A CEO's Understanding of the CRM Maturity Path: Difference Between Success and Failure

According to Gartner’s 2012 CEO Survey, CEOs have cited CRM as their most important area of investment to improve business over the next 5 years. Decision makers everywhere are realizing the importance of CRM tools in today’s business environment. The reasons for these are two-fold. Firstly, the advent of social media has put power into the hands of customers like never before. This means that establishing sustained customer relations and maintaining customer satisfaction are top priority. Secondly, CRM software and tools have evolved to not just encompass the sales and marketing functions but provide support to other core operations such as HR and Production. This means that CEOs can no longer undermine the importance of a CRM strategy for their business. But do they understand the CRM implementation within the organization? Here we take a look at the top issues and obstacles faced by CEOs in understanding the CRM maturity path within their business.

Are we agreeing on the definition?
One of the top problems faced by organizations is inconsistencies in the understanding of CRM across business functions. It is essential for all departments and verticals to get a unified picture of how CRM is linked with business goals, work culture and organizational structures. If CEOs are not able to sort out and implement this basic understanding, the entire CRM development within the organization will be redundant. It is crucial for top decision makers to decisively establish what the goals and purpose for implementing CRM in the organization are. Furthermore, the day-to-day benefits and role of CRM in the business must be clearly outlined. Once this basic foundation is created, one can move on to sketch out a path for CRM maturity for the business.

CRM Maturity Path

  • The first step towards building a successful CRM strategy is to collect good quality data. This data must be accurate, timely, relevant, accessible and secure. Without the right data to back it up, any CRM system is bound to fail. 
  • Once the data has been acquired, the focus needs to be on bringing about user adoption. Getting the employees on-board and actually using the system is mandatory for its company-wide implementation. This will greatly depend on the quality of data and benefits accrued by users. 
  • After the system has been administered across the business, one must concentrate on making improvements. By removing inefficiencies and automating processes where required, CRM systems can be made much more effective and productive. 
  • Lastly, top managers and decision makers have the onus of measuring CRM performance based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). On the basis of such measurements they can take strategic business decisions.
What must the CEO understand?
CRM is not an isolated business function. It needs to be integrated with the business culture and across all departments. It’s a way to work and this is one of the most crucial things a CEO needs to understand. As CEOs are the main strategists, policy makers and decision takers of an organization, they must understand the role of CRM at this macro level. It is the CEO who will decide the ultimate goals of CRM in the company. In doing so, he must ensure that the goals are measurable and targetable.

Furthermore, CRM strategies need to be dynamic as they have to continuously adapt to customer needs and changes in the market. If the customer requires direct interaction, one cannot maintain a CRM revolving around indirect mediums. At the end of the day, the CRM must offer holistic support from the back office to front office needs.

Silver bullets or rusty nails?
CRM solutions can act as silver bullets for businesses. Their large knowledge base can offer crucial inputs for decision making and quick problem solving capabilities. Decisions regarding product deliverables, packaging, handling tricky customer interactions and even negotiations can be facilitated by the array of information on offer.

On the other hand, an inefficient or mishandled CRM software can lead to complete wastage of time and resources. If the CEO does not understand the CRM maturity path in the business, this will prevent the system from integrating into the business and offering profitability. Poor quality data, lack of employee engagement, lack of responsiveness to market changes are just some of the factors which can turn a competent CRM solution into a rusty nail on the business strategy board. With a clear understanding of the needs of CRM and the direction it will take in the organization, CEOs can ensure that CRM benefits act as vital differentiators between them and their competitors.

Analyzing a Customer's 'Moments of Truth' to Reduce Churn

A ‘Moment of truth’ is “an instance of contact or interaction between a customer and a firm (through a product, sales force, or visit) that gives the customer an opportunity to form (or change) an impression about the firm” as defined by Business Dictionaries, an online business service.

