The Intangibles: 5 Things That Aren’t on the CRM Data Sheets

CRM has been around for a long time now — more than 25 years. Amazingly, many businesses, including large businesses with revenue in excess of US$100 million, still operate without it. That’s amazing, because to many business leaders, CRM has become table stakes when it comes to creating a software infrastructure.

Within CRM, many of the features have become table stakes, too: creation of the customer record, tracking the history of lead acquisition, the ability to segment customers — even social media capabilities.

All the major vendors include common features like these in their products. If choosing CRM based on a “feature bakeoff” was a bad idea in the past, it’s an even worse idea now that most features in CRM applications have become standardized.

So, if you’re looking for a CRM solution, what should you look for? First off, don’t start looking until you know your requirements.

Once you know what your company needs, don’t fall back into the trap of comparing feature lists and bullet points. Instead, go a little deeper and weigh some subjective aspects of the CRM applications — and the vendors who sell them.

Following are five factors to consider that aren’t necessarily on the data sheets you’ll received from CRM sales reps.

Ready for Flexibility

There’s an old saw that holds that every successful CRM implementation involved some degree of customization. There’s some truth to that — CRM works best when it fits the needs of the business most precisely, and few applications are perfect fits right out of the box. If that’s the case, you’ll want to look for a solution that was built from the outset with that concept in mind.

Customizations are expensive — but smart CRM vendors are building their systems with built-in configurations to attempt to anticipate users’ needs. That saves setup costs, and it also accelerates the time to profitability for the CRM system.

Fits With Users

Your CRM system isn’t going to pay off if your users won’t use it. If the system forces you to alter your processes in order to fit it, instead of vice versa , you’re unlikely to get great user adoption.

Similarly, if the interface doesn’t present the data users really need, they’re unlikely to make it their go-to resource for customer information. Look for CRM applications with good, clean interfaces that create a good user experience — but, beyond that, look for interfaces that allow users to customize their views of data easily and without any assistance from IT.

It will make users feel like the system really is theirs, and it will keep them engaged with it over time.

Eagerness to Integrate

To deliver optimal value CRM needs to be part of a software environment where data is shared readily and insights are available to everyone who needs them. Installing it and letting it run on its own as a brand new silo defeats that purpose.

Some applications are harder to integrate with existing systems than others — and difficult integrations are more expensive integrations. Pay attention to which prebuilt integrations exist in the applications you’re examining, and compute the cost — in time and money — of the integrations you’ll need to build.

Does What You Need

Are you buying CRM for sales enablement, lead flow management, pricing and quote development, guided selling, marketing automation or customer feedback? If so, tread carefully — these may be present in the CRM application’s features list, but they may not be as complete or robust as your needs demand.

There are dedicated applications and suites to handle these tasks for a reason. CRM is a valuable repository for customer information, and it’s often critical to the success of other systems — but it may not deliver the right answer to your pressing problems.

Practices What It Preaches

The relationship you have with CRM will include the vendor. One thing to ask to see during the sales process is how CRM is being used to sell CRM to you. The vendor should have a customer record on you and be able to use it as a case study in how CRM can advance the sale.

Be forewarned — many vendors aren’t willing to do this, for a number of reasons. One of the most surprising is that the organization selling a CRM application often doesn’t use its own CRM.

The CRM vendor ought to be the very best at using the application and, perhaps more importantly, it should be demonstrating the behaviors that lead to CRM success. If a vendor can’t model the right way to use CRM, starting with using the application in its own environment, then it casts doubts over its CRM’s effectiveness and the clarity of its road map.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on 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.

Nokia’s Surprising 2nd Shot at the Wireless Game

Many thought after Nokia sold its wireless phone business to Microsoft earlier this year, the company simply would fade away from the space. However, all of a sudden it’s starting to look like Nokia is coming back. It just took the first step back into the wireless and tablet market with its new Google Android tablet.

