work best for you, given what you had. Like Jive, they weren’t focused on suggesting improvements to what you have, but on how to use their platform best, given what you have.
This actually, in the case of Jive, is a strength because it allows for partnerships with consulting companies and systems integrators who do offer the more strategic and judgmental consulting. Thus, they are able to have partnerships with some of the major players like Accenture, CSC, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Hewlett Packard who can take them into larger deals. They also have a strong, not-quite-ecosystem of partners in technology who work on their platform (e.g. SAP, LinkedIn, Akamai); on specific use cases (e.g. Bunchball for gamification; Totango for community analytics) and they have their own app market for partners who are using the Jive API and toolkits to build their own Jive applications and integrations (e.g. Hedloc CRM integrates Jive with SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics).
What they need to do
- JiveX is a risk; understand that, deal with it – JiveX is an important initiative for them. It puts them in a market that many have assumed and continue to assume they are in. But this is not a place that they have performed well in the past and thinking about the market is a big risk. So this makes for an interesting option but a risky one.
- Better and more integrations and partnerships with CRM and customer service systems – Right now, their own native CRM integration is with salesforce.com, Marketo and SAP. While partners are providing Dynamics and SugarCRM integrations for example, and that’s good, by leaving it entirely up to the partners, the possibility of go to market partnerships with companies like the very fast rising Microsoft and others go by the wayside. More, better, integrations with go to market partnerships where possible.
- Step up thought leadership BIG TIME – In this area, Chris Morace, Jive’s Chief Strategy Officer, has been their saving grace with the publication of his NY Times best seller “Transform: How Leading Companies are Winning with Disruptive Social Technology". But needless to say, a very good book does not thought leadership make. I think a wise man said that, though his grammar seems atrocious, doesn’t it? If Jive is to both maintain their market position as social intranet leader and expand once again to try external communities, then there is a lot of content that must be produced to support their position. Right now, they don’t have that content. Their competitors have some of that content. But nothing leaves the door open to whoever wants to walk in. That means that Jive needs to start making the room that they walk into habitable and rather cool – a roundabout way of saying that they need to start producing the videos, audio, digitally printed, actually printed, body of knowledge that gets them the mindshare in the markets that they want market share in.
- Think summit – Yes, it’s time. They have made huge leaps and bounds in their analyst outreach, actually overcoming and reversing what had been a bad situation with the analyst/influencer community and turning it around to become what I would say is currently benignly positive. This was done in a year or a little more. Wow. Are their improvements? Yes, there are and I think these are optional but might help a great deal. The big one, a one-day analyst summit. This is a public company that has a fairly high profile for one that brings in about $120 million. High profile companies that want to maintain that profile level positively have to consider doing things that might be a little bit more effort than the norm but have dividends that pay. In the case of Jive, I highly suggest an analyst summit – a day where they bring in a selected group of analysts who get deep product dives, one on one meetings with executives and are able to ask the questions they need to ask to know the company better. With the emergence of JiveX and the newness of the platform and the attack on the market that they haven’t been able to truly succeed at yet, it probably pays to drive a discussion around JiveX with influencers all in the same room, so to speak. Reduce the risks by assuaging the doubts.
Jive, in the last year roughly, has come miles and miles. Yet there are miles to go before they sleep…or get sold. But regardless of what happens to them, one thing I know is that they are a playa in a world of players and this is a good thing. They weren’t a difficult choice for a winning spot in the Watchlist this year.
Lithium has been an intriguing company that has undergone major changes for many years, while staying true to its core – despite occasional forays outside the core that didn’t work.
For the last several years, they have steadily and surely put together an enterprise class organization and shed their youthful skin as they matured.
Growing up to becoming a company that has enterprise on its mind and in its DNA isn’t an easy thing, yet Lithium has been genetically predisposed to doing that for a long time. If you take a look at some of their raw stats, you realize that this is a company that scales big – and finally has reached the place where they think big.
Let’s look at some of the numbers so you get a sense of this:
- Serves 300 brands
- 75+ million customers a month engage through Lithium networks.
- Lithium communities involve 13 billion consumer interactions a year.
- Lithium’s communities’ content is read at the rate of 6,000 posts per minute; 372,000 per hour; 165,000,000 a month.
Those are numbers at scale. Serious numbers. Enterprise-grade DNA numbers.
Clearly their platform is enterprise-ready or it couldn’t do what it is doing. The platform, over the last year has evolved. It has been enterprise scalable for a while. The last year has been spent refining a number of key areas that were needed to make the usefulness of the platform greater than just the results at scale. The biggest development wasn’t the direct improvement of the platform but was the increase in its elasticity with the creation of the Lithium Developer Network (LDN). While the Developers Network is an actual network of developers, it is also the name of a refresh of the platform to include not only an extensible architecture but also well over 1200 REST Version 2 APIs that are designed for integration with other applications. They even developed a plugin tool for developers that allow them to develop to the Lithium platform within the development environment they are comfortable with.
All in all, LDN is vitally important to Lithium’s future because communities don’t really stand by themselves. They can, but their power lies in the integration into ecosystems that service customers. They are channels for engagement with the customers and among the customers. Their power lies in what you learn from them and the social intercourse that the communities evoke. As a channel of engagement, their integration into systems of record is vital since it is where customer’s information is captured and analyzed, reported and insights uncovered.
