The Social Business Engine (part 2 of n) – Value


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I should have known better than to specify exactly what I would cover in part 2 (Here is Part 1) – but in my own defense, I did mention something about this being a journey. I do promise to circle back to the role of sales really soon – to be very direct, the exact role of the sales person, in a model where we are working to create buyers, not sell (see, I told you) is going to take some more thought.

You never know exactly when you will hear something important

Interspersed between client visits, business dinners and a visit with my Mom, good friends seemed to have found some very interesting articles which really helped to solidify my thoughts in a few areas.  Of course, thrown into the mix is Michael Krigsman’s interview with Paul Greenberg (an excellent, must read/listen). Finally, a great dinner conversation with Josh Weinberger in NYC in which topics on CRM from 1999 through 2010 all seemed fair game.

Other than filling you in a bit on my comings and goings, what exactly is my point? Your peers, social networks and your CUSTOMERS are always talking. Information, valuable tidbits will appear at any time. While it is nearly impossible to listen to everything, all the time, you should be prepared to act on information when it becomes available. So, as I continue down this path, remember that one of the most difficult tasks is figuring out exactly what your customers want – listen as much as possible. The objective is not only listen to what they say they want, but what they determine to be valuable. This is a subtle difference.

It is about value, it always has been

All Businesses must be in touch with their market, their customers and it is still about product after all. If the value (not yours, the value perceived by the customer) is not there game over. You can have the most finely tuned Social Business in the world, but it will not make up for bad product.  While the world has changed a lot – somethings have not – customers do want value.

This is easier said than done. In a recent Harvard Business Review Blog, Mark Johnson answers the following question “Why would someone want to buy something from you?”  (He answers a few other questions as well). The answer given is:

“To answer the … question, you need to construct a customer value proposition (CVP) — not by trying to convince customers of the value of your products but the other way around, by identifying an important job a customer needs to get done and then proposing an offering that fulfills that job better than any alternative the customer can turn to.”

I wanted to dig a little deeper, so I went to the 2008 article referenced by Johnson.

“The most important attribute of a customer value proposition is its precision: how perfectly it nails the customer job to be done—and nothing else. But such precision is often the most difficult thing to achieve. Companies trying to create the new often neglect to focus on one job; they dilute their efforts by attempting to do lots of things. In doing lots of things, they do nothing really well.”

Now comes the hard part

There are two very important points made here, and if you are listening (not to me to your customers) then you will be able to meet the challenge – understand what your customers really want, so you can provide it. For one, stop selling and focus your efforts to create buyers. Do not try to put everything into one product and satisfy everyone at the same time. It is not the company value proposition, nor the product value proposition, it is the customer value proposition.

Michael listed a few “Practical Steps” you can use in working to engage your customers (blog reference above).

“Listen to your customers’ voice directly from their actual larynx, rather than to the opinions rolling around in your head. For example, build a customer advisory committee and ask exactly what they want and think.

Participate in their communities to find out who they are, what they want, and learn how they can also provide value to you. A company can engage this way with only one or two smart people. It’s not heavy lifting.”

So, there is something new. While it might have been said before, or talked about, somehow it seems new. We have heard that we need to Listen. Then we were told we needed to Engage, one way broadcasting became two way communications. Participation – that is interesting. Is there a difference between Engaging and Participating? Something to think about.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, you’ve hit on a key point that I feel has been lacking in all of the social hype.

    It’s true that social media empowers customers. Also true that it enables companies to listen better, too.

    So what? The real key is how companies use social media to deliver more value, and to do so in a way that creates competitive differentiation. That value could mean a better product, a better experience or even lower costs.

    Social media is just a tool that all by itself won’t give an edge any more that CRM technology, because it’s easily available to all. The real key, as you put it so well, is to use it for “identifying an important job a customer needs to get done and then proposing an offering that fulfills that job better than any alternative the customer can turn to.”

    I fear that businesses will rush to “be social” in the same way they rushed to “do CRM” — without thinking about how this will create value for customers, and ultimately for the business. Being cool is not a business strategy.

