Category Archives: Ecommerce

The Dollars Are in the Details

The devil is in the details, the saying goes. When it comes to B2B selling, the dollars are also in the details.

That’s something I learned many years ago while writing about the reseller channel. Back in 2000, the Internet caused significant disruptions of traditional reseller relationships, because many large technology vendors expected online sales to eliminate the need for resellers. They tried to sell direct, but failed to grasp the value that resellers provided to their end-user customers. So in 2000 and 2001, they tried to win back their jilted resellers.

The result was a bit of a free-for-all as large vendors tried hard to woo major resellers. The lengths they went to were astounding, costly, and — all too often — fruitless.

A Chip Shot Wins the Sale

One reseller of note allowed me to quiz him about what he’d been subjected to in this process. He’d finally gone with HP as his primary hardware vendor. Why? Was it because he’d been flown out to the HP World show in San Francisco and immersed in the company’s ecosystem? Was it the conference in Orlando that exposed him to HP’s long-term vision? Was it the in-depth examinations of the product that HP managers had given him?


What turned the tables was that HP’s channel manager had taken him golfing.

No other vendor had spotted the fact that this reseller was a huge golf nut. From the autographed photos of PGA pros in his office, to the golfing trophies on the shelf, to the bag of clubs propped in the corner — the signs were all right there. But no one picked up on the details.

Send Me a Signal, Throw Me a Line

How effective are you at spotting the signs?

This is really an old school sales talent; the cold read that can build instant rapport if done right. In the digital era — and this extends back 15 years — we have come to depend on technology to sort, order, and prioritize data about customers. Too often this data is centered on the seller’s business: How did a prospect react to our marketing piece? How often did the prospect visit our website? Which pieces of our content did the prospect download? All of this is useful, and it can take you a long way down the sales relationship toward a closed deal.

It leaves out the buyer, however, and the things about him or her that make them unique. Without spotting these details, you’re fighting the battle with one hand tied behind your back. If you can discover those details and act on them, you can demonstrate that you care about the buyer as a person, that you bother to notice things about him or her, and that you’re there as more than a salesperson.

Digging Up the Details

This is where social media and social CRM can be such tremendous resources. In the past, salespeople had to be skilled at the cold read once they reached their prospects’ offices. These days, a few minutes on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter often reveals key details about prospects, and in a more complete and contextual way than sales pros had access to in the past.

If you can incorporate these details into your customer records within CRM, they become an ongoing aspect of your relationship with that customer. Better yet, you can build in time-based aspects of a customer’s details. If he was planning to go on a vacation, or if she was looking forward to a child’s graduation, you can note that and mention it during your next call with the customer. These details can help you get that first sale — but they’re even better at making sure you get all the sales that come after that.

In this era, the most successful sales pros are not the ones who care most about closing sales. They’re the ones who care most about their customers, and solving their customers’ problems. Building relationships is critical to that, and the details are critical to building the relationships — but few among us can keep an encyclopedic knowledge of our customers’ personal details in our heads.

CRM can give your memory that boost — if you choose to use it that way.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the
CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written three books on World War II aviation.

Yahoo Chief Mayer’s Telecommute Ban Stokes Work-Life Debate

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer needs all employees close as she tries to fix the ailing company’s problems. That means beginning in June, Yahoo employees who have been able to work from home will be asked to head back into the office, according to a company human resources memo.

Some of Yahoo’s most important “communication and collaboration” come from impromptu meetings, discussions between employees and meeting new people around the office, the memo said. It also noted that “speed and quality” were sometimes sacrificed when working from home.

Yahoo did not respond to our request to comment for this story. The company has not released information about the number of its employees affected by the policy change.

Working for Productivity

Telecommuting can have some clear benefits, especially if it is only one or two days per week, said Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at
Stanford University. Bloom recently published a paper on the complexities of working from home.

In many cases it can improve productivity, cut down on long commutes, save the company money and give employees the ability to better manage other non-work aspects of life such as child care. Thanks to mobile devices, video chats and remote-access enterprise platforms, it is much easier to work from home than it would have been ten years ago.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect solution for every company, Bloom added. While Mayer wasn’t very explicit in her reasoning, she may believe that daily team engagement is critical at Yahoo — especially if the work from home policy was being abused.

“Ideally Yahoo would have employees come in for at least three days a week, which provides employees flexibility and home time while keeping them engaged with the office,” Bloom told the E-Commerce Times. “Banning all working from home seems pretty extreme, but that may have been necessary to cut loose the employees who were apparently slacking off at home.”

Possible Impact on Morale

Mayer’s edict has already sparked debate on the comment sections of several media outlets and social media feeds.

Complicating the issue is the fact that Mayer herself is a new mom. Mayer returned to work just two weeks after giving birth, but has also reportedly had a nursery installed next to her office.

“This decision was devastating to her credibility,” workplace consultant
Brandon Smith told the E-Commerce Times. “Up to this point, she had been seen as a vocal supporter of work and life balance and families. By not only making this decision but by having the extra support she has at work, she runs the risk of being seen as a hypocrite, particularly by female employees.”

