W2O Culture: A CEO’s Vision

Posted by: in Culture, Employee Interviews, Insights, Jim Weiss, Thought Leadership, W2O Group on July 25, 2014

My name is Gage Grammer and I am the Learning and Development Specialist at W2O Group. I had the pleasure of interviewing our CEO and Chairman, Jim Weiss, about the culture of W2O Group to help employees not only get to know a little more about Jim, but also for them to truly understand his vision for the company. Enjoy!

If you could describe the culture of W2O Group in 3 words, what would you say?

I would say pivot, perseverance, and entrepreneurialism. Each of these words embodies more descriptors like being open to learning and risk taking. It’s about liking the unknown and being comfortable with it, rather than with the known. It’s a commitment to quality, meticulousness, preciseness, and a dedication to innovation.

W2O Group is about the pragmatic disruption – we don’t want to be a part of it, but we understand it’s reality, so we want to disrupt it in a way that makes sense in a business. This is not a flakey or unserious culture; it’s a serious and down to business culture.

Jim Weiss

What does it take for someone to be successful here?

Never say die – it’s all about perseverance. A successful person in this company is someone who does what they say they are going to do – they make things happen. Those who are successful here are direct, results orientated, analytical, but not in a way that doesn’t allow you to make it happen, risk takers and smart. These are people with real integrity and authenticity.

What’s the most difficult decision you’ve made as a CEO?

The most difficult decision I’ve made was the decision to grow. It was when I realized I was going to have to open the New York office and take my name off the door to invite others in. There are always other difficult decisions that are around clients, but growing was a tough decision for me personally.

What are some of the ways the agency is looking to evolve?

We want to evolve technologically, both internally and externally. We want to be leveraging, expanding, and developing more applicable technology. We want to be working off the most advanced platforms and be more operational. Finally, we want to evolve globally and in multiple languages.

By: Gage Grammer

Learning and Development Specialist at W2O Group. Background in Strategic Communications (PR and Advertising) and Writing. I have a rockin' French Bulldog named Phantom!

Find me on: Twitter
Pre-Commerce Check out Chief Technology and Media Officer Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

DevOps Digest – July

Posted by: in Software, Technology, Thinking Creatively, Thought Leadership on July 23, 2014

DevOps Defined

DevOps is the philosophy informing how a technology organization embeds itself in a business to the benefit of that business.

W2O is a leader in social data analysis, so we, the technology team, must first innovate then develop products for our customers that we can delivery repeatably, reliably and successfully.

Scaling a System

For a system to be reliable it must serve a number of customers without slowing down or crashing.

Typical conversations around scale are about the amount of stress a number of users puts on the system. Remember the last time Twitter crashed when some topic began to trend? This was a disaster because it meant that Twitter failed when most people were excited and looking. Because all users share the same infrastructure at Twitter, once the system tips over, all users are disappointed.

Viewed from a customer satisfaction perspective: A tenant threw a party in Twitter’s apartment building and nobody could enjoy their evening.

Twitter is a B2C system. In the B2B world, stress on a system is rarely measured as a function of the number of users. Data volumes and analytic processing capability are the primary factors. One user will create stress on a system by performing complex analysis on a large batch of data. Shouldn’t the architecture of a B2B system have different considerations?

Innovating for S2aaS

When innovating, which is important:

  • Develop features to solve business problems?
  • Develop a user management system?

During the innovation phase, we can usually ignore user management and start with a solution to the business problem. We are focused on adding features that demonstrate the existence of a market. Features define that market. Wrestling with the overhead of keeping users silo-ed is not a required feature. In the B2Beginning, there is only one customer.

When innovating, Developers deliver features and  Business gains measured insight into customer requirements because customers are using the system. This is a core point made by Eric Ries, in The Lean Startup.

Traditionally a second customer means Developers decide it is a requirement to add the new customer on the same infrastructure while the software keeps them from seeing each other’s activity. This is known as a multi-tenant system–like the Twitter apartment building.

“Features” like the user management system slow the pace of innovation. Every new feature must also account for keeping users silo-ed. Leadership becomes frustrated because the sales team has proven the product concept by reenforcing that a market exists with this second sale. The market is responding to us! We slow down our most fundamental response: more features.

Why do we allow this to happen? Developers and Operations staff traditionally have an apartment mentality. This is what drives innovation in the technologies they work with every day. It turns a business problem into an engineering problem.

Basic B2B Software Economics

Consider who is paying for the system and their expectations. When dealing with the consumer internet, the apartment model is acceptable. If a few people get wild, we wait for the landlord to restore order. Business customers don’t want to know their neighbors. They want their own single-tenant dwelling–a mansion with a grounds crew and service staff. They want service with their SaaS (S2aaS).

