CRM Trends in 2009 – Extension, Automation and Captivation

I’ve been talking with a lot of CRM folks lately, including executives leading the CRM product groups at large companies like Oracle and Sage.  I’ve also spent time speaking with those running startups like Batch Blue and Mercury Grove.  And recently at this year’s Small Business Summit, I hosted a panel on nurturing customer loyalty which featured executives from Microsoft, Google and Network Solutions.

What I’ve learned from these conversations is that the curiosity for CRM-related products and services is rising, seemingly in lock step with the decline in the economy.

And while I learned a great deal from talking to these executives, I learned even more from actual small business people.  Like the 300+ small business owners who attended the Summit who transformed our panel discussion on nurturing customer loyalty into an urgent call for learning how to reach new customers.  This was echoed by the 650 people attending a recent webinar I participated in which focused on the impact CRM can have on selling in a down economy.

As we continue to get bombarded with news of mass layoffs, record foreclosures and tight credit markets on a daily basis, it’s no wonder we feel like we’re under constant attack.  And after all of this economic shock-and-awe, many of us feel like curling up into the fetal position … in the corner of a well-fortified bunker.

Unfortunately, you can’t catch new business with your arms folded up tight while sitting in a bunker.  You can’t even hang on to your current customers in that position.

So we have to find ways to survive the perils of the economy while fighting the urge to “stop, drop and roll” ourselves into a “safe” hiding place, where the only thing we end up hiding from are our customers, and those looking for the products and services we can provide them.    Many small businesses — those willing to scratch, claw and fight their way through this recession — are looking to see how CRM can help them compete, survive and even thrive in this environment.  Here are a few trends to consider.

Trend #1 – Reaching Out

It’s scary out there, but now is not the time to come down with a bad case of alligator arms.  You know, like what happens in football to a wide receiver going over the middle for a catch, before deciding not to stretch out for it … when he sees a 250-pound linebacker coming at him like a runaway locomotive.  The fear of getting hit keeps him from going for the ball.

But what if it’s fourth down with a minute left, and his team is out of timeouts? Without reaching out for the ball there’s no way he can make the catch that “moves the chains”, and keeps his team’s hopes of winning the game alive.  And since he’s going to get hit whether he catches the ball or not, he might as well give it his all and try to make the catch.

While it’s totally understandable to fear the pain this economy can have on our businesses, we can’t let it keep us from going over the middle when we have to.  In fact it’s important to find ways to actually extend our reach, even while we defend our wallets.

That’s why many companies are turning to Web collaboration services like Webex, GotoMeeting, iLinc and others to hold virtual conferences.  These aren’t the typical hour-long webinars.  They are daylong events with multiple speakers and sessions, just like you’d find at traditional on-site events. Attendees can check things out from the comforts of their bunkers (aka offices). Presenters can present from … wherever.  Attendees can interact with presenters via instant message.  And networking can take place online throughout the day.

It’s not quite the same as a physical conference, but virtual conferences are also only a fraction of the cost, time and effort to put together compared to on-site conferences.  Yet they still reach a potentially large  audience.  Isn’t that worth a good stretch or two?  And you don’t even have to take a hit to do it.

Trend #2 – Automate This!

CRM applications have been great for helping us keep track of contacts and leads, tasks and activities, and to have a better grip on deals being worked on.  But one of the lesser-used functions of CRM apps is their ability to automate important processes for turning leads into customers.  Below is an image of a basic, traditional process flow for acquiring customers:

 CRM trends - traditional

As you can see there are a lot of moving parts here that we have to track in order to bring new customers on board.

For instance, there are a number of time consuming tasks associated with lead generation, lead qualification, opportunity management and other CRM related areas.  Automating lead entry is incredibly important, as many leads are not followed up on because they were never entered into a system.  In this economy can we really afford to let potentially good leads go ignored?

Automating these activities also allows us to have more time in front of people we want to do business with.  And with all the different activities we’re using to generate leads and build awareness for our companies, automating these processes will allow us to sift through the growing number of incoming leads and concentrate on the most promising ones immediately.  By finding the best leads quickly it may allow us to close them faster.

Additionally, those leads that aren’t quite ready won’t be ignored.  Instread, they will be warmed up with regularly scheduled communications, which may lead to sales down the line.  So automation in these areas can help us create more new business, in a more efficient manner.

Trend #3 – Social CRM and Mo’ Better Content

Content makes the heart grow fonder … at least in a Web 2.0 world.  I mean, just think of all of the information we take in on a daily basis that helps us stay informed about what’s going on in our business/industry.  When you need answers to questions you’re probably turning to Google, a favorite blogger, or Twitter.  And there’s probably no shortage of conversations taking place that may lead to great answers and great business relationships.

So if content really makes the Web 2.0 heart fonder, then conversations make its world go ’round, as the image below illustrates:

CRM trends - social interaction

This process — creating content to generate conversations leading to new customers, and more meaningful relationships with existing ones — is referred to as social CRM.  It’s a new dimension that complements the operational, transactional aspects of traditional customer relationships management.

Whereas traditional CRM is great for managing and sharing information internally, and for executing certain activities, it was not intended to engage people on Twitter, YouTube, blogs and podcasts.  But these are the vehicles customers are using to find solutions, share information, sell things, and to say “hello, how are you doing?”.

The spark for these interactions is content, in one of its many forms.  And there’s plenty of it out there, thanks to easy-to-use tools that can transform us into radio show hosts, syndicated columnists and Internet television stars.  But the focus for content producers hoping to entice information seekers into conversations will have to shift from easy-to-create content to creating easy-to-captivate content that stands out from the rest.   And easy-to-captivate content should be in easy-to-consume formats that make it easy-to-engage you in a meaningful exchange or two.

Regardless of the economy, we as small business folks cannot afford to hide in the cellar or go AWOL.  We’ve got to pick our fights wisely of course, but then we’ve got to FIGHT!

That means using what we can to get what we want.  It means finding new ways to connect with new people, as we look to further relationships with those we already know.   It means not being afraid to reach out, automate and captivate.  It means taking a long hard look at CRM … social CRM.

If you are interested in more about Social CRM, download the whitepaper:  “Social CRM – Customer Relationship Management in the Age of the Socially Empowered Customer.”

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Brent Leary explains CRMAbout the Author: Brent Leary is a Partner of CRM Essentials. He is co-author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.