It appears Nokia is getting ready to re-enter the smartphone space in 2016, competing with industry leaders like Apple iPhone, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft, which acquired its smartphone business, including the Lumia line.

What a turnaround. Will it be successful? Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?

Second Time Around

This is not Nokia’s first time up to bat. Remember, it was No. 1 in the traditional handset space for roughly a decade. It won the No. 1 spot when Motorola lost it in the late 1990s, when networks switched from analog to digital.

In the 1990s, Motorola was king with the StarTac, but it began failing years before the first iPhone was even on anyone’s radar.

Motorola has been trying to make a comeback, but it hasn’t done so in a meaningful way to date. So will Nokia be successful its second time up to bat?

After Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft, we all expected it would no longer operate in this space. However, the smartphone space is still one of the hottest around — if you can figure out a way to carve out some market share.

So, since Nokia still has a very strong brand name in this space, it is going to re-enter the tablet space, then the smartphone space. Tablets are the first test to determine whether it will be a successful player.

The smartphone, tablet and smartwatch space continues to grow and to change over time. When the first iPhone and Android handsets hit the market seven years ago, it changed the marketplace very quickly. Leaders like Nokia and BlackBerry were clobbered.

They tried several smartphone devices, but they just barely carved out a few percentage points of market share.

What will be different this time?

Another Chance at Bat

One, Nokia still has its brand to build on. There will be no confusion, since Microsoft has stopped using the “Nokia” name on its smartphones.

Two, Nokia has had the chance to recognize the new smartphone world. It no longer is rushing to deliver something just to hang on. Instead, it can start thinking in advance of about creating smartphones and tablets that can capture a slice of the market share pie.

Three, the smartphone space is maturing, and users may be looking for more than just an iPhone, Nexus or Galaxy.

If Nokia can do this, then I think it can indeed become a player and a competitor once again in this new world. It has the potential, if it hits home runs, to reinvent its company and start a growth track once again.

Whether it will is the question. That is what no one can predict. It all depends on its strategy, its marketing, its advertising and so on.

Does it understand the new and changing marketplace? Does it understand the strengths and weaknesses of its brand in the marketplace? Does it see certain areas it can capture and own on the business or consumer side?

The big question is, can it reach out and grab a slice of the market share pie with a new OS, new handset and new software? If it can, and if it somehow can win a slice of the pie, then it could indeed grow from there.

That is the question. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s good to see that Nokia has not thrown in the towel and will get back into the ring once again. It’s good to keep things shaken up.

I hope it does well, and I wish the company the best.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technology

industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he’s been watching for 25 years. Email him at

LinkedIn Faces More Litigation for Doing What its Contracts Say It Will Do

By Peter S. Vogel

11/17/14 7:17 AM PT

LinkedIn has been a wildly successful social media business site for many years. It provides a free platform for millions of members to share professional experiences and for businesses to promote themselves.

However, LinkedIn’s financial success also makes it a target for lawsuits — even suits that don’t seem to make much sense.

LinkedIn Sued for Making Employment History Available


currently claims that it “operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 313 million members in over 200 countries and territories.”

Its members voluntarily post their employment history (whether true, embellished, or fabricated) as an online biography or resume. This information is available both to LinkedIn members and Internet users (depending on members’ LinkedIn settings).

A lawsuit was filed on Oct. 4, on behalf of a potential class in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming that LinkedIn violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The basis of the suit is that “any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained.” In the case of

Tracee Sweet et al v. LinkedIn, the plaintiffs allege that LinkedIn does the following:

1) fails to comply with the certification and disclosure requirements mandated by the FCRA for credit reporting agencies who furnish consumer reports for employment purposes,

2) fails to maintain reasonable procedures to limit the furnishing of consumer reports for the purposes enumerated in the FCRA and to assure maximum possible accuracy of consumer report information, and

3) fails to provide to users of the reference reports the notices mandated by the FCRA.

