Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company – the Google way

Back in 2001, I was invited to a luncheon with Google and had the good fortune of sitting next to their CEO, Eric Schmidt.  At the time Google was only a few years old – a one dimensional but fast growing search engine company – and Eric was eager to get some feedback and ideas.  He asked me what I thought…about my pain points, Google’s business and their opportunities.  I told him about the need for more data to understand with transparency how to optimize advertising on Google. And beyond that I said, “Eric, you’re sitting on a goldmine of data.  What if you set it free and made it readily available to customers?   Imagine the ecosystem you could build around that data.   Agencies, analysts and marketers would all start relying on it…”   Eric leaned in with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I can see it.  I can.”   Google engineers were probably working on just that at the time.  And looking back, we may have been having one of the first conversations about what eventually became Google Analytics, a product that propelled a revolution data-driven marketing.

What is a business ecosystem, anyway?

Center of Universe - squareI’m no ecologist in the scientific sense but will offer this definition.  It is a business community or network formed around a company’s mission, assets or products that supports members, builds customer relationships and adds value that scales through ancillary services.  When value is created by members – through new services, functionality and content – it feeds the network, increases the importance (and/or size) of the ecosystem and makes the company behind it more indispensable.

The result?  You get closer to center of your industry’s universe and your customer’s universe.

Many technology companies, and famously Google, have built empires through their ecosystems.   Google Analytics, for example, has spawned a whole economy of vendors, consultants and apps devoted to building on (and optimizing) its analytics.  Their ecosystem is nurtured with APIs, structured partner programs,  communications support, user conferences, and more.

Salesforce has mastered the art of the ecosystem.   Their APIs and App Exchange they have spawned an entire industry devoted to enriching their core product.   This year their mega conference, Dreamforce, had 135,000 registered attendees from 91 countries and 2000 speakers from their customer base and partner network.  Very sticky stuff.

How can you create an ecosystem, or be a little more “Google-ish” that way?

Let’s face it, not every company can be like Google.   But there are still things you can do to make your company more central and more relevant to your customers.  Here are a few ways.

  • Foster innovation with APIs.  APIs encourage outside development, applications and new services that build on what you do.  You might think APIs are only for technology companies.  Not true.  APIs are more about leveraging data in ways that facilitate innovation and make your offering more sticky with customers—and every company has data.   International Hotel Group, for example, has an open API that enables partners to create customized experiences for travelers shopping on travel booking sites.  Media companies and business information providers, challenged with disruption, should take note.  They have large data sets and audiences – two key building blocks of an ecosystem.  Forbes, a real media innovator, has an API.  And so does USA Today, whose partners have built over 200 apps by leveraging its data. (Note I said data, not “content” , but that’s a story for another day).
  • Conferences that make you shine. User and customer conferences are a forum to share best practices and build important relationships, putting your company at the center of the action.  They provide a showcase for partners and customers who add value to the ecosystem and generate content that can further grow the universe.   Last week I attended the Marketo Nation roadshow, a user conference which featured Marketo partners and provided excellent case study on using marketing automation to grow adoption of apps.   I made some good contacts, reconnected with others and discussed it with colleagues.   And now YOU are reading about it.  But user conferences don’t have to be just for technology companies.   ADP has one for example and they are a global provider of HR solutions.  Their ADP Pro User conference shares best practices and attendees even earn professional credit hours when they go.
  • Thought leadership and research. Collecting data and shaping it into insights with real perspective is what thought leadership is all about.  And that makes your company more relevant to customers.  ThomasNet’s Industry Market Barometer, for example, takes the pulse of its market and offers valuable insights into trends, innovation and challenges in manufacturing.   Findings are used with customers and widely promoted in the media.  In general, one good research study can be milked until the cows come home.  Earlier this year we conducted a study called The State of Safety for one of our clients and we’ve been leveraging the insights in sales and marketing for months.

Can a non-technology company be more like Google?