In a B2B engagement, the customer pays a recurring monthly fee. Recurring revenue is a key performance indicator for most B2B vendors. It allows better terms when obtaining credit or attracting investors. Key in setting price for such a software system is the market’s perception of value. Eliyahu Goldratt makes for avoiding pricing a product based solely on cost in his novel, It’s not Luck.

Engineers often make the case that building separate infrastructure for each customer (i.e. their own house) is ineffective. They do not account for the realities of the B2B market:

  • The customer is paying $1000s per month. Adding $100 per month to the cost is trivial.
  • Developer time is precious
  • Customers buy because the features of the product meet their needs
  • Customers buy because the features of a new product demonstrate needs they did not know they had.
  • Customers do not buy because of user management.
  • Customers do not buy because of the latest and greatest technology

An apartment building must be built of sturdier stuff. It requires more maintenance. It has common areas and a staff not found in a single-tenant dwelling. Apartment dwellers have lower expectations and spend less money on housing.

In a software system, these considerations are expressed as a user management system. Because everyone’s data is housed in the same infrastructure, heavy duty technology such as Hadoop or Cassandra become necessary. These systems require expensive infrastructure, expensive Operations personnel and expensive support contracts to run them.

More Engineers Providing More Value

Instead of an apartment building, consider leasing single-family dwellings to B2B customers. This moves the burden of scale from Development to Operations. A new sale means launching a new system. The Operations team works to make this launch repeatable.

In addition to not developing unnecessary features, the problem of scale is per customer. This means that, during innovation, scale is unlikely to be a issue in need of engineering time. We need only be able to make the manison big enough for one customer. Not an apartment big enough for all customers. A much simpler engineering problem, thus more time to focus on the business problem.

The Development team now has more time for features while Operations innovates on better launches and maintenance of systems. Development is not worried about a big party burning down the apartment. They are concerned with adding better features to the house. More of the right features sells more houses. Couple this with failing fast, and the product team is able to run experiments and determine which features matter most.

Operations is now contributing to revenue generation rather than just cost management.

Scaling B2B Sales

The confidence of a sales force in selling B2B to customers cannot be under estimated.

When a tenant in an apartment building throws a huge party, nobody sleeps. If a party burns down the apartment all the tenants are looking for a new place to live. When a party is thrown at the mansion down the road nobody cares. If the party burns down the mansion, only that customer is homeless.

In a failure situation, only one customer is affected. Confidence of the sales team remains high and keeps the pipeline full. Stress on Customer Service, Development and Operations teams are much lower. Lower stress means better observation, orientation, decisions and actions in a crisis.

B2B Market Outliers

If a customer grows their data set or analytics needs beyond the current capability of the system, the same arguments hold. The problem of scale is unique to only that customer. All other customers are snug in their mansions unaffected and unaware of problems.

W2O now has an opportunity to innovate rather than react. First, a decision can be made by the business around the value of servicing such a large client. Maybe this is not a good segment of the market for us to be in. In this case, we can work closely with the customer to help them choose a new vendor.

If, however, we decide re-engineering the system is the best path, sales of the existing system continue undisturbed with the caveat to pay extra attention to the size of the customers needs. Engineering and Sales are now partners in success.

Repeatability Matters

In the single-tenant world

  • The Operations team does not have to run exotic technology at scale.
  • Developers use common patterns practices that have over a decade of success behind them.
  • Risk to all customers and to W2O is better managed.
  • More value is provided with the same size engineering team.

The basic assumption of a single-tenant system is that it can be created on demand. The system can be launched with the push of a button, fully configured and operational and regardless of the state of any other customers system. This means the Operations team has a vital role to play in innovation. The entire technolgoy team is moving toward value to the business. We are now operating under the DevOps philosophy.

What is missing from this conversation is Quality. Quality is what we will approach in the next DevOps Digest.

Pre-Commerce Check out Chief Technology and Media Officer Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

Taking W2O Software from Good to Great – Part 1: Focus

Posted by: in Insights, Software on July 21, 2014

keep-calm-and-focus-81Over the last year we’ve built up a very process-oriented culture within all things software at W2O.  We’re actually big geeks for it and have built up an informal book club - challenging each other to read books like The Phoenix ProjectGood to GreatLean StartupThe Goal and a few others.  On a recent trip to reset (small beach, large margaritas) I read Built to Last (I know –  an odd choice for beach reading – I am what I am) and I felt encouraged to perform a little social experiment on my team.  You see, up until now the products we build have been defined either by the immediate needs of our clients or from great ideas coming from our account and leadership teams – my fear was that our team may not be aligned to a set of core values.  So I sent an email to the entire team asking 2 questions: “At W2O we build software to_______” and “…and in my role I service our clients by______” Within 48 hours I had an impressive 40% response rate – and some impressive answers.  These were placed in a spreadsheet and mixed up so to eliminate bias based on the team member who answered – then each placed in a broad category based on the content of the answer (we’re data geeks). Three categories emerged in response to the first question: Make Money (4 votes), Analytics-Related (7 votes) and Everything: (5 votes).

