Category Archives: Innovative Thought

Breaking down company silos with internal social media tools

cross-functional collaboration

In a recent project with a large Energy company, I was working with the senior management and staff to help develop and embed a customer-centric culture. It is their belief and mine (based on extensive research) that a customer-focused business will drive ongoing prosperity. In our research, along with that of many others, we have found that an important factor in enabling a customer culture to become embedded is internal cross-functional collaboration. We found senior and middle management in the Energy company were stymied in their attempts to focus on customers by emails and informational meetings that dominated their work day. Functions were working in silos with very little cross-function collaboration referencing customers and how to increase customer value.

This is typical of so many large organizations.

Don Tapscott, the author of several books on the impact of digitization on our work world, discusses new forms of collaboration in his newest book, Radical Openness: Four Principles for Unthinkable Success.

In an interview in September 2012, recorded in the McKinsey Quarterly, Tapscott described the new social media tools for collaboration:

“How do we get beyond e-mail to these new social platforms that include an industrial-strength social network? Not through Facebook, because that’s not the right tool. But there are tools now: wikis, blogs, microblogging, ideation tools, jams, next-generation project management, what I call collaborative decision management. These are social tools for decision making. These are the new operating systems for the 21st-century enterprise in the sense that these are the platforms upon which talent—you can think of talent as the app—works, and performs, and creates capability.

We had this view that knowledge is a finite asset, it’s inside the boundaries of companies, and you manage it by containerizing it. And this was, of course, illusory, because knowledge is an infinite resource. The most important knowledge is not inside the boundaries of a company. You don’t achieve it through containerization, you achieve it through collaboration.

So, there’s a big change that’s underway right now in rethinking knowledge management. It’s really moving toward what I would call content collaboration, as opposed to trying to stick knowledge into a box where we can access it. E-mail is sort of like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s doing anything about it. We have to get rid of e-mail.

You need to have a new collaborative suite where, rather than receiving 50 e-mails about a project, you go there and you see what’s new. All the documents that are pertinent to that project are available. You can create a new subgroup to talk about something. You can have a challenge or an ideation or a digital brainstorm to advance the interests of that project. You can co-create a document on a wiki. You can micro-blog the results of this to other people in the corporation who need to be alerted.”

This thinking and these tools apply directly to sharing knowledge about customers and competitors. Effective use of the tools can have a substantial impact on innovation, competitiveness and customer value if they are directed towards sharing across the business a deep understanding of customers, competitors and the changing market environment. This will strengthen an organization’s customer culture which in turn will drive future growth and profitability.

How would you rate your level of cross-functional collaboration? To what degree are you using the new social media tools for internal collaboration? Why not benchmark your level of collaboration and take action to strengthen it?

If you want to build this capability in your organization check out our MarketCulture Academy.

2 secrets of’s success at attracting customers


Jamie Greney, a long standing employee says “In my ten years at, I think one of the most important elements to our success has been the corporate culture. We’ve had a consistent vision regarding the end of software. Three of our top values have been trust, customer success, and innovation.”

Alyson Stone, another company employee says “Depending on how you look at it, resolving a customer’s problem is the beginning or the end of a journey. Companies who decide to put the customer at the center of all business strategies and activities are making a commitment to engagement, yes. But more than that they are making an assumption that each customer is a long-term investment with a high rate of return.”

It is clear that Salesforce’s customer culture is embedded in the business and has been central to its ongoing delivery of value to its growing customer base. Salesforce is on Fortune’s 2012 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For ranked number 27.

In a report titled “Salesforce’s happy workforce”, David Kaplin describes what happens inside the company.

 “There are plenty of reasons Salesforce is cool to work for: its downtown San Francisco vibe, its matchless end-of-the-year revelry, its embedded philanthropy, and its idiosyncratic leader.”

He quotes Marc Benioff, the CEO, “We achieved our market position by being born cloud,” Benioff writes in his book titled Beyond the Cloud, “but we are being ‘reborn’ social … We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook and other social sites like Twitter have changed the consumer conversation and created incredible loyalty — and love.”

Kaplan reports that Salesforce’s new social-networking app, Chatter, functions much like a Facebook inside a company — and helps enhance office culture. Whether on a computer or mobile device, Chatter is dynamic and collaborative — e-mail, by comparison, is static and private. In open groups or news feeds like Finance or Sales, multiple employees can share ideas in real time on projects, analyze data, and compare drafts. “I learned more about my company in a few months through using Chatter than I had in the last three years,” Benioff says.