Relying on customer satisfaction surveys to determine the quality of customer service and related departments is risky. According to an article in 1995 by the Harvard Business Review, the authors noted that customer retention levels of around 40% correlated to an average rating of "satisfied" and did not reach 80% until the average rating reached "very satisfied".

All customers face these moments of truth which can enhance their perception of a company or irreparably damage it. CRM solutions can effectively provide the necessary support required to make each moment of truth a positive experience for the customer, enhancing the perception in a customer’s mind. For CRM to provide this support, however, the company must challenge themselves to understand why these moments of truth are so important.

The two major challenges
Multi-channel communication: moments of truth occur during all interactions with a company - through multiple channels, multiple business units and numerous times. The ability to monitor customer reactions to interactions is something that few companies have become effective with. Companies can address this challenge in one of two ways.
  • Customer profiles - develop profiles, which include the motivation and behaviour patterns of a customer; enabling the company to plan the most beneficial way to deal with customer interactions. 
  • Profile the customer journey - examine from the customer viewpoint, the moments of truth they are likely to come across at different points in the life cycle of dealing with the company. By examining the timeline of contact, the company can plan responses appropriate to the specific entry point.
While it may appear simple to address this challenge, companies must remember that consumer behaviour has changed considerably over the past few years. Consumers are more demanding in expectations of personalized service and immediate responses. If a response on the customer journey is even slightly skewed, the company runs the risk of customer churn in the future.

Instant responses: moments of truth happen in real time and if the company is unresponsive in that “real time moment” there is little that can be done to repair the damage. With multiple competitors for every product or service, an unhappy customer will look for an alternate option and usually coax their friends too.

Companies must be encouraged to acquire feedback in real time – in other words right after a transaction is completed. The advent of the smart phone and social media has made it possible for customers to post comments on transactions almost instantaneously and this can be disastrous if a moment of truth is mishandled.

CRM and Moments of Truth 
Historically, CRM has been an internally focused system – management of marketing campaigns, tracking of sales opportunities and the analysis of customer service. In other words - "customer retention". For a CRM solution to be effective for moment of truth management, it must reverse this focus and monitor "customer experience".

Traditionally, two types of moments of truth have been pinpointed which CRM solutions can be identified with-
  • The first type is when a customer 'sees' the product. 
  • The second type is what the customer 'feels' after purchasing the product. These moments can be tracked in sales and repeat purchases.
These two types can be tracked by the success of a marketing campaign. Pete Blackshaw in a recent article on Clickz, however, identified a third and possibly the most important moment of truth “the dialogue customers participate in with the company.” It is this third moment of truth where most CRM software often fall short.

Capturing customer interactions
CRM solutions designed to capture customer experience must also capture customer dialogue. The analysis of this dialogue is what will drive the customer-centric aspects of the system and enable management to tweak the price, place or promotion of the product. It will also enable the system to more accurately predict the ideal customer, based not only on purchase history but on similarities in dialogue. This information can be captured through an effective CRM software using the following-
  • Automated call-scripts to ensure consistency and allow staff more time to capture additional details when interacting with manifold customers on a daily basis. 
  • Convert Tweets to Cases to ensure specialized users can effectively interact with a customer who has shared his comments related to your products or services. Details of related communication through multiple channels can be detailed through the CRM system's interface. 
  • Sentiment Analysis Reports can be generated to quantify satisfied and unhappy customers discussing your brand on a social network. Common factors associated with either frame of mind can be pinpointed - store's name, pricing, agent's soft skills, etc. 
  • Custom fields can be created to capture unique details associated with a specific new product or service. Also, call center staff can capture a customer's temperament during a specific call interaction - irate, neutral, friendly, etc.
True customer-centricity
Companies should ask - "How customer-centric are we?". They should also assess the following 'personal factors' that heavily impact a customer's perception -
  • What level of concern are they showing to an individual customer. 
  • What level of friendliness are they showing to a customer. 
  • The level of civility shown to a customer. 
Showing genuine concern to a customer waiting in a long queue, but making their next interaction easier in a friendly and helpful manner, can nullify the negative impact created on their perception of your organization.