Given LinkedIn’s business model of members voluntarily posting their own personal employment history, it is hard to believe that there are FCRA violations, so this will be an important case to follow. The next step is for the court to agree that the class should be created (certified) before the case proceeds, or dismiss the case.

Update on 2013 Lawsuit Over LinkedIn Harvesting Email

Perkins et al v. LinkedIn, filed on Sept. 17, 2013, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges the following:

LinkedIn intentionally and knowingly created and developed this deceptive advertising scheme to improperly use the names, photographs, likenesses, and identities of Plaintiffs for the purpose of generating substantial profits for LinkedIn.

LinkedIn harvests member email accounts of Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Mail and Google Gmail, …

When a new member signed up for LinkedIn, LinkedIn asked for that new user’s external email address. This request is made without any warning of what the email address will be used for.

Although some of the claims make no sense to me, in the lawsuit the plaintiffs allege that among other things LinkedIn “breaks into its user’s third party email accounts” and:

“When users sign up for LinkedIn they are required to provide an external email address as their username and to setup a new password for their Linkedln account. LinkedIn uses this information to hack into the user’s external email account and extract email addresses. If a LinkedIn user leaves an external email account open, LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the email addresses contained anywhere in that account to Linkedln’s servers. Linkedln is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external email accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”

At the beginning of the lawsuit, LinkedIn filed motions to dismiss all claims brought by the plaintiffs. On June 12, Judge Lucy Koh granted two of LinkedIn’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit, since she did not believe that LinkedIn violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the 1986 Stored Communications Act (SCA) and California’s Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (CDAF) (Section 502 of the California Penal Code).

The SCA restricts ISPs from disclosing information about it customers without their consent in civil matters, and the CDAF is a state law that restricts use of online data.

As generally occurs when motions to dismiss are granted, Judge Koh allowed the plaintiffs the opportunity to amend the lawsuit to fix deficiencies in the complaint, so just because the two claims were dismissed does not mean the issues are resolved.

Two claims that Judge Koh did not dismiss include the common law right of publicity, which “challenges LinkedIn’s use of users’ names in the endorsement emails” and the California’s Unfair Competition Law, which broadly prohibits “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice.”

What’s Next?

There has been more action since the judge’s order in June. On Sept. 18, the plaintiffs revised their complaint, alleging violations of SCA and CDAF again; and on Oct. 13, LinkedIn filed its motion to dismiss the SCA and CDAF claims in the revised complaint, which is being considered by Judge Koh. So there are still a lot of moving parts, and this LinkedIn case is long from being over.

Given the widespread proliferation of personal data strewn about in social media, no doubt we will continue to see litigation challenging social media sites’ commercializations of user data.

E-Commerce Times columnist Peter S. Vogel is a partner at

Gardere Wynne Sewell, where he is Chair of the Internet, eCommerce & Technology Team. Peter tries lawsuits and negotiations contract dealing with IT and the Internet. Before practicing law, he was a mainframe programmer and received a Masters in computer science. His blog covers

IT and Internet topics. You can connect with him on


How to Prepare for the Fourth Quarter Slaughter

So summer is over and the holidays are quickly approaching. How are you going to prepare for the busiest shopping season of the year? In the past, you and your staff see the holidays as one of the busiest times of the year. Each time finding out what you could have done different and how things for the next year can improve. With sales projected to be up 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion compared to last year, it is vital for companies to evaluate how to prepare for the upcoming season and take necessary steps to ensure a profitable fourth quarter.

Related: Surviving Fourth Quarter Madness — How to Handle the Year-End Sales Crunch

1. Prepare your promotion and marketing schedule in advance.

It is essential for businesses to prepare their promotion and marketing schedules in advance to ensure they do not miss key opportunities to sell. At the beginning of the year, come up with a marketing plan with specific dates and ideas. This will allow you and your staff to prepare key marketing materials with plenty of time for changes and revisions.

