October 20, 2014

Social CRM: A Marketing Lesson from Honey Bees

The traditional model of customer relationship management (CRM) presupposes interaction with customers on the company’s terms through a set of predetermined channels. But the proliferation of social media is raising some questions about the effectiveness of this approach.

We are in the “Age of the Customer” as Forrester Analyst Zach Hofer-Shall says in his Forbes article, “The Social Arms Race Heats Up.” Through the constant conversation that is social media, consumers have taken the ball from marketers and started a new game, in a new arena, where they share opinions and insights with people they know and trust.

CRM expert and author Paul Greenberg put it this way: “Since [the advent of facebook], ‘someone like me’ is the most trusted source.”

If they have a Twitter account, your customer is no longer simply a buyer or a non-buyer; they’re a megaphone of good or bad publicity—someone whose feelings have more weight because their social media pages have hundreds of followers, connections, and readers.

As the power shifts from companies to their customers, salespeople (and marketers) are realizing that the traditional CRM approach is no longer sufficient. It’s part of the process, but it needs something else. Companies need a way to invite themselves into the conversation when it concerns their brand and meet customers on their level. Such an approach can help companies preempt customer service calls, avoid negative online reviews, and even recognize potential leads before other competitors.

Characteristics of Social CRM

This is where Social CRM comes in. Social CRM is a strategy that involves the fusion of existing CRM practices with new social media features. The result is often better customer engagement. This approach usually relies on a “social CRM” application with the following tools:

  • “Listening” tools that monitor customer sentiment through comments, posts, etc.
  • Tethering of social media to back-end systems for real-time customer service
  • Monitoring of competitor’s activities and mentions
  • Automated alerts that suggest follow-up activities and engagement opportunities
  • Incorporation of social interaction history into customer profiles
  • Geotargeting search functions for accessing specific markets based on location

Some of the leading CRM platforms, such as Oracle, SAP, and Salesforce offer their own Social CRM add-ons, but there are also independent applications available from vendors like Hootsuite and Sprout Social.

Give the People What They Want

Choosing the right technology isn’t the only factor in implementing a successful Social CRM policy. It’s important to remember that Social CRM is a customer engagement strategy, meaning your approach should be customer-centric.

When you meet the customer on his/her own turf, your marketing and sales agendas shouldn’t disappear, but they do become second priority. Greenberg calls this, “The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.” In other words, you need to know what customers are seeking when they talk about and interact with brands through social media.

Many executives assume that consumers follow their companies via social sites to feel connected and engage with their brand, but this usually isn’t the case.“50 percent don’t even consider connecting with businesses” A 2011 Social CRM study by IBM showed that consumers are much more focused on connecting with friends and family; more than 50 percent don’t even consider connecting with businesses. According to the same study, of the consumers who do connect with businesses online, more than 60 percent only do so because they’re already loyal to that business.

This is not progress.

So if customers aren’t seeking brand engagement, then what do they want? The answer is simple. They want the same thing that your company does: tangible value.

Given the virtual nature of social media, this can be a difficult deliverable to measure on both fronts. But for consumers, tangible value means making their life easier in some way: 

  • by providing helpful service
  • by offering a discount
  • by displaying a relevant offer that meets their needs
  • by resolving a technical problem or dispute

Business Deliverables

On the business side, it’s important to find a way to track return on investment (ROI), though there isn’t a definite consensus yet for how to do this with Social CRM.

It may help to remember that your goal is not strictly financial. The best end-result is that you’re creating public advocates through successful social engagement, and that, of course, has infinite long-term value.

Here are some of the primary market benefits of employing Social CRM:

  • Deeper customer engagement
  • More advocates for your products and brand
  • Wider dispersion of business message
  • Constant barometer reading of public opinion
  • Being equipped to take preemptive action

Take a lesson from the honey bee, which is aptly referred to as a “social insect.” A bee culturist estimated in the early 1900s that it takes about 48,000 miles of flight between hive and flowers to produce one quart of honey. In the rapidly expanding social media climate, your company must be willing to go that kind of distance between operations-as-usual and the social media venues that your customers pour their lives into. Then, and only then, will you produce the reward of successful customer relationships.

Free Download

Beginner's Guide to CRM

Learn more about the benefits of CRM with our market-leading research.

Get My Free Guide

Looking for software? Try our Product Selection Tool