LinkedIn is not a social network, Facebook will morph

LinkedIn is not a social network, Facebook will morph

After about 2 years of talking about this topic, I thought it best to collect some solid data before doing an official blog about it.

LinkedIn is not a social network.

A thing is defined by it’s major attribute.  While LinkedIn has aspects of a social network, it is actually a social database.

Hey Donato…But they say they are a social network!

In the early days they were.  As the network grew, savvy users realized they needed to grow their networks as large as possible to spread their reach.  In polls done over the last year in live webinars, I’ve asked groups ranging from 200-600 how they use LinkedIn.  Here are the questions and the responses.

1.  I get as many connections as possible and figure out how to contact people directly.

2. I use LinkedIn to as it was meant.  Connect with people through a series of connections.

3.  I don’t use LinkedIn.

69% of people choose option 1. Last year, it was only 50%. The trend is growing and…

LinkedIn is a social database.

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The “After Show” Effect, CES in Las Vegas

The “After Show” Effect, CES in Las Vegas

You picked the right trade show, you got people to your booth.  Great conversations and a pile of cards.  Your sales team is excited!  What next?

There are many facets to success at a trade show.  Elevator Pitch, pre-show marketing, booth setup, etc.  If you don’t have a good elevator pitch, here is a blog that can help you.   Nailing the 30 second Elevator Pitch.

Again, I ask…what next?   Think about this scenario, it is an important concept.

For the sake of this scenario, our fictional vendor is TabletCo.  They sell the hottest new Android Tablet for the educational market.

A prospect, Harry, walks up to your TabletCo booth.  He loves your product! Harry is excited about using the tablet at the school where he is a History teacher.  The school district is large. It is a good opportunity.  Some further questioning yields the fact the entire school district wants to have a tablet for each student.  Being a conscientious sales rep, you get Harry’s card.  You are all set for the follow up…or are you?

This is the disconnect point.  Not just in sales at a trade show, but sales in general.  Important questions:

  1. Is Harry the decision maker?  Can he say YES to a purchase?
  2. If is he the decision maker, is he the ONLY decision maker?
  3. What is the approval process for purchasing at Harry’s district?  Is Harry even aware of the process?
  4. Is the information on Harry’s card current?  He is a teacher, did you get a cell phone, direct line and email address?
  5. What happens if Harry moves to a different position in the next week?
  6. What happens if Harry gets laid off?
  7. What are the names, titles, emails phone numbers and backgrounds of other people that will participate in a decision?

Simple questions.  Do you normally have the answers after the show?  Why is it important?

Having multiple points of contact is the single greatest factor in getting a sales advance.

What is a sales advance?  It is not a sale.  A sales advance is forward movement in the sales process.

Having, and leveraging 3 points of contact “after show” will give you a 9X success factor over following up with a single contact.

Did you get 3 points of contact or a single card? How do can you turn a single point of contact into multiple points of entry?

Turn this:

Scan of Donato's Biz Card

 

Into this:

 

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After spending $1000’s at a trade show, every lead is precious. Don’t waste them.  If you have the opportunity at the show, leverage each connection to get as many points of contact as you can.  Some good questions to ask:

Does your contact sign off on the purchase or does she simply recommend? Who are the parties involved in the decision process?  What are their titles? When was the last time your contact signed off on something?  What is the approval process?  Are they currently using another vendor? When does that contract end?

If you are having trouble getting those additional points of contact, a great resource is Broadook’s Profiler.

Bottom line.  If you are not prepared, your first outreach after a trade show can be your last. Spend the time to get as much out of your leads as possible.

Last thought:  Think hard.  People getting back from a trade show are bombarded with every vendor emailing and calling after the show.

How are you going to stand out?

When Venture Capital Calls – Setting your own rules

Eight years ago, getting calls from Venture Capital was exciting.  They came in many flavors.  The most distasteful wanted to bleed me for information.  I was oblivious. Perhaps they funded a competitor to Broadlook and they wanted determine the competitive landscape.  Good business sense, bad moral compass. 