2.  Forecast demands and inventory.

Sometimes, it is difficult to predict sales with the economy constantly changing, but by using past sales analytics and doing some research, most businesses are able to project sales fairly accurately. Make sure to have your most popular products in full stock when the busy seasons come your way.

Related: The Holidays Are Coming: 4 Ways Startups Can Meet 

3. Get your staff ready.

The holidays can be a stressful time for all those working in the retail space, but you can lighten the load by preparing your staff for what is to come. Talk to them about what is expected, prepare them for sales, shipping, and fulfillment. Lastly, bring on extra helpers if the work load is just too much for your current staff to handle. This will ensure your customers and staff are taken care of which will ultimately produce more sales.

4.  Differentiate yourself.

The most important part of preparing for the busy season is differentiating yourself. Everyone is looking to get some big slice of sales pie but not everyone will be successful around the holidays. Make sure you stand out!

For instance, to prepare for Cyber Monday, we offer a huge sale on all our products, up to 50 percent off. When all the sales are done on Monday, we extend our promotion to Tuesday picking up all the late comer consumers. Hold off on sales in the month of November and hit your customers with promotions come December. After the holiday season is over, leave them alone: You do not want to become a nuisance. Ultimately be bold. Be different.

Related: 5 Ways to Winterize Your Business

Phishers’ Attacks Pay Off Nicely: Report

The most successful phishing attacks manage to dupe their victims a full 45 percent of the time, according to a study released last week by Google.

On average, phishing’s success rate is about 14 percent, but even the most obvious scams still manage to lure 3 percent of the people targeted to a fake website and convince them to turn over personal information, the report found.

“Considering that an attacker can send out millions of messages, these success rates are nothing to sneeze at,” said Elie Bursztein, Google’s antiabuse research lead.

Google’s report, titled “Handcrafted Fraud and Extortion: Manual Account Hijacking in the Wild,” describes how professional attackers focus exhaustively on exploiting a single victim’s account, with the goal of causing financial losses.

Roughly 9 such incidents per million users occur per day, Bursztein said. To study the phenomenon, Google used 14 datasets collected between 2011 and 2014.

Phishing Works

“The simple answer is, phishing works,” John Shier, a security advisor at Sophos, told the E-Commerce Times. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so popular with cybercriminals.”

A hijacked account is “very valuable to an attacker, and there are many ways to accomplish that,” he added. “Manual hijacking is just one way to do it.”

About 20 percent of the hijacked accounts identified in Google’s study were accessed within 30 minutes of the hacker’s acquisition of its login information. Once inside, hijackers spent more than 20 minutes there, often changing the password to lock out the true owner, searching for other account details, such as bank information and social media accounts, and scamming new victims.

People in the contact lists of hijacked accounts are 36 times more likely to be hijacked themselves, Google found.

Password Reset Gone Wild

“The account hijacking data from Google paints a clear picture of the threats facing Internet users today,” Mark Stanislav, security project manager with Duo Security, told the E-Commerce Times.

One particularly interesting result: Google observed a 2:1 rate of phishing campaigns targeting email accounts versus banking information, Stanislav pointed out.

That “makes a lot of sense,” he said. “Once an attacker can access a user’s email account, they can often perform password-reset operations for many sites and services, allowing them to go much further into a person’s life than just a single bank account could.”

2-Factor Authentication

Also notable is that only 14 percent of accounts relying on “challenge questions” for account recovery succeeded in restoring access, while the rate was 81 percent when a user leveraged SMS to do so, Stanislav added.

“This statistic shows that users who do get hijacked need a reliable means that is more physical rather than knowledge-based to recover accounts easily,” he explained. “This same principle can extend to the reason why authentication that uses a user’s smartphone is a great means to prove that they are who they say they are.”

Two-factor authentication technologies are a key to reducing attackers’ success rates, Stanislav said.

Attacks on the Rise

While Google has used the findings of its study to improve the account security systems it has in place, it also encouraged users to be proactive, such as by reporting suspicious emails, giving Google a backup phone number or secondary email address for emergency contact, and using two-step verification.