At Salesforce itself — where there are about 3,000 daily Chatter posts, and internal e-mails have decreased 30% since Chatter went live — there are groups designed to get employees across departments and rank talking to each other about work life, including Tribal Knowledge and Airing of Grievances. Kaplan says you can’t post anonymously, so complaints and queries are rather tame. But it nonetheless generates a degree of cooperation unseen at large organizations.

When you think about it, by providing business software on the web as its core mission, the collaborative model that the company has with its customers engenders cross-function collaboration within each customer as they use the Salesforce software.

Success has many elements, but there are two secrets underpinning Salesforce that stand out:

1)   A Customer Culture as noted at the start of this post, is fundamental to Salesforce’s growth and profitability.

2)   Collaboration across functions and with customers fuels trust and innovation resulting in a happy workforce and more value for customers.

How strong are these cultural attributes in your company? What could you do to strengthen them?

If you want to build this capability in your organization check out our MarketCulture Academy.

How Amazon’s customer centric culture breeds innovation

Amazon Customer Innovations

Amazon’s vision is to be the world’s most customer centric company and what this means in practice is they are always looking for ways to add value to customers. This year that has meant innovating in the physical world rather than just the online world.

One of the problems all online shoppers face is what happens when I get something delivered and I am not home? Missed deliveries……..

To address this need Amazon has begun expanding its physical footprint in the US by providing the Amazon Locker. This push first started with the 24 hour convenience chain, 7-11.

It recently announced a partnership with Staples to extend its locker footprint to their stores. Customers can opt to have packages sent to their nearest staples store, they are then emailed a code and have 3 days to pick up their package.

Given Amazon’s mission to save customers money, it is a great strategy designed to expand its options available to customers without increasing its costs substantially.

It is potentially an interesting win-win partnership with Staples who competes with Amazon in the online environment. Staples will get a fee and more foot traffic and Amazon a physical footprint to provide more convenience for customers.

From a competitive standpoint this development also makes sense as the major physical retailers get better and blending online and offline purchasing options. For instance more than half of the sales from are picked up at Walmart stores so customers clearly like this option.

The only way to compete in this environment is to innovate around the ever evolving customer needs, does your company have a customer centric culture?

Reinventing your small business with a deeper understanding of customers

If you can develop an ongoing unique understanding of your customer’s needs through discussion and observation you will have a competitive advantage.

A great small business example comes from Lex Dwyer, a Melbourne based fitness instructor who repositioned his services as a result of observing customers for hours at a time.

At first he was providing “light relief” at corporate planning workshops by giving executives tips on how to look after their health. He then added to this, physical challenges for managers working in teams, to achieve a specific goal like building a bicycle without assembly instructions. Each team would have an incorrect collection of parts, which needed to be traded with other teams to complete the task. These “games” added value to the planning sessions by incorporating leadership, collaboration and teamwork principles.

Understanding Customer's Fitness Needs

However, as Lex attended his clients’ working sessions he was able to design physical challenges as games that reinforced their business goals. He did this by listening to their discussions, observing their frustrations and disagreements and understanding their business challenges.

This insight enabled him to design exercises as a real-time responses to their observed needs and tie their thinking together in a more holistic approach. Lex found he had a particular talent for seeing the “big” picture and tying together his games with the client’s strategy. As a result he repositioned himself as a provider of leadership services and now works with corporate clients and with business schools’ executive education programs.

Net result – delighted clients and consumers, higher revenue and making a difference to people’s lives. Lex’s personal vision of “making a difference” is a reality.

To gain deep customer insights, you have to ask questions and observe customers in multiple ways with disciplined processes. Insight comes from integrating different pieces of information and gaining a multi-faceted knowledge of your customers. It is gained from knowledge of how they think and act before, during and after their purchase. It requires knowledge of the entire customer experience.

How you can create killer customer insights

Customer Insights

Customer insight comes from a deep understanding of customers’ needs and drivers of customer behavior at a level well beyond what customers themselves can explain. These needs are understood from what customers tell us, but more deeply from what we observe customers doing and the frustrations they have in using particular products, services and companies.