On the other hand I had some great conversations, where, very early in the conversation I was informed that Broadlook did not match their portfolio requirements.  Even though this was the case, they freely spent time giving great advice for a fledgling company.  Some of them are my clients today.  Like every industry, VC has the good and the bad.  A book every VC should read is Blue Ocean Strategy.  Yes, sometimes you must bloody the competition and create the red ocean, however, more often than not, there is a blue ocean potential.  The lack of seeing the Blue Ocean potential is due to lack of desire, creativity, or core philosophy.

To digress a bit, we once had a team member at Broadlook that stated there is no such thing as win-win negotiating and that there always a loser.  Myopic Idiocy.  He left.  We are better for it.  I now ask more philosophical interview questions when adding team members.  One of my mantras when interviewing and coaching other team members to interview is this:  First determine who someone is and then and only then what they know.  Translation: no pricks allowed at Broadlook.

Fast forward to today.  When a Venture Capitalist calls, I am still excited.  When I say VC in this article, I’m lumping in Venture Capital, Private Equity and Investment Banks together.  Each have their place and focus, but the outreach tends to be very similar.  I guess I should set the stage.  Today, Broadlook has steadily grown for 8 years, sometimes a modest 15-20% and sometimes 200-300% in a given year. 

Broadlook started in 2002 and self funded without any outside investment.  Our team members are proud of our accomplishments and we have fun doing our jobs.  We have talented people in all areas and we are continuing our growth path. Broadlook has thousands of clients and is starting to be recognized as the defacto “high bar” (not standard) for company and contact data for sales and recruitment.  (I don’t say “standard” because what is accepted as “standard” from traditional data vendors is Zombie Data*).   Broadlook is not, and will not tie itself to any single CRM vendor (Jigsaw is now salesforce), we are agnostic to all systems that may hold the data our technology provides. 

*Zombie Data is data that is dead, but still making walking around (D&B, InfoUSA, etc)

Over ninety five percent of Broadlook’s sales are from incoming calls, emails or client referrals.  We just hired our person in Marketing.  It’s a good place to be in. We are still very humble and realize that there is much more work to do.   Broadlook is not actively looking for Venture Capital, but we receive many inquires, thus I wrote this article.

Why not take VC?  I didn’t say we would never take it.  The approach we take is this.  We know that there will be a point that there will be a tremendous market opportunity with a limited window to execute; we must scale quickly if we want to capitalize.  The age old question is how much of the company to give up in order to have the investment?   The age old dilemma for the entrepreneur.

Over the last three years, as Broadlook was noticed in the market, we’ve had increased outreach from VC firms.  Along the way, I learned;  somewhere in that journey I realized that VC’s needed our technology for their internal due diligence process.  I learned what research associates at VC firms did.  It was an interesting turning point.  It changed the nature of the conversation from a one way discovery call into a real conversation.   Today, Broadlook powers VC firms with technology that fundamentally changes the due diligence research process.

They have been great clients.  Some of the absolute smartest people coming out of the best Universities and go to work for these firms.  Bright people early in their career who absolutely “get” what Broadlook does.  I like people who get it.

Yes, this is a unique position to be in, but what was the *real* change in how I took those calls? How can someone else that is not in Broadlook’s position get the most out of an outreach from a VC?  Read on.  I am sharing my learning process and my stumbles.

The reality is that a more experienced executive (yes, I consider myself fledgling) would have entered the conversation with a greater level of  equivalence. Venture Capitalists are typically very smart.  They go right for the heart and will chew you up and spit you out to get the information they want. I’m basically a nice guy.  I’m still a nice guy, but now, after many calls that ended up in one-way conversations, I’ve established a set of rules for talking with VC’s. 

1.  Quality outreach

The best outreaches by VC’s that I have seen have come through referrals.  A mutual connection that can attest to the quality of an individual.  An email that looks like a form letter should get ignored.  This is my weak point… while I know I should ignore it, I usually write back and let them know how poor their outreach was.  Since I teach classes on how to use the Internet to make a quality outreach, I can’t help myself.  