By analyzing what each customer segment requires at a moment of truth, organisations can improve the perception and memory of interactions that are important.

7 Tips for Perfecting your Marketing Approach with Social Media

The social media landscape has exploded within the last decade. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have brought about a revolutionary change in consumer interactions. Social media is the new marketplace where customers discuss products, gain feedback, air their opinions and even make the ultimate decision of buying. As the social media landscape is constantly evolving, marketers need to be aware of how this can help them understand what consumers are looking for, how they search for this and what influences them to take their final decision. It is the inherent quality of social media to carry user generated content which makes it so popular amongst users.

1. Understanding user-generated content
Why is User-Generated Content (UGC) so critical for today’s marketers? The answer lies in two words – reliability and credibility. Amongst the variety of brands available in the market and the different claims made by each, consumers are looking for a reliable source to simply tell them what works and what does not. UGC is considered more reliable and credible as it comes from the actual user of the brand rather than the brand itself. According to Nielsen’s latest study, Global Trust in Advertising, 92% of consumers around the world trust family and friend recommendations over any form of advertising, while online consumer reviews are the second most reliable. UGC is an essential tool that must be utilized by marketers to leverage their brand perceptions and image within the target market.

2. Engage
One of the top benefits of social media is its power to engage consumers. Where traditional advertising mediums such as print, outdoor and television are a one-way form of communication, social media brings in a unique approach of establishing a dialogue between the brand and consumer. Marketers have constantly used direct mailers and telephones to build such an interaction, but these largely fail due to the lack of consumer interest because they carry a business purpose. On the other hand, social networks are innately just that – social. This means that the consumer is already present and active on the platform. All the brand needs to do is give a small nudge without shouting out the message.

3. Track
Getting social is not just about managing a Facebook or Twitter account. The added advantage of social over traditional media channels is the ability to track brand messages created by users. The proliferation of social media means that the consumer is no longer a passive onlooker. They are actively engaged in voicing their opinions. Tracking aims to discover brand comments and mentions by consumers. But its scope is much more qualitative than quantitative in nature. It is not just about knowing the ratio of positive versus negative comments. It is about analyzing the actual content to understand such consumer variables as perceptions, attitudes, emotions and opinions vis-à-vis the brand.

4. After-sales
The role of social media does not end with the sale. Marketers often struggled to maintain the delicate post-sales connection through tools like customer care agents and feedback forms. Large amounts of marketing budget are spent on research to understand and implement retention. Social media offers the most convenient way to stay connected with customers post purchase and maintain a profitable relationship with them. As long as this contact is engaging and/or valuable to the consumer in some way, it can be used to up-sell and cross-sell products.

5. Social media integration with CRM solutions
As mentioned above, social media is fast emerging as the ultimate tool to maintain contact with the customer and enhance customer relationships. As CRM aims to understand and respond to customer needs, its integration with social media is critical to get a 360 degree view of customer experience and that too on real-time basis. Most of the social media platforms provide APIs which can be used easily to integrate with any CRM solution.

6. Loyalists and detractors
Just the way brand ambassadors are so crucial to a social media strategy, CRM solutions are highly useful in identifying potential loyalists. Furthermore, social CRM can provide valuable customer insight to help establish a two-way communication facilitating their engagement and positive feedback. Traditionally, marketers have always been on the lookout for opinion leaders who can become brand ambassadors. With the use of tracking software on social media, the identification of such opinion leaders as well as followers has become much more efficient and less complicated. On the other side of the spectrum, it is also crucial to identify the critics and reply to their comments and critique in a professional manner.