The overall decision to change the telecommuting policy could hurt in the short-term even if Mayer wasn’t a new mother. “This will have a negative impact on the culture and morale at Yahoo,” Smith predicted. “Employees will see this as controlling and an overall sign of low trust from senior management. As a result, this will have a negative impact on employee engagement. Expect to see talent leaving Yahoo within the next six months as a result.”

Good in the Long Run?

It’s more difficult to predict and measure the long-term impact of the new policy, admitted Smith. There are always other top Silicon Valley companies that may allow more telecommuting. If Yahoo’s top talent has the option to work elsewhere, productivity could take a hit.

“This was clearly an attempt on Mayer’s part to gain greater control of the organization,” he observed. “However, almost always when a CEO tightens control, it ends up lowering the sense of empowerment and engagement from employees. As a result, commitment and innovation almost always suffer.”

If Mayer can issue this new policy by keeping her existing talent, and only weeding out the underachieving offenders, Yahoo could emerge as a more efficient company, said Lynda Zugec, managing director at
The Workforce Consultants.

“I think this will hurt Yahoo morale and loyalty in the short term, but if Mayer’s decision removes unproductive employees from the system, Yahoo stands to benefit in the future,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “A strong communication plan and structure needs to be put in place for existing employees.”

Unfortunately for Mayer, it’s difficult to eliminate only the lazy workers, said Bloom.

“In Yahoo it sounds like the work from home policy was being abused, so the impact will be mixed,” he said. “Many employees, both good and bad, will leave. Other employees will be demotivated, while yet more employees will work harder by being forced into the office. Frankly, it is a hard call to say the impact on productivity, but the impact on quit rates is clear – a massive clear-out of both good and bad employees will happen.”

FTC Gives HTC a Good Shaking Over Bungled Security

The Federal Trade Commission last week reached a settlement with HTC America over charges the company failed to take reasonable steps to secure the software in its smartphones and tablet computers.

The security flaws could have compromised the privacy of millions of consumers, the agency said.

This is the FTC’s first case against a mobile device manufacturer.

The settlement calls for the company to patch the vulnerabilities and indeed, HTC and its network partners have already deployed many security patches to consumers’ devices. The settlement also calls for HTC to establish a comprehensive security program and to undergo independent security assessments every other year for the next 20 years.

Finally, the settlement prohibits HTC America from making false or misleading statements about the security and privacy of consumers’ data on its devices.

Multiple Flaws

The FTC identified an assortment of vulnerabilities that HTC either introduced or failed to address.

Among those introduced were a number of “permission re-delegation” vulnerabilities in its custom, preinstalled applications. For example, under the Android operating system’s security framework, a third-party application must receive the user’s permission to access the device’s microphone.

However, HTC preinstalled a custom voice recorder application that could be exploited to allow third-party access to the device’s microphone, the FTC charged. An attacker — or a third-party app operating without permission —
could exploit the flaw by surreptitiously recording phone conversations or tracking a user’s physical location.

The vulnerability also left consumers open to “toll fraud” — that is, the practice of sending text messages to premium numbers in order to charge fees to the user’s phone bill.

The FTC’s charges centered on insecure logging applications — Carrier IQ and HTC Loggers — that were installed on HTC devices.

Beginning in 2009, HTC began embedding IQ diagnostics software on Android-based mobile devices and Windows Mobile-based devices at the direction of network operators Sprint and ATT. The carriers were using Carrier IQ to collect a variety of information.

“In order to embed the Carrier IQ software on its mobile devices, HTC developed a ‘CIQ Interface’ that would pass the necessary information to the Carrier IQ software,” the FTC complaint states.

“The information collected by the Carrier IQ software was supposed to have been accessible only to the network operators, but because HTC used an insecure communications mechanism, any third-party application on the user’s device that could connect to the internet could exploit the vulnerability to communicate with the CIQ Interface …,” it notes.

Sending a Message

The FTC came down hard on HTC because it completely ignored blatant security violations after being notified of them, Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development for
nCircle, told the E-Commerce Times.

“The FTC clearly chose to make an example of HTC to send a message to the industry; they want to make sure hardware and software vendors realize they need to take security and privacy far more seriously,” he said.

Unfortunately for consumers, it’s all too common for hardware resellers to overlook security when customizing software. Bailey continued.

“Generally, they have no business processes in place to respond to security concerns so they just ignore them,” he pointed out. “These companies generally hire software developers that aren’t trained in application security, so it’s not surprising that security is neglected during the development process.”

Agency Overreach?

That said, the fact that the FTC is directing mobile device developers in how to build their products is a bit worrisome, said Amy Purcell, an attorney with
Fox Rothschild.

The FTC is instructing HTC America about how to build its products, she told the E-Commerce Times.

The HTC settlement serves as yet another example of the FTC stepping in to create data security standards in the absence of legislation, said Purcell, and essentially using its enforcement actions to informally create laws.