This is not a numbers business

It's interesting being in the middle of a blogstorm. It causes interesting conversations, that's for sure! (Even here in the halls at Microsoft).

Tim Bray, of Sun Microsystems chimes in: "There's a word for companies that base all decisions on ruthless quantitative ROI metrics: Bankrupt."

My co-author, Shel Israel, in a followup to our failure to answer Werner's question, takes a second stab at "why Amazon should blog?"

Me? I go back to when I was a retail dude in a small store in Silicon Valley in the 1980s.

I learned that if you didn't open the door you didn't get any customers.

You had to open the door, even if you thought today might be a slow day and you'd be better off going to the beach (there were days when we did less than $500 in business, which didn't even cover our rent and electricity, much less our salaries, but we opened the door anyway).

This is a people business. Even when it scales all the way up to a billion dollar business.

I was reminded by that yet again yesterday. My cell phone rang. Rajeev Gopalakrishnan said hello. He runs a .NET User Group in Harrisburg, PA, USA and wanted me to help him find some more speakers for his user group. He invited me to speak.

Now, will that conversation add anything to Microsoft's bottom line? No. Will it show up on a spreadsheet somewhere? No. Will it satisfy Werner's question? No.

But it's exactly why I blog. I want to be found in the search engines. I want people to know there's a guy at Microsoft (actually, now more than 2,000) that cares about what his company does and is accessible.

I didn't start a blog to get 20,000 readers. I started a blog to talk with Dave Winer and Dori Smith and share with them what was going on in my life and tell them what I thought about what was going on in theirs.

Speaking of which, I disagree with Dave's take on this argument this morning. People shouldn't start blogging because their competitors are. They should start blogging because they want to talk with their families. Their friends. Their customers. And other people. About what they care about.

You know, we'll come up with demographics. Psychographics. Business intelligence. ROI graphs. And all that too.

But I really could care less about the numbers. Maybe that makes me a bad blogging evangelist. That's OK.

Our book tells you about 188 other companies and what they thought about blogging's effect on their business. Their relationships. Their accessibility.

David, in my comments, reasks the question again: "Why would people prefer to hear from Amazon over the authors who sell on Amazon and the other customers at Amazon?"

I go back to Rajeev. Why did he call me? I was accessible. He wanted to have me help him out. A simple phone call. A simple blog.

This is not a numbers business. It's a people business. Are you available to share your business with people or are you hiding behind customer support walls, spreadsheets, or IT solutions to interacting with your customers?

I am not going to remain a blogging evangelist. I have to get to work on Rajeev's request. That's the downside of being accessible. Your customers tell you to do more work. Off I go, have a good weekend!

Oh, and I remember my first interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He told me how he offered his Apple I to HP and Atari and was rebuffed. Why? Because his bosses at those two companies didn't think there would be enough people who would buy a personal computer.

In other words, Wozniak didn't have the numbers either. Did that matter in the end? :-)

Update: James Robertson, who runs his own business is a Product Manager for Cincom Smalltalk, says the same thing in his post "Trying to find the ROI in blogging."

78 thoughts on “This is not a numbers business

  1. When you have something to say you have to say. Some people will use your experience and will have fewer troubles in their lives. Some will agree the others disagree but still they will have the information, the arguments to make decisions. And as more people will make reasoned decisions the whole society will benefit!
    It’s terrible when people think only about money…

  2. When you have something to say you have to say. Some people will use your experience and will have fewer troubles in their lives. Some will agree the others disagree but still they will have the information, the arguments to make decisions. And as more people will make reasoned decisions the whole society will benefit!
    It’s terrible when people think only about money…

  3. Just demonstrating the ease of commenting on a blog to a new client. Nothing to see. Keep on going.

    MS

  4. Just demonstrating the ease of commenting on a blog to a new client. Nothing to see. Keep on going.

    MS

  5. @35, Its probably no surprise that even many of MS’s own internal PSS folks use google to find KB articles and other support info.

  6. @35, Its probably no surprise that even many of MS’s own internal PSS folks use google to find KB articles and other support info.