  2. I agree with your value point. I seem to use that word a lot myself. But you’re point creating value not be selling it, but by creating something your customer needs for the work they do (OK, I could have phrased that better) makes me wonder why the iPad was created 🙂

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM

  3. Good post Mitch and interesting question at the end of it..

    I believe we all need to realize that value creation for both sides (or multiple sides if you include partners and alike), aka value co-creation, is synonymous for participation & collaboration. Engagement (in your definition of communicating both ways) is not enough.

    Some value is better co-created than others. Meaning that the more and better one participates or helps the other in the process of value creation and/or the better all parties collaborate, the better the outcomes are for all participants.

    And only if all are aligned on the context and the purpose: build and deliver on a value proposition that is making your Customers buy.

    Thx again.


  4. Bob,

    First, thanks for your comments.

    I do share your concern. If 2009 was about everything Social, I am trying to make 2010 about – ‘now what?’ – as you suggest as well. Each new channel does come at a cost, and the cost (opportunity as well as value) needs to be evaluated by each each business.

    I like your quote “Being cool is not a business strategy” I may need to borrow this, as my “Hope is not a strategy” is getting a little stale.

    Mitch Lieberman

  5. Mike,

    Thanks for the comments. I would imagine that Marketing students across the globe are talking about iPad, from jokes to – your point – value.

    There is another gray area here, which I am in no way qualified to speak to…to quote a friend – “iGottaHaveit” – Somehow, Apple seems to be able to disrupt markets and create demand.

    My only comment to that is, there is only one ‘Apple’ and too many other companies see their success and try to repeat it. All too often, it does not work.

    Mitch Lieberman

  6. Wim,

    Thanks for taking the time!

    There is a whole lot of great information in your reply, I certainly appreciate it, and have learned from it. I agree and I am thankful for the clarification on participation and collaboration. I am still stuck a bit on what then is engagement (given the other definitions). I would not really care that much (and would happily stick to participation and collaboration) but many many people use the term, so what do you believe they mean?

    (Oh, and yes, my definition is too simplistic, maybe even just wrong)

    Mitch Lieberman

  7. The ipad was created to first satisfy the experience/value of those stuck in the middle, for those who don’t like small devices, like the itouch, and for those who just don’t need the functions of an imac.

    in the middle you have value in the experience that it will create for those stuck in the middle.

    It’s meeting needs, it’s adding value, it’s just not meeting my needs and my value. because i’m not stuck in the middle.

    but the question i think posed the first day was Who’s stuck in the middle”? how many of them exist. and will it creat more value.

    Maybe not so much in the product value, but in the experience.

    Did Apple listen, did they engage and participate, and did this product come from those who participated in getting this product out?

    I think value is so open that it’s in the eye of the beholder, enough of those and you have yourself value.

    (did i go off topic here:)

  8. Spiro,

    Thanks for the comments, sorry I cannot add much. Your insights helped me to understand the iPad market/approach a little more.

    In terms of ‘off topic’ not a all. A case/example of what we are discussing is a great way to move the conversation along. iPad is something top of mind, making it that much easier.

    (So, thanks to Mike on that as well)

    Mitch Lieberman

  9. Mitch,

    Thanks for making the case for listening and value. The concept of listening is essential to the concept of social business. Alas, listening is often taken too literally and focused on the words not of the underlying desire or desired solution.

    I like the way Tim Brown putit in his book “Change by Design.”

    “Observation: watch what people don’t do, listening to what they don’t say.” Apple does this very well which is why they have a track record in delivering products that appeal to a latent desire or need.

    In his book, “Wired to Care,” Dev Patniak makes a strong case for what I call “active listening”. The key is empathy – seeing the world from the customer’s perspective. It is easy to have empathy with people who are like us, we have a shared sense of what is valued. In business, customers and market segments might include people very different from management. Dev gives the example of Mercedes trying to reach younger Amercian customers. The age and backgrounds of Mercedes upper management had little in common with this target audience. Sure there is the car, but since context defines value, what is the context of these group. They needed to listen and observe to develop empathy.

