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Who do you trust most?

September 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm PST

Fully 88% of buyers suggest that social channels are strong influencers during the purchase decision process.  A whopping 84% of Millennials trust their friends over advertising or sales messages. (Both stats according to a McCarthy Group report.)

Long gone are the days of disingenuous and detached Mad Men and corporate spinmeisters.  The customer journey has evolved. Buying behavior has changed dramatically and irretrievably, to the point where customers exert much greater control and judgment, often informed by trusted, authentic, even anonymous sources.

New buyer behaviors demand an updated supplier response

Since 70% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they ever talk to a sales representative or supplier, it’s important that  buyers find what they are looking for, including positive feedback on your company and its offerings.

It doesn’t matter if you represent a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, a business to consumer (B2C) company, or are business to government (B2G) focused, we are all headed toward a ‘people-to-people’ model.  ‘Human-to-human’ (H2H) is what author and influencer Bryan Kramer calls it.  Bottom line: people buy from people, and they place a high value on trust, authenticity, reliability, and other factors when making purchase decisions.

You and I have already adopted ‘the new way’ 

FeedbackimageThink about your own digital behavior, the one you undergo when you purchase something online (or offline). Before you click the ‘purchase’ button or sign the contract, what do you do?  I take a look at the reviews for the product or service to see what other users have commented about, what they like or don’t like about the core product features in comparison to their competition, ease-of-use, reliability, the company’s reputation, and their post-sale service.

Just as I rely on the brake lights of the car in front of me to signal that the driver is slowing down, I rely on feedback signals from brand sites, app stores, neutral reviewers, existing customers, and public social media regarding  products or services before I buy. It’s this people-to-people reference and connection, this human feedback, that we all trust and follow.

We all look for the ‘star’ rating on sites

Businesses know we look online for their ratings and they know that we are following the advice of others when we make purchase decisions. It’s common practice for businesses to ask us to ‘like’ and rate their products on their website, on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, OpenTable, or other social sites … and to leave a review if we are satisfied with their service. The power of people-to-people is  self-fulfilling as it gains steam with every new review written and every decision influenced, and is growing at an exponential rate.

Don’t underplay the power of the people

connected social mediaWhat do you do about it as a business leader? People are going to say what they feel and sense and experience about your company or its products, so be involved and talk with them. You will get to know your customer better and ultimately, improve your product or service. If you’re not listening, you will miss great opportunities for innovation.  More importantly, if the feedback is negative and you don’t do anything about it, your ratings will decline, and so will your business. Doing something about it will often lead to public kudos.

Cisco’s brand is ranked #13 most-valuable on the planet according to Interbrand (nestled between BMW and Disney at a $29 billion valuation) and we continue to monitor what is being said through social media, our websites, mobile apps, hosted online  communities and discussion forums — as a way to learn from our customers what we can do to improve on even that amazing value.

Your competitors are already out there

Remember Tower Records and Borders? They were slow to adapt to digital music and online bookstores, causing their businesses to suffer.  As a result they are no longer the top brands they were 10 years ago. Companies like these thought they knew best and didn’t evolve with the digital age, and didn’t  listen and respond to their customers or  changing market behaviors.

Your next potential customer is online shopping right now -- investigating and evaluating well before their purchase decision -- and they are comparing you against your competitors to determine who has the best product or service according to the reviews and social buzz.  Many of them will  make their decisions based on peer reviews and trusted neutral recommendations alone. Consumers are looking for social reassurance about their purchase decisions in order to reduce the risk of a bad experience -- so you’d better be engaged.

Once damage is done, it’s difficult to fix

Once someone has posted an unfavorable review about your product, it is nearly impossible to rescind, and of course, the worse the feedback is, the more people will find and read it. We’ve all heard the brand meltdown stories — from the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video with over 14M views or Amy’s Bakery FaceBook saga, both examples of what could happen and what not to do. Remember to listen to what is being said about your business and have a social media strategy in place before you need to handle any unflattering reviews.

“The Customer is King” (or “… Queen”) 

Really, this is not just a marketing slogan someone dreamed up.  The point is: your current customers are the ones who are in control — they will be providing feedback that prospective future customers will read and rely on — and the insight upon which those prospects will base their purchase decisions. Listen to this feedback and use it to guide improvements either in your product, your customer service, your policies and practices, your ease-of-doing-business, or some other aspect of your business.

At Cisco, we cultivate a group of Cisco Champions. These ambassadors are external experts who are passionate global champions for change. They share their perspective with the broader Cisco community of customers, partners, and prospects, and they offer their time to help others learn about and connect with Cisco in unique ways.

We also have a Cisco Customer Connection program whose members get direct access to our product development and engineering teams to influence our innovation roadmap, suggest product improvements and new features, recommend user experience improvements, and more.

These and many other activities augment our formal market research and informal market listening, sensing, and engagement activities -- so that Cisco can respond with agility to emerging customer needs and shifting business trends.

Provide a feedback mechanism

If you don’t have a mechanism on your website for your customers to provide feedback, pro or con, they are still going to share it on Twitter,  Facebook or somewhere else. It’s best to provide ways for customers to connect with you directly so they can channel that frustration or delight in productive ways.

