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How managers and vendors can help drive Social CRM

In talking to sales professionals, it's clear that there's an understanding of how social media can help them. But there's also a disconnect. Although many of them have integrated social media into their personal lives, they haven't quite grasped how to do that in their professional lives.

This disconnect presents managers with a great opportunity. Rather than waiting for reps to devise their own social media strategies and implement them on an ad hoc basis, sales managers have a chance to design new processes for using social media and social CRM and to encourage their reps to embrace them.

Just as it's been tough to get sales guys to use CRM software solutions, it's going to be tough to get them to make the jump to social CRM – but I'm betting this jump won't be as difficult, because most of them have familiarity with social media. They know how it works, but now they need to know how it works at work, so to speak.

That becomes the manager's job. He's got to let them know that it's okay to use on the job, and he's got to figure out how to use it best within his organization's sales processes. In many cases, this will come in the form of identifying a point in the sales process where the use of social CRM can help accelerate deals. Then, he's got to insist that reps go and look at this data before they progress beyond that point in the sales process. If he's picked the right point for the right data, the results should speak for themselves.

That means that the sales manager's job just became a little more difficult – he now has to be the guy who understands what tools are out there and which ones are right for his situation. In order to encourage his reps to use social media, he's going to have to be the evangelist – and you can't evangelize unless you're an expert on the story you're telling.

For vendors trying to tap this market, there's an opportunity here, too. That's the opportunity to lay out some use case scenarios and do some concept education targeted at those managers. They're the people advocating for the technology; that role no longer belongs to IT, which is still where many vendors tend to focus. IT can help with nuts and bolts issues, and also advise on strategic issues, but social CRM works only when it's oriented around users and the customers they interact with.

If a vendor can get the sales manager speaking his language, and the manager can speak to his reps and be understood, that vendor then has inroads into not just a sale but into a successful deployment where adoption is high, sales improve through the use of sCRM and, ultimately, builds a profitable customer relationship.

Could the cloud have a downside for software?

Salesforce's annual SaaS saturnalia Dreamforce is in full swing, and the general mood has been very upbeat. Maybe it's because we're near the holidays, or maybe it's because a lot of east-coastesr are here and have escaped the cold weather, or maybe it's because it's just fun being at a show held by a company that has the ability to laugh at itself. For example, during his keynote Marc Benioff was extolling the ability of the cloud to change the game for users in his usual animated way. "it makes software more flexible, faster and less expensive!" At that the audience let out a spontaneous laugh. Benioff stopped, turned to the audience, and winkingly said, "Well, inexpensive most of the time."

The cloud has commanded all the attention this time - a nice change from the themes of years gone by. Obviously, the cloud is an immense game-changer, and its ability to level the field in terms if functionality for small business represents a democratization of the business computing landscape whose impact we have yet to really feel. I would be tempted to say it meant nothing but good things if I didn't know better.

The cloud will have some downsides for the software market. I think it will be akin to what has happened to music and written material in the recent past thanks to the Internet. As it becomes easier to create and distribute, the tendency has been for the users to take that content for granted. We've seen written matter devalued this way – who pays for news on the Internet? – and music has suffered a similar fate, as evidenced by the digital sharing cases of the immediate past. Customers will pay what they believe something to be worth - and if they think software comes for free, that's the value they'll ascribe to it.

The difference here is that creating music and writing articles isn't necessarily a hugely expensive endeavor. They can be, of course, but most of the time they are not. But developing really great software does require a commitment of resources, especially when you're developing business-critical software.

There are plenty of small companies making CRM and ERP solutions and using the cloud to deliver them – not as many as there are on the Apple App Store, of course, but a healthy number. Buying on price alone could bring you a solution at a very low initial cost – but your vendor may not be in business when you need it the most.

That said, few people are assembling their software ecosystems in that cavalier a way - yet. But as we start to take apps for granted, especially when they're so easily available via the cloud, user companies must resist the tendency to apply their consumer software tendencies to their business software. Applying similar standards to cloud apps just because they are cloud apps could prove fatal. It could also have a negative impact on the ability of legitimate software companies to sustain themselves. While prices could certainly use adjustments in many cases (whose show are we at again?), price cuts that result in lower quality software is not worth the price.

CRM has always been social; Social CRM just makes it more so

Back in December, I argued that, within a short period of time, we would no longer say "social CRM." There would just be CRM, and the social networking aspect would be fully integrated; saying "social" would simply be redundant.

I was thinking about that last night and it occurred to me that we should have understood CRM to be social a long time ago. Really, if you haven't been pursuing a strategy of "social" CRM (not "social CRM" – and the location of the quotes is important here), you've been missing out on the opportunity the CRM promises.

What I mean is that the way organizations view CRM often devolves into a data or technology consideration. It's what the sales reps have to use to manage contact and sales information. It's what sales managers use to browbeat the reps. It's what marketing uses to generate lists. It's what stores all our customer data.

Yes, it is – but you need to translate that data, now that it's well organized, into human interactions to build customer relationships. That's what I mean by the "social" part of CRM.

There is a barrier, still, between what CRM promises to do and what organizations allow it to do. Far too many see it only as a sales force automation tool, and the idea of using it to actually build relationships with customers – the "C" and the "R" in the acronym – is kicked down the road. It's a nice idea, but until there's a clear cause-and-effect relationship beyond its direct help to sales reps, little effort's put into it. As one article's headline put it, "sales people are concerned about commissions, not about communities." Yes, but communities can lead to greater commissions. Sadly, a lot of thinking seems unable to go from A to C.

This represents a fantastic, frustrating failure of imagination. Instead of enabling your sales staff to call more people faster, you could be using CRM to create scenarios where people are actually looking forward to your sales reps' calls. You could be building the kind of customer relationships people talk about glowingly to others who could become customers. You could be creating customer partnerships not based on the thinness of your profit margin but on the positive personal perceptions your customers have of your organization and your people.

All those things are social – old-style social, as in people relating to one another, the way sales actually works in real life. CRM should allow you to scale these efforts – not suck the humanity out of your transactions. CRM has always been social; it's only the advent of the two-way customer relationship that's forced organizations to fully understand this.

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About is focused on cloud delivered business software solutions including Help Desk applications, Customer Service Systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and Social CRM systems. This blog and website includes market research, expert insight, peer advice and independent business software reviews and comparisons.




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