2.  Equivilance

When the conversation starts and they only want to know your revenue, remind them that they called you.  Remind them they need to sell you first, and then there is no guarantee that you will be interested.  If if gets to the point of sharing confidential information, if they won’t sign an NDA…stop.  Think.  If they don’t want to sign one because they are making investments in your space, ask them for specifics.  This is all the more reason to sign an NDA.  If they are really interested, they can customize and NDA with specificity to protect both parties.  If they flatly refuse, remember, you are more unique than they are. 

3.  DWYSYWD; Do what you say you will do.  To be a liar you need to have a perfect memory.  If you slow down the process of discussion over several conversations, you have the chance to observe behavior.  If the VC outreach is of the class “Drain you for information”, he will have plenty of rope to hang himself.   The best VC’s will disqualify you openly if you do not meet their criteria.  I have had my share of liars calling.  Conversely, I regularly talk to VC’s that long ago disqualified Broadlook for not being a fit.  

4.  Revenge.  In a fun way.  Keep track of VC’s that were pricks.  Watch which companies they invest in.  When you have the chance, take extra pleasure in winning business from those companies.  If the portfolio tanks, send a nice “thanks for the motivation” card.   Recruit their analysts.  Robin Hood!

Missing an analyst?  Ever wonder why that analyst left?  Does it seem like you keep losing them after they are trained?

Yeah that’s right… it was me  *#&%!

(You should have been nicer.)

Will Broadlook take VC/Private Equity/Investment Capital?  My answer: Absolutely!   Some day.  Will any potential investor run the other way when they read this?  Hopefully not the ones with a sense of humor.  Every industry knows the good and the bad within itself.  I’m trying to kill 2 birds here.  Share a bit, prepare a bit.
This is not a soliciation for capital.  While I may chase away potential future investors, I won’t have to search through my email to send my engagement criteria to reply to the next canned outreach. 

Broadlook’s Venture Capital Engagement Criteria

 

 1.  Do your homework.  I guarantee I will talk to any VC that takes the time to at least review our website, bad as it is, there is a good deal of information there. Read this blog: 11 rules to sell to me

2.  Don’t have a first year analyst call unless they are brilliant. Remember, I may recruit them.  If they sound like they are going through a checklist when talking to me, they are not ready.  That can be cured for $10,000 and a one day training session. 

3. Demo.  Take a demo of our technology.  If you don’t get it or don’t like it.  We are not a match.  When Broadlook takes capital, there is a high likelyhood it will be from one of our clients.  Include a decision maker on the presentation.  If this is not acceptable, there is not reason for us to talk.

My guarantee(s): 

  1. You have no idea what Broadlook does (think iceberg)
  2. You have never seen anything like it

4.  Portfolio.  If you invest in grain elevators you probably don’t have the connections, expertise and potential adivsors to help a software company making the transition to SaaS.  Show us high tech.  Show us software that scaled from 5 to 8 to 50 million.

5.  Enthusiasm.  Money is easy.  Thus far we are a lifestyle company where people love coming into work every day.  Show us passion for building great companies.

6.  Contribution.  aka Smart money.  People, people, people.  Who can be brought to the table in stategic positions as well as an advisory capacity?  While a marketing person that ran a billion $ division from IBM may sound like a great idea, it is not…not yet.

7.  Ideas.  What markets can Broadlook’s technology be leveraged…that we haven’t thought of yet?

8.  I don’t work on Isaac Asimov’s Birthday

9.  As long as I work at the company. The dog(s) stay.

Line 1300; What are the rights of an incoming caller?

Line 1300; What are the rights of an incoming caller?

What rights does an incoming caller have?  To be more specific, an incoming solicitor calling a place of business?

At home, we have the do-not-call list.  This could never be put into effect for business, nor do I think anyone sane would see it as a good idea.  Business would halt.