“There is a shared responsibility on the consumer side to educate themselves regarding phishing and online fraud,” Ken Westin, security analyst for Tripwire, told the E-Commerce Times. “It is particularly timely given the holidays, when phishing and cybercrime in general are on the rise.”

Two-factor authentication is “a good idea all around,” Westin noted, “and not just for email but also social media accounts — most mainstream services provide this feature.”

In general, “consumers should never click on a link that appears to come from your bank or financial institution,” he warned.

“Instead, go directly to your browser, enter the URL of the bank and log in directly,” Westin advised. “If it is an urgent matter, it is recommended that you call your bank directly to verify.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

Cortana Goes to Work for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Users

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a slew of new features and functionality for Microsoft Dynamics CRM at its Convergence 2014 conference in Europe. One of the most striking is the addition of Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant.

The company also added the ability to create predefined and configurable processes using branching logic, near real-time calculations and roll-ups for business information, and client API enhancements.

Further, it unveiled templates for a number of industries, including financial services, retail, public sector, manufacturing and professional services. By the end of the year, it plans to have 27 templates available.

Adding Cortana

The addition of Cortana, however, is perhaps the most significant development for the immediate term.

The voice-activated personal assistant, already available in Windows Phone 8.1, has been well received in most quarters.

Embedded in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Cortana can set up meetings and add reminders via voice commands. Cortana can search for contacts, accounts and activities, and provide specific customer lists or create new records.

“Adding Cortana to Microsoft Dynamics is a very interesting innovation in CRM technology,” said Chris Tratar, vice president of product marketing for Savo Group.

“Currently, there are many solutions out there that are designed to help make it easier for sales reps to leverage CRM systems without going through the traditional Web user interface, including mobile apps that help capture notes and easily surface appointments and tasks,” he told CRM Buyer. “Cortana is the next logical extension to that.”

A New Omnichannel Product

In related news, Microsoft announced a partnership with to develop an omnichannel customer engagement product based on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform and’s ONE Engagement Hub.

This product will connect customer insights and context with visualization and analytics to allow a company to communicate with its customers through all omnichannel touch points.

“With, you can very simply develop and visualize a customer journey path, with relevant activities that cross multiple channels, so that your customers can interact with you in the manner that best suits them,” explained Bob Stutz, corporate vice president of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“At the same time, you are able to garner fresh insights into their digital footprint, to see how they are interacting with you and what their behavior patterns are,” he noted.

The Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 release will be generally available in December 2014.

An Invigorated Microsoft

Cortana is just one piece of a larger story under way at Microsoft, said Laura Didio, principal of ITIC.

“Microsoft, under CEO Satya Nadella, is firing on all cylinders,” she told CRM Buyer. “It is adding functionality throughout its product portfolio, making its offerings more relevant and far better able to compete against other productivity and enterprise software apps.”

This push is working, DiDio added, pointing to a reinvigorated Microsoft Surface tablet that is starting to gain traction and Microsoft’s step-up in advertising in general.

“Microsoft has been busy filling in the blanks,” she said, “and you can see that it is working.”

Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Strategies to Drive Shoppers to Your Online Store

Ecommerce sites face countless challenges and numerous rivals. However, crafty business owners can learn from the experts to get ahead and get tractions. Keep in mind these tips for driving users to your ecommerce ecommerce site.

Pick a niche – and dominate it. How do you compete with a company as big and successful as Amazon? The answer is that you don’t. It would require countless millions of dollars to even begin to challenge Amazon, so the key is to find one tiny corner of a very specific industry and master it. “For new entrepreneurs, embracing a niche is the best path to success in the short term,” says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom.

Eric Siu of Single Grain agrees, pointing out that every massive business got its start in an extremely specialized area before expanding. “Look at the Apples of the world,” he says. “Focus on one thing first, be really good at it and continue to expand to other areas as you grow.”