There is a wonderful simplicity and truth behind the “Make Money” answer – and yes that is The Goal of W2O Group and the thing that keeps our business going, but we must go deeper – how will the software we build make us money?  The answers that came back in the “Do Everything” Category were mostly aligned with making money (we do whatever people pay us to do) but there were also some impressively eloquent statements that had no discernible meaning.  The closest to a core principle came from the analytics based responses.  W2O does a lot of things, but at the core of most of these there’s data, a lot of data, which helps our analysts tell our clients things that matter.  I told you we’re some serious data geeks. While the transformation to a process-centric software group was a necessary thing, it’s also clear we focus on what what we build without losing site of how we build it (Preserve the Core while Stimulating Progress).

So I offer this Core Principle of W2O Software (more will come, but this is a carefully guarded list): We provide data driven superpowers to our clients, giving them a wildly unfair advantage in understanding and shaping conversations to suit their needs. This is actually what we always have done, but in formalizing the Software Practice this needed to be explicitly defined.  This principle helps us determine what features to build, how we can best dig into our data, and to determine what makes it into the Innovation Pipeline (more on that in a follow up post).  It’s also what our analytics team does – and as such analytics and software work very closely together.   This is too narrow to be considered a company wide focus, but it fits as a core focus of the software practice. The second question wasn’t nearly as entertaining, but it showed a place to improve focus.  Of the responses two were sales-centric, nine development, three development process management, and two were product related – and a couple of people I probably need to talk to.  The breadth of responses isn’t what bugs me, but rather the missing pieces.  We have a rockstar development team who works by industry-leading process management – now we need to increase focus on the products themselves.  Clients are the key point for this focus - to create great products we must maintain a solid feedback loop with our clients so we can ensure their success. One of my folks asked what my answers would be to these questions.  I’ll close with that: We build software to enable our Core Principles, and my role is to enable this team by breaking down barriers and providing support which allows amazing people to do awesome things.

Pre-Commerce Check out Chief Technology and Media Officer Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

Is Social Media All Hype?

Posted by: in Integrated Communications, Marketing Insights, Social Media Insights & Trends, W2O Group on July 15, 2014

Perhaps majority of social media efforts fall on deaf ears
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal: Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype, the author presents a survey conducted at the end of 2012 with ~12,000 U.S. adults about social media. 62% of them responded that social media does not have any impact on their purchasing decisions and 30% responded that it has some effect. At first glance, it does present a compelling argument that majority of social media efforts fall on deaf ears. Low ROI. However, if you take a different look at the data, you might come to a different conclusion. 30% of consumers admitted through a survey that social media influences their purchasing decision, which is a pretty nice return if you can effectively influence 30% your target audience, don’t you think? In addition, people do not necessarily know what influences their behavior, much less being able to report it in a survey.

Beware of survey results especially if asking about influence
In a study conducted by sociologists about anchoring*, students and professionals were asked to value the same piece of real estate, with the only difference being the initial price that was shown to them. Half of each group was shown a high price and the other half a low price. The results were that both groups were almost equally affected by the initial price, in that the evaluated price was skewed towards the anchoring price. The problem? The professionals denied that the price showed to them had any influence. Another study was even more compelling underlining how we are so bad at figuring out what influences us. A very unsettling experiment** was conducted with some German judges on handing out prison sentences on a crime. But before they handed out a sentence, they had to roll a die which was loaded. Half of the judges rolled a 9 and the other half rolled a 3. On average, those who rolled a 9 sentenced the accused to 8 months and those who rolled a 3 gave a sentence of 5 months. Do you think the judges would score on a survey that rolling a die would influence their length of sentence? Probably not. Do you believe the survey now?

Social media is a channel for engagement, make it work for you
Rather than paying attention to such a survey, companies embarking on social media efforts should really think about how to leverage the opportunity to interact and engage. Print, Radio, TV, Digital Ads… no other channel allows listening, understanding and engagement with your customers or potential customers. How can you delight them? How can you turn an upset customer into a service opportunity? What do you want to achieve? Measure that and throw your traditional ROIs away. Not likes, not followers, not retweets. It’s hype if you make it out to be, so make it work for you and make it work for your audience.

* ** Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

By: Howie Chan

Howie is an Account Director at WCG, a W2O Group company. He specializes in marketing strategy, believes in emotional customer experiences and cannot walk away from awesome food.