The general consensus that I have gathered is that callers to your home have no rights.  Hanging up on them is acceptable with a simple “no thank you” is status quo.  This I find fascinating.  When I polled regarding a caller to a business environment, the treatment is different.  Recipients of call to a business environment report that they will listen 1-2 minutes before exiting from a call they don’t want.  Some reasons why at home and office:

At Home

  1. Home is sacred, people feel invaded and justified to not give up their home time
  2. It’s usually at the end of the day, evening, people want to relax
  3. Non equivalence.  You are home, the caller is at work

At the Office

  1. Professionalism.  The Golden Rule.
  2. Equivalence.  You are both in a work environment
  3. You may be calling them tomorrow
  4. You really may be interested in their service

In essence, this is a philosophical question.  What is your corporate belief system? What is your personal belief system?  For me, today was back to back  scheduled meetings and three solicitors got past my gatekeeper. Rare.  It inspired this blog and reminded me of one of my beliefs:


“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead.

Of the three in-bound calls, one lied to my gatekeeper to get to me.  This is plain stupid.  Alienate the person who manages my schedule.  The other two reached me while everyone else was at lunch.  Not one of the three had a coherent message.  How much of my time did they get? Less than five seconds.  Did I hang up on them?  No. There is another option!

About three months ago, in talking with our administrative staff, I came up with the idea for line 1300.

If you end up in line 1300, you get a recording that sound something like this:

“Hello. You have have reached line 1300 at Broadlook Technologies because you were either unclear or perhaps rude in your outreach.  This is your chance to get it right.  At the sound of the tone please leave a clear, articulate message detailing how your product or service is right for Broadlook.  We listen to this voicemail box once per week.  If we are interested we will contact you.  Thank you.”

What does line 1300 do?  It empower the people that support me.  They do not have to take crap from rude callers.  It gives your staff an immediate out from a monotonous, unclear, script-reading telemarketer.  In addition, it covers the litmus test of professionalism.  We DO listen to 1300 once per week.

Line 1300 is NOT about being mean.  It is fair.  Personally I give sales a step by step guide on how to sell to me. If they don’t follow it, line 1300.

Try adding a line 1300.  Your staff will love your for it.

The future death of social networking

The future death of social networking

Social networking is going to die.  This article is about how it will happen.

The focus for this article will be business social networking.  If you are worried about your Facebook friends and photos and the life sucking that goes on in personal social networks, don’t worry, they will be around for awhile.  They will be dying a totally different death.  That will have to be a future blog posting.  Ask me over a beer and I will explain it.

Ask three people to define business social networking and you will get three different answers.  Try it. Going even further, I hypothesized that you ask ten different people about the benefits of business social networking, you will get ten different answers.  I was recently inspired by a quote attributed to Steve Jobs about dogma as “Being satisfied with the results of other peoples thinking.”  This article will be as dogma free as possible.  While I can’t help being influenced by everything that is being written about social networking, I have come up a few unique conclusions.

1.  LinkedIn is not a social network. Most of my contacts are either in a sales or recruiting role.  In the early days, the premise behind LinkedIn was that you can connect to many people through a chain of trusted referrals. It does not matter what the creators of LinkedIn claim it to be.  LinkedIn was founded on the idea that you can go through a series of trusted connections to network with a target person.  It was a noble idea, however, LinkedIn is now controlled by the mob.  The real question is… how are the majority of people using LinkedIn?   The answer:  Get as many connections as possible, build as big a network as possible.  Next, when you find someone in LinkedIn that you want to connect with, read their background and connect directly.

LinkedIN is a social database.

2.  Social CRM is a buzz word.

The community aspect of SocialCRM is aptly named.  Unfortunately, the average person confuses the community, group and collaboration aspects of SocialCRM with popular social networking sites like LinkedIn. They are different.

SocialCRM is not concisely defined.

