When – Exactly – Will It Change?

PEOPLE PASSSION 360 by John Philpin

Something’s happening and it’s happening right now

You’re too blind to see it

Something’s happening and it’s happening right now

Ain’t got time to wait

–The Stranglers, Something Better Change, No More Heroes, 1977

A Manifesto For The Future

I wrote this essay around 4 years ago for a business leader to ‘make their own’ and use it as a beacon for what their company was trying to do. It was never adopted. But when I found and revisited it this week, I thought it deserved a wider audience, particularly noting that the observations I made are just as true today, with the core challenges remaining.

I present it today slightly edited (to protect the ‘innocent’), but otherwise as it was written.

To introduce the manifesto, there was a three paragraph opening, set 25 years into the future, looking back on how all ‘this’ (the imagined success of the organization) came to be – and so explaining how the organization came to ‘win’.

At the time, I recall that the the words just flowed. I didn’t then, and haven’t today, spent a great deal of time turning it all into ‘perfect prose’. Rather I offer it as a commentary on how slowly life moves – despite all the hubbub of the fast changing world we live in.

And so to the piece ….

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The world is in transition

The global shift in business from ‘producer efficient supply chains’ to ‘customer effective demand networks’ is accelerating and organizations need to mirror that change through a focus on customer centricity. This is more than an expression, it is a fundamental shift in how an organization needs to think about customers. About people.
Much has been written and discussed about this topic over the years. Who can forget Pehong Chen (Broadvision) and Don Peppers touting the power of 1-1 Marketing in the early 90s. Consider the original marketing applications that emerged like Epiphany, Rubric, Market First. Then the ‘Enterprise’ CRM applications like Siebel and Vantive and Support applications like Scopus and Clarify. And then of course the whole shift to ‘The Cloud’.
Because customer centricity requires a paradigm shift in thinking throughout an organization and most organizations fail to truly grok what that means. Organizations – be they functionally or divisionally organized are rarely – if ever – organized around the customer. And I am not talking about the ‘one stop account manager veneer’ that will be the person that navigates their organization on your behalf. No, I am talking full on, take no prisoners, customer first, customer focussed, customer driven, organizations.
There are many reasons for that, but one view is to think about the oft’ quoted, three buckets of People, Process and Technology;
  • People – they resist change, it doesn’t happen quickly, and status quo / job protection often trumps business need and value.
  • Process – it is not a tweak of how to engage, it isn’t a customer facing layer, it is a top to bottom reorganization and is highly unlikely to be achieved in the time frame available to senior leadership, so the appetite, if not courage, is rarely there.
  • Technology – we keep introducing systems that are fundamentally designed and delivered with a ‘Supply Chain’ mentality. Not to mention that we do tend to lead with it. As I regularly remind, it is People, Process and then Technology
Moreover, solutions and approaches to support such a shift tend to fail since the solution is delivered from the perspective of the traditional military, ‘command and control’ organizational silo. Think of any company’s financial systems, sales systems, marketing systems, document management systems, email systems ….. because people inside organizations (who implement these systems) view their world through their lens.
Result ? There is no single system for the very people that are at the core of an organization’s ability to survive – the customer. Instead, the organizational view of the customer is an aggregation (and often conflicting) summation of the sales view, the marketing view, the support view, the dispatch view, the call center view, the accounts view etc. And so ‘The System of Record’ was born.
But customers, people, don’t really care because they have been quietly assuming control. Unless they are saddled with a monopoly, where else can you get cable, electric, water et al, the customer will move to where they can get what they want, on their terms.