We have multiple approaches … In the footer of Cisco.com we ask for and receive a wide range of feedback.  We continually monitor what is being said about Cisco in the traditional media and through social media, and we have a strategy to provide appropriate actionable responses.  We have social listening centers throughout the company, including one outside our CEO’s office, one in our Customer Briefing Center, one in the digital ‘nerve center’ with our core team, and multiple instances of social listening tools and reports accessible online.  This allows all of us, from the general employee to our CEO, to see immediate feedback after any news release, business update, customer comment, product launch, or  analyst report.

Use today’s tools to advance your brand

It’s people-to-people world out there!  Ten years ago, FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn didn’t exist to connect people, give them a voice, or to empower them with a platform, a channel, and access to potentially millions of others around the world. 

Today, customers are using these platforms (and more) to provide feedback that shapes your company’s reputation and brand value. Prospective customers are using these ratings and reviews to inform their purchase decisions.  Start listening and engaging to help shape your company’s reputation and to position your offerings in the minds of new buyers all along their purchase decision journey.

B2B, B2C, B2G — it really doesn’t matter; it’s all P2P and H2H.

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Cisco Partner Weekly Rewind – September 5, 2014

September 5, 2014 at 7:31 am PST

Partner-Weekly-Rewind-v2Each week, we’ll highlight the most important Cisco partner news and stories, as well as point you to important, Cisco-related partner content you may have missed along the way. Here’s what you might have missed this week:

Off the Top

This week we announced the largest portfolio expansion for Cisco UCS since the launch of the product five years ago. Partners will now be on a whole new level of delivering business outcomes for their customers.

John Growdon talked about how partners win big with the new technology solutions that transform how customers deliver IT. These solutions also cut across all market segments with positive and sustained impact to customer businesses and they innovate and grow  business too. With the commitment of our partners, Cisco has grown to #1 in the US and #2 worldwide in x86 blade server market. Our hats are off to you!

Additionally, Cisco and Red Hat announced a significant expansion to its partnership, bringing our cloud and integrated infrastructures together with Red Hat’s market leadership and domain expertise of open source and OpenStack – essentially building on-ramps to the Intercloud. This blog from Denny Trevett (@dtrevett) details how Cisco Channel Partners will benefit with opportunities to grow their data center practices. Integrated solutions from Cisco and Red Hat enable partners to drive profitable growth and increase customer value with solutions that drive business outcomes. Cisco and Red Hat will offer enterprise and solution provider customers the most robust and open portfolio of integrated solutions for data center modernization, open hybrid cloud and big data. Read More »

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Accelerate Sales with Marketing Velocity Social Media Resources

At Cisco, we view our relationship with Partners as symbiotic. We do all we can to equip you with the tools, resources and support you need to be successful. One of the ways we do this is through the Cisco Marketing Velocity Program.

The program contains a variety of free tools, resources and events that our partners can use to augment your marketing efforts and accelerate sales. These include On-the-Air learning webcasts, demand generation and outbound marketing resources, and social media best practices. You can also become a Partner Marketing Professional by completing the curriculum.

At Cisco, we create integrated marketing communications (IMC) plans, focused on developing marketing strategies and campaigns that weave together all of the different marketing disciplines – advertising, PR, promotion, assets and especially social media – with the end result of driving Cisco branding in everything we do. This approach is exactly what Sherri Liebo talked about in her Super Voice blog. Read More »

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Cisco Partner Weekly Rewind – August 22, 2014

August 22, 2014 at 7:30 am PST

Partner-Weekly-Rewind-v2Each week, we’ll highlight the most important Cisco partner news and stories, as well as point you to important, Cisco-related partner content you may have missed along the way. Here’s what you might have missed this week:

Off the Top

This week Cisco won several of CRN’s Annual Report Card (ARC) awards presented at this week’s XChange event in San Antonio.  Faisal Hanafi, Steve Benvenuto and Ricardo Moreno (@RicardoMoreno) from Cisco were on hand to receive the honors.

We take great pride in winning these awards, but all of us at Cisco realize that we don’t win awards like this without the efforts of loyalty and our partners. We are only successful when you’re successful!

With a focus on “Elevating the Customer Experience,” the XChange event brought together a strong line-up of speakers, favorite great example being Seth Mattison of FutureSight Labs who talked about how we build connections are changing in the Digital Age. I also appreciated the insight of Gary Pica from TruMethods and the idea of unlocking your personal super power.

You can read all about both of these speakers and all the other exciting speakers from earlier posts. The team and I enjoyed meeting with many of you in Texas and we look forward to our next face-to-face event – the Best of Breed (BOB) Conference in October. Read More »

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Innovations that Matter: The Future of Public Sector IT Consumption – From GovLoop Founder, Steve Ressler

It’s hard to believe that, just a few years ago, most government employees could only access email from their primary desktop computers. Even those with the ability to access their enterprise e-mail accounts from other devices could only view new messages; archives were stored locally on their desktops. Now it is possible to check email from multiple locations and on multiple devices – 24 hours of the day.

Email was really just the beginning. We’ve arrived at a new technology-consumption landscape – powered by cloud, mobile and even social media – that is fundamentally changing the way we use and purchase information technology tools.

Read More »

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