Customer relationship management (CRM) programs were once only the domain of large enterprises, but today affordable new social media CRM programs are available to small businesses.
Old Guard: Traditional CRM
Traditional CRM systems focused around information that corporations collect on their customers and then input the data for analysis to better target various customers. The early versions of CRM software were merely automating and collecting data formerly housed in the sales manager rolodex, box of business cards or notes scribbled in a 3×5-spiral notebook from conversations with customers.
Traditional CRM programs evolved with enhancements to manage several disciplines of business’ productivity in sales leads, sales pipeline management, and marketing, plus more sophisticated customer data collection. The original focus was to take care of existing customers and to convert leads into new customers.
Originally, these CRM systems were nested within the sale management department silo of a corporation. Later, very expensive information technology (IT) interfaces were built for integrating processes into other parts of the enterprise. Other departments, like accounting, service/support and public relations departments would seek this sales information from the CRM system for their own purposes.
As these systems grew into massive enterprise systems, they took on a life of their own and would mimic the corporate culture of information flow that is one-way, top-down. I recall that some of these large organizations would have an army of resources devoted to managing the CRM software. I asked the person in-charge of the CRM system if he ever had met a single customer, he said no.
New Guard: Social CRM
Enterprise-scale CRM can be intimidating for smaller businesses. These mammoth enterprise CRM systems are now colliding with social media systems. Social media systems are more chaotic than enterprise-scale CRM systems and the lack of control can be intimidating to large corporations. Social media systems are more engaging and can have the feel of a two-way conversation with the customer. Customers are now actively engaging in a conversation with your company through social media platforms. Not only is the customer engaged in this conversation, but their friends and other potential customers are also brought into the conversation. This collaboration amongst several parties is a more lateral engagement for solving business problems and meeting the needs of the customer.
Small businesses rely heavily upon relationship-based networking for their business. With the emergence of social media we now are seeing new versions of CRM lite integrated with social media. The new software is less expensive and scalable to accommodate growth.
Social CRM Software
When selecting a small business CRM system, be certain that is allows you to customize the platform’s dashboards and key features. Large systems will bundle features that a small business will seldom use. A small business does not need the many features for integrating the CRM system into other business enterprise software. Focus on having functionality with interfacing into social media networks. Many small business CRM system offerings are primarily contact management tools that secondarily provide the ability to organize sales and marketing campaigns, and offer some standard reporting capabilities. Since small businesses have more direct interactions with their customers, the system should have a strong focus on nurturing customer relationships.
More and more consumers are becoming social consumer. Social consumers are more knowledgeable. Social consumers are more information centric and are willing to do their own research about new products. They learn about new products through social channels and networks, and seldom watch TV, many do not even own a television. They are wise to unsolicited promotions and are quick to find only relevant information germane to their needs and desires. “One-way ads” are ignored, they want a conversation with the brand. They also expect brands to have the same presence in many social sites the consumer will visit. They want the brands to listen, engage and respond to their desires.
Some have said that Social Media is just another channel. I believe it is a new level of engagement. It is a channel that can be used effectively for small businesses. Listening to your customer and responding to their needs is nothing new. Social networking focuses on building communities and sharing information between people with common interests, issues and backgrounds. For small businesses, social media presents a whole new way of connecting and building relationships with existing customers, and potential customers. As in the past sometimes your best sales force is your customer base.
Professor James Ellis is a business instructor at Central Oregon Community College with a background in finance and accounting.