When talking about social CRM with people, the first company that is mentioned often is Salesforce.com. It is weird to see how people link a topic such as social CRM immediately with a company or platform.
However, social CRM is much more than that. Yes, it is also about having a holistic and multichannel view on your customers and prospects. And, yes, it’s about social networks and CRM platforms too.
But most of all, at least according to me, it’s about a customer-centric mindset.
Regarding the platforms I can tell you this: for smaller, medium-sized and even large businesses there are plenty of other possibilities too: Zoho CRM, BatchBook, etc. They give you a view on your customers that includes their social media profiles. Furthermore, you can connect it to social email marketing platforms. This is not an ad, there are plenty of other providers over there that offer similar possibilities.
Having a complete overview of your customers might be ‘cool’ and give you the impression that you have a dashboard to ‘control’ your customers. If you think that, think again. You don’t rule the world sitting behind a computer. Customers are out there too. For me, CRM is just one element in the whole story, the key, however, is how you approach and deal with your customers.
It has to be customer-centric, no matter what channels you use (email, social media, whatever). It’s like in real face-to face contacts.
Listening to your customers is not something new
Long before I became (in order) a marketing manager and free-lance journalist, then a publisher, next an online publisher, then an interactive marketing consultant and now a guy that likes to be creative, write and launch all kinds of stuff, I was a sales manager for a global IT distribution company.
I remember that back then I wrote articles and even a book about Ethernet, Local Area Networks, Wide Area Networks, BBS and other things we don’t hear about very much any more.
Back to the essence: as a sales manager I was trained (I’m one of those people that went through the ‘Professional Selling Skills’ – PSS – program that was hugely popular back then) to listen to the needs of my customers, think with them, understand their challenges and issues and not selling them products but solutions that would help them to work in a more efficient and profitable way. It is exactly the same!
I was good in sales back then (now I don’t like to sell) for one reason: I put myself in the place of the customer, I knew the problems and challenges of IT companies (my customers), I knew the technical challenges they had, etc. To give you one example: I sold entire local area network solutions to my customers because I had learned to install them myself (back then, it was all Novell). OK, maybe I went a bit too far there and was like the actor that becomes the person he has to play in a movie but that’s what sales are about.
Now what has changed since then? At first sight nothing. The rules of customer-centric thinking haven’t changed. Only the ways we interact with customers have. There are fewer sales calls and plenty of other ways to interact with customers. And these customers are still people with challenges, needs and issues such as my customers ages ago.
Multichannel marketing is not new
Twenty years ago (that’s when I started, it was probably always like this) there were sales people that were completely customer-centric and even used what is now known as content marketing. While many of my colleagues were focusing on selling a license of Novell or some networking cables, I sold the full solution. Why? Because I knew what I sold and what my customers needed. And because I made papers for IT companies that didn’t know too much about local area networks, explaining how it worked, what they should know and even an overview of the configuration that best suited them. That’s what they bought from me. The software licenses, network interface cards, cabling and all the other stuff they then bought just were a result of that.
Later, as a marketing manager, working for a PC vendor, I did exactly the same. The first thing I did was setting up a website filled with information (we’re talking 1996 here) and create a catalogue that was 50% about products and 50% about content, tips, etc. The content was distributed via several channels including email, site updates and updated printed pages that customers could nicely include in their catalogue, replacing the outdated pages. There was no Twitter, no social media, but it was multichannel. Today, there are so many channels, and you can even talk with your customers via these channels and help them, that I’m horrified every time a friend calls me for advice to ‘convince marketers they don’t need to be on Facebook and Twitter because everyone is but that they need a strategy first’ (will tell you some stories about that, one of these days).
Anyway, again, there always were people that worked in a customer-centric and multichannel way. The problem is that companies didn’t think that way. When CRM solutions came along it was all about customer-centricity. However, the companies that implemented those solutions, were not thinking and working customer-centric, so they failed. Today, smart businesses understand that customer-centricity is key. But if I look at how some firms are looking at social media, social CRM, email marketing, etc. in this day and age, well, sometimes I feel like nothing has changed.
It’s not about the social CRM or social networking technology
It’s always a joy to discover companies that know how it works. Many businesses see the advantages of ‘multichannel customer intelligence’, social CRM and CRM 2.0 these days but many are not yet able to implement it.
And this is not some gutt feeling. Last year an Econsultancy survey found, for instance, that only 16% of the companies integrate online and offline marketing, only 13% take actions based on the customer behavior and only 11% use a ‘cross channel’ approach.
The good news was that it seemed that the surveyed companies did not lack the will to implement CRM 2.0 since 34% of them claimed that they put the customer first when making strategic decisions.
Most of them also said they saw the advantages of Customer Engagement.
As many as 68% indicated that information about the behavior of their prospects and customers would be an added value to their company but then again, only 45% is currently actually able to collect this data.
The more companies know about a customer, the more targeted and customer-centric their marketing and sales activities can be. So there is still a lot of work to do.
It’s not about the social CRM or social networking technology: it’s about what you, as a business, are prepared to do with it.
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