7. Targeting
One of the main objectives of CRM is consumer segmentation for highly focused marketing. CRM databases can be used to understand the different types of customers present in the social environment and divide them into clusters based on likes, needs, wants, online activities, attitude towards the brand and much more. Once these groups are isolated, each can be targeted with a different social media marketing tactic to increase likelihood of response. Instead of spending considerable amounts of marketing budget on high OTS advertising spaces and cumbersome direct communications, marketers can use the more cost effective and targeted social platform.

A combination of social media and CRM solutions is crucial for successful marketing. Implementing CRM software into the social strategy will help brands deal with their clients in a consistent and pre-planned manner. It is important for marketers to have a well defined strategy in place before going all in – a strategy that integrates across all channels and all marketing tools to ensure that a unified brand image is presented to the customer. CRM expertise does this by ensuring that social media is used within the larger context of organizational reputation and company policies. This is the only way to ensure a successful social effort which brings in high returns on investment.

Effective CEOs Run their CRM Initiative and Business with Equal Vigor

The business market today is deluged by stories of contemporary leaders who have made use of CRM solutions to effectively grow their organizational sales. This has significantly picked up the interest in this strategy over the past four or five years. However, what has differentiated these success stories from the failures has been the one word ‘CRM Strategy’. Many corporate executives and decision makers have somehow misunderstood CRM as just a software which reflects its results as soon as it is purchased. However, only a fraction of CRM success depends on the initial stage; that of buying the software, while a large part of it relies on how constructively and intelligently the CRM strategy is being developed and executed around the software.

A successful CRM solution is that which becomes an ideology of the company and is integrated into the mundane working of the organization. In other words, every department is made to feel the value of the organization’s CRM strategy and that is effectively percolated into their conscience and their style of working. Hence, while an effective and high quality CRM could do the trick for your organization; a commitment to organizational change is imperative to make it assume larger proportions and start reflecting on the long term potential of the organization. That will happen when corporate executives and CEOs will dedicate equal efforts strategizing for their CRM strategies as they do for their business. It is their initiative, dedication and devoted time which will cascade through to motivate the subordinates and bring about an organizational change.

Creating the right balance
Here are critical CEO best practices for competitive organizations that can integrate their CRM initiative and business performance, with equal importance to both:

Dedicate equal time to both: While you are trying to make your CRM solution strategy work, there could be two lopsided schedules that you might get into. One might be when you are spending extensive time on your business and little on the CRM while the other could be the complete reverse of it. It is, therefore, important that forward looking CEOs are emphasizing letting their organizations be customer oriented and at the same time concentrate on making their business offerings reach new highs. In other words, one has to emphasize on both these elements of an enterprise with equal dedication and vigor.

Blend technology and ideation: CRM is much more than a plain software which collects information about customers and helps in serving them with ease. It offers areas of strategizing and ideation. Therefore, a considerable amount of time has to be spent on trying to analyze the numbers that are being reflected in the software. You might reach to certain trends arising in the industry or a brief understanding of the likes and / or dislikes of your audience. An interesting approach to CRM can be developed when you compare it with a mobile phone. Similar to how mobile phones can help you communicate, CRM can offer insights about your customers. In the same spirit, like you have to decide how and what to communicate through the mobile phone, even with CRM; it has to be you who decide on how the data has to be unravelled and used.

Generating value: Not only do the CEOs and top level executives need to spend additional time on decoding the results of implementing a CRM software solution; the middle and junior management has to learn the ropes too. CRM, as mentioned above, has to be an organizational value which has to cascade down to all the levels of organizational hierarchy. An approach of being customer friendly has to be developed. If there are customer insights that are being developed, organizations should make an attempt to keep the junior and middle management abreast with the same as they are the ones who deal directly with the customers, at the grass root level.

Embracing discomfort: Those contemporary executives and organizations, which have accepted CRM as the core value and deliverable of their organization, have realized, the hard way, that customer centric approach does not come easy. It requires all hierarchies of an organization to go through discomfort to be able to completely satisfy a customer. It requires an enterprise wise commitment. It is you who could initiate this commitment through information sharing and motivation of the employees.

