What “The Internet of Customers” means to me

I’ve spent the last few days at Dreamforce 2013 thinking about this year’s theme: The Internet of Customers.

What does it mean to the nonprofits I support? What does that have to do with CRM? I don’t want to just introduce my clients to a new mobile app – I want to show them why it matters. I want to drink the Kool Aid and share it.

This morning I received an email which led me to a bit of a revelation:

Hello Webmaster,

We had approached you on dated October 13th, 2013 for remove our back links from following links.

(links removed)

It has been past almost one week and neither link has been deleted nor any confirmation from your side. Again we are requesting you to remove link or we have only option to approach for disavow tool.

Disavow tool may be harm to your website so please remove back link and confirm us.

Regards,
[redacted]
Softweb Solutions

I’m not honoring this company with another backlink – they’re easy enough to find if you’re curious to see a company still living in 2003 and not 2013. This isn’t a startup fly-by-night. This is a big company serving the enterprise space.

I replied, to express a bit of a WTF but mainly to see if a real person sent the message. He replied and said he “understood my situation” but his manager made him do it.

The link in question was on a comment at the bottom of a 5 year old blog post. The comment itself was “Thanks for this information” and the URL of Softweb Solutions. Truth be told, I typically delete such useless drivel right away as blog spam. Guess that one slipped through in 2008.

I was mad. First, I don’t like being threatened. (who does?) Does it look like I care about the disavow tool? I’ve long stopped monitoring where my blog comes up in search results. When I have something I want to say I post here, and when people who care about what I post want to read what I post they come here and they read it. If they really like it they’ll post a link on their own networks. That’s all I look at. If it comes up in Google, all the better. I don’t remember the last time I looked at traffic stats.

But then I thought about it and it made me sad for poor sorry Softweb Solutions. They don’t get it. This is a technology company in 2013 serving the enterprise with expertise in every tired technology, and they are clueless about what it means to be a customer company. And they shouldn’t be clueless. No business or nonprofit can afford to be clueless about the direction we’re heading.

I’m not their customer, and probably never will be. I’m sad that they saw a link buried in a comment on a 5 year old post and decided that I had no value as a potential customer or partner. They didn’t know that I recommend technology to many others, including some who work for or connect with some very large companies. They didn’t know that I have 1,000 more followers than their company Twitter account does. They apparently decided based on one old page on this site that I was a detractor to their success rather than an opportunity. And that’s sad.

And here I am, posting a blog saying bad things about this company and there’s no disavow tool they can threaten me with to make this go away. People who follow me might be looking for exactly the service that Softweb Solutions offers and their first impression of the company may very well be someone else’s negative insight.

That’s the Internet of Customers, isn’t it? Everyone who touches your brand, even if it’s in a buried and forgotten blog post by some tiny person, is your customer or constituent. Are you going to threaten them with disavow or make a positive impact? Your choice.

A customer company would have known that I’m so much more than a blog that doesn’t get enough love.

Dear Softweb Solutions: I was more than happy to mark that useless ancient comment as spam. You don’t deserve to have a link here.

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Open Letter to Salesforce Nonprofit Admins

In the 20 months since I left Fight Colorectal Cancer, I would guess that I’ve logged in to no less than 150 nonprofit Salesforce organizations. First as part of my role supporting customers at Convio/Blackbaud, and now in my role at KELL Partners where I work with clients who contract with us for support or virtual administration services.

When trying to troubleshoot a problem, one of the first things I typically look at is how the organization has structured their security and sharing model. Profiles, roles, organization-wide defaults, sharing settings. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve logged in to many organizations where the System Administrator is truly that – someone whose is responsible (and accountable) for the way Salesforce works for everyone else. Someone who protects the data and their configuration. Someone who knows where experimentation is okay and where they need to tread lightly. If that’s you, then thank you – this post isn’t for you. But please read on and comment on anything I’ve missed, okay?

For this post, I’m talking to the organization whose Manage Users looks something like this (yes, this is from a real org I won’t mention by name):

security1

Read on and I’ll explain exactly why it’s a very bad idea, and I’ll give you some suggestions on what to do to protect your organization’s data and your sanity.

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Smartsheet: Frustrated with online project management no longer

smartsheet1It’s been a while since I posted anything that wasn’t related to Salesforce, hasn’t it? Here’s something a little different, but still cheerleading technology and tools I like, which I used to do a lot more of.

Over 3 years ago, I wrote a blog post about my quest to find decent project management software for Fight Colorectal Cancer. That post was quite popular for a while and still gets a fair number of page views. Commenters either sympathized, or used the post’s page rank to promote their own wares.

Right around the time I started at KELL Partners last year, I helped our team implement Smartsheet as our main tool for keeping track of timelines, requirements and deliverables with clients and internal projects. Truth be told, had Smartsheet existed in this form 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have been so frustrated. It meets all the requirements I mentioned in that post and then some.

Right now we have 389 active sheets in our Team account. I’ve been asked a few times, “Why Smartsheet? Why aren’t you just using Google Docs?”

Yes, some of what we’re doing in Smartsheet could be done in Google Docs. But aside from the fact that KELL doesn’t use Google Apps so documents wouldn’t be centralized and owned by the company, Smartsheet does so much more than just flat spreadsheets. Every time I use it, I find some cool new way to make it work better.

What is Smartsheet? It’s an Excel/Google Doc-like online app that generates spreadsheets that are more dynamic than just rows & columns. In addition to spreadsheets, there’s quite a bit of Microsoft Project thrown in (it can even import Project files). The interface is very simple to learn and use, which makes it ideal for sharing with clients of all technical backgrounds. You need a paid account to create sheets after the free trial expires. But those sheets can be shared with anyone, either through a named user or through a publish link that anyone can view if they know it.