Related: 3 Ways to Be More Savvy about Free Shipping

Make your offer clear. Explain why customers should shop with you. Marketing consultant Brian Honigman says if you sell white t-shirts, ask yourself why yours are of more value to a customer than someone else’s and communicate that value. If you cannot offer a unique, one-of-a-kind product, you have to deliver that product or offer it in a fresh way. Then suss out how you can convey that value. Says Siu, “You need to be doing something unique so people will talk about it and it’ll be press worthy.”

Honigman recommends new ecommerce sites look to for ideas on how to communicate your unique value to customers. An online wholesale store, Boxed differentiates itself from the competition by building its entire brand around lower prices and larger quantities of goods. Their brand is clear and present across all platforms, from mobile devices to social media services like Instagram. “They have a clear message that’s consistent across every channel where they’re active,” Honigman says.

Related: To Beat Ecommerce Rivals, Know Your Shipping Options

Content is still king. As with any other online business, having a sound content strategy will remarkably improve your site’s reachability and SEO. Don’t just reuse the copy that the manufacturer provides, for instance, our experts suggest. Not only is this boring, but it could trigger duplicate content penalties with Google and will harm your site’s visibility.

The solution is simple: get creative. “Start with unique content on each page,” DeMers says. “Adopt a content strategy, execute it well and augment it with social media marketing to build and differentiate your brand.” Publishing content that reinforces your brand, on and off your site, will prove beneficial to SEO in the long run, driving organic traffic to your site.

Seek out your audience. Honigman suggests you discover where future customers will exist online and to go to them. This strategy requires research and listening close to conversations on Twitter, blogs and other online platforms but the legwork will be worth it in end. Through this process, you’ll learn in real time what your potential customer is looking for, how you can meet their needs and on which platforms you should be active.

Once you know whether sites such as Facebook or Pinterest are a fit for your customer, you can reach out with your unique brand message and start educating your audience.

3 Tips to Reduce Cyber Monday Returns

For most retailers, there are two sides to the holiday season: long periods of preparation, followed by short intense bursts of execution. No day is more intense for online retailers than Cyber Monday.

As Black Friday remains the apex for brick-and-mortar stores, Cyber Monday has become the digital equivalent for online retailers. With it less than two months away, now is the time review your Cyber Monday returns plan. 

The National Retail Federation has forecasted that holiday sales will increase more than 4 percent to $616 billion this year. In addition, online sales are expected to grow 8 percent to 11 percent, more than twice as fast as brick-and-mortar purchases.

According to a survey conducted by the Retail Equation, here’s how returns stacked up for the 2013 holiday season: More than 10 percent of holiday sales were returned within 90 days of purchase. And holiday returns cost retailers more than $58 billion in revenue.

As Cyber Monday becomes increasingly popular among consumers, ecommerce retailers provide a purchasing experience from the convenience of a screen, instead of in the long lines associated with Black Friday.

But an online product order comes with a level of uncertainty. What happens if the product arrives and it’s not what the customer expected? Or what if the customer has a frustrating experience with assembly? How can product returns be reduced to keep sales and profits rising?

Here are three tips to follow now to reduce the amount of Cyber Monday returns:

Related: Can Topple Amazon This Holiday Season

1. Offer customers support.

Support is a vital element of the customer experience. Being prepared and answering questions in advance of a purchase will help to prevent returns and increase customer satisfaction. This can mean providing an updated frequently asked questions (FAQ) page on a website, a live chat for buyers or knowledgeable call-center agents.

2. Set proper staffing.

How is your business prepared for the staffing requirements of the holiday season? With the customer experience at stake, big retailers are not taking any chances. Macy’s has topped the list this year with an expected 86,000 job openings, about a 4 percent increase over the 2013 season.

As your company prepares for the influx of online orders, make sure the warehouse is prepared to handle Cyber Monday transactions. This includes assuring adequate amounts of workers and products, as well as shipping the correct products and sizes to customers. Take the time to train new staff properly to avoid shipping errors or delays. Products that do not arrive in a timely manner stand a greater chance of being returned. 