When everyone is copying what everyone else is thinking, you get a buzz word.  Fun to report, you don’t need to think too much to find other articles to read, alter and republish.  Read about Social CRM and then write about Social Recruiting. It goes both ways.  But what is Social CRM?  SOCIAL is the base part of the equation.

Unfortunately SocialCRM is being used as a catch-all phrase and it is confusing the consumer. For clarity,  SocialCRM should be broken into 2 distinct terms.  Here is a way to clarify thinking and talking about it.

CollaborationCRM – Denoting the functions within a CRM that allow group collaboration, community connection and project sharing.  Salesforce chatter is a good example.

SocialCRM –  Connectivity to existing social networks like LinkedIn.  This is the definition, when polled,  that most people believe social CRM to be.  (Straw poll yielded 9 out of 10 assuming this definition).

Social Linkage – defined below

The current implementions of Social CRM (as defined above) defeat the purpose of having a CRM.  The best implementation of a CRM is when the CRM is self-contained.  Art Papas, CEO of Bullhorn, an Applicant Tracking System (recruiter CRM) describes it well.  “Our clients live inside Bullhorn”.   The best CRM should have everything the users need, inside the CRM.

Example: you click on a LinkedIN link next to a contact record in your CRM.  What happens?  A browser page opens and you are in a separate web page, disconnected technology, outside your CRM.  This is Social Linkage, not social CRM.  Bad process.

If a CRM is implemented correctly, you should not have to leave the CRM to perform important tasks.

Most of what is touted as Social CRM today is simply Social Linkage.  Social CRM sounds better, sounds integrated, but in every case I have seen…it is not.   What is the challenge here?  Until LinkedIN and Facebook and all the other networks allow tighter integrations,  social linkage will be all that we have.   LinkedIN wants you to stay on LinkedIN,  Facebook wants you on Facebook.  Salesforce wants to be able to say they have connection to LinkedIN.

3. Marketing, not sales, is driving “the idea” of Social CRM

If you look at who is pushing the SocialCRM idea, it is marketing.  The dream:  Having EVERY contact in your CRM mashed up with all social network information.  This would be great for marketing and market segmentation, but unnecessary for sales.   The Reality:  Click, click, and more clicks.  The current state of SocialCRM is, at best, Social Linkage.  The reality does not match the dream.  Marketing is pushes the dream and leaves sales stuck with the reality.

If you have a question about what sales thinks about “Social CRM” as it relates to social network data, look at the ratings The LinkedIn plugin got on salesforce CRM.   Don’t get me wrong,  I am a fan on LinkedIN.  Visionary concept, great source of data, however, it is not seamless with CRM.  If anything the combination is anti-social CRM.

Attn marketers: Your focus should be social media, let sales people worry about and define SocialCRM

4.  Social Agents will replace Social CRM. Social CRM/Social Linkage tries to solve the problem of having “an answer” for every contact in your CRM.  Every contact that you can view in your CRM will, if available, have a link to external social network profile(s).  Services like RapLeaf aggregate multiple social network links associated with a specific person.  Due to the sheer volume of information, mashups are not always correct due to the ambiguous nature of contact information.  The end result:  You click on multiple different links in your CRM and open multiple disparate sources of information.  Even when the links are correct you get Another Bad process.

Enter social agents.

The best products are built from dreaming an ultimate scenario.  Then, working backwards to what is possible.  If there were no constraints…What is the ultimate potential of Social CRM?  Answer:  Every CRM contact has real-time social network information from all social networks.  This information would not be linked, but mashed up inside the CRM.  This is not happening.  Why?  (1) It is not in the interest in the Social Network (really social database) to make the information free and fully available.  (2)  The incentive chain of $ is not there.

So if it is a bad idea to pre-populate social network information for every contact in your CRM, what should be done?  On demand, social agents.

The average sales rep engages 10-20 contacts per day.  A real-time, on-demand social agent is fully capable of making a real time extraction of social network information, mashing that information up inside the CRM and presenting it in a usable format for a sales rep.   This is what sales wants.

