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Giving Agile A Brain

There’s a pretty great, short post from Business Insider last year that’s been getting re-circulation recently. It’s one-sentence summaries of famous business books like The Innovator’s Dilemma, Good to Great, Outliers, Purple Cow and The Lean Startup.

I particularly liked BI’s short summary Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, which is centered around the concept of creating a “minimum viable” product and then iterating on it, fed by with continual customer input and analytics. Here’s the nicely done reductionist summary:

“Rather than work forward from a technology or a complex strategy, work backward from the needs of the customers and build the simplest product possible.”

If you’ve been in tech the last few years – and especially in Silicon Valley – you won’t have escaped the term “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP), and you’ve undoubtedly been immersed in Agile development methodology. But there’s a dilemma in the seductive notion of Lean and MVP when misapplied: We all have seen teams who focus on the alluring idea of minimal without thinking about what will make the product viable from the standpoint of the customer: Across industries, we’ve seen that the “work backward from the needs of the customers” part is easy to miss in the rush to produce efficient code and quick deliverables.

This occasional lack of customer orientation has led to the backlash observation that “Agile doesn’t have a brain,” meaning it’s very good a producing efficiently, but not guaranteed to produce the right end products in the eyes of customers. We in tech have all seen this happen, and it’s vexing because it’s against the core principles of Agile to produce un-useful end deliverables.

Enter author Jeff Gothelf, an ardent evangelist for Lean and MVP thinking. Jeff is author of the excellent book Lean UX, and recently wrote about this “Agile doesn’t have a brain” topic in a really interesting post on the subject.

Jeff is working with us on some upcoming talks and a workshop, and in addition to what he says in the post above, brings some good advice for including design and customer thinking to the MVP debate:

  • Work “Lean” on projects, and focus relentlessly on the customer in your process and measures
  • Focus on user-driven metrics to understand how you’re doing 
  • Make sure designers and other key non-coding disciplines are in your agile sprints — they will add efficiency and dimension, helping to make sure the “right things” are being produced
  • Think “team,” not “roles” within the sprints (at Cisco, we even do this in Marketing sprints).
  • Most important: Transform from a culture of delivery to a culture of learning, where you are constantly tuning and improving based on end objectives and customer needs.

If you’re new to ideas of incorporating the customer-oriented design into MVP and Lean, I recommend Jeff’s book Lean UX.  And, as a bonus, there’s a great video overview he recently gave at Google on some of these topics.



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Beyond Sales: The Future of Social Selling at Cisco

We recently reviewed the results and findings of Cisco’s Social Selling pilot program in a 3-part series:

and now we’re moving to the future of Social Selling at Cisco. Luca Felli, a senior manager at Cisco who is focused on business strategy and transformation, talks about next steps for Social Selling and the increasing importance of marketing and sales collaboration for supporting customer engagement.  

Jennifer Roberts: We’ve guided the social selling program through a couple of pilots and now we’re getting ready to expand the program to most of the sales organization. What do you think are the next steps for Social Selling at Cisco? 

Luca Felli: Social Selling at Cisco is something that is evolving. For us, it has moved from listening to action, then from action to revenue. Part of that evolution is coming up with relevant content for the customer’s moment of truth, and this involves sales and marketing collaborating.  This has been a traditional struggle—to come up with relevant, global or localized content. But we’ve just scratched the surface on how the content that marketing provides to a social seller can help support customer engagement.

We’ve had great results from our listening efforts. In my opinion, we could have 10x the results if there was an integrated marketing and sales effort to provide the right type of content to the right person at the right time.

To take it a step further, we need to begin thinking about how we tie social selling to advocacy across the customer decision journey.  The idea behind that is not only will I, as a sales person, sell you something but will I continue to be relevant across onboarding and all the way to the loyalty and retention stages.

JR: You mention the moment of truth. I know this is a topic that Google has defined and about which a lot has been written. How do you think it applies to Cisco; what is Cisco’s unique interpretation?

LF: We have an opportunity to understand the moment of truth for our customers related to different segments of our business. An enterprise customer has a different business lifecycle cycle than a commercial customer—one size does not fit all.

We need to have a much more analytical approach. We need to take what we know about our customers, our segments and use that insight to make ourselves more relevant to our customer.

JR: What’s driving the adoption of Social Selling? What’s the impetus from your perspective?

 LF:  It’s tied to this idea of relevance— we need to have relevant conversations at the right time with our customers. It’s important to understand the moment when we can begin to influence a customer’s buying decision.

If 70% of a customer’s buying decision is now made based on information he or she finds online, then we need to make both ourselves and our content relevant.  Social media is one of the channels we can use to do that.

JR: Talk to me a little more about this integration between sales and marketing that needs to happen.

