The Social Customer Wants Authenticity — Unless You're Fake Steve Jobs, Of Course

SAN FRANCISCO — At one of the keynote addresses at SugarCRM's SugarCon10 event here last week, CRM guru Paul Greenberg described the social CRM phenomenon as more than just a business revolution — it's a social communications revolution. Greenberg, the author of CRM at the Speed of Light and frequent speaker on the topic of "the social customer," told attendees at the annual event that customers are changing not only the way they interact with companies, but the basic expectations, as well. 

[Editors' Note: For an exclusive excerpt of Greenberg's book, see "The Shotgun Marriage of Sales and Marketing," in the February 2010 issue of CRM. Additional excerpts and CRM columns by Greenberg can be found here.]

For instance, in the 2008 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, 56 percent of consumers relayed that they place the most trust in "someone like me." That number went down in 2009, however, and Greenberg attributed the drop to the infiltration of brands in social media. Companies are undoubtedly using social media as a new channel for marketing, he said, but some are doing a better job of wrapping relevance around the message.

"When it comes to products and services, [customers] can go wherever they want," Greenberg said. "You have to give them more -- they need to control how they work with you." He then hammered home what social CRM means for sales, marketing, and customer service.

The New Sales Model:

Involving social media in the sales equation can mean salespeople getting involved in conversations with customers, whether to impart knowledge or to gain insight. Greenberg said social sales means turning to technology such as sales intelligence tools and collaboration platforms to share best practices with other salespeople and to involve social networks to learn more about leads and opportunities.

The New Customer Service Model:

Though customer service has always been a core tenet of CRM, Greenberg argued that it has now become the most important. Suddenly the community is involved in customer service — and with platforms for social networks, forums, and social media monitoring, companies are able to connect with customers in the method of the customers' choosing.

The New Marketing Model:

"Authenticity and trust is what matters," Greenberg stated, "more than even the 'consistency' of the message." Relevance, he argued, is central in the effort of marketing to today's social customer.

The first step of engagement, Greenberg said, is to get customers involved in something you're doing. In other words, break down corporate walls to allow customers to give you feedback, help you improve, and serve as your advocates.

The message in Greenberg's presentation was clear: Be authentic. Ironically, later in the afternoon, another keynote presenter addressed the contrast of real and fake -- but not in the same way. Newsweek technology columnist Dan Lyons, perhaps better known as "Fake Steve Jobs," took to the stage to riff on the Apple empire and to share the experience of having been the inauthentic online alter ego of the Apple cofounder and chief executive officer.

Lyons had SugarCon attendees roaring with laughter as he went through slides mocking Apple enthusiasts, technology company executives, and, of course, Steve Jobs himself. Although most of Lyons' keynote was for the purpose of entertainment, he did share with attendees his views on the "chokehold" that Apple has over its customers. Lyons promoted the notions of openness and choice in a software ecosystem to replace Apple's preferred method of "lock-in." He also suggested that the methods used by Oracle, Microsoft, and other legacy vendors to bind customers under contracts should be extinct.

"That version of dealing with customers is a thing of the past," Lyons asserted.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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