Conversely, I have seen a sales reps presented with a CRM that has Linkage to social networks.  While the potential is exciting to the sale rep, they are fired up about the available information available, usage drops off dramatically.

As soon as marketing starts thinking and stops listening to reporters & consultants (who listen to reporters), demand for social agents will proliferate.

5. Social Data comes in 2 distinct flavors

Where someone went to college will never change.  It is a fact, fixed in time.  Where someone currently works is a fluid social data point.   A fixed social data point only needs to be found and stored once in a CRM, whereas fluid data points require social agents to keep them updated.

Fixed and fluid social data points should be treated differently.  Why is this important to understand?  Treating  fluid and fixed data points, with different agents reduces the refresh and load on the technology infrastructure that empowers social agents.  In addition, what can be done with the result of social agents varies based on the information being fixed or fluid.

Last thought. Adding a human-verification element, to cement data accuracy, is realistic on a fixed data point.  Scan once, verify and store forever.

6.  Social Intuition will evolve from social agents

Once we have on-demand social agents, then what?  Take a mind walk:  We now have a CRM, where, on-demand, or slightly before  (predictive system)  social network information is extracted, parsed and mashed up inside the CRM.  No need to live anywhere but the CRM.  A dream of efficiency.

Now that I have all this information about someone.  How do I leverage it?  The fact that someone went to the University of Miami (The Hurricanes) is something that would be in social network profile.  Thus, via a social agent, I would have the University of Miami as a data point in the CRM.  However, would I know the UM mascot is the Hurricanes?  Would I know the score from the football team the night before?  Would I know the weather in Miami that day?   The answer to all these questions is no.

Enter Social Intuition

Social intuition is a combination of social network data points combined with real-time agents to gather additional talking points.   The prerequisite for performing this type of mash-up is (1) Aggregated & scored data from Social Networks (2) Highly accurate fixed data points (i.e.  Mascots for every college)  and (3) Intelligent agents that leverage, fixed data points with social data points to “intuit” additional information.

7.  Company-centric (NOT contact-centric) social mash-ups will prevail

Even with the proliferation of social networks, the average person has just a few, if any data points about them.  Multiply that by the number of people at a company and patterns emerge.  Patterns that would not be apparent in the microcosm of one person.  The best approach in sales is to engage multiple points of contact (people) at a company on the onset of first contact.  This approach is called Sphere of Influence Selling and is well documented in The Sphere of Influence Selling webinar.

Remember:  You talk to people, but the company writes the check.

8.  CRM Socialbases become the ultimate silos

The most valuable list is the list that no one else has.  Think about it.

The most unique set of data is inside your CRM.  Don’t worry about the world,  just about your clients and the companies you want to sell to.  Gather rich data from social networks and other sources and combine it with your CRM.  The future king of all data sets will not be inside social networks.  Companies will mash data from social networks and combine it with conversation history, notes, purchasing habits, etc.

CRM Socialbases will be built on a combination of Fixed and Fluid social data points.

The value of any list can be scored based on data quality & competitive advantage.  For example, LinkedIN has great data, but it is it exclusive?  No.  Anyone with a bunch of connection can get to the names of almost everyone.

9.  Things to watch

Bleeding edge: Watson.  An IBM supercomputer that will, in the coming months, be competing with top Jeopardy players.  In initial testing, it beat the average player, that were winners, on the Jeopardy TV show.  5 years ago this was not possible.   Watson is an answer machine.   What happens when you connect an answer machine with your CRM SocialBase?

Hot: Salesforce chatter: I like this technology.  Nothing that can’t be copied.  Expect to see it in every CRM within a few years. Brings another aspect of social into CRM, in terms of work teams and projects.

Fun: Proximity based social networks – Not a primary technology, but something that should be eventually mashed up. FourSquare is a good example.   (Yes, I am the mayor of Broadlook).

Practical: CRM Profiler – The next iteration of the technology is cloud-based, lives inside the CRM, jumps over social linkage and includes social agents.  Build your own social knowledge-base.


