• February 1, 2012
  • By Brent Leary, cofounder and partner, CRM Essentials

Connecting with Customers Is Easier than Ever

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As we settle into a new year, many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are still dealing with challenges from previous years. Growing revenues, maintaining profits, and finding customers top their to-do lists. And the search for new customers, as well as keeping those they have, is a key reason SMBs have looked to CRM and social tools for help.

The rise of social and mobile technologies has made it easier than ever for SMBs to connect with customers and prospects. While this presents an opportunity, it poses a challenge too. We're not just competing with other vendors for customers' attention; we're competing with Twitter, Facebook, a zettabyte of available content, and Angry Birds.

As the world grows smaller, SMBs need to consider trends shaping business in order to succeed.

The Way to a Customer's Heart Is Through His iPhone…or iPad…or [Fill in Your Device of Choice]

Most of us would be lost without our mobile device(s). They are the windows to our worlds, as many people now communicate primarily through them. Today, more people have profiles on social networks than they do email accounts, and sales of mobile devices are poised to surpass those of laptops and desktops combined.

It's increasingly important to integrate mobility into all phases of customer interaction. Trevor Dryer, product manager of mobile payments for Intuit, said Intuit has noticed that many customers are now coming to it solely through mobile devices.

This is one reason Adobe's Anup Murarka feels it may be time to lead with a mobile engagement strategy. "You have an opportunity to interact with a customer far more regularly if you have a mobile experience. We have been recommending that a lot of our customers start with mobile designs. If you start with a mobile design, it's pretty easy to take that design, concept, or application, and move it to the desktop."

The beer guy at Seattle Mariners home games must agree. He's been taking orders on Twitter for a while now, turning one-off shouts for beer into return customers.

From One-Trick Pony to Business Strategy

The initial business focus for many social initiatives is on marketing, branding, and promotion. In the past, many companies took a disconnected approach to social engagement: one department (marketing/PR) engaging an audience (pushing out traditional marketing messages) for one purpose (customer acquisition), expecting it to solve major challenges for the whole company. Typically these interactions weren't integrated into traditional customer acquisition activities—they were completely stand-alone activities.

Using social in such a limited way—but counting on it to tackle the biggest business problems—is equivalent to finding the mythical magic bullet. While this approach works sometimes, it lacks the consistency to successfully address key business challenges over time.

A recent CRM Essentials/SMB Group survey of 750 SMB executives found that a more strategic, holistic approach that integrates social with more aspects of business improves the likelihood of consistent success. A few key findings show a dramatic difference between SMBs taking a strategic approach and those using a more informal one:

  • strategic users are twice as likely to have already integrated social media into their sales processes;
  • strategic users are more than five times as likely to measure customer retention metrics;
  • strategic users are almost three times as likely to use social media for product development; and
  • strategic users are twice as likely to use social media for internal collaboration.

In 2012, SMBs will probably continue to face the same tough environment they've dealt with in recent memory. As companies look at how social tools and strategies can impact business beyond one or two areas, they'll develop strategies that both use new tools and integrate new social philosophies into the way they engage customers and other members of the company. And they'll do a lot of that engaging over mobile devices.

Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm focused on small and midsize businesses. He is also the coauthor of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business.

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