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How To Sell Enterprise 2.0 To The Bosses

Here's expert advice on building an airtight business case, while avoiding the pitfalls of too-tentative pilot projects.

14 Leading Social CRM Applications
Slideshow: 14 Leading Social CRM Applications
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When you pitch an Enterprise 2.0 technology investment to senior management, remember that you are selling, not just explaining--and sometimes that means being careful about not explaining too much.

Enterprise 2.0
The practicalities of making that internal sale were the focus of a workshop at UBM TechWeb's Enterprise 2.0 Conference Monday led by Sovos Group consultants Oliver Marks and Sameer Patel, with help from a panel of vendor executives who sell social software for a living.

Marks and Patel outlined considerations like budgeting and risk management, but they also talked about what not to do--for example, giving company leaders more information than they need. "These are people who are used to making multi-million dollar decisions based on a one-page executive summary," Patel said. Just because you have immersed yourself in all the details doesn't mean you have to share them all, he said. "We often tend to think our project takes a lot more explanation--well, it shouldn't."

When you are in sales mode, it's important to be prepared to overcome objections, but you don't necessarily want to raise them yourself, Patel said. For example, Enterprise 2.0 practitioners tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how to address challenges of ensuring participation and adoption, but you don't want to go out of your way to make that sound like an overwhelming challenge, he said. "You can get to those tactical things when the time comes."

Marks also warned about the danger of engaging too casually in pilot projects, which can be "a disaster" when the experimental use of some freemium website becomes established in the minds of company leaders as the measure of social software's potential.

"Often, the use of those kind of wanders along, where people just kick the tires and then wander back to their email," Marks said. By the time you're ready to propose a more serious application, the executive judgment may be "we already had a couple of these things in the house" and they've produced no particular business results.

That theme was echoed by the vendor participants: David Garlough, a regional sales manager at Moxie Software, Rich Hawks, enterprise sales manager at NewsGator, and Maksim Ovsyannikov, VP of product management at Rypple. Moxie and NewsGator both sell social collaboration platforms (in the case of NewsGator, one built atop Microsoft SharePoint), while Rypple is a social application for boosting employee performance.

Garlough said the problem with pilot projects is users don't want to invest time in sharing or organizing information in a system that might not last. "What we say is, don't run a pilot--run a phase one where you commit for a little bit longer and get participants engaged so you set them up to succeed."

Hawks agreed with the hazards of getting off to too tentative a start because "you have to get a bigger group involved" to show the value of social software.

Another major theme was translating technical capabilities into business requirements. "If you go in trying to sell them on social CRM, people are likely to walk out of the room without knowing what you're trying to sell them," Ovsyannikov said. Industry analysts are still arguing about the definition of that term, so you can't expect the CEO and CFO to have a clear understanding of what it means. Instead, you should be talking about the specific communities you want to engage, and what that effort will accomplish, he said.

Delivering the high-level message can be difficult for a project team that has spent 18 hours in a conference room talking jargon and working out details, Marks said. "Getting it into manageable language anybody in the company can get their heads around is really important," he said.

That message should match up with core business goals, beyond the generalized value of collaboration, if your project is to get any kind of priority. "Enterprise social technology programs often look like a solution in search of a problem to solve," Patel said. "It's time to lose the euphoria a little bit" and connect the big vision to the corporate bottom line, he said.

For example, capturing knowledge is a common goal for Enterprise 2.0 projects that is "pretty nebulous" in the abstract, Garlough said, but he cited a client who anticipated the retirement of 35% of its workforce within the next few years, meaning it had a concrete interest in capturing knowledge for use by the next generation of employees.

Find an example like that, and you've got something you can work with to close the sale.

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