10.  Black swans emerging?

Black swan theory Something that changes everything in a space.  Denotes an occurrence that no one though of.

LinkedIn CRM – It makes sense, but would they alienate CRM’s that currently mash up with them?  It has happened before.  In the recruiting space, AIRS, a recruiter add on tool, created their own applicant tracking system.  Guess who integrates with AIRS today?  Nothing of importance.  Next AIRS was acquired by a RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) company… how many competing RPO’s will continue to use them?  The number is declining.

Facebook CRM – That would be real scary, however, a spin-off without the facebook label might fly.  The yo-yo ethics of their privacy policy is comical.  Can’t ignore them.

Salesforce acquisition of LinkedIn:  More likely to be Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or a company that has deep pockets.  Salesforce already acquired Jigsaw.

Scariest combo:  Google Acquires LinkedIn, creates the Google CRM and makes it free.  It actually makes total sense.  If Google wants to push ads all day long, while people are at work.  This is the way.  Gmail is already the best web-based email system.  They have google docs.  They have a mobile platform.  All the components are there.  If you take a step further and look at the talent they have hired, patterns emerge.   Nuff said.

Recap:

Social Network -> Social Database -> Social CRM  ->  Social Linkage -> Social Agents -> CRM SocialBase.

You heard it here first!

Are mobile Sales & Recruiting apps for real?

Are mobile Sales & Recruiting apps for real?

The Stage

The Apple AppStore has over 100,000 iPhone applications.  Verizon’s Droid is a a few months old and Google just launched the Nexus One.  Microsoft has Windows Mobile and the Palm has the hot new Palm Pre.  The current king of Mobile Business is the Blackberry (RIM),  but it is losing ground fast.  Apple, Microsoft, Google, Palm, Verizon & RIM all going   after the same market and that makes for great headlines.

The Hype

Articles are starting to appear talking about the mobile replacing desktop as a work environment.  For the most part, this is bunk; A symptom of someone looking for a headline, but not thinking.  When I see an interesting article about a controversial topic, I like to first look at the last 2-3 headlines by that author.  If last week they were talking about global warming, the week before about cyber-crime and this week about mobile technology replacing the desktop; I classify them as “reporter”.  Reporter does not equal expert.  While reporters are absolutely essential to get a pulse on minor variations on trends,  I prefer to seek the experts to get a deep understanding of a new technology.   Even better is to immerse yourself and get first-hand experience.  Most of the buzz today is reporter, not expert created.

Definitions

To better understand if/when/why mobile will or will not replace the desktop, definitions are in order:  Desktop refers to the hardware, be it PC, Mac, Linux, either desktop or laptop.  This desktop can be running any form of software including installed, Client-Server, SaaS and browser based.  Mobile is the generally understood concept of a smart-phone like a Blackberry or iPhone.

Mobile vs. Desktop

So will “mobile” business application replace the “desktop”?  Yes and No.  The first Hurtle for Mobile to replace Desktop is CPU & Memory. Over the next decade, mobile form factor devices will have the processor and memory of today’s desktops.  So throw out processing power as a differentiator.  Mobile will catch up.  In fact, most applications today, especially SaaS applications only take up a small amount of CPU and memory on the desktop.

What else constitutes a desktop environment?   Input and output devices.  This is the big one.  I personally have both Mac and PC setups, each with a bunch of big monitors. Besides the large monitors, I use full size keyboards, and a laser mouse.

My Mac & PC workstations

Big ideas need big work spaces.  When I first realized that my iPhone was actually a mobile computer, I tested the limits.  Doing basic operations like reading email works fine.  What about spreadsheets I thought?

Designing a spreadsheet on a mobile device is possible, but very, very inefficient.  I tried it and it’s infuriating.  However, using an already designed spreadsheet on mobile device is realistic.  Reading email; easy.  Writing email; possible, but not as easy as using a full size keyboard.