  7. Robert,

    I can tell you that in the IT industry, no, blogging is not doing squat to restore the trust that Microsoft pissed away. In fact, sometimes it may make things worse, because it can look like a blatant attempt to mislead and distract from the meat of things.

    It’s handy in that it maybe gives us another way to get things done, or maybe pick up a tip we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, but if you think that blogging alone is going to make Microsoft a trustable entity, even on a purely professional basis, then I would recommend you stop drinking so much.

    Here’s an example. You, and Microsoft talk all this crap about how you want to dominate the search space, yet the TechNet/support base/MSDN search engines suck, and have sucked for years. Where’s the dogfooding? Why is it that I can get better results from Google than the KB search? Why should I take MSN search seriously when the company that writes it isn’t using it?

    Why should I take “dogfooding” seriously when you don’t do it yourselves?

    The Amazon thing also implies a different relationship with Amazon than with a company like Microsoft. I go to Amazon to buy stuff. I don’t need employee opinions on them, they’re worthless if I don’t know the employee. When I want to find a particular book or video game, I don’t want blogs, ratings, and the other crapola. I want:

    1) I want to find what I am looking for as fast as possible

    2) I want to buy that thing in a fast, efficient manner and LEAVE.

    Everything about Amazon needs to help with that. The only blogging I would want might revolve around system status, (DVD store’s down, should be up in an hour) or new features

    If I can go in, get what I want, and leave in under ten minutes, Amazon is working *perfectly*.

    Amazon’s a middleman, not an end node. Blogging would only confuse that.

  8. Robert,

    I can tell you that in the IT industry, no, blogging is not doing squat to restore the trust that Microsoft pissed away. In fact, sometimes it may make things worse, because it can look like a blatant attempt to mislead and distract from the meat of things.

    It’s handy in that it maybe gives us another way to get things done, or maybe pick up a tip we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, but if you think that blogging alone is going to make Microsoft a trustable entity, even on a purely professional basis, then I would recommend you stop drinking so much.

    Here’s an example. You, and Microsoft talk all this crap about how you want to dominate the search space, yet the TechNet/support base/MSDN search engines suck, and have sucked for years. Where’s the dogfooding? Why is it that I can get better results from Google than the KB search? Why should I take MSN search seriously when the company that writes it isn’t using it?

    Why should I take “dogfooding” seriously when you don’t do it yourselves?

    The Amazon thing also implies a different relationship with Amazon than with a company like Microsoft. I go to Amazon to buy stuff. I don’t need employee opinions on them, they’re worthless if I don’t know the employee. When I want to find a particular book or video game, I don’t want blogs, ratings, and the other crapola. I want:

    1) I want to find what I am looking for as fast as possible

    2) I want to buy that thing in a fast, efficient manner and LEAVE.

    Everything about Amazon needs to help with that. The only blogging I would want might revolve around system status, (DVD store’s down, should be up in an hour) or new features

    If I can go in, get what I want, and leave in under ten minutes, Amazon is working *perfectly*.

    Amazon’s a middleman, not an end node. Blogging would only confuse that.

  9. Spot on! ROI isn’t everything…that’s why we are called human. Working in customer service has taught me to listen and understand the customer before attempting to deliver any product or service. Comments are the voices that help a blog stay true to its soul and links create a support system helping everyone stay True and stay Connected. Now…that’s more important than ROI can be at any point. If this sounds silly, maybe you’ll find my computer problem cartoons better( at http://spaces.msn.com/sillygloop/ )

    Blog on!

  10. Spot on! ROI isn’t everything…that’s why we are called human. Working in customer service has taught me to listen and understand the customer before attempting to deliver any product or service. Comments are the voices that help a blog stay true to its soul and links create a support system helping everyone stay True and stay Connected. Now…that’s more important than ROI can be at any point. If this sounds silly, maybe you’ll find my computer problem cartoons better( at http://spaces.msn.com/sillygloop/ )

    Blog on!

  11. Of course it’s a number’s business! Even people are a numbers business. I like friends. If I have no friends, the number is zero. If I have some good friends the number is non-zero. It matters.