Leadership: Finally, what makes the all important difference is your style of leadership. Depending upon how willing you are to take the initiative to adopting CRM solutions as a long term organizational strategy, your subordinates will follow suit sooner or later. You, therefore, have to be totally committed to the cause and lead from the front in terms of making your organization a customer focussed one. Your support to your employees will be significant too as you have to keep them motivated through the initial tough times.

All these activities might require time and dedication, but they would reap unprecedented results in the long run.

Pin your Customer's Interest with Pinterest and CRM

Pinterest is being termed as one of the most recent entries into the arena of Social CRM. Many esteemed international brands like Gap, Scholastic and Whole Foods have already begun their campaigns on the platform and others are on the verge of following suit. Pinterest backs itself by its popularity - a 429 percent escalation in unique page views in a span of 3 months (September '11 to December '11), but, its effectiveness requires more innovation and strategy than some of the other social media.

There are some unprecedented benefits of incorporating Pinterest in your Social CRM strategy. Businesses can now listen to their customers more effectively and understand their likes and dislikes with greater precision. Sharing deep knowledge about one’s area of work, business or industry becomes possible by the use of 'infographics', which are becoming increasingly popular in the market today. Share images of current customers using your product (by pinning their photographs) or link that image with a case study of your organisation. This and much more make Pinterest highly effective for both Business 2 Consumers (B2C) and Business 2 Business (B2B) firms by strengthening their customer relations.

Pin your interests
Before we unravel the manifold benefits of integration of Pinterest with Social CRM solutions, let us understand the basic premise on which Pinterest works. This social networking site is basically meant to help users organize and share various things, they like, in the visual format. Therefore, if they have read a great blog; they can use the picture, integrated with that blog, to pin it to their Pinterest pinboard. Alongside, they can create separate pinboards for various interests like cooking, sports, reading, work and much else. What else? One can also browse pinboards created by others, which can lead to an effective sharing of information and knowledge. In short, Pinterest is all about organizing, sharing and exploring visual imagery of different kinds.

Pinterest with social CRM
The benefits of the integration of Pinterest with Social CRM have already been chalked out above. Let us now try to put them across with more details:

Intrigue visitors and get pinned: By integrating the pin code on your website, you can allow your visitors to share some intriguing visual imagery that they come across. The prerequisites for the same, though, would be to make your content and images easy to pin and make them all intriguing. Unless they enthrall your visitors, they are not going to be worthwhile for the visitors to pin.

Be social on the all new social network: Socializing on Pinterest can also pay rich dividends to a company. You can create your own account and share items of interest. With regular sharing, companies can create a pool of fans, who comment and repin (share on their pin boards) the images and content. This can lead to an extensive brand reach and top of the mind recall among the prospects of the companies.

Escalated brand awareness: The more frequently a company’s visual imagery is shared and visited by people, the higher would be its brand awareness. The spiralling effect; that Pinterest can create, works in favour of the companies, exploring the platform.

PR opportunities: One of the most fascinating elements of Customer Relationship Management is the opportunity of breaking ice with the customers (and prospective customers). Contests and games are one way of doing so. Pinterest makes it simpler and more convenient to share these contests and games with the help of eye catching images which could be shared to gain more exposure.

Listen to customers: Pictures speak more than words. Therefore, by following the pinboards of the customers, forward looking companies can derive valuable insights. The preferences of the customers could be known and one can also explore the products and industries which are garnering the highest level of interest of the customers. All of this would lead to better relations with the customers and customized services.

Referral due to individual nature: When you are socializing on Facebook, you have to 'like' the whole shoe store to get updates on your favourite pair of shoes. However, on Pinterest you can 'like', 'repin' and comment on individual items (eg: a pair of shoes) without being required to do the same for the larger entity. This makes it more convenient to share and can hence lead to the generation of more referrals.

