Starting on the Right Foot with Social CRM

No one would argue that "velocity" is the priority for any start-up company. The value of speed centers on accelerating the time it takes to get past failures and arrive at success. Formal business plans are for big corporations with lots of time and money to waste — two luxuries most start-ups don't possess.

Maintaining momentum usually comes at the expense of several things — things like strategy and planning. But if a start-up loses momentum, a slow and painful death is sure to follow. As much as a start-up needs to focus on developing its Big Idea into an offering, it also needs to seek out, identify with, and develop a solid base of prospective buyers.

The Big Idea that spawns a start-up is rarely what the market wants.

Let's face it: When ideas and plans come in contact with the marketplace they're often demolished. However, the companies who can pick up the right pieces and organize them into a better offer are the ones that usually succeed. The market then shapes/molds the idea — and ultimately tells you what it's willing to pay for. The successful start-up will see the importance of coordinating and organizing this feedback, then augment its current offering or market position and get back out there.

If your start-up is funded and operating, then an addressable market must already be on your radar, but your people (your market) need to be sufficiently engaged with you in conversation that they'll want to do business with you when your offer or offering is ready. A social CRM strategy can help -- but let's start with the basics and call it a social contact management strategy.

The social Web can be leveraged in a powerful way. It's the backbone of velocity. You can get to an audience faster and, more important, you can get to the Nos and to the Yeses faster. The key is not getting caught up in inward strategic thinking and technology implementations. Instead, leverage the social Web with a good repository of content, spend your time outwardly, and find out what the market truly wants. As long as you can capture and analyze the information, you're better off than 95 percent of start-ups. The social Web and a decent contact management system are all you need in this phase.

Once people have begun to raise their hands and pull out their wallets for your Big Idea, that's when you invest the time in a more-mature CRM strategy. You now know who your people are, what they want, and how to connect with them -- i.e., you have the foundational ingredients you need to establish a CRM strategy that will allow you to become better, faster, and cheaper.

That strategy now becomes all about making your processes, people, and technology more effective and more efficient — which would've been a tough task when you were just getting off the ground, finding the addressable market, and understanding how to serve that market.

CRM helps automate a company's processes, but most start-ups don't yet have formal processes. CRM isn't going to help a start-up generate revenue from Day One. In the early stages, you can resist buying into a full-scale system. All you need is a Web-based contact manager and an email delivery tool. Coupling these with freely available social networking tools can increase your odds of success.

The social Web not only provides a broader and larger group to test, it encourages transparency and authentic communication — vital information that all start-ups need.

A few examples of how to socialize your Big Idea:

  • LinkedIn's Answers featureIf your target market is business professionals, I recommend engaging here, as well as among blogs targeting business professionals. You can build simple services that bring contacts and content from those social properties into your CRM or contact manager. Use that information to observe trending, then determine your next steps.
  • A Facebook Fan pageIf you decide to put your start-up in front of Facebook's 200 million members with one of these, be sure not only to fuel the page with your own useful content, but also to let users generate content for it as well.
  • A community-driven site — Finally, how about a simple, community-driven site -- perhaps on Ning or KickApps? These make it easy for you to offer up product features, vet ideas, and allow a community to promote or demote concepts and features. Even more meaningful is giving the community a platform to offer up its own ideas and desires. This is one way that Salesforce.com turned itself into a top player in the current CRM market.

If nothing else, as a start-up, don't get trapped in the traditional CRM soup of technology, planning, and strategy -- there will be time for that later. Inward thinking gets in the way of velocity. Instead, get focused — outwardly — on your market. With social media, find out who your people are, what they want, and how they want it.

By making this connection, you have a much higher probability of getting to those coveted successes. You can now build your processes around your people -- and build your technology around your processes -- using CRM and social media as a powerful engine.

About the Author
Brandon Zeuner is managing partner of Venture51, a venture-launch firm that specializes in helping early-stage technology startups go from idea to launch. Conceived in 2008, Venture51 provides tech entrepreneurs with the ingredients they need, not only to launch but to stay in perpetual launch mode. Venture51's offerings include launch-marketing services, investment strategy, sales and business development, and technology buildout. Building on a history of involvement in several successful technology startups — including Act!, SalesLogix, and Flypaper — Zeuner also blogs at http://www.bzkicks.com, and is on Twitter as @bzkicks.

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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.

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