The truth will set you free

One part of a well-planned tactical assault on potential customers seems to include making your web site a place for customers to painlessly contribute to, comment and critique what you make, deliver, and support.

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Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

Whether you’re a manufacturer of discrete products, a producer in the process industries, an industrial machine builder, or a system integrator that works with them, building the better, intelligently networked, automation-centric mousetrap is half the battle. Maybe less. Unless you’re a zealous believer in an “if we build it, they will come” customer relationship strategy, the other half of that battle is getting the buying world to know about it. Your existing customers know what you’re up to, and that’s good. What about the ones that don’t know you at all?

Years ago I worked for a company heavily into culture change using what then was called Total Quality Management. In addition to running my manufacturing region, I was part of a small group of internal evangelists who preached the concepts and oriented the staffs of other locations around the company. One of the concepts that resonated well was that well-established fact about satisfied customers usually telling four or five others about their experience. Unhappy customers tell 10 or 20.

There’s nothing better than happy customers, but four or five by word of mouth from time to time doesn’t exactly open the flood gates of growth.

That’s why you might get acquainted with a customer relationship approach built around what’s known as Enterprise Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is a very loosely defined set of technology-based business principles and tactics. The 2.0 bit suggests a new and improved interactive version of the World Wide Web that recognizes the importance of rapid, ubiquitous collaboration among business partners.

Now, hang on a minute. This just might be more relevant to your organization’s future  than you think.

Andrew McAfee, associate professor with the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School, writes about new business communication tools including blogs, wikis and group-messaging software, which he calls Enterprise 2.0, that allow more spontaneous, knowledge-based collaboration. These new tools, the author contends, might well replace other communication and knowledge management systems because they’re better at capturing tacit knowledge, best practices and relevant experiences in a company, and make them easily available to more users.

One part of this tactical assault on potential customers seems to include making your web site a place for customers to painlessly contribute to an organic, largely uncensored commentary and critique of what you make, deliver, and support.

The closest thing I can compare this to is the expanding web-based Wikipedia that’s being built and policed by individuals who want to accurately contribute to a body of knowledge.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, but think of it as a place where potential customers might post exchanges with existing customers and, if it works well, where your abilities as a manufacturer are defined by the user world, not by your marketing group. You might end up with the ultimate collaboration design tool. How better to let potential customers know exactly what you can do for them, too.

Scary, huh? The idea of relinquishing control of content like that to outsiders is an uncomfortable thought. They might post links to and from it for other interested parties to join the collaboration. It could get completely out of hand. It also might expand your reach in ways you couldn’t dream of and can’t achieve by traditional methods.

It scares us, too, as content providers, but we’re right now starting to figure out how we do this. Business is changing. We’d better change with it. You can handle the truth.

Wander around the web and learn more. Tell me if you think I’m nuts. But, maybe, if you build it, they just might come. There’d be many more ways to find the better mousetrap.

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