A last word..
While all of these benefits are worthwhile and can generate unprecedented value for companies, innovative use of the platform is imperative. Pinterest does not directly offer corporate use of the website and one can, hence, not simply link one’s visual imagery to one’s ecommerce stores or other platforms of marketing. Innovation rules on this platform and sans that the stay is going to be bumpy. Though I believe many CRM solutions in near term will start integrating with Pinterest to derive intelligence which can be used to understand the consumer needs and behavior to help target them more intelligently.

Data Mining with Banking CRM to Increase Cross-Selling

The banking sector has witnessed major changes over the last two decades. With an increasing amount of competition and changing customer preferences, banks are focusing on providing quality service to retain market share. CRM solutions play a crucial role in this equation. Banks are seeking to improve their service offerings by providing higher levels of personalization to clients, reengineering sales processes, customizing product portfolios and facilitating the functions of cross-selling and up-selling. To carry out these crucial activities, it is necessary to gain in-depth customer knowledge and take strategic decisions to meet customer needs. Data mining is the tool that can help banks extract useful information from the plethora of data available.

A CRM solution's Cross-Sell Analyzer
Why do banks need data mining?
There are several areas where crucial customer insight can enhance profitability. According to research firm Gartner, one feature that consumers in the banking sector value most today is the online banking facility. However, most financial institutions seem to be failing at providing optimum online services as they do not cater to the requisite customer needs. To do this, it is essential to understand which features the customers are interested in specifically. Banks need to comprehend the needs of customers across different demographic profiles and in relation to different features such as security, online payments and check deposits, ability to analyze spending and cash flows etcetera. This is one example which shows the ardent need for data mining in the banking sector.

Where is the data?
Banks have the most available source of customer data in the form of daily transactions and operations. Banks generate a colossal amount of data through operations such as credit card processing, ATM usage, cash withdrawals and deposits and much more. These are originally designed to support transactions, satisfy audit requirements and/or meet central bank regulations. Banks store such large amounts of this data that it is not humanly possible to sift through it all, but if mined thoroughly, this data can provide valuable information about customers’ attitudes and behavior toward the bank and banking in general. With the use of data mining software, this customer data can be organized and extracted to facilitate management decisions.

The advent of IT systems means that most data is readily available in a format that can be conveniently put through data mining applications. The first step in data mining is to create a veritable and comprehensive data warehouse. This process includes extracting, cleaning, transforming and standardizing data to make it ready for mining and analysis. Data mining begins with a thorough analysis of the data highlighting useful patterns, relationships and associations.

How can data mining help banks?
If used efficiently, data mining combined with an effective CRM solution can provide following benefits -
  • Management can forecast how customers are likely to react to a certain interest rate. 
  • Sales teams can effectively pinpoint customers most likely to purchase a new product. 
  • Banks can also improve customer relations and attain higher profitability by catering to customers’ bespoke needs. 
  • Every client has a unique set of transactions and interactions with the bank. This information can be used to sell them product bundles which fit their precise needs and makes their lives easier. 
  • Products and services can be created or redesigned based on a proper understanding of customer needs. 
In the area of marketing, data mining aids banks to comprehend individual customer preferences and create promotions and offerings to suit these. Additionally, customer insight can help cross-sell products by highlighting the need for such products based on previous usage history. Data mining tools are also extensively used to manage risk in financial institutions by recognizing potential high-risk loan applicants or profitable customers who should be offered new credit cards. Credit scoring is used in this respect to analyze risk before extending loans. A crucial area where data mining is useful is fraud detection. Banks can analyze the usual fraud patterns and cross reference these within their own organization to detect fraudulent activities. Furthermore, banks use data mining for such purposes as customer segmentation, cash management, optimizing stock portfolios and ranking investments. Decision makers can also prevent client attrition by recognizing transaction patterns which are likely to occur right before a client shifts to a competitor.