Creating an ecosystem – or taking steps in that direction – is not just for technology companies. Let’s take a packaging company for example.  Many parts of the packaging industry are easy to imitate and have low barriers to entry, which makes for intense competition and hurts profits.  You can’t get further from Google or Salesforce than that.   How can a packaging company create an ecosystem?

What if the company collected data from its customers (and elsewhere) on the most innovative uses of packaging?  What if that data were standardized with benchmarks and trends for the industry and shared with suppliers, consultants and others who supported packaging innovations—with the understanding that their developments be fed back to the company – and celebrated through special reports, events etc?  What if they created a best-in-class partner program to provide specialized capabilities for customers? Participating suppliers who provide add-on value – waterproof, shake-proof, anti-theft, anti-rust, mold-proof and anti-pollution aspects of packaging – might be attracted to the company’s ecosystem. They’d want to be associated with thought leadership, recognition and a network with broad reach in the industry.  Additional capabilities would enable the company to meet a broader range of needs for customers, and might enable it to expand into new markets.  This is not your grandfather’s corrugated box company.

How far should you take it?

This is a bigger question than can be answered here.  It would be doing you a disservice to try in this format.  But you should ask:  how can you tap into a core part of your business and encourage outside development around that core in ways that add value and feed on itself to your benefit?

There is no one right answer or a right way to create an ecosystem.   But important lessons can be gleaned from players like Google who have gotten it right for their business.   While being the center of your industry’s universe is an audacious goal, there can still be powerful benefits even if it you just move a step closer to that center.  And, who knows, that process might just be sparked with a single customer conversation.

Tweet this

If you’d like to discuss research studies for thought leadership (or otherwise get closer to center of your customer’s universe), give us a call at 917-373-7451 or drop us a line.

By |July 24th, 2019|Articles|Comments Off on Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company – the Google way

The Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Technology Ever

In the digital world, driven by interaction and big data, there are many sophisticated ways to get customer feedback.  Here a few…and I’m saving the best for last.

  • Social media monitoring tools that mine and semantically analyze online discussions.  These tools are getting more and more specialized for specific industries, e.g. there are different social monitoring platforms built specifically for restaurants and car dealerships.   These days you can’t go anywhere in New York City without running into a hot dog vendor, an investment banker or someone who has developed a new social media monitoring tool. (And that’s even since Salesforce acquired Radian6).
  • Online survey tools like Qualtrics that tie respondents’ attitudinal data from surveys to demographic and behavioral data that lives in databases and analytics software. They’re made even more powerful with overlays of transactional data.
  • Platforms like Jive Software and Get Satisfaction that facilitate customer communities and integrate with social media, CRM systems and marketing automation tools.   This takes “feedback” to the next level by making it actionable – by putting it right in the tools used by marketing and sales teams in the context of their workflow.  You know things are far along when Gartner even has a Magic Quadrant for the space, called Social CRM.

We regularly review marketing and sales technologies.  And I’ve come across the best one yet…a technology so advanced and so powerful that it provides customer insights like nothing else.

It’s called The Telephone.Phone technology

Here are some benefits of this amazing tool:

  • Real-time feedback from customers and prospects based on any imaginable segmentation
  • A deep qualitative view into concerns, challenges and the stuff that   keeps potential customers up at night (without the complexities of semantic analysis)
  • Flexible, dynamic mechanisms to trigger follow-up actions
  • Human expression and nuances, as if you’re actually talking to someone

The main use case of this tool is a unique methodology called A Conversation.  It’s a process where people actually listen.

Unlike most marketing automation campaigns, Conversations can be two-way, responsive and consultative without being canned.  We are advising all clients to pursue The Telephone and Conversations more deeply, and follow best practices in doing so, as part of their marketing and sales mix.

And remember folks, you heard it here first.


Want to engage in more conversations and make your company indispensable?

Read our other post:  Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company – The Google Way

Drop us a line if you’d like to discuss.


