"Social CRM" — the buzzword at least — has been making the rounds lately, and I think many people are missing the main point about social networking and its place within CRM.
I agree with most that it's fun to use all the new Web tools to connect and converse with others. Accessing the information generated by these online relationships to create monetary gain is a valid and enterprising idea as well. But giving this practice a label — beyond "sales and marketing," that is — is a bit like calling kind treatment of your significant other "Relationship Appreciation," and suggesting it's a new concept that has never before been put into practice.
The fact is, "Social CRM" describes nothing more than what CRM vendors and their offerings have been providing users from the get-go: a method for managing and growing business relationships.
Most of us want to have conversations with many people on both business and personal levels, and to manage some separation between the two. Indeed, the plethora of Web tools and social networks now available allow us to connect in more convenient and, sometimes, more personal ways. It's vacuous, however, to put a new label on natural human behavior and call it "cool."
Still, if the label "Social CRM" somehow helps companies understand that people are people and should be treated as such, then I guess it's useful. But don't tout it as something new. This has been the intended benefit of CRM all along.
Social CRM is about conversations, not technology
Considering the early days of business communication, and the evolution of how business and social conversations become divided, helps illustrate my point.
The ancient bazaars are an early example of direct vendor and customer communication. These were real, immediate, honest, and loud conversations. People gathered to fulfill their specific needs. They shouted aloud to promote their offerings or exclaim what they were seeking, and in best-case scenarios mutual benefit resulted — eventually. Deals got done.
Over much time, the technologies we now take for granted came about and let vendors believe that spamming customers with more information to encourage them to buy more stuff was the same as communicating. Not surprisingly, consumers grew tired of this and began to clamor for a means to better filter all incoming social and business communication.
But think about it: Our human nature isn't hardwired to make this separation. We force ourselves to modify our natural communication style in business situations. This adjustment usually causes contention, as is evidenced by the number of customer hang-ups logged by contact centers.
It's really no surprise that the emergence of social networking finds us gravitating toward companies that use Web technologies in interesting ways to engage us as customers.
Successful companies that use social networking to manage conversations and aid their sales efforts exhibit common characteristics. These are simple things you, too, can do. Among them are:
Monitoring - Successful companies look for and listen to the social networks and online communities that are talking about them. There they find honest, unfiltered comments about their brands. They prioritize which topics to address, problems to fix, and advantages to leverage.
Participating - Once they know who's talking, where, and what the rules of engagement are within each community, successful companies start conversing online in a transparent fashion. More often than not, this shows customers that the organization "gets it," cares, and is approachable.
Creating - When a successful organization is comfortable with information exchange on social networks it creates meaningful content to share across them; not sales slicks, but helpful content that people will seek out and share. They may even create their own communities and steadily drive conversations there. This is the case for me as general manager of a software business applications company. We create communities for our major brands that function as hubs for product support, development, and discussion between customers and employees.
Innovating or Imitating - Sure, it's more interesting to innovate with the Web than imitate what has already been done, but if there's a best practice out there that fits — even from another industry — a successful company follows it, and saves innovation for another, more-applicable day.
Turning Virtual into Reality - Successful organizations come full circle with their Social CRM initiatives. And they do it by turning their online conversations into real ones. This may be in person, by phone, or via video conference, but it is sure to happen.
This last point is the most meaningful. I've experienced it firsthand, picking up the phone and calling customers who have voiced a product or support concern within one of our communities. In these instances, I find that customers are so pleased with the personal attention they receive that we not only resolve their concern quickly, we also build a lasting bond. They become customers for life.
That's what Social CRM is really all about.
About the Author
David van Toor is a senior vice president and general manager with Sage North America, focused on creating compelling customer experiences for millions of users at small and midsize businesses. He also speaks frequently at conferences about corporate leadership, practical innovation, and the impact of social media on business. More from David is available at http://www.davidvantoor.com.
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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.