Social Business: Turning the Enterprise Upside Down
For the social enterprise to work, most of what we think of as business needs to be turned on its head.

Social enterprise is a new paradigm for how societies interact, relate, create and exchange value. That’s right; I used the all but banned “P” word of the late 1990s. Paradigm is a “framework of basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methods” held by its practitioners. Social has triggered a paradigm shift because it is changing our worldview of how we interact, work, build trust, define value, and drive growth.

What’s holding Social back is that we keep trying to apply it within the context of yesterday’s worldview.For the social enterprise paradigm to advance forward we need to (re)innovate much of what we accept as standard practice since the time of Frederick Taylor and Chester Barnard.

Sales Turned Upside Down

Take a look at Sales; buyers control the purchase process relying on reputation and past customer experiences to influence their decisions. Yet brands continue to invest billions of dollars in cold calling, sales development teams, broadcast marketing campaigns and traditional sales methodologies.

What buyers really want -- and value -- is credible, accurate and complete information at their fingertips, collaboration with their social graph, and "when-I-want-it, how-I-want-it" access to knowledgeable employees who actually know something about the buyer with whom they are interacting.

Yet when brands are asked how they define social selling it is seen as one more task added to the salesperson’s plate: Use LinkedIn to identify your target buyer, find a reason to connect, engage with them on social channels, share content and become their friend. That’s not the right view of selling within the social enterprise paradigm.

The objective of social selling is not to sell but to enable buyers to achieve their goals and build preference for your brand along the way.Social selling is a purchase experience rooted in a community.Peer-to-peer content, advice and best practices openly shared across a broad spectrum of channels between community members, practitioners, influencers and vendor employees.

An example of re-innovating selling is how large, complex machinery like farm equipment, MRI machines, etc. is sold.Sales people haul around brochures and technical manuals/CDs. Websites and videos help, but inevitably the buyer needs to travel someplace in order to actually touch the equipment; an experience managed by a Sales "minder." Social selling turns that practice on its head.

One company that has done just that by breaking the customer experience mold is Kaon Interactive. They provide a 3-D marketing platform that enables buyers to interact with digital renditions of complex products and equipment.From the comfort of their couch, buyers can access equipment from a website or download interactive product content to their mobile device and interact with it.They are able to see how it performs, how the parts move, access relevant content, review unique maintenance and performance thresholds, and drill down into technical material engaging in their own personalized experience, with or without a sales person.

The customer drives the experience,” shares Gavin Finn, President and CEO of Kaon Interactive. “Vendors, in turn, are able to provide the most dynamic interactivity with consistent messaging across all mediums.”

The buyer has a desired and valued experience on their terms; the seller consistently aligns to the buyers’ expectations with a lower cost of sales.

The buyer-seller dilemma is representative of how social renders the functional, specialized organization structure obsolete.Hierarchical layers build barriers between the outside and the inside world.Customers can’t easily reach in and employees aren’t permitted to reach out.Social Enterprises need new organization and leadership structures; one where all employees are empowered with real-time data to do the right thing for the customer.

Learning Opportunities

Rethinking Organizational Departments

The seeds of tomorrow’s organizations can be found today in companies like Whole Foods, Ritz Carlton, GetSatisfaction and Apigee who actually organize differently. Instead of organizing by functional departments, which reinforces silos and political fiefdoms, companies assemble semi-autonomous cross-functional teams organized around specific customer segments.The measure of success is customer and market-centric benchmarks balanced with business performance targets.Teams set their own performance benchmarks as well as negotiate SLAs (service level agreements) with other teams they interact and depend on.

Team-based decision-making is guided by company values and a business plan.A highly collaborative environment (culture + technology) enables teams, leadership and, often, customers and partners to rapidly and successfully address issues and new opportunities.Andrew Dixon, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Igloo Software sums it up well, “Employees, culture and change management must be at the core of your social strategy.”

Leaders model the behavior they want their organizations to embrace and invest in employee success with as much vigor as they do in meeting customer expectations.

Culture and transformation are not topics most leaders are comfortable discussing or versed in.According to Sandy Carter, Vice President of Social Business Evangelism and Sales for IBM, “CEOs own the agenda for cultural change.Social business is a transformational change at the company and personal level.” She points to three key things that CEOs need to do, “Understand the current culture at the ‘rank and file’ level and identify what needs to change; incorporate social tools into your daily life; and, lastly, use social technologies to build trust and personally engage with employees and customers.”

Social enterprises need to resolve the knotty issues around relationships, trust, codes of conduct, organization structures, governance and business models for the paradigm to mature.How are you (re)innovating your business?

Title image courtesy of enzoalessandra (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Christine's thoughts in her The Road to Customer Experience is Not Thru Net Promoter Score