By |January 21st, 2019|Articles|Comments Off on The Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Technology Ever

14 Types of Data That Can Boost Your Marketing and Sales

Over the years I’ve become obsessed with understanding prospects and customers really deeply.  There are bigger sins, I suppose.  “Understanding your audience” is critical to driving effective marketing and sales but is a vague topic.  What does it really mean, exactly?

Last week I gave two speeches on that topic in talk called “Building a Data-Driven Marketing and Sales Machine,” an area of focus for Boundless Markets.  I cited a Bain study which found that companies who excel in their use of analytics are twice as likely to financially outperform their competitors—and 5X likely to make effective decisions.   I also mentioned 1) fourteen different kinds of analytics, 2) some insights that can be gained from each one and 3) how we helped one of our clients achieve double digit revenue growth in two months by leveraging such data.

Here are the fourteen different types of data and a taste of some insights they can provide:

  1. Web analytics. What are your prospects searching for and how does that vary based on audience segment?   What content makes them come back again and again to your web site and convert?  Which pages of your site are most likely to attract visitors…and which pages turn them away?
  2. Third party data. What do your prospects and customers read, what do they purchase and from whom do the buy?
  3. Intent data. Which prospects are in the market to buy right now?  And what content are they reading?
  4. Predictive analytics. What messages and content are likely to move the customer further down the purchase cycle and how does that vary by customer segment?
  5. Multivariate and A/B testing data. What messages, design and offers resonate most and drive results?
  6. Social media analytics. What your customers and prospects are they saying about your company, brands and products?  What are their concerns, likes and dislikes?  Who are the top influencers shaping opinions in your market?
  7. Attitudinal/survey data. How do customers feel about your products?  How likely are they to consider or purchase and which levers can better motivate them?
  8. Best customer modeling. Which prospects have similar characteristics as your best customers?
  9. IP resolution data. What companies visited your web site today and earlier this week?  And where are the people in those companies located?   How does this stack up against your target accounts and VIP customers?
  10. Call tracking data. What times of the day and the week should you staff up your sales reps? What companies called your company in the off hours but did not leave a message?
  11. Semantic phone call analytics. Which sales calls with prospects were missed opportunities that could have resulted in a sale?
  12. Call center analytics. What is the optimal number of times a sales rep should try calling a prospect before moving on to another one? How many calls are not enough – and how many are too much?
  13. CRM analytics. Where exactly in the sales process are you losing prospects?  How much revenue is in the pipeline now?  Which sales reps are most successful at converting prospects into sales?
  14. Conversations with customers. Pretty much anything else…and a darn good starting point.

All of the above can be known if you have the right tools, resources and processes — what I call “data discipline.”  We’re pleased to offer a FREE data assessment tool that can help you understand the “data discipline” of your marketing.  This helpful tool is something you can use yourself or share with others in your company.  And yes, there is a grade at the end.

Check it out.  It’s on us.



By |July 3rd, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on 14 Types of Data That Can Boost Your Marketing and Sales

How to Make Marketing + Sales = More Than 1 + 1

Is there a disconnect between marketing and sales in your company?   It’s often said that Sales is from Mars and Marketing is from Venus—two planets in the same solar system but still worlds away.  Much has been written on how to better align marketing and sales and the prescriptions usually involve alignment on goals and KPIs and longer term collaboration opportunities.  My focus here are things that can be done right away.

Sales and Marketing: 1 + 1 = 3Below are five immediate ways to take alignment to the next level that can probably be done in the next month.  If they can be done well, BOTH sales and marketing can be more successful and entirely new programs can be created for your company.


Imagine a conversation between a sales leader and a marketing leader and what each might be really thinking.  (Exaggerated for a little fun).

Sales exec:   my people are concerned about the leads.

Translation:   the leads you’re sending us stink.  We’re wasting our time with unqualified window shoppers.

Marketing exec:   I hear you. But we’re delivering many more “A” prospects than ever.  We send over lots of good leads that just don’t close.

Translation:   we’re delivering the leads; you guys just can’t sell.

Sales exec:    I don’t think there’s enough volume in the pipeline to validate your lead scoring.  It might be time to revisit the scoring model.

