Social CRM: Not Your Father’s Customer Relationship Management

Brent Leary on CRMFive years ago this month my friend Michael Thomas and I started a company that included the word “CRM” in it.

Thinking back on it now, I don’t know what the heck we were thinking. Most small business folks back then didn’t even know what CRM was. The ones that did, well, let’s just say they didn’t have a positive word to say about it … in fact the words they did use are on that list George Carlin put together back in the day. And based on the looks on some people’s faces after saying our company name, I even feared for my own safety.

But now, in 2008, I’m not afraid to say my company name out loud. In fact I can say it and know that a growing number of my small business peers understand its importance to growth of their own companies. Because 2008 is shaping up to be the year small businesses begin fully embracing customer relationship management as a business strategy.

That’s because CRM is going social.

Small Businesses Know CRM means more than CRM

Traditionally CRM is usually broken into three main components:

  • marketing automation,
  • sales automation, and
  • customer service.

But a great deal of the focus has been on things like contact management, opportunity management and activity management. And many of the CRM applications concentrated on meeting the challenges that were inherent with these areas.

As small business people, we understand the operational productivity gains that come out of having a centralized database for tracking activities, opportunities and customer information. This also can help us be more responsive to customer inquiries, close more deals (more efficiently), and more accurately predict when opportunities turn into cash. This is truly good stuff that can make our lives easier.

But what we understand more than anything is a need to leverage the web to find more leads, and to let the web help us quickly determine good leads from dead ends. More importantly we need to create a Web presence that makes it as easy as possible for those who could use our services to find us.

This means creating a customer profile that helps us identify key pieces of information, helping to determine good customers from bad ones. Then reaching out to those customers to find out what’s on their minds, what social networks (if any) they frequent, what topics are important to them, and how they like getting information.

Chances are, if a good number of our customers spend a decent amount of time on Facebook, we can increase our opportunities to engage others like them by building a Facebook presence. Or if we find many of our customers are on Twitter, it might help us increase opportunities to touch base with them by following their tweets. Maybe just knowing their favorite blogs or podcasts will give us insight that could lead to more opportunities to reach more like them.

Social CRM adds a whole new dimension to the traditional view of customer relationship management. The focus is undoubtedly on people and not technology. It’s about joining the ongoing conversations our customers and prospects are already engaged in — not trying to control them. It’s about using any tool available that will allow us to meaningfully engage with more people like them. It’s realizing people like doing business with people they like — and understanding we love doing business with people we trust.

My small business brethren know this better than anyone, and have literally put the “social” into CRM. Which is why I’m not ashamed to say my company name anymore.

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Brent Leary explains CRMAbout the Author: Brent Leary is a Partner of CRM Essentials. Brent also hosts Technology For Business $ake, a radio show in the Altanta, Georgia, USA area about using technology in 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.