Related: Into Shape Before the Holidays (Infographic)

3. Provide accurate product descriptions and images.

Without a physical product to touch, online customers are forced to draw their own conclusions based on site descriptions and images. Portraying products in an accurate and pleasing way is vital to closing sales and keeping them from returning to the warehouse a few months later.

Take the time to figure out the products that had a high return rate last year and amend their descriptions and imagery. Work with the customer service team to identify the top questions asked about your products and add this information to the product page and product FAQ. Accurately representing these products will prevent returns down the road.

Providing a video of the product in motion is even better. The closer you can bring your customers to the experience of shopping in the store, the fewer returns you’ll have as a result of improper product perception. 

The benefits of having a preholiday returns plan are many: improved client satisfaction and retention and an overall increase in customer lifetime value. This is a gift smart retailers can enjoy all year long.

Related: 5 Ways to Prepare Your Website for Cyber Monday

Zuckerberg Talks His Way Into Chinese Hearts and Minds

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on stage at Tsinghua University in Beijing Wednesday for a 30-minute Q&A session, the audience expected him to do what foreigners generally do: Utter a few words in Mandarin to acknowledge their culture, then depend heavily on translators.

Instead, Zuckerberg elicited gasps of approval from the audience when he spoke in Mandarin all the way.

He had a strong American accent, it is true, and he often groped for words, but he managed to make himself understood and even crack a few jokes.

The episode sparked a media frenzy, with some reports criticizing his heavy accent, others saying he spoke broken Mandarin, and still others calling his mastery of the language “fluent.” At one point, he apparently had difficulty pronouncing “billion” in Chinese, and seemed to claim that Microsoft had 11 customers and Facebook 11 mobile users.

Speaking in Tongues

Zuckerberg’s reported mistakes are all grist for the media mill, but so what?

“He could make himself understood, which is pretty good for someone who seems only to have been working on it for a year or so,” said Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Eliaser Chair of International Studies and chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley.

“You can tell he uses it, [probably] with his wife’s paternal grandmother, because his ability to express himself outpaces his vocabulary at this point, where for many book learners it’s quite the opposite,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with students and faculty at Tsinghua University is quite impressive and notable — not only because it demonstrated his proficiency in Mandarin, but because he was doing so as an American CEO of a major global corporation,” noted Joseph Pastore Jr., professor emeritus at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business.

Hen Hao, Hen Hao

Zuckerberg at Tsinghua University because he has been named to the advisory board of the institution’s school of economics and management.

Facebook is under increasing pressure from competitors such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, and needs to expand to fend them off.

There’s speculation that Zuckerberg’s seeking to have Beijing lift its 2009 ban on Facebook. Other social media services, such as Twitter, also are banned, and LinkedIn censors entries in its pages for its Chinese version.

China has nearly 620 million Internet users, according to Statista, equivalent to about half the number of Facebook users worldwide, 1.3 billion.

China would give Facebook access to 1.5 billion potential users, and “if Facebook becomes dominant in three corners of the world — India, Brazil and China — it will have accessed half the world’s population with just these three nations out of about 200 worldwide,” Pastore told the E-Commerce Times.

Paving the Road

The astonishment that greeted Zuckerberg’s performance in Mandarin is understandable.

“Most of the world’s CEOs assume that English is the world’s language, especially in commercial and professional settings,” Pastore said.

However, speaking Mandarin “should make sense in this age of global business, especially given the size and success of China,” he added.

China now powers the global economy, and its announcement earlier this week that third quarter GDP has slowed to 7.3 percent is widely seen as being bad for the world as a whole and for the United States.

Facebook needs to collaborate and coordinate with Beijing if it wants to succeed in China, observed Chris Tang, visiting distinguished management and operations professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“Knowing some basic Chinese and Chinese culture will go a long way,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Showing respect and understanding can make your potential partners open up to discussions,” Tang said.