Find me on: Twitter
Pre-Commerce Check out Chief Technology and Media Officer Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

Developing an “earned” media plan

Posted by: in Advertising, Analytics, Communication Strategy, executive insights, Pre-Commerce on July 7, 2014

First published in PRNews

We are often asked our view on the newest social channel, whether it is Vine or What’s App or Vube. Our response is always the same: Where are our customers? The advertising industry created the idea of “media planning.” Their job is to identify the best media outlets to share a brand’s story via paid media. It’s a relatively easy concept, since it is generally based on reach and frequency. My how the world has changed.

In today’s world, advertising is evolving towards ‘storytizing,’ which is driven by earned media, not paid. In earned media, our customers are deciding what is relevant, what they will share and whether they will, quite frankly, pay attention. Reach and frequency are being replaced by engagement and passion, which are far better indicators of shaping behavior and driving sales.

The result is that PR pros and communicators have an opportunity to create the first earned media plans, which tell us where we should invest our time and money. Here is how we can make this happen.

The most important point is that there are only ten types of online media. They include audio, video, forums, blogs, search, social media sites, micro-blogs, images, data/slides and Wikis. Here are the four keys to earned media plans.

1. Rank the ten channels. How many articles, videos, conversations or searches occur by channel? Once you get an aggregate number for each channel by topic, you can then stack-rank the channels. What’s interesting is that when you focus on a topic, e.g. “Brand X” vs. the larger topic, e.g. “nutrition,” you’ll find that the larger category topic is at least 40x higher in volume than your brand, on average.

You now know where the customers are for your category and for your brand and you have a priority order of channels from 1-10.

Note: Remember that the priority order of channels will change by country, topic, issue and brand.

2. Role of channel. Each channel plays a very specific role. Slideshare, which has more than 100 million unique visitors per month, is the top place to access PowerPoints. Customers who want to learn go there often.

The ten channels of online apply in all countries worldwide. Take a brand you work on today and build a simple spreadsheet that shows the social or media sites for each channel. Then, count the video views, search results, image views and continue to quantify results for each channel. Then do this for the larger category your brand is part of. Now rank those channels based on volume and you have just figured out where your customers are most likely to be found. Any social channel or media outlet fits into one of the ten channels. 				        —B.P.

The ten channels of online apply in all countries worldwide. Take a brand you work on today and build a simple spreadsheet that shows the social or media sites for each channel. Then, count the video views, search results, image views and continue to quantify results for each channel. Then do this for the larger category your brand is part of. Now rank those channels based on volume and you have just figured out where your customers are most likely to be found. Any social channel or media outlet fits into one of the ten channels.

Forums are often where communities are teaching each other about topics. Videos are our favorite way to absorb new information, since our brains prefer to learn this way. Search is what we do when we have a question and aren’t sure where to go, often in the beginning of our journey. Wikis are our new Encyclopedia Britannica’s. You get the picture.

Each channel serves a different purpose. We may want to start a conversation on Twitter and link to a slide deck on Slideshare to see if we can get our customers to learn more on a key topic. The key is we start thinking of several steps taken by the customer that shape behavior, not just one.

Note: Ask yourself what the journey is like for a customer to go from zero knowledge to buying your product. What content is important at each step of the journey?

3. Customer need by channel. Our customers want us to have the equivalent of a conversation with them. Even if we don’t really converse, they want to at least know that we understand their needs. For example, if we are on YouTube, most of us go there to either entertain ourselves or to answer a question.

So if you share videos, answer your customers’ questions and then move on. Don’t try to be an entertainer unless you are amazing at it. Avoid slick corporate videos. If you are on SlideShare, you want to see slides that teach you something you didn’t know.

If you are on Facebook, know who you are trying to reach. If you are sharing images that appeal to men and you’re trying to reach women, you’ll turn away your audience. Those types of tiny details show whether you actually know your audience or not. Customers won’t complain, they’ll just avoid channels that don’t get who they are.

Note: Imagine the journey of your customer. Where do they learn first about your brand (search), where do they go to learn (video or SlideShare), where do they talk with their peers (forums) and where do they get subtly influenced by their peers every day (Facebook).

4. Time commitment. You’re not spending money, in most cases, for media. But earned media is an apt title. You do “earn it” by being present, engaging in conversations, sharing relevant information and answering questions the best you can.

It takes a dedicated person or team to do this well. And you need to talk continually about what is working, so you keep getting better at how to reach customers for each channel.

Note: Focus on understanding what excellence is like in each channel for your brand. What works and why? What never works and why?

The result is that you can identify which channels matter for your brand. You can focus on where your customers are and invest your limited time and money into the places with the highest ROI.

You can also tell those folks who randomly ask for a channel to be built that it’s a bad idea if your customers aren’t there in mass, and simply smile, show the data and go to your next meeting.

Enjoy, Bob

 

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

Find me on: Twitter Facebook
Pre-Commerce Check out Chief Technology and Media Officer Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.