Banking being a part of the service sector means that a CRM solution is all the more essential for them to maintain their existing customer base and attract prospective clients. Often, all bank employees are not tech-savvy and require palatable information which is easy to access and navigate when interacting with customers. Information generated from data mining can be linked or displayed for pertinent lead and customer records through the CRM solution’s user-friendly interface ensuring users can add value to customer interactions.

Data mining is an essential tool for any banking CRM strategy to be successful. It not only recognizes patterns to make predictions, but can also highlight available opportunities. With the many advantages and new avenues that it offers, this is one tool that no bank can ignore if it wants to retain its customers and stand out in a highly competitive industry. 

6 Ways to Nurture Business Relationships with Social CRM and LinkedIn

The synthesis of CRM strategies and Social Media gives birth to Social CRM (SCRM). SCRM is a rapidly growing concept and wise business strategy facilitating unique customer-company interaction using social networking technology and processes.

Widespread public exposure compels companies to maintain absolute transparency in their transactions, which is exactly what today’s customers demand and which social media networks help achieve. SCRM heightens the intimacy between a company and its customers - whether en-route, existing or a future prospect.

SCRM is undoubtedly an axial concept that futuristic organizations should comprehend and assimilate into their systems to communicate with and serve “Social Customers”. Social Customers are intelligent with unlimited demands – they are technologically savvy and well informed through social networks. They also engage more in online activities than offline, trust advice and information posted on the web, look to connect with like minded people, are eager to offer feedback and want the best customer and after-sales services. They want the organization’s undivided attention to be devoted to their needs and wants.

Web 2.0 promotes creativity and community creation while also enabling collaborations and conversations. Managing relationships with customers using social networks helps seek out fruitful sales opportunities, offer support and services in real-time more efficiently. It keeps track of the overall online digital buzz too.

MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are some popular names which encompass this concept and have become the talk of the day. Each makes unique contributions. This article focuses on how ‘LinkedIn’ in combination with SCRM plays a distinguishing role in building long standing relationships and enhancing sales.

LinkedIn is a hot Social Networking tool and massive web-based ‘Professional Network’ with membership bursting at the seams. Ideal for search engines and a rich source of information, it blends professional networks into the social media rostrum – offering a unique cross platform fusion.

A contact's LinkedIn profile information
The fact that everyone is segregated by a series of degrees of separation is what forms the core of LinkedIn, with one particular person’s connections ramifying onto each of his connection’s connections and so on, thus validating LinkedIn's proliferating concept. Also, focusing mainly on ‘professionalism’, it is a better assurance of contacts’ authenticity, because most often than not, people include only those in their network whom they are at least acquainted with. It is a remarkable medium for individuals and companies to display their qualities and market themselves in the most efficacious manner.

Optimum use of SCRM in general and LinkedIn in particular, helps in business development and sales maximization. It is effective for broadening customer outreach and amplifying company and brand awareness. Organizations need to realize that not incorporating LinkedIn into their sales process can mean a lower win-ratio.

Social media managers should essentially realize the importance of integrating and aligning CRM systems with Social CRM. For any organization, Social CRM tools help raise efficiency levels, include quality data within systems in real time and offline, boost sales, and redefine overall customer experience. Through social media networks and technologies - sales, marketing and customer service projects can be quantified and improvised.

How to integrate with CRM?
A clever strategy would be to embed a ‘Social Information’ tab for Contacts in the CRM system. This allows sales representatives to view social profiles, keep track of updates and activity streams. A massive advantage obtained is scoring face time with customers. By monitoring online activity, it helps the sales team to know when exactly they are likely to connect with people they want. In addition, it helps in great relationship building with clients since their social psychology and graphs can be understood clearly.

A customer’s personal information, profile picture, web links, and other details are imported into the CRM solution, as a result of which, while working within the software, staying updated and connecting with customers online is just a click away.

