Customer Conversations: Approach With Care

One best practice forward-looking companies have adopted is being proactive with online conversations that criticize, question — or hopefully compliment — a company’s products or services.

Not enough companies do this, of course, and of those that do, most do it more out of curiosity than anything else, Kingsley Jegan Joseph, senior product manager of, told CRM Buyer.

Of that small percentage of companies that actively monitor the blogosphere for mention of their products and services, real value-add can be had by contributing to the conversation, Joseph noted, “especially when it comes to the introduction of new product lines. We have found that there are often a lot of questions people are asking.”

Joining the Conversation

When a product manager interjects in such as conversation, not only can he answer those questions — or perhaps correct a misperception — but that interest is perceived very positively in the community, he said.

The key is in how to make the approach — the subject of Joseph’s latest blog post. After all, these are not necessarily conversations to which the company was invited.

“Using the Social Media Firehose, which I built in order to listen to people talking about, I often happen across conversations that weren’t intended for me,” he wrote. “Choosing whether or not to respond to these conversations, and how to respond to them, can be quite a challenge.”

Here are some tips on how to do this, courtesy of Joseph’s post:

  • Approach with care (“Most people choose to be in denial about the open nature of the internet, so it helps your cause to not perturb their flimsy shells”);
  • Use a long introduction describing what you do and why you do it (“buffer of words helps soften the surprise”);
  • Be forthright (“If you’re surprised by what they’ve written, say so — mutual surprise often has a way of resolving in laughter”);
  • And perhaps most importantly, “Never, ever use the words “monitor” or “overheard.”

VRM Workshop Wrap Up

The first ever VRM (vendor relationship management) Workshop conference just wrapped up, Keith Hopper writes at

There he found that Relbutton — an early-stage VRM tool in the works that allows customers and vendors to visually declare their willingness to relate to one another on equal terms — is quickly gaining traction in the VRM community.

Some definitions, though, are in order. “Relate” here means a wide variety of potential communications, transactions and intentions that might flow between a customer and vendor, according to Hopper’s post. “On equal terms” means that the responsibility for initiating, sharing and storing interactions rests equally on the two parties.

It might seem odd that such a distinction of equality is necessary, but it is, he continued. “In our current economic reality, the responsibility for customer-vendor relationships lies almost entirely with the vendor. Historically, this hasn’t always been the case. For at least a century, customers have subtlety and perhaps unwittingly handed over to vendors increasing responsibility for initiating and supporting their market relationships.”

NetSuite Prepping for an Acquisition?

On Inorganic Growth, the 451 Group’s Tech M&A Blog, Brenon Daly notes that New York venture firm StarVest Partners led the majority acquisition of Iron Solutions, a SaaS (Software as a Service) company that provides online information about used farm and industrial machinery.

The deal interests Daly because StarVest was also an early investor in NetSuite, owning 5 percent of the company, according to the S-1 filed ahead of NetSuite’s IPO last year. His admittedly speculative thesis: NetSuite may be considering acquiring Iron Solutions.

Here are the reasons why he thinks this might be so: “StarVest’s interest in NetSuite dates back to May 2000, when it led a Series C investment in the SaaS applications suite vendor together with Oracle head honcho Larry Ellison,” and “Oak Investment Partners recently played matchmaker in an inter-portfolio marriage of two SaaS companies,” and “NetSuite’s only acquisition so far has been a vertical deal: the $31m purchase of OpenAir, which helped boost NetSuite’s services industry expertise.”

Perhaps NetSuite could broaden the focus of Iron Solutions’ online marketplace, appraisal and valuation services to a much wider market, Daly concludes. “The applications vendor has already begun to offer applications tailored for light manufacturing and has voiced a desire to add in heavy manufacturing in the future. If it’s serious about those moves, NetSuite may well find that Iron Solutions’ equipment marketplace and other know-how come in handy. The two sides, and their backers, certainly know each other well enough.”

Microsoft Shake-Up

Microsoft veteran Kevin Johnson has left the company to be the CEO of Juniper Networks. As head of Microsoft’s platforms and services division, which oversees product development, marketing and strategy for the Windows and online services businesses, Johnson’s departure will leave a void at Microsoft and no doubt shake things up at Juniper. Whether that is good or bad depends on which blog you read, and which company you are talking about.

“Should have happened months ago,” JupiterResearch’s Michael Gartenberg wrote.

“It’s clear that Vista marketing was ineffective and almost nonexistent. Worse, competitors played up every single perceived flaw of Vista and exploited it as part of their marketing. It’s way past time for Microsoft to start getting the message out,” he said. “I’m not sure acknowledging that Vista is perceived as flawed is the right approach. Microsoft needs to call out … the power of Vista and showcase key partners delivering differentiated experiences with Vista technology such as HP and Lenovo. The re-org is a good first step and getting Ballmer directly involved will provide needed accountability but there’s a lot more here that needs to be done and done well before Q4.”

Paul Thurrott, who writes SuperSite for Windows, posted Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s memo to Microsoft employees about the changes. Phrases he highlighted included Ballmer’s promise to in the weeks ahead “launch a campaign to address any lingering doubts our customers may have about Windows Vista.”

Om Malik at GigaOM wrote that “Johnson’s hiring indicates, according to some of my sources, that the company might be going in the direction of services, such as network management … All that sounds good, but in theory, very few companies (IBM, for example) have made a big business out of services. Many of them end up buying pure-play service companies.”

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