To do this, Lithium had to make a very good management team even better. They hired Sunil Rajasekar as the SVP of Engineering in 2012 and it was a helluva move. The platform has been refreshed, the Developer Network has been put into place, the tools created and made available, the APIs there for use, the customer service functions enhanced and more deeply embedded into the platform and the analytics strengthened, though still not where I think they can be.
But Sunil is one of what has become a very strong management team, led by CEO Rob Tarkoff. CMO Katy Keim continues to stay creative, be one of the faces of the company and just rock out as CMO; Ed VanSiclen as SVP of Partners and Alliances, has taken what was lets just say to be charitable a weak partner program and turned it into a serious ecosystem with alliances that have been forged with most of the major players in the customer-facing world; and others like Joel Cothrel, Chief Community Officer – and a thought leader unto himself and of course ubermind, Michael Wu as the Chief Scientist. There are many others who deserve some credit, but I don’t have the space.
All in all Lithium is well prepared to make an impact year over year and with a few things that they need to do, can both hone the operational side of the company and improve the mindshare. But, of course, they have to do these things.
What they need to do
- Sharpen their focus – They need to sharpen the mission and vision. While they have them, both smack of an altruism that doesn’t inspire confidence in a subliminal or obvious way. Their mission is something along the “in a world…” line of visions – “we see a future where customers will only recommend and do business with companies they trust.” That is altruistic and self-evident simultaneously. For the most part, now, for example, most customers don’t do business with companies they don’t trust. So the negative of what can be seen as a truism already exists. Second, it is entirely altruistic to think that that will ever be a realistic reflection of a world that will exist. Customers, for the most part, do business with companies they need to do business with – it’s a utilitarian relationship, not a sappy one. To repeat what I’ve said a dozen times in these pages, use the Ernst and Young Advisory vision as the paradigm of how to think about it and present it – “Building a Better Working World” with the thought leadership to back it up.
- Hire someone to do analyst relations and expand the program - With some notable glitches here and there, Lithium, on the whole, has had an admirable analyst program, which wasn’t ambitious but was effective. The concept was simple. Focus on a few well-chosen analysts, stay engaged with them and pick their advisory brains as deeply as possible. It worked – and continues to work to a large extent. But this is a company with revenues north of $100 million, an enterprise focus, one that wins varying awards and waves and magic quadrants, and has had, though not as much lately, a huge presence that was well beyond its actual size – both its market visibility and its thought leadership. Their analyst/influencer program needs to start reflecting this larger-than-life and as-big-as-its-market appearance. That means more extensive regularized briefings and broadening the number of analysts/influencers that are engaged or briefed.
- Step up thought leadership – This is arguably the most important, given the Lithium lineage. They have had, until about a year ago, perhaps a little more, a consistent presence in thought leadership circles – one that had impact beyond most vendors. Dr. Michael Wu, the Lithium Chief Data Scientist, remains a force within the industry – someone who has defined the parameters for Big Data and for influence, among many other things. But over the last 12-18 months, Lithium has taken a step back – two in fact – and their presence in defining the framework for communities etc. has diminished. This comes with the turf to some extent. As companies grow into the enterprise market, they start seeing a lot of operational responsibilities that they didn’t have or an escalation of the levels of their existing responsibilities which might force them to pay more attention to, say, governance or regulatory compliance. But, given that manpower and the lengths of days both have their limits, attention to other things suffers. In Lithium’s case, it has been thought leadership. But they are up against a market in transition, a few substantial competitors and some emerging platforms that put them back into a position where mindshare becomes almost as important as market share – since mindshare means future market share most of the time. However, it isn’t as tangible or measurable so it suffers. Lithium needs to step it up letting some of its resident thought leaders loose again – e.g Michael Wu, Joel Cothrel, and using CEO Rob Tarkoff as a spokesperson for the company in more places than they are right now. Among other things.
Lithium has always painted its world in bold, big brushstrokes and even as it grew itself, took on bold big initiatives in bold big markets. They’ve succeeded at this – as tough as it is – and have an outsized reputation as a result. They won the Watchlist, not because they have an outsized reputation but because I think it can be right sized without shrinking it a bit. Which is a convoluted way of saying, they have boatloads of potential with all the pieces in place and with all the tweaks made. You go, Lithium.
That’s it for this week. First, let me say that I’m sorry that you had to wait so long but, hey bunkies, I’m a one person show and sometimes the force of events gets in the way. What can I say? Sorry is the best I can do. Which I truly am.
Next week we are into the final sets of reviews – which are two sets of alphabetical vendors and then three consulting/systems integrators. Next up will be, in alphabetical order: BPMonline, Janrain and Lattice Engines.
Also, remember, if you’re interested in being a part of the CRM Watchlist for 2015, please send me an email at email@example.com and get the registration form. When it is returned you will get the questionnaire and the 2013 Watchlist Yearbook and when the 2014 Watchlist Yearbook is done, that will be sent automatically. Cool beans. Would love to have you. There will be a major post on the 2015 contest to close out this year’s Watchlist after the reviews are done.