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.

18 Reactions
  1. Great post and much of what I’m focusing on at this point in time is pumping out quality content on a regular basis and also making use of social sites to bring the conversations to the people.

    Automation in general is also something I’ve heavily focused on. With the wide world of web applications this is luckily becoming much easier.

  2. Brent this is a great post. CRM has really evolved to be a vast way of approach to customers in an attempt to realize their living style in every field of life and eventually to influence them to change their life style toward their benefitable direction through the company initiating ceaseless communication.

    And yes, trend#1: Reaching out — is a MUST!

  3. Hi Brent, Now is definitely not the time to curl up into a little ball. We’ve got to be more aggressive in going after new business and new customers. I have been looking at CRM software myself.

    — Anita

  4. By the way, I strong recommend everyone read Brent’s earlier article about “Social CRM” — why integrating CRM with social activities and social media contacts makes so much sense.

  5. Rose and David thank you so much for the kind words. Particularly in this year we as small business folks have to really dig in and find ways to use technology to help us get through this in the short term. And we shouldn’t stop at how it can bale us out right now, but explore how it can work for us in the future too.

    Thanks again!

  6. Hi Anita,

    It is kind of hard to get much done if you’re curled up, isn’t it? 🙂


  7. Brent,

    I think that your graph of the third trend is illustrating an interesting development on how to build relationships through value content and conversations.

    A side note: Have you “translated” the acronym CRM in your post. It could be a hard quest to find a Customer relationship management that fit your business.

  8. Hi Brent,
    I’m eager to read your article on Social CRM. You make some strong points in this post that resonate for me and I’m sure for many others.

    I work quite a bit in the CRM world as well, but I’ve found more folks curling up and not wanting to get hit then I’ve seen the opposite. But I’m selling a client’s complementary solution and so the curl up could just be related to anything new. But I haven’t heard many folks thinking about as smart of an approach as you are suggesting.

    There are some savvy email marketing and relationship marketing companies that have sophistication levels that you are talking about — just in time messaging, so to speak. You do something specific on a website and the emails that follow, the contact and content that follows is relevant and timely.

    Many have long felt (hoped) that CRM could be the silver bullet that leads to more developed customer relationships and then more sales, but it can only be as good as the communications and content you put into the process.

    It sounds like your process puts more of that content into the CRM process.

  9. Interesting that so many small businesses at the conference are clamoring for ways to find new customers.

    My hope is that they find their existing customer base to be limited in its budget and therefor not able to purchase more goods and services from the small businesses.

    My fear is that these companies are mistaking new customers for more business, forgetting that your existing customers are the one’s who are the least costly to sell to. Why? You have a relationship with them, you know how to do business with them, and you should know what their needs are.

    A new customer is always more costly to sell to than an existing customer. This is adroitly explained in “Managing the professional services firm”, which isn’t about selling per se, but does a great job covering the main themes.

    More time needs to be spent with existing customers than new one’s.

    In a down economy, the ratio of time spent with existing and new customers may change though. It absolutely may be necessary to reach out to new bases.

    However, using some Seth Godin marketing ninja tricks I think we can clearly see how in a down economy the goal is to become even more critical to your customers, and to spend more time with them.

    Sit down with them and figure out ways to save them money, figure out ways to lighten their supply chain costs and inventory levels.

  10. Hi TJ,

    Thanks for your kind words. I think the first impulse for many of us is to try and sit this one out. But the folks who fight that impulse and stretch out will give themselves an even better chance to make it.

    Unfortunately I’ve never come across that silver bullet we hear of, and CRM is definitely not one. It can help increase the effectiveness of our customer acquisition and retention efforts. But we have to be willing to explore new ways of building relationships. And let’s be realistic and not expect people to throw their money at us just because we wrote a blog post. Just like anything else, it will take time to turn our content into meaningful business relationships. But isn’t it worth our time and effort to figure out how to speak to people in the language and channels they use? We owe it to our customers, prospects and ourselves to give it a shot.

  11. Hi CK,

    I agree with your thoughts on doing more with current customers, as it’s been proven time and again that they can help you grow your business quicker and more efficiently than by acquiring new customers. But I think there are many people who have recently started new businesses out of necessity, after being laid off. Others are still trying to build up their client base.

    These are the people who I think are really focused on leveraging CRM and social media to attract new customers. They have to have customers before they can retain them, cross-sell/up-sell them and receive referrals from them.


  12. Hi Martin,

    I think it’s important for every businesses to define what customer relationship management means to them. That will help them determine what’s the right strategy and process to successfully implement their definition. Tools and packages are only as good as the processes they implement, so it’s really important for each company to figure out how they need to approach relationships with customers and prospects. Then find tools to help them implement that approach efficiently and effectively.

  13. This is a fantastic article and validates everything I’ve worked so hard to do at my company. We’ve developed this very idea into a software service for Franchise companies to manage the development process.

    The concept of Social CRM is very well received, and makes a great deal of sense for Franchise companies that need to court a prospective franchisee, develop a strong relationship, and court the prospect through a large investment decision over a 45-60 day cycle.

  14. Brent again you out do yourself. I am in total agreement we are in a time where if you choose to sit out you will LOSE big time.

    Conversation is where the “know, like and trust” is being built these days.

    This is not your Father’s marketing , you either engage with clients actively or you turn into a salt statue like some of Big Business is today.

    How cool is it to find your ideal client then have them tweet for ya , shazam!

  15. I read this piece as well as your whitepaper on Social CRM and found your analysis to be very relevant for today’s world. Talking of easy-to-xxxx, I like the way you articulate your ideas; you make things simple without making them simplistic, which is not easy.

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  17. Brent great content covered in this article! As you mentioned, social tools are used by customers as a vehicles to share and receive information. At Intelestream, we developed a Twitter Pro module that integrates, with our CRM, intelecrm. Other integrations soon to come: Jigsaw, Hoovers, Facebook, and Linked In. We have also written a whitepaper on the Power of Social CRM, you can download it at intelestream web page.