Pair CRM and Billing for New Insight

"Know thy customer" is a common business principle throughout many organizations. Businesses want to know who their customers are, what they want, and when they want it so that they can meet their demands and provide them with the best products and services. A more recent development in this business mantra is the reliance on "social" tools to achieve this goal.

Social was one of 2012's most popular buzzwords. Numerous social initiatives have been floating around the business world—social media, social enterprise, social customer relationship management, and more. Previously, businesses mostly used CRM applications to track sales opportunities, but the social movement has forced these applications to add to their core competencies.

At the most basic level, businesses can leverage social media to track customers' behaviors and comments. To truly react to customers and drive social CRM, CRM applications need to dig deeper into a company's ever-changing relationships with customers and partners. Managing these relationships means CRM applications need insight into a company's financial histories with its customers and partners. Therefore, CRM applications need to integrate with the organization's billing system.

Through this integration, an organization gains access to selected services, changes in packages, and other details that allow a company to better understand its customers. Billing systems contain financial details ranging from enrollment to payment to receipt. Previously, CRM applications gave companies an elementary way to manage relationships, but now companies can see that these relationships can be more than managed, they can be monetized as well. These relationships vary in nature—they can be subscription-based, such as those offered by Pandora, or pay-as-you-go, like that offered by Boost Mobile.

No matter what the type of relationship, the financial history and details offer a deeper framework to understand and push it. For example, if a company has this information at its fingertips, a sales representative can provide more appropriate offers to his customer based on the company's history with this particular customer. Furthermore, by integrating the CRM application with the billing system, this information will all be housed within the CRM user interface (UI) with which the sales representative is most comfortable.

Tracking clickstream activity can take this monitoring process a step further. Comparing the behaviors of customers against other cohort groupings allows for a superior social understanding of customers. Based on real-time analysis of a customer's activity, businesses can upsell more effectively, since they are acutely aware of a customer's immediate needs. However, it is vital to keep timing in mind, because reaching out to a customer after his time of need may only be somewhat successful. Therefore, looking even further into the crystal ball of social CRM, the future of social CRM will be dominated by both real-time behavioral analysis and the ability to respond immediately to customers' needs.

We live in a relationship-defined world, and relationships grow as parties share information. By presenting a more complete understanding of a customer to the individuals or systems that must support him, companies gain a far better perspective of the customer's service needs and his value to the business. Additionally, today is the age of the API. APIs' real value is the enabling of unfettered connectivity between systems. Organizations that have data silos can be crippled by lack of data visibility. However, businesses can now tear down system-based silos that characterized yesterday's marketing, sales, operations, and finance and support organizations.

So for now, how can companies leverage monetization and management tools to drive social CRM? Start with the CRM application and integrate it with a billing system. This allows businesses to better understand, engage with, and react to their customers, by analyzing vital information from the billing system, such as monthly recurring revenue, billing, and product sales data, without ever leaving the CRM UI.

There is vital information about customers sitting in company billing systems. By extracting that information and making use of it in combination with CRM applications, businesses can reduce or eliminate the friction that has prevented more effective monetization of customer relationships, leading to more engaged and meaningful relationships between a company and its customers, ultimately impacting the bottom line.

Scott Swartz is the CEO and founder of MetraTech. Previously, he worked for NetCentric, where he created the industry's first SGML/XML billing protocol. He has also been a director at Cambridge Technology Partners.

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