    Maybe I want to get more contacts in my business life. I buy a better business suit (or cool new sneakers maybe in your case) because conventional wisdom tells me that if I look better, the number of contacts I have will increase.

    We have no “conventional wisdom” in blogging, so of course people are going to ask about the numbers.

    And of course you CARE about the numbers! Don’t tell me you don’t. You talked last month about “tips to get on the A-list”. No, no, let’s talk about the A-list again, please!. But my point was that your post was full of TECHNIQUES designed to INCREASE the visibility of your blog, and get bigger numbers. Is it just accident that you know these things? You do many of them yourself! And, you observe how these techniques work for others.

    Face it, you care about the numbers. Maybe you care about people too. I know you do, in fact. And I know you genuinely did START blogging for the reasons you describe. But, also, wasn’t it because it was a “cool way” to communicate and because you “believed in it” and over time wasn’t it also because you felt “MORE PEOPLE SHOULD DO IT”. Numbers.

    You can still be honest, ethical, and genuine while measuring how well you’re doing at it.

  12. Of course it’s a number’s business! Even people are a numbers business. I like friends. If I have no friends, the number is zero. If I have some good friends the number is non-zero. It matters.

    Maybe I want to get more contacts in my business life. I buy a better business suit (or cool new sneakers maybe in your case) because conventional wisdom tells me that if I look better, the number of contacts I have will increase.

    We have no “conventional wisdom” in blogging, so of course people are going to ask about the numbers.

    And of course you CARE about the numbers! Don’t tell me you don’t. You talked last month about “tips to get on the A-list”. No, no, let’s talk about the A-list again, please!. But my point was that your post was full of TECHNIQUES designed to INCREASE the visibility of your blog, and get bigger numbers. Is it just accident that you know these things? You do many of them yourself! And, you observe how these techniques work for others.

    Face it, you care about the numbers. Maybe you care about people too. I know you do, in fact. And I know you genuinely did START blogging for the reasons you describe. But, also, wasn’t it because it was a “cool way” to communicate and because you “believed in it” and over time wasn’t it also because you felt “MORE PEOPLE SHOULD DO IT”. Numbers.

    You can still be honest, ethical, and genuine while measuring how well you’re doing at it.

  13. but you have to measure your success somehow. A company like Amazon, and any F500 company that you think needs to start blogging will surely ask the question: “what will it benefit us?” And after that, they will ask “how do we measure the benefit?”. They can’t measure it by feelings, or number of comments, or the number of hits they get. It has to translate it a benefit to the bottom line. Otherwise it’s a waste of their time and resources. Companies exist to make money. So, while its great that blogging has perhaps had a slight improvement in customer satisfaction with their customers, I gotta believe at some point someone is going to ask if it is resulting in more software sales. The stock price seems to indicate blogging as not had a bottom line impact on Microsot.

    So, when you suggest that a company like Amazon could benefit from blogging, they are only right to ask you to prove it. Because I gotta believe that everything that Amazon does regarding customer interaction is wih the ultimate intent of selling more product. Otherwise, why would they spend the resources doing it.

    It’s admirable that you like Microsoft enough that you want to spend your free time singing its praises and pointing out its flaws on your personal blog. But, if MS or any company would like to implement blogging as a strategy, then you’d be hard pressed to convince any CEO that the numbers don’t matter when you are asking that CEO to apply their resources to such an endeavor. Again, that endeavor better ultimately result in better sales and thus more profits. That fact that a customer may think that it’s great a company’s employees are blogging doesn’t really matter if that customer doesn’t buy from that company. I submit that that is ultimately what mattered to Amazon.

  14. but you have to measure your success somehow. A company like Amazon, and any F500 company that you think needs to start blogging will surely ask the question: “what will it benefit us?” And after that, they will ask “how do we measure the benefit?”. They can’t measure it by feelings, or number of comments, or the number of hits they get. It has to translate it a benefit to the bottom line. Otherwise it’s a waste of their time and resources. Companies exist to make money. So, while its great that blogging has perhaps had a slight improvement in customer satisfaction with their customers, I gotta believe at some point someone is going to ask if it is resulting in more software sales. The stock price seems to indicate blogging as not had a bottom line impact on Microsot.