Here’s why I think Smartsheet is a better choice than Google Docs for team collaboration, so I can just point to this post in the future.

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Introducing Apsona batch gift entry for the Nonprofit Starter Pack

Over the past few years I’ve come to appreciate the Salesforce Foundation’s Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP). But I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the Foundation’s Batch Data Entry tool. The interface is clunky and it doesn’t proactively allow you to create donor records on the fly or apply payments to an existing opportunity record. It was released in 2011 and hasn’t appeared to get a lot of love since. It’s not mentioned on the main Starter Pack page or in the documentation.

While Common Ground’s batch tool was far from perfect, a lot of organizations used it and relied on it. At KELL Partners, we couldn’t migrate them to a NPSP-based solution without a decent batch gift entry solution. It’s not just uploading Opportunity records via the Data Loader or DemandTools. You have to match those gifts to existing donors or create new ones if they don’t exist. You have to make sure those gifts aren’t already attached to pledges. And you have to know enough about your data to map the field name and values correctly.

We thought about developing our own utility that ran in the Salesforce UI (like the NPSP batch tool or Common Ground’s). We considered developing a stand alone tool (like DemandTools). And then the light bulb went off. Apsona!

Apsona already had a UI starting point. It’s all about manipulating data. It runs separately inside of Salesforce but is not a separate download. And there aren’t enough words to say how highly we regard Apsona’s leadership, Sridhar and Sadna. We knew they’d be a pleasure to work with (and they were!). We approached Sridhar and Sadna in late January/early February with the idea of developing a batch gift entry tool together. They agreed without hesitation and here’s the result! We spoke to many of our clients and evaluated how batches are entered in many different applications, in and out of Salesforce. I’m very proud of this collaboration. This initial release came out even better than I imagined it.

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Life after Common Ground: Not-so-final thoughts

6 weeks ago, I began a series of blog posts highlighting different Salesforce apps I’ve been working with at KELL Partners since leaving Blackbaud/Common Ground behind six months ago. Here’s a summary of those posts and the features I highlighted, in case you missed any:

While this brings me to the end of the series as I had planned it, I know I could have gone on and on. More features on the above apps. More apps. For example there’s Volunteers for Salesforce, which was rescued from the ashes of Groundwire by the always helpful and brilliant David Habib. Or Brickwork, iATS integration with Salesforce and its form building tool, AURA. Maybe I’ll do another series in the future. What apps are you using that I should be talking about here?

As I was writing these posts, I found myself focusing on a common theme. What excites me most about these products, almost without exception, are the companies and people behind them more than features. I focused on features, sure, but with each application the feature I focused on said as much about the mindset of the company as it did about its functionality.

Simply put: It’s not enough to just have something to sell.

The best part about Salesforce is that it isn’t just a platform to build stuff on. It’s a large, inter-connected ecosystem and developers have to expect that their customers are going use their apps in ways they never imagined and alongside other apps they never heard of. That fact has to motivate companies, not scare them.

Support and communication is everything. And I’m not talking about simply answering “How do I…” questions. Organizations want to feel that they’re in partnership with the companies they’re working with. From my experience, nonprofits can forgive technology that has its rough edges here and there. They have far less patience when their emails go unanswered once the check is cashed and promises aren’t kept.

I started this series because I didn’t want Common Ground users to feel hopeless just because one old-style company didn’t get it and pulled the rug out. There’s a reason around 18,000 nonprofits have adopted Salesforce over a short time. It’s exciting and innovative. There’s so much to offer. The platform is worth it. The community is worth it. Stick around and you’ll be glad you did.

Life after Common Ground: Part 6 – Apsona

This post is part 6 in a series of articles pointing out what’s cool about some of my favorite Salesforce apps for nonprofits. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter PackClick & PledgeCauseviewSoapbox Engage and Conga Composer. Now I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of Apsona for Salesforce.

Apsona isn’t a non-profit specific app, but it’s so incredibly wonderful and useful I couldn’t leave it out of this series.

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Life after Common Ground: Part 5 – Conga Composer

This post is part 5 in a series of articles pointing out what’s cool about some of my favorite Salesforce apps for nonprofits. Previously, I highlighted favorite features in Nonprofit Starter PackClick & PledgeCauseview and Soapbox Engage now I’m going to talk about my favorite parts of Appextremes Conga Composer.

Before I started working for Convio, I thought I was comfortable with Conga Composer. It’s what I used at Fight Colorectal Cancer to generate our acknowledgement letters out of Common Ground. When you say “mail merge” and “Salesforce” in the same sentence, the next sentence is simply: Conga Composer. But it’s good for so much more than acknowledgment letters.

Common Ground has mail merge functionality built in. And it’s decent. IF you are using Word 2003 or 2007. And Windows XP. And a 32 bit Windows-based OS. And if your browser is Internet Explorer. If one or more of those requirements aren’t true, then the Common Ground mail merge sucked and believe me, those of us who worked on the Common Ground team knew it. It was a great concept built on Salesforce technology that was never upgraded with the times. In fact, 10 days before we found out Common Ground was getting the ax we had a long brainstorming session with the developers about what would be the next version of Common Ground mail merge. I’m sure it would have been amazing.

Before I dive into technology, I have to say something about Appextreme’s support team. Phone or email, it’s incredible. Have to experience it to believe.

Anyway, I know a lot of nonprofits are already familiar with how to do a basic acknowledgement letter using Conga Mass Merge, and it’s awesome for that. But did you know that you can use Conga to generate a fully formatted Word file of your monthly donors, let’s say for your newsletter or annual report?

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