This is where I had my epiphany that would steer the mobile strategy for Broadlook.

Mobile Technology is an extension of and not a replacement for PC-based business applications.

Why?  Desktop business applications have evolved over the years to take advantage of everything possible.  Case in point, at Broadlook, we switched to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  The default setup did not fit our selling model, so we modified Dynamics to fit our business process.  Dynamics is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) environment; a base of CRM functionality which each business can build on.  Our modifications to Dynamics CRM included data points that most companies don’t have access to (unless they are Broadlook customers).  Simply put, the average screen was too small to get all the data on it that we needed.  We could have created a system where everything was accessible in a drill-down fashion (click, click, click).  However, this included too many clicks to be efficient.  I can’t stand having to click 3-4 times to get to data that should be there.  The answer: bigger monitors.  Standard at Broadlook, we now have 24 inch monitors with 1920×1200 resolution.  The things that most people have to click 2-3 extra times to get to their CRM, we have on the first screen.  Simple things like having all the contact info points in the initial search grid.


Broadlook’s Leads Screen in MS Dynamics CRM on a 24 inch monitor.  All info points are available so a sales rep can take action from the first screen.  A typical implementation of SalesForce.com or MS CRM would require you to click 2-3 times to get at all the information on this screen.

As a side note.  These monitors are about $250.  Picking up 50 of these monitors was many many more times cheaper than wasting the time of a sales rep in click-click hell.  In addition developing with the large monitors in mind is much more forgiving than having limited screen real estate and making a design decision that makes 1/2 the people happy and 1/2 ticked off.

How would this business process, which depends on “big hardware” translate to a 4 inch mobile screen?

It won’t.

No way, no how. This is why we won’t see CRM for mobile replacing CRM on the desktop/laptop.  I’ve seen a few mobile “stand-alone” CRM’s on both the sales and recruiting sides.  They are a joke.  An absolute productivity waste.  What works with mobile CRM is when it is used to enhance the desktop experience.  Salesforce has done a good job of it, as have several others.  If your mobile can access your CRM, you can look up a contact, review notes, or line up a few calls for when you are on the road or after hours.  Mobile CRM as a value add to your CRM is an absolute must-have.

What about applications like social networking?  LinkedIN is a good example.  LinkedIN for iPhone is great, I’m looking forward to when LinkedIN or Facebook adds a practical proximity alert to your social network.  That would be something that the desktop or even laptop would not be practical for.   This leads me into the areas that mobile will dominate and why.

For those existing business applications that have evolved on the desktop, mobile will add additional value.  However, for the new frontiers, areas that were birthed in mobile, those will be the areas where mobile can stand alone. It is the same concept which allowed desktop applications to evolve.  You develop to the potential of the environment.  CPU, memory, screen size, input devices, always on (yes/no), network connectivity, battery life.  All of these are the factors that effect Darwinism on both the desktop and mobile device.

Today, most of the successful mobile applications are consumer-based.   As of this writing, none of the top 25 apps in the iPhone AppStore were business apps.  Blackberry pundits:  only 2 of the top 25 for Blackberry were business apps.

So where does this leave us?

  • For business applications that evolved on larger form factor systems such as CRM and  Spreadsheets, mobile will be a value-add, but not a replacement.  If someone is promising CRM on your mobile to replace your desktop, run like hell or carry a 12 year old with tiny fingers to type for you everywhere you go.
  • New and currently undiscovered business applications that are born and evolve on the mobile will rule the mobile.

2010 is going to be a fantastic year for mobile! I am excited and personally committed to developing on mobile.

Caveats:  (1) When mobile becomes a conduit to work with outside peripherals such as an wall screens and video goggles, then mobile could replace the desktop, however, what is really being accomplished here is emulating the functions of a full form factor desktop & monitor. (2) Seamless voice recognition can get around the problems with small form factor keyboards.  I have not seen voice recognition that is worth it’s salt.  I tell my car “Radio Off” and it says “Please say the name of the street you want to navigate to”.