Real Relationships Require Conversation : Part 1
It stands to reason, doesn’t it? I mean, really, can you have a relationship with your customers without two-way conversation? Yet, traditional Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, solutions tend to focus more on what the enterprise wants to convey to the customer than what the customer has to say back about his or her product desires, current situation, anticipated future needs, etc. Most CRM solutions came on the scene just before or during a real paradigm shift in consumer expectation. We want value and we want it now. One might say, “Well that’s nothing new,” but really… It is. Because we can get it. Peer feedback through web research and our own social networks is both highly valued and highly available. I can pull out my smart phone and post a question like, “What do you think about a Saab,” and 20 of my trusted friends will respond with an opinion in less than 3 minutes. This has a HUGE impact on how a business and its offerings are perceived in the marketplace, and it has a HUGE impact on how customers want to engage the companies they do business with. If the customer was King before this shift, the customer is a deity now, and this ain’t no fad yall. Traditional CRM solutions have fallen out of step with this reality.
Let’s start with an illustration of a traditional CRM, or CRM 1.0 solution. I began my technology career in this space, and from 1995 to 2002 designed and implemented “traditional” CRM solutions. The first system was desktop-based, with one primary user. It gained popularity, and we needed to support more than one user at a time so we built a more robust, client-server version. It gained even more popularity, and since everything was “going Web,” we built a full-blown, web-based version. Where features where enhanced from one version to the next, the common themes were self-evident: Log prospects from all points of contact, including Internet leads. Segment and track customers by their attributes (yes, even hobbies) and by product adoption. Automate follow-up for both prospects and customers, sending timely letters and emails geared towards those customer segments. Allow for mass direct and email campaigns. Track campaign results. Handle customer inquiries and track concern resolutions. Generate reports. Sounds like most CRM systems you’ve probably worked with, right? The idea is that you can classify prospects and customers, place them in buckets, and then treat them a certain way because the attributes that put them in the bucket provide behavior expectations and are thus “predictive.” This is STILL true, and represents the “business intelligence” component of any good CRM system. But, where does the customer’s thoughts, product opinions, lifestyle changes, and upcoming needs get expressed? In two-way conversation.
Funny enough, this is a very old argument, recognized by many seasoned sales professionals who are often more likely to reject a traditional CRM system on more than a sheer technophobic basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something to the effect of, “I know my customers. We play golf together.” Apart from the practicallity of conversation from a sales point-of-view, it is a human desire to converse; we are social by nature. This is why direct mail is largely dead, phone calls and emails continue to have merit, and the conversations taking place already on the Social Web provide the ultimate opportunity to engage your customers. Conversation provides the “social intelligence” component that moves a traditional CRM system, which bases its decisions on “past” behaviors and data, to a Social CRM or CRM 2.0 solution that optimizes a better understanding of the customer’s current situation, expectations, and purchasing intent. So, for those who have argued that Customer Relationship Management is too impersonal to be practical, you should be excited about CRM 2.0, and understand how professional networks like LinkedIn, social networks like Facebook, and micro blogs like Twitter give you immediate insight into a customer or prospects current situation and needs, and the immediate ability to engage them in conversation.
In Part 2, we’ll examine more closely the line of demarcation between a traditional CRM strategy and one that is in step with today’s social consumer. We’ll also look at how to combine conventional “business intelligence” with “social intelligence.” Chin-up, technophobes. It is getting easier as technologies mature.