Once a decade, a technology emerges that fundamentally changes the business landscape. In every case, companies that understand the technology win out. The 1970s had mainframe computing, and the ’80s brought us the personal computer. In the 1990s, the Internet revolutionized communications. Today, social technologies are rewriting all the rules.
Welcome to the World Wide Web of people, an era of human connectivity on a scale never before seen, and altering every aspect of the customer life cycle.
Marketers and salespeople need to be where customers are, and need to communicate through the channels customers prefer. That means participating alongside the 300 million people on Facebook worldwide, and the 45 million on Twitter, and recognizing these sites as important sources of information.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites have become CRM for individuals. They’re how a growing number of people manage relationships across personal and professional realms. Social media is reminding us — and vendors — that CRM should be about customers, not technology. The future of CRM will be transparent, customer-centric, and customer-driven.
Twitter exposes weaknesses and strengths, rants and raves, anything that anyone, located anywhere, wants to say about your company. Response time, tone, and actions allow companies to become transparent about their values, building (or eroding) their brands. Better yet, when a customer comes to a brand’s defense, that loyalty gets showcased to the world.
Online social networks, in other words, are bidirectional CRM. Customers and prospects can (and want to) learn as much about you as you know about them.
Every person maintains her own profile, so companies are no longer solely responsible for keeping customer data up-to-date. Privacy controls and the opt-in nature of Facebook fan pages and Twitter allow companies to generate high-quality — and highly qualified — leads while respecting individuals’ privacy preferences.
Thanks to social media, people are sharing more about themselves online than ever before. Everything individuals share about themselves on their profiles, including hometowns, alma maters, jobs, and hobbies, can be used by marketers and sales to personalize — and even “hypertarget” — communications. With hypertargeting, marketers can specify which audience segments see which ads — people with, say, “chief information officer” or “marketing” in their job titles.
Social CRM applications can enable users to view social media profiles and connections from within their lead and contact records to learn more about prospects and build better relationships with customers, improving the customer centricity of their interactions.
And just in time, too. Prospects will no longer tolerate a generic, product-centric sales pitch. They expect you to have done your homework about their company, industry, and personal preferences, and to come prepared.
The World Wide Web of information was content overload, overwhelming users with too many choices. The World Wide Web of people relies on those we like and trust as filters, delivering information that helps us decide what to read, what to buy, and what to do. Because of their broadcast nature, Facebook and Twitter are ideal platforms for word of mouth, which means existing customers will become a critical prospecting engine.
To cope with this new reality, companies need to rethink CRM from the ground up. They’ll likely need to invest more in customer loyalty and take steps to empower customers with tools, information, and incentives to be an effective sales and marketing force.
This is an exciting time for CRM. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media have made the Internet better: At long last, it’s all about people and not technology. Customers can finally become the true focus of CRM.
Clara Shih (@ClaraShih on Twitter) is founder and chief executive officer of Hearsay Labs, a software-as-a-service provider of B2C sales and marketing software for the Facebook Era. Shih previously worked at Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce.com, where in 2007 she developed the Faceconnector integration between Facebook and Salesforce CRM. An excerpt of her book, The Facebook Era (2009, Prentice Hall), appeared in CRM’s June 2009 issue on social media.
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