Richard Branson, when trying to identify industries to enter a new Virgin service, asks the brainstorming question – “What are 10 things that nobody would say about this industry?” He and his team then prioritize those ideas that would create value for customers and profits for virgin. The next step is decide if a Virgin service can be designed to deliver some of these unspoken values in that industry. It is a great example of outside in thinking, starting with the customer’s pain points or needs and working backwards.

At Mercedes-Benz, rather than asking customers “What do you think of Mercedes-Benz?” a standard question that gets the standard answers about high quality, luxury and so on, they reverse the question –

“What do you think Mercedes-Benz thinks of you?”

This unique twist on a common question results in much deeper insights. Many customers responded initially by saying thing like “ you think we are made of money … that we have all the time in the world”. These responses  led the company to find ways of making its car servicing much more convenient for customers and to build in servicing costs to the initial purchase or lease arrangement.

In both cases these are questions designed to get customer insight that goes beyond what customers will normally tell us.

Are you asking the right questions?

Stop adding features start adding value!


Those of us that have worked in the product management world know too well how easy it is to add features to a product without adding value. This is one of the key challenges in business – how do we improve the value we are offering customers without adding cost?

Unfortunately this question is often answered by adding more features to an already feature rich product. The outcome is usually a product that is more complex and often less valuable at a higher cost (thanks to the costs of adding the new features!)

What drives this behavior? Usually is one or more of the following factors:

  1. The pressure to constantly increase sales.
  2. The pressure to lead the competition
  3. Trying to be all things to all customers. (Listening to that one customer that wants a special feature)
  4. Making assumptions about what customers want without really testing their validity

How do you avoid making this mistake?

Ask yourself three questions:

1.  Does this new feature compliment the core purpose of the product?

In other words is it adding value to the problem being solved by the product. For example does it make sense to add a clock to a dishwasher? No! the product is not designed to tell the time, its job is to wash dishes.

2. Does adding this feature reduce the value of other features?

There are many examples of overly complicated solutions frustrating users. Logitech has built a whole business around simplifying remote TV controls which are notoriously difficult to use. It feels like 90% of the buttons on a TV remote are for features I would never use. This makes the whole device seem clumsy and over engineered.

3. If I add this new feature what can I take away?

Regularly review what can be removed from the product and still have it accomplish what the customer wants to achieve. Use the following criteria to prioritize which features must go:

  1. Features that are costly to support
  2. Features that detract from other value-adding features
  3. Features not used by customers

This same thinking applies to everything in marketing. Are adding value or destroying it?

How knowing your customers improves your ability to communicate

Stop shouting at your customers

It may sound obvious but the better you know who your customers are and what their preferences are the better your chances of finding them without having to SHOUT!

How do you get the attention of your potential customers?

What media do your customers prefer to use to get information on the problems you can solve? With the ever expanding universe of media options how do you decide where to invest? Let your customers make the decisions for you.

Where do they spend time online? Where do they network? How do they learn more about their profession? Who are they influenced by?

Finding out more about your customer’s preferences is crucial to making the right investment decisions. However choosing the right media vehicles (mouth pieces) is only half of the journey. What you have to say to customers when you find them is even more important.

What insight do you have about customers that can demonstrate you know them perhaps better than they know themselves?

Being an Ironman triathlete one of my favorite examples of this comes from the following Cliff Bar commercial which shows what its like to be a “triathlete”

This super creative 30 second tv spot really speaks to the target customer. It says we know who you are and how you feel, it is a great example of connecting with customers on an emotional level.

Was it successful? Only Cliff Bar have the actual data on that but as a customer its something I love to talk with other triathletes about. The impact of the message also means that Cliff Bar is always top of mind when it comes to selecting or recommended sports nutritional products to others.

Which company ads or messages really stand out for you?

Stop listening to everything customers say!

stop listening to customers

Now I realize this is a strange heading for someone that evangelizes creating a customer centered culture. However, there is a subtle nuance to one of the core elements of our model – the customer insight and foresight dimensions.

This nuance is significant as it relates to the biggest challenge in innovation – how do we know what customers really want?

Henry Ford has one of the most famous quotes on this idea, to paraphrase:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have told me to build a faster horse”.

This is the dilemma that faces all innovators, you need customer input, but you also have to take what customers say with a grain of salt. Customers often don’t really know what they want, in fact many will tell you “I’ll know it when I see it”.