 LF: If you look at how marketing is evolving—it’s moving toward a more focused, more targeted outreach at both the account and individual level, and the importance of tracking outcomes at both levels is becoming more scientific.

As the effort around marketing becomes more targeted, then the way sales people interact with customers should build on that effort.  They need to become a trusted advisor, create a relevant selling experience —shifting from selling to a community manager —that coordinates these social selling efforts with targeted marketing elements to create this joint partnership.  In the eyes of the customer, they become an advocate for them; they have the right content, right insight to help them solve their business challenges.

To date, we’re not yet there. We’re still in many ways casting wide nets in how we interact with customers, but that’s the direction I see us moving.

JR: We’re 9 months into Social Selling at Cisco. Any surprises?

LF:  Aside from the results, which have been very positive, the nicest surprise has been the adoption across our employees across the globe. Our employees become the advocate of our brand and, at the same time,

Social Selling has enabled the building of a sale rep’s image and brand. These efforts have been well received by their contacts and networks.

Additionally, we have managed to tie our efforts to Cisco’s key performance metrics and on top of that created something that is a differentiator and well received by a global, employee base.

JR: Any final thoughts about Social Selling or next steps?

 LF: On our radar is unleashing the value of social selling across our pre-sales engineering organization. How to continue to increase the relevance of our engineers in the early stages of the sales cycle, become a trusted advisor and unlock incremental value will be another area of focus.  We will start to uncover how different touch points impact outcomes.  As “experimentation is the new planning,” we will keep on evolving our approach for the benefit of our customers, partners and stakeholders.

JR: Luca, thanks for your time and good selling.

Jennifer Roberts (@rideboulderco) is a Social Media Marketing Manager and co-leads the Social Selling program.


Breaking News: Storytelling Is In. Corporate Writing Is Out.

By now, many of us in communications know how difficult it can be to break through the noise and make sure our messages and stories are heard. And while this is an exciting time to be a corporate communications professional, it’s also a time to get with the program and think different about the way we are telling our stories.

Social SuggestionsLast week I was given the opportunity to attend and speak at Ragan Communications’ 6th Annual Employee Communications, PR and Social Media Summit. The conference had three different tracks and was packed with information and best practices for PR, social media and employee communications professionals. But across all of the various sessions, the one message that resonated most for me was the importance of authentic storytelling.

Here are five tips to make your next story great:

  1. Clarity above all: Clear concise writing is key. Stop with the corporate jargon.
  2. Be a verb nerd: Collect verbs you want to use. Often times we use words in our writing we would never say out loud. Stop that.
  3. Know your goals: If you don’t have a specific reason for telling a story, it will fail. You must always have a goal – and know how to measure against it.
  4. Quote me: Use quotes to add spice to your story.
  5. Who’s your hero? Every story needs a hero.

The bottom line: People rationalize buying decisions with facts, but they make buying decisions with feelings.

Make sure your story pulls at the heartstrings and lets the reader know what’s in it for them.

Curious to learn more? Take a look at one of my favorite Cisco video series, which tells a story in an authentic, human and compelling way while also communicating key businesses messages.

Our Homepage: 5 More Insights

In mid-June, we shared how video and live steaming perform on our homepage, particularly during Cisco Live. Well, since then we’ve continued to test and learn along the way on our Cisco homepage. It receives more than 2.5 million average monthly visitors and it’s truly a melting pot with 58% of visitor traffic coming from outside the US, so it’s a great place to innovate.

Here’s my latest top 5 insights about the homepage:

1.  Big is not always better.  We like to call our large banner ads on the homepage our “ hero” ads. They make a big bold statement and the hero ad in the number-one carousel spot receives the highest traffic on the page. That said, after analysis for several months, our smaller “feature” ads toward the bottom of the page actually receive more traffic and engagement overall per month. They seem to drive more value and are perceived as less marketing-oriented, at least that’s our theory for now. Read More »

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Bridging the Gap Between Social and Digital Media

I’ve come across many articles touting the differences between digital and social media. Here’s one, for example, that suggests the words have lost their meaning entirely. It raises some good questions. What does digital even mean, anyway? And isn’t all media basically social in nature? A great take on it comes from Cisco’s Vice President of Digital, Mark Yolton, who provides deeper insight into “What is Digital?”

As marketers, we must think beyond social media and consider how digital components like web, mobile and video can further enhance the user experience and boost the perception in such a way that ultimately leads to a purchase. That’s exactly what we’ve done at Cisco. We did it by aligning social, web, mobile and video capabilities under one organization so that we can offer customers, partners and influencers an integrated experience. Clearly, social media is a huge part of today’s digital journey.

mobile apps concept

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