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5 Ways CRM Companies Can Be Good Corporate Citizens
Consumers increasingly want to do business with companies that are socially responsible, and CRM buyers are no exception. Part two of a two-column series.
Posted Feb 8, 2016
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These days, consumers expect companies to make business decisions that benefit not only their bottom line but society at large. This expectation extends into the software realm—particularly for popular products in categories such as customer relationship management (CRM) software and technology tools.

In part one of this series, we pointed out that the majority of CRM buyers in a recent survey consider the "good citizenship" of their CRM vendors when making purchases—70 percent say it will be an important factor in their next purchase decision. They're also willing to make trade-offs in exchange for knowing the software they use comes from a "good" vendor, one with good corporate social responsibility (CSR). But vendors may not know how to demonstrate CSR in a way that resonates with buyers.

"I think in today's world it is pretty pervasively expected that companies are 'good corporate citizens.' I think the problem is that it is not always clear what that means and not all 'good corporate citizenship' is created equal," said one buyer.

Indeed, the buyers in our survey specifically name a few CRM vendors that stand out from the crowd as having good CSR—Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe. What are these vendors doing so well that makes them top-of-mind for CRM buyers?

To find out, we took a closer look—and noticed some commonalities.

They're transparent and practice accountability. The CRM vendors most recognized for their efforts have proof of how their initiatives are paying off: They freely share the measurable results of their CSR programs, and regularly publish reports on progress. What's more, in these reports and communications, they express a sense of ownership—even if it means admitting to imperfection. Today's buyers are more critical of companies and look for those that demonstrate integrity with their CSR claims.

For example, Oracle provides comprehensive reports on its initiatives. Jon Chorley, Oracle's chief sustainability officer, expressed a refreshingly honest assessment in one of his public statements. "We are proud of our accomplishments, but we realize there is always more to be done as we journey to maximize our sustainability."

This sends the message that CSR is not just a tactic to boost brand reputation in the short term, but is also a long-term commitment.

They give more than just cash. Many organizations still equate philanthropy with giving cash donations. While our model CRM companies donate generously to various organizations and initiatives, they also engage in substantial non-cash giving. Consumers recognize the low effort it takes to write a check. Thus, companies whose employees actually participate in volunteerism set themselves apart from the rest.

For example, Salesforce practices an integrated philanthropy model that encourages positive social change not just through fundraising, but also by offering support. The company's Pro Bono Program matches nonprofits and higher education institutions with Salesforce professionals who help these organizations use Salesforce products to increase social impact.

Similarly, Adobe's Pro Bono Initiative builds relationships between employees and nonprofit partners through skilled volunteering. The company even ties employees' participation to their professional development plans. 

They incorporate CSR into all aspects of business. These CRM vendors maintain an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct. This could include things like ethics training, whistle-blower protection, donation-matching programs, hiring socially conscious employees, and offering resources to support a diverse employee base.

For example, Microsoft has implemented strong anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies. It even offers an "Integrity Hotline" for anonymous, non-retaliatory reporting of violations of company policies, laws, or regulatory requirements. Additionally, it achieved a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index. That the company earned this ranking for nine consecutive years shows a long-standing commitment to internal diversity.

They develop products in line with CSR values and initiatives. These companies find ways to incorporate CSR values in the products they develop. This may be demonstrated in system design or purpose, or by explicitly measuring the impact of creating new products on society and the environment.

For instance, Microsoft developed Internet browser features that detect phishers, scammers, and hackers, helping consumers better control potential online tracking—which demonstrates the value it places on security and safety. And Adobe reported that in 2014, the use of Adobe eSign for 31 million electronic document transactions saved 11.6 million pounds of wood and 35 million gallons of water.

They cater to stakeholders by offering well-made products. Buyers in our survey say they're willing to trade some features and functionality in a CRM in exchange for a system that comes from a vendor with good CSR. For instance, many say they would accept a less attractive interface, less customization options, and fewer features.

Of course, many buyers also value vendors that can offer both a well-made system and good corporate citizenship. CRM vendors that communicate dedication to both software buyers (by producing great products) and the world at large (through their CSR initiatives) are likely to stay top-of-mind with consumers.

What these CRM vendors are doing is working. The proof is in the numerous awards, recognitions, and accolades each has won for their initiatives. This public recognition helps strengthen the brand reputation of these CRM vendors and positions them as CSR leaders. It also cements these companies in consumers' minds as good corporate citizens.

Here are examples from 2013 to 2015:

Salesforce

Microsoft

  • World's Most Ethical Companies, Ethisphere (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index - 100% (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • Climate Performance Leadership Index and Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (2014)

Adobe

  • World's Most Ethical Companies, Ethisphere (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • CDP Global Climate Change Report (2015)
  • Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index - 100% (2015)
  • FTSE4Good Index Series
  • The Newsweek Green Rankings (2015, 2014)

Oracle

  • Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index - 100% (2015, 2014, 2013)
  • Silicon Valley Business Journal Corporate Philanthropy Awards (2014)
  • Foreign Policy Association's Corporate Social Responsibility Award (2014)
  • Kent University's Innovation Award, "Impact Through Knowledge Exchange" (2014)
  • Silicon Valley Business Journal Corporate Philanthropy Awards (2013)

Luke Wallace is a researcher and strategist for Software Advice who has worked at Facebook, Mercedes-Benz and the American Cancer Society. Luke now focuses his time researching and writing about CRM market trends and technologies. He can be reached on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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