Leveraging Social Networks and CRM:

Building rapport
Powerful and successful selling has its roots in building rapport with the decision makers thereby instilling trust and confidence in them. The prelude to executing a sale is meaningful rapport building with the customer, in order to make him believe in you and not turn away to a competitor. By engaging customers through engrossing social media channels and networks, interest is kept alive in the company and their offerings.

LinkedIn is useful in building as well as nurturing relationships because the root sources are reliable. By having existing and potential customers on company networks, their activities and interests can be monitored regularly and routes can be arranged and re-arranged to suit the customer’s psyche and needs.

When LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles are captured within the company’s CRM system, customer data is updated and comprehensive. As a result, sales reps. gain in-depth knowledge about customers, enabling fruitful interactions and bettering sales. People today spend a large chunk of their time on various social networks. This is an important head start to generate more sales, because by staying active on these channels and leveraging business news, updates and messages therein, not only is the customer’s attention captured but they are also reminded of the company’s presence. It thus becomes essential to integrate and align all the relevant information from the Social networks into the CRM system.

Smart marketing campaigns
Streamlined social campaigns can be run on LinkedIn to target existing clients as well as promising prospects. It also enables Micromarketing, offering an upside to companies. Another productive feature offered by LinkedIn is SlideShare, using which, sales presentations can be uploaded. Customers’ queries can be answered online. It also empowers the sales personnel to share budding opportunities, in-progress deals, and collaborate on proposals. Time needed for reference sharing plus developing and creating presentations is reduced to a large extent. Saving a lot of physical energy and valuable time, it may even lead to closing a sale in real-time.

Online discussions and assistance
Customized privacy settings disallow people from outside networks to view profile activities. This can be solved if company information is made viewable only after them being included in the person’s network. (This is mutually beneficial). Using the search tool, company or brand related keywords can be looked up. This enables creation of Support Cases and Lead Capturing directly to the SCRM. The case origin is known, and it can be filtered in the categories of a request, query, complaint or recommendation as the case may be. Activities, discussions, groups, etc. can be monitored to examine type of queries. Tools can be provided through which sales reps. could be prompted to actively involve themselves in providing detailed assistance online and offline. This gives customers a feeling of security, which enhances company goodwill and positively impacts future sales.

For people always on the move, having 24/7 accessibility is vital. It allows real-time updating of information. Professionals can stay in constant touch with customers, colleagues, leads, be well prepared for meetings, and reduce overheads and inconveniences of entering data only after returning to base. It allows sales reps to focus more productively on selling and relationship building activities.

Referrals and recommendations
Help in winning new customers. Sharing blog content, answering questions and helping out in fields which are the organization’s specific expertise domain, new business is acquired. It becomes easier to network with peers within the same industry thus enabling repeat referrals and also knowing which business leaders have recommended the company.

Assume a new lead is being targeted by sales. By studying LinkedIn connections, the user learns that this new prospect is acquainted with an existing client of the same company - who is already an ardent backer of the company’s products. Automatically the prospect will have a better reference point for the Company and would have already taken a few steps forward in his decision making process.

Company Profile features
The new Company feature helps find newer customers and subsequently pinpoint decision-makers. Identifying an organization’s top management is simplified. The Company Page feature displays comprehensive company information online, facilitating a better understanding of its strengths, size, territories, etc. More time can be spent by sales teams to focus on deepening relationships with prospects or customers without spending unnecessary time on hours of online research and non-core activities.

Social CRM solutions enables organizations to quickly access detailed information about their leads and customers, personal and professional details, companies they are currently as well as were previously associated with and lots more. This apart, people share opinions and experiences online through social networks – theses opinions can go a really long way in spotting and engaging a worthy lead.

Sporadic feedback having multi-faceted implications is what can be controlled by Social CRM software. The same can then be resolved in order to heighten customer satisfaction. After sales services