Translation:  Your thinking might work on the whiteboard, but not in reality.

Marketing exec:  our scoring model is based on BANT, and our criteria to qualify leads is used successfully by thousands of companies.  We’re regularly tweaking the model and conducting tests to improve as we go, including using predictive lead scoring.

Translation:   leave the lead scoring to us and focus on closing deals.

Sales exec:  That’s fine but your people really should get out in the field more and talk to customers.  Then you’d have a better understanding of who is really qualified.

Translation:   you marketing folks are out of touch.  We’re in the trenches here and know our customers best.


Both sales and marketing heads have valid concerns. They’re coming at it from different perspectives, operating from a different set of challenges and often with focus on different time horizons.  For example, Marketing wants to build scalable programs and processes, and ongoing testing and optimization is part of their DNA. One stated goal of many CMOs is to “fail fast” and move on to winning programs. Sales,on the other hand, is on the hook for monthly quotas and revenue goals. Failed experiments are not necessarily seen as learning opportunities; they are often seen simply as activities that don’t move the needle on revenue.  There are many strategic sales leaders who have long term views of course; but their teams are rightly focused on the here and now.


Here are some ways to bring the functions closer together and increase alignment, based on our experience.

  • Going on sales calls should be a performance goal of key staff (if not everyone) in marketing. Make it mandatory, not optional.  It works.
  • Marketing should seek out sales tactics that can be developed into scalable marketing programs. How? Ask sales reps. One successful approach used by a single sales representative may represent a much bigger opportunity. Recently I spoke with a sales rep at one of my clients and found that she sells directly to branch locations who have been shipped products purchased by the customers’ headquarters.  No other rep operated this way and there were no marketing programs targeting branch locations– branches were not a separate field in their CRM and could not be identified. After some probing we found that the client had thousands of “ship to addresses” in another database.  We’re now moving them into the CRM system and developing a marketing program to scale the approach used successfully by that one sales rep.
  • Sales professionals should have an incentive to report back on “why customers bought” (and objections) I wish I had a dime for every time a CRM system were under used. Imagine if understanding the reasons for buying (and objections raised) were operationalized in your company—they can be aggregated, quantified for key customer segments and validated.  Arming marketing and sales with a deeper sense of customer motivations can improve targeting, messaging and tactics—particularly when “reason codes” are combined with data on the content people have read, web analytics and other profiling info.  To capture more reasons for buying or not buying, consider giving sales reps some incentive to do so.  For example, what if every time a rep reported on reasons with more granularity they get entered in a contest?  Since it’s the behavior you’re trying to encourage, each rep can have multiple entries in the contest.
  • Sales and marketing teams should do a joint Funnel Reality Check. This approach brings together sales and marketing teams and can be done as an off-site meeting or on-site.  Each step in the sales and marketing funnel is discussed and all parties should have metrics on exactly what percentage of prospects are lost at each stage in the funnel (and why).  People from marketing and sales are paired up into mini-teams, brainstorm ways to make improvements at each stage and report back to the larger group with their ideas.   Separately, management conducts a sensitivity analysis to prioritize these ideas—based on data showing potential revenue gains achievable from improving each stage of the funnel.
  • Marketing and sales leaders should spend an entire day shadowing each other. For one day, each senior person should immerse themselves in the world of the other– attending meetings, listening to conference calls, asking questions and offering suggestions.  A deeper understanding of what it’s really like to be in the other shoes will give sales and marketing leaders a healthy reality check that ultimately trickles down through the organization.  And it sends a very positive message to the company.  Imagine if both sales and marketing executives both told their teams “This week we’re conducting a experiment.  For an entire day each of us will shadow the other and be each other’s surrogate.  Our goal is to continue learning from each other to make our respective areas – and the company – even stronger….”   And then a week later, follow-up with teams to 1) share what was learned from experience, 2) encourage employees to reach out to colleagues in the other function and 3) report back with what they learned.

Mars and Venus may be different planets but they both revolve around the same sun that’s central to their existence.