No one asked Steve Jobs to build an iPad. What Job’s recognized was that tablet devices did not work well enough for them to ever be adopted on a mass scale. The unmet needs existed but customer’s could not articulate them into a product. As an innovator it is up to you to do the hard work of uncovering these unmet needs and devising a way to build a product.

A related challenge is  customers often don’t do what they say they will. Asking a question like “If this product had these features, would you buy it?” can often result in a great response from customers but when it comes down to buying the product customers don’t follow through.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and innovators? You need to test and learn constantly throughout the product development cycle and track actual customer behavior. Actual behavior is the barometer of a successful innovation.

Customers will vote with their attention and ultimately their wallets – making progress is initially about learning what resonates with customers and what does not.

Great customer focused leaders – Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos - a Customer Focused Leader

Amazon, under the leadership of Jeff Bezos, has been a great success story. It really created the online retailing sector with an initial focus on books and now has expanded to sell just about everything that can be sold online. It has been an innovator with new cloud services, the online shopping experience and the Kindle.

Part of Jeff’s success he attributes to the idea of having no regrets, taking risks, and having a powerful customer focused mission to drive everything. These are three ingredients key for genuine customer focused leadership. After all being customer focused requires listening and understanding customers better than the competition. However, at some point risks need to be taken to use that knowledge to create new solutions that may or may-not hit the mark.


He is what Jeff has to say about his regret minimization framework:

“I projected myself to age 80 and I looked back…and I said, ‘What I want to have done at that point is to have minimized all the regrets in my life.’

When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff. I knew when I was 80 that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 80 years old.

At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way, in the regret minimization framework, it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”


As companies like Amazon grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe.

Jeff describes how Amazon deals with this issue:

“You get social cohesion at the expense of truth,” he says. He believes that the best way to guard against this is for leaders to encourage their staff to work on big new ideas. “It’s like exercising muscles,” he adds. “Either you use them or you lose them.”


Another key part of Jeff’s leadership has involved a mantra to drive alignment of all employees around one mission – “to save customers money”

While their vision is publicized as “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

The mission is something I have heard from a number of employees in different parts of the company (IT, marketing, HR) and they say it drives everything they do. It creates alignment and focus around customers in a powerful way.

Does your leadership style include these elements?

A new way to innovate and get funded

Customer Focused Innovation

One of the biggest challenges in businesses is determining whether your new product or service actually fills a need. It maybe a cool product, you may like it yourself but if no one will pay money for it, its just a hobby.

There are some really interesting emerging online businesses designed to help entrepreneurs with just this problem.

Kickstarter is one site that has received significant exposure thanks to the incredible success of the Pebble Watch project. Essentially a smart watch that connects to your iPhone apps so you can control music, view text message, get news feeds right on your wrist.

The project raised almost $3 million in 3 days from its “backers”, essentially its future customers and supporters. When the project finally closed it had over $10 million in pledges that was used to get the business off the ground and get production going. In return for the pledges the backers will receive the first editions of the final product.

What’s great about this approach is how it leverages social media and the online world to get projects in front of supporters and early adopters and asks them to commit funds upfront.

We know from working in market research that a lot of potential customers say they like a new product idea but when it comes to actually purchasing they don’t follow through. This is a great way to get commitments to a project before invest time and money.

Another cool success story comes from Scott Wilson a designer of the Apple Nano wrist band. Experts told him it would never work, no one would pay a high price for a premium wrist band for the Nano.

The Nano Wrist Bands

Within a month Scott raised more than $1 million dollars to fund production and a large number of the wristbands sold at twice the price predicted by experts, $79. In fact 76% of customers said they purchased the Nano because of the wrist band, now that got Apple’s attention!

Kickstarter is only available to entrepreneurs in the US at this stage so some other alternatives are listed here ( I found this list on Quora): is a successful Nordic platform for crowdfunding that will soon add the element of equity crowdfunding – a kickstarter-like platform for social good initiatives globally.
PleaseFund.Us – pretty similar to Kickstarter but in the UK, using paypal – A crowdfunding plugin for WordPress. – Just like Kickstarter, but with more options. – A site devoted to reviewing kickstarter alternatives (English and French, open to all) – “Crowdfunding Platform for Social Good” ”

Source: Quora