    This type of listening is becoming increasingly important in a world that is fast-changing and increasingly complex as it impacts the context of the customer.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.

  10. Hi Mitch,

    Definitions come short all the times. Running a Google Define search shows similar explanations for participation and engagement.

    I think I will stick with collaboration then as key differentiating factor, which I believe no-one (not from SCRM nor E20) will disagree with 😉

    Anyway.. the value of your post is clearly in stating that it’s all about value.. Without that purpose, no use in any listening/engaging/participation/collaboration.. It’s not kindergarten after all..


  11. John,

    I appreciate the thoughts and insights. Two really great points:

    1 – Really listening, means not listening while waiting to talk. Real listening, active listening is Engaging/Participation. Too many people listen, while waiting to talk. This means they do not really understand what was said, and miss the opportunity.

    2 – The between the lines comment is very important. I do not have the studies off hand, so I cannot quote any good statistics. That said, the customers who do not speak up (and most do not) are the ones you need to worry about. The ones that talk loud, really want to solve something, the ones who are quiet, might just be done.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Mitch Lieberman

  12. Mitch
    If I look at your question – is there a difference between engaging and participation – then from my own business experience I would say yes.

    I have another business venture that I’ve built up using just social media. We have a constantly evolving strategy, an active listening program and we use a variety of tools so that prospects and customers can find us and connect. What we’ve learnt over the past 18 months from being in the social space is that our community want different things from us.

    Our customers range from parents, uni students, teachers, Government employees, and business people. The age spectrum is very wide also.

    A portion of our customers want to have a conversation with us – sometimes we participate in the conversation on their turf, sometimes they participate in the conversation on our turf. But we have a dialogue and we both move on.

    A larger portion of our customers though want to engage with us. They’ll ask tough questions and they expect us to contribute and also evolve our thinking during the dialogue. They engage with us because we openly share information and knowledge that helps them achieve something meaningful. We seek to engage with them because we can then use what we learn to further position ourselves as knowledge experts. So we’re constantly thinking about their world – but we do this thinking in public (primarily via a blog) so that they can engage freely.

    So when I think about these customer experiences I do see a difference. I see much participation with our customers but the engagement aspect is quite specific.

    I hope this makes sense.


    Mark Parker
    Smart Social Media

  13. Nice distinction there, Mark, between engagement and participation.

    I don’t like conflating engagement and participation as if they mean exactly the same thing, however convenient that might be. In research years ago for a University assignment in Eng Lang, I discovered there are no *perfect* synonyms in the English language other than gorse and furze (in the intervening years I have wondered sometimes whether I would ever get a chance to introduce that bit of trivia into a conversation, so thank you for this opportunity).

    In the present context and expanding on Mark’s comments, I think of it as the difference between a chat over a coffee (participation) and a – hopefully friendly – wrestle (engagement). There is a sense of commitment, of “being in this to see it through” (e.g. to the point where any reasonable or even moderately unreasonable customer should feel satisfied) that goes with the use of “engagement” and more strongly than with “participation”: “We engage with our customers on Twitter/FB/blog etc” is more committed than “We participate in the conversation…”.

  14. Mitch,
    Your point about listening – specifically the point about most people listening whilst waiting to talk made me recall a blog post that Marcel LeBrun from Radian6 wrote almost a year ago – In it he talks about conversational listening, which he defines as listening and responding.

    Mark Parker
    Smart Social Media

  15. Mark,

    If I understand you comment, I believe you are suggesting that there is a ‘scale’ of involvement. In this scenario, Engagement is a more active form of participation.

    I appreciate the insights, thank you.


    Mitch Lieberman

  16. Hi Mitch,
    In the context I outlined I feel there is a scale of involvement. I don’t experience this in our core business (which is very different) which is why it’s intrigued me.


    Mark Parker
    Smart Selling


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