China has blocked social media platforms “out of fear,” he added. “If Zuckerberg can address this unspoken fear in a subtle way that can earn the trust of the Chinese government, he may have a chance — but he needs to earn the trust first.”

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it’s all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon’s Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

The Customer Science Revolution

Bluewolf, the consultancy that was founded to assist customers implementing and deploying, has released its annual State of Salesforce report. The company started this practice a few years ago, using MIT Sloan School of Management personnel to interview Salesforce customers, and the methodology is tight.

So what’s in the report? Just what you might expect, with growth in all sectors of Salesforce’s business. Bluewolf CEO Eric Berridge attributes all of these floating boats to the rising tide that Gartner has forecasted — that the CRM market will Eclipse ERP as the largest enterprise software market by 2017.

There is very little that’s controversial about Bluewolf’s numbers. Salesforce is a juggernaut at this point, growing at an exceptional and exponential pace — and if Bluewolf’s numbers are to be believed, there is significant demand in most areas of the company’s business.

My only quibble with the account, and it’s just that, is that it mirrors most of the industry in not looking very far, if at all, beneath the surface of the statistics. Most of the data simply reports on exponential growth and forecasts that it will continue. To say, as the report does, that this is all driven by “digital disruption” is to give a name to a phenomenon without identifying a cause — and the cause is important.

Focus on the Front Office

Throughout the front office, the impact of big data is being felt as businesses realize that rather than following hunches, as they might have just a few years ago, they can collect customer data and, using advanced analytics, extract meaningful information from it that helps managers drive the business.

This is a big deal, because applying analytics to relevant data is elevating front-office business from a random set of actions supported by electronic file cabinets to a science.

It will take time for us to grasp the significance of customer science, but it is causing a revolution as important as when the back office adopted the Six Sigma and ISO9000 approaches.

A long time ago, ERP went from back-office accounting to statistical management of manufacturing, and the approach spilled over into many other disciplines where quality and precision were vital. The result has been far better manufacturing techniques and much more reliable products.

Statistical quality approaches also have enabled manufacturing at smaller scale and can be credited at least with part of the gadget revolution. Sometimes I think we make these things — at least in part — simply because we can.

So the front office is decades behind the back office in adopting statistical quality techniques, but it arguably was a harder job. In the back office, you can attach various sensors to machines and gather data, but in the front office you first need to build the sensors — things like the Internet, websites, and then social networking and other tools — so the lag is understandable.

Nevertheless, the front office’s time is here, and as The State of Salesforce shows, the marketplace is adopting advanced sales and marketing, as well as service automation, community, analytics, mobility and other technologies, because most managers sense the scientific revolution now taking place — even if no one has yet put a name on it.

Transformation, Not Death

So let’s turn our attention from the fact of uptake and deployment to their aftermath. What happens when every vendor has the ability to reliably and accurately access customer input regarding products, services and unmet needs? With ERP, we got higher-quality products, but we also saw finer-grained improvements.

Thirty years ago, cars still had carburetors and distributors and could be hard to start on a cold morning. Today, there’s electronic fuel injection, and distributors have been replaced by direct ignition. These and many other improvements came about because carmakers could build smaller and more-refined components using optimized robots, and because the cost of chips to drive them came way down — all thanks to better manufacturing.

So the question should be asked: What improvements in the vendor-customer relationship will accrue because of customer science? It’s a tantalizing question, with scary and exhilarating answers. Vendor-customer relationships will be tighter, while many of our devices gain the autonomy to act on our behalf to order and pay for products and services.

Will there be a backlash against the automation the way some people voice privacy and security concerns today? And will the automation make it nearly impossible to change vendors? Will vendor relationship management (VRM) — a long-term research project for some — finally become the customer response to all this automation?

Many other questions will need to be answered, but I firmly believe that — contrary to some of the recent prognostications of its death — that CRM is alive and morphing before our eyes into customer science.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at You can also connect with him on Google+.