What you can learn from PTC's long journey to community
by Josh Bernoff
PTC is a company with 5,000 employees and 25,000 customers. It makes CAD (computer aided design) and PLM (product lifecycle management) software. The story of what it took for PTC to create a customer community is instructive, because it's not a straight line. In real companies, it's not easy to create social applications, so there's a lot to be learned from PTC. This is a good example of the kind of management stories we have in Empowered.
I encountered PTC in 2009. Robin Saitz, an SVP in marketing, hired Forrester Research to help the company with the appropriate strategy for creating a customer community. Robin and Rachel Nislick, PTC's Director of Interactive Marketing, had already decided to use Jive Software for the community, but there was some discomfort with the overall initiative from other members of PTC's management. (I'm grateful to Robin and Rachel for allowing me to write about this -- our projects for clients are typically proprietary to the client unless the client wants it to be otherwise.)
Two elements were at the core of the Forrester engagement with PTC. First, we undertook a large survey of their customers worldwide. And second, I interviewed many of their executives.
As it turned out, the customers were enthusiastic. With PTC's permission I'm sharing the Social Technographics Profile of PTC's customers. As you can see, they're not just ready for a social application, they're eager for it. This sentiment was robustly consistent across job roles and geographies and for customers of all of PTC's products. Other elements of the survey helped us to determine just what sort of features they would want in a community.
But this in itself was not sufficient. My interviews with their management revealed all sorts of concerns. Their customer service people were worried that a community might threaten maintenance revenues . Their CIO at the time wondered if Jive was the best platform. There was concern about how a new PTC community would live alongside and complement the existing PTC/USER online forums. And among product managers, some were far more enthusiastic than others. This is what it's like to do social technology projects in real companies.
I presented our recommendations to PTC's management team, who asked provocative and insightful questions -- they were truly engaged. At this point, I left PTC to its own devices and hoped to hear about their community launch soon after.
Instead, almost a year passed. But Robin and Rachel weren't just sitting around. They were building an ironclad case for the community. They conducted an extensive technical review of community platforms (in the end, Jive won). They lobbied and gained the support of management, including Jim Heppelmann, who is about to step up to the CEO job at PTC. They hired a community manager. And the product managers who were skeptical, one by one, started to become believers.
PTC's community launches this week. I expect this community to be very successful. The reason has nothing to do with features. It has to do with the preparation the company undertook to understand its customers and to align both management and IT behind the idea. Rachel and Robin are HEROes, and we profile them in Empowered because they demonstrate how, in real companies, launching social applications for a large customer base requires planning, politics, and support from all across the company.