    So, when you suggest that a company like Amazon could benefit from blogging, they are only right to ask you to prove it. Because I gotta believe that everything that Amazon does regarding customer interaction is wih the ultimate intent of selling more product. Otherwise, why would they spend the resources doing it.

    It’s admirable that you like Microsoft enough that you want to spend your free time singing its praises and pointing out its flaws on your personal blog. But, if MS or any company would like to implement blogging as a strategy, then you’d be hard pressed to convince any CEO that the numbers don’t matter when you are asking that CEO to apply their resources to such an endeavor. Again, that endeavor better ultimately result in better sales and thus more profits. That fact that a customer may think that it’s great a company’s employees are blogging doesn’t really matter if that customer doesn’t buy from that company. I submit that that is ultimately what mattered to Amazon.

  15. One of the problems of blogging is that real-time thing. It’s ok to be passionate, until you figure out you are working on week ends. Hmmm. If that’s your own blog, it’s all fine, but if your blog is by any mean a voice for your company, then you are working for them for free on week ends.

    There is nothing wrong saying “we’ll get you answer on Monday”. Bloggers tend to avoid that, it’s uncool.

    Add that to the new nature of work these days in hi-tech with teams overseas that often require to work late hours.

    Add all of this, and think again.

  16. One of the problems of blogging is that real-time thing. It’s ok to be passionate, until you figure out you are working on week ends. Hmmm. If that’s your own blog, it’s all fine, but if your blog is by any mean a voice for your company, then you are working for them for free on week ends.

    There is nothing wrong saying “we’ll get you answer on Monday”. Bloggers tend to avoid that, it’s uncool.

    Add that to the new nature of work these days in hi-tech with teams overseas that often require to work late hours.

    Add all of this, and think again.

  17. Nobody: it’s ironic that someone who isn’t even willing to sign his or her name to his or her posts is saying “cheap shot.”

    Here’s the deal. I’ve written now thousands of words on this issue. So have many other people. If you aren’t yet convinced to blog after all that then you just aren’t going to be convinced, OK? So, move along and go back to your job where you aren’t even allowed to use your real name.

    There’s no way you’re gonna blog if you aren’t even willing to use your name here.

    Dmad: did I say +I+ cared? I care whether customers are happy, yes, but other people care about tracking the numbers.

    Blogging has been going on at Microsoft now for more than four years. If the numbers folks decide it isn’t good for business, it’ll stop. The fact that they haven’t stopped yet means that they like what they are seeing.

    But, I’m done. If you all want to keep arguing about this, go ahead. I’m going to try to have a weekend. I haven’t had one of those in a while.

  18. Nobody: it’s ironic that someone who isn’t even willing to sign his or her name to his or her posts is saying “cheap shot.”

    Here’s the deal. I’ve written now thousands of words on this issue. So have many other people. If you aren’t yet convinced to blog after all that then you just aren’t going to be convinced, OK? So, move along and go back to your job where you aren’t even allowed to use your real name.

    There’s no way you’re gonna blog if you aren’t even willing to use your name here.

    Dmad: did I say +I+ cared? I care whether customers are happy, yes, but other people care about tracking the numbers.

    Blogging has been going on at Microsoft now for more than four years. If the numbers folks decide it isn’t good for business, it’ll stop. The fact that they haven’t stopped yet means that they like what they are seeing.

    But, I’m done. If you all want to keep arguing about this, go ahead. I’m going to try to have a weekend. I haven’t had one of those in a while.

  19. @5. If it’s not a numbers business, then why care about what the cust sat surveys may say?

  20. @5. If it’s not a numbers business, then why care about what the cust sat surveys may say?

  21. “But, if you’re that risk adverse, then I definitely wouldn’t start a blog. You’d be boring and there’s nothing worse than a boring blog.”

    Cheap shot. Sorry I wasted my time trying to help you understand.

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