When Google Docs Isn't Enough: One Retailer's Story

Wireless retailer LetsTalk needed a way to collaborate and consolidate the many moving parts of its business. Here's why Podio's tools did the trick.
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
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Think all those different phones and promotions and service plans and contracts are confusing? Imagine life for the retailer of such a wireless smorgasbord. Wireless retailer LetsTalk knew that it wanted a way to better manage the many moving parts that make up its business, but it wasn't quite sure where to turn. Enter Podio, which opened the organization's eyes to new possibilities via a social business model.

LetsTalk is a San Francisco-based company that serves as an independent resource for wireless products and services for both businesses and consumers. Harrison Lynch, LetsTalk's director of merchandising, is in charge of product selection, promotion, and placement on the site. His group, among many other things, creates content for the site, including producing video reviews and developing resources such as product feature maps. Because LetsTalk is dealing with different manufacturers and carriers, whose products are feature-rich and changing frequently, it had been challenging for LetsTalk to keep all of the internal conversations and data around those products organized and easy to access.

"We have a really complicated business because you're selling two products at once: physical products and contracts," said Lynch. "The way we make money can be really non-linear--there are a lot of moving parts to it and a lot of information lying around. We wanted a place we could put all of those things as a repository but make it easy to find and refer to them."

Lynch said staff members tried using Google Docs, but spreadsheets including information on different products and services quickly became unwieldy. Like many organizations, LetsTalk has used email as a means to corral and manage information, but Lynch said with email chains it was too easy to inadvertently leave a key player off the distribution. Meanwhile, email blasts were "overkill."

A chance meeting at a tech industry function led to an introduction to Podio, a social collaboration tool with an emphasis on highly customizable workspaces. "Podio's CEO met an employee of ours at a function and just casually mentioned it and might have given her a quick demo," said Lynch. "She then told our CMO about it, we went to the Podio website, saw a tutorial and signed up for a free version."

[ Check out another social tool for retailers. Shoutlet Helps Retailers Track Foursquare Activity. ]

Lynch said one of the selling points of Podio, which was acquired by Citrix earlier this year, was that it is "ridiculously cheap"--free for the first eight users and $8 per user per month after that. That kind of pricing, Lynch said, is "below the radar of needing to get high-level approvals or discussions."

Lynch said he and a couple of other people tested out Podio and decided that it had the potential to meet his group's needs, including some it didn't know it had.

However, he found that to keep information manageable it was key to encourage people to look in Podio, rather than email and other communications mediums, for information on plans, new products, promotions, and so on. And while getting staff to focus their discussions in the system was a start, there was still some pretty "rabid forking" going in within the system when LetsTalk staff first started using it. This is when Lynch came to really appreciate the ability to build apps and templates within the system. He said he was able to go in himself and develop apps on Podio that helped to focus discussions and manage information.

For example, said Lynch, "we might have a space set up for Verizon Wireless for a variety of apps, such as promotions, different creative, etc. You can have conversations about it in a social media sense, and then later on, someone in, say, customer service can go look at what the rules of a promotion are."

Lynch said he learned from experience that while Podio makes it easy for anyone to develop apps and templates, too many cooks can make things complicated. "It works better if you have somebody who owns what these apps look like and what they connect to," he recommended.

Lynch said he and his team looked at other solutions, including Yammer and Evernote, before deciding to use Podio, but found that in the end they didn't quite meet LetsTalk's needs: "The thing was, each of those things is really cool, but they just didn't have the breadth of what Podio can offer us."

While it's possible to add external users to the Podio system, Lynch said LetsTalk is not going there at this time. "The one thing we don't do now is adding external people. We have the capability, but we have concerns over who has access to each space and what their permissions allow them to do and not do. Some of the things we work on are fairly confidential. The concern for our IT group was the security of the info--we take credit cards and have to get social security numbers and driver's license information, so they had their share of concerns about meeting regulatory mandates."

Lynch said Podio has pretty much eliminated the use of mega-spreadsheets that were never quite up to date and has inspired employees to think in new ways about creating efficiencies. In fact, Podio has helped LetsTalk think in new ways, period.

"Podio lets you put information out there and have a conversation about it," he said. "We weren't necessarily looking for those things when Podio showed up on our radar, but it filled a need we didn't even know we had."

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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