Tweet this article.

We’re happy to discuss or facilitate.  Give us a call at  917-373-7451 or send a note.

Read our other recent article:  Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company: The Google Way


By |November 15th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on How to Make Marketing + Sales = More Than 1 + 1

Superbowl Moments – Every Business Has One

This post was originally published in Chief Executive’s CEO Briefings

Every company faces a “superbowl moment,” a make or break time when customer service really counts and every employee’s head should be in the game. The coordination leading up to the Big Game provides a good metaphor for the planning discipline that’s required for businesses to excel in their big moments — or suffer the consequences if they do not. The question is, will your company be ready?

The Superbowl is quickly approaching, and with it, the usual press coverage and media scrutiny of thousands of journalists who cover the event. Game strategies are reviewed. Playbooks are reported on. Every angle of preparation is covered.

By |February 20th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Superbowl Moments – Every Business Has One

Generating Customer Feedback With Real Conversations

This post was originally published as an article in Chief Marketer.

In the digital world, driven by interaction and big data, there are many sophisticated ways to get customer feedback and understand what’s on the mind of your audience.  But whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?

Before I go old school and suggest engaging in real dialogue (the kind where human lips move and emit sounds), let’s take look at some more technologically advanced ways to generate customer feedback

  • E-listening Tools:  These can mine and semantically analyze online chatter.  These tools are getting more and more specialized for specific industries, e.g. there are different platforms built specifically for restaurants and car dealers.   These days you can’t go anywhere in New York City without running into a hot dog vendor, an investment banker or someone who has developed a new social media monitoring tool.
  • Online Survey Tools:  These tools, like Qualtrics, connect respondents’ answers to demographic and other information in a customer database.
  • Feedback Platforms: Sophisticated platforms like Jive Software and Get Satisfaction can facilitate online customer communities and integrate with social media, CRM systems and marketing automation tools.   This takes “feedback” to the next level by making it actionable – by putting it right in the tools used by marketing and sales teams.  You know things are far along when Gartner even has a Magic Quadrant for this space, called Social CRM tools.
By |February 20th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Generating Customer Feedback With Real Conversations

Marketing Subscription Data Services

This post was originally published as a conference roundup on the website of Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA).

This year’s Data Content conference kicked off with a boot camp on marketing for subscription data services.  Let’s face it, while there’s been a lot of innovation in data-driven products, the industry information is not known for its marketing prowess.   Yet, as presenters Minal Bopaiah and Russell Perkins pointed out, there are best practices in marketing that quantitatively can make a big difference, particularly in e-commerce and lead generation.   (E-commerce has more potential at lower price points below $1500 but for straightforward offerings with a clear value proposition it’s even worked at prices up to $6000).

The Bootcamp focused on what works during different phases of digital marketing — discovery, engagement and retention.   In the discussion on discovery, I was surprised to hear that only 23% of subscription sites are optimized for SEO – particularly since there are so many resources available on that topic.  One good point mentioned is the long tail benefit that comes from letting search engines index partial listings from a paid database.  You don’t have to give away the farm for free but you should make sure enough of your content is open to the search engines to make sure it’s sufficiently indexed.  Yet, only the minority of data publishers do so.

By |February 20th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Marketing Subscription Data Services

What Happens When You Get 100+ CEOs in One Room

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the CEO2CEO Leadership Summit at the New York Stock Exchange, organized by Chief Executive. Aside from networking with mid-market CEOs, the event was a terrific opportunity to gain insights from luminary CEOs on leadership, innovation and transformation. The line-up of speakers included among many others:

  • Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
  • George Barrett, Chairman and Chief Executive, Cardinal Health
  • David Cote, Chairman and Chief Executive, Honeywell
  • Bob Nardelli, CEO, XLR8 (former CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler)
  • Larry Freed, President and CEO, ForeSee
  • Ed Heffernan, President and CEO, Alliance Data
By |February 20th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on What Happens When You Get 100+ CEOs in One Room