For a long time, business communication flowed in one direction: from active (some would even say overactive) marketers and advertisers to passive customers.
It was the Mad Men era of eye-popping ads and jaw-dropping promotions. “Customer engagement” was largely a matter of assembling focus groups to analyze consumer preferences like a scientist studies laboratory rats.
All this began to change significantly in the mid '00s with the advent of blogging. Suddenly, customers could react, respond and weigh in, rather than merely begrudgingly consume corporate marketing messages. Customers understood they could participate in sales and marketing communication; and their preference gradually changed from being ‘sold to’ to having ‘conversations with’.
Related Article: How to Develop and Maintain Client Relationships
The Social Web
Fast forward to today, and we easily see how the dynamics evolved. Now, customers don’t merely want to participate in conversations, they want to control them. So where did this audacious attitude come from? The answer is social media.
When a person sets up a social media account, he or she owns it. People decide what content to publish, what content to share, which companies to like, etc.
The extent of social media participation is startling. Consider these statistics:
- Facebook: 1.35 billion active users
- Groupon: 43 million users
- Instagram: 300 million users
- LinkedIn: 332 million users
- Reddit: 174 million users
- SlideShare: 60 million users
- SnapChat: 100 million users
- Twitter: 284 million users
- Yelp: 139 million users
- YouTube: 1 billion users
Still not convinced? Check out the website cited above; it lists users for about 700 more social websites.
The Rise of CRM 2.0
The shift in customer attitude and action in regard to information flow and control is really at the heart of social CRM (customer relationship management), or "CRM 2.0". Acknowledging that customers are in control, social CRM strives to listen to target audience conversation and behavior, connect with relevant audiences on multiple company-managed social websites, link communication-response events together, deliver relevant audiences a consistent, integrated customer experience, and finally, measure results and continuously improve.
If this sounds complex and challenging, it is. Many companies have often failed when attempting to install traditional CRM systems, and now they are being compelled to initiate social CRM systems that are required to do far more.
Traditional CRM was often used to automate existing sales and marketing functions: to collect data from a relatively small number of sources (e.g., website form and phone conversions, trade show leads), distribute the appropriate information to customer service and sales personnel, and then track customer service and sales progress and status throughout the customer relationship life cycle.
Related Article: Making the Switch to Cloud-Based CRM Software
Getting Started with Social CRM
The first challenge in building a social CRM solution is creating an active and effective social media presence.
A good first step in doing this is to begin monitoring social conversations in earnest. Another important outgrowth of the social Web is people talk to each other about companies, brands and products. The company itself need not be involved in the conversation at all, and if it isn’t, an excellent place to start building connections between relevant audience members and a firm’s own social media sites is to engage people talking about them.
Not only does the monitoring and engagement effort build a base of followers for a firm’s social media sites, but it gives the firm tremendous insight about what influences them to buy or not buy. The entire social media universe is the new focus group.
The second challenge is bringing sales, marketing and IT together on a social CRM solution.
If social CRM can be thought of as the sales response to the social Web, “omni-marketing” is the marketing response. The idea behind omni-marketing is providing customers and prospects with a consistent experience across all marketing channels, both digital and traditional.
Obviously social CRM and omni-marketing are closely connected in their objectives, data collection needs and metrics. IT personnel will need a deep understanding of sales and marketing needs in order to seek and implement technologies that support the various operational needs of both programs.
Vetting social CRM/omni-marketing technology vendors must be undertaken with great care; as things stand, the market is full of vendors with solutions for monitoring, CRM, data integration and management, and analytics. Some of these companies are established players, while others have only months of experience.
Although implementing CRM 2.0 seems like a daunting task, it is perhaps as unavoidable as installing telephones was in the last century. There is no point in crossing one’s fingers in the hope the social Web will fizzle away. It is much more likely we are only scratching the surface. Companies that fail to keep their sales and marketing systems aligned with today’s customers run the risk of facing the even more daunting task of implementing CRM 3.0 five years down the road.