The revolution of the individual has arrived

The Arab Spring and The Occupy Movement are global examples of the mosaic.
‘BYOD’ is a business oriented example ( who would have thought just 5 years ago that an employee would bring in their own equipment and ‘expect’ it to not only connect to the network – but actually support it.
Out there in the land of retail, apps like RedShift allow individuals to shop in the real world, and then with one action discover where the best price is to be had.
And the B2B world is no exception. Consider, that more than 60% of the corporate buying cycle is complete before a vendor even engages with the customer. Now that is People Power.
So what does that mean to us
Consider our company as an example.
<Redacted> for many years was the undisputed leader in <Redacted>. Over time – two things occurred. The dialogue got confused, if not lost … and our customers don’t understand the tools they have had for years.
Meanwhile our industry has lost control of the conversation. Put on the defensive with overcoming industry wide problems, they were boxed and packaged as a necessary evil.
And then along come ‘Social’. The White Knight. Everybody is on it – and it is ‘FREE’!
But we all know that this nascent industry was originally populated with self proclaimed gurus, that had no track record in ‘enterprise systems’ and certainly no history of working with ‘the enterprise’. The mantra of the ‘young Turks’ was that ‘Social is the way’, all else is dead. The world followed. No questions asked. The next ‘shiny thing’ was followed. Nobody heard that the emperor had no clothes.
In due course, Facebook launched an IPO at an unprecedented valuation. And then fizzled[1]. Suddenly people were asking about ROI, mobile and whether the model was sustainable.
Travel further North to San Francisco and check out LinkedIN. A good IPO, profitable, on a massive growth binge, but still it isn’t what it could be. Yes you can pay fees to access premium value inside the platform around ‘people management’, ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ but there is no integration with traditional corporate systems. LinkedIN cites the ‘membership first’ as the reason. I am not so sure. If members are first , why are they selling our information? It is a tough balance. Meanwhile the company is aggressively monitoring how people are using their APIs and ‘their’ data, with the result that there have already been API modifications to both cut back access to the data and restrict use. No, it definitely is not about ‘the membership’.
Meanwhile, ‘across the street’, Twitter is bridging those two worlds and steadfastly refusing to go public. Common thread? All three are building walled gardens to protect ‘their’ data. Just like everyone else in the tech industry.
So individuals (we the people) do – and are – doing things under our own terms. We jump around these social networks, track RSS feeds[2], sign up for newsletters, message each other – across SMS as-well as the private messaging inside the Social Networks – yes the big three, but also Pinterest, FourSquare, Path, Last FM, Pandora – there are hundreds of these networks available to an individual in the US, and hundreds more elsewhere in the world. The fact is the old world of driving customers to your web site has gone.
But the customer is in hundreds of places – how do you keep up?
Well of course, you have to have ‘the customer journey’, mapped out and understood. (Have you noticed how everyone is on that band wagon at the moment?) ’Customer Journey’ is another term that has been widely used and generally misunderstood for many years. And at core, the reason is that the Enterprise seeks to understand the world through its own lens. And so ‘it’ will typically think about a customer journey / buying cycle as some kind of mirror to its own internal sales cycle.
Wrong thinking.
Too many organizations imagine a customer journey as a reflection of what their sales people are doing at any given moment. We imagine our customers out on our web properties and engaging with us. Instead we should be thinking of our customer out there on the networks, engaging with comrades, colleagues, consultants and competitors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and more often than not – nowhere near our content and/or web properties.

And THAT is Opportunity.

By adopting a true ‘people centric’ approach to our platform, we can redefine ‘engagement’ and lead the world.
Our core asset is a unique understanding of who our customers are and who our customer’s customers are. Not only that, but where they are, what they are doing, when they are doing it, how it is being done and why it matters.
Because of that we can make sense of the world and provide the context that allows for decisions, analysis, reporting, risk assessment, recommendations …. for us certainly – but more importantly for our customers and our customer’s customers.
We can do this. We should do this. It is bold, different and daring.
Are we ready?[/message][su_spacer]

It is a real shame that 4 years later, with very few modifications this article could have been written today. Nothing much in the software world is really that different.

It could be.
It should be.
It needs to be
But it isn’t.

Nevertheless, my hat remains held onto.

Everyone, we’re changing everyone,

you name them all,

We’ve had them here,

And the real stars are still to appear.

–Genesis, Supper’s Ready, Foxtrot, 1972

[1] To remind you – 68 days after Facebook’s IPO, stock was trading at under 50% of the first day close – taking nearly a year to get back to the status quo. As I write, it trades at three times the IPO price for a stunning market cap of $332 Billion and a revenue of slightly under $20 billion (that’s a 17 fold ratio for price / sales).

[2] RSS got a lot more complicated when Google closed down Google Reader – and now another set of walled gardens are beginning to rise around a protocol that was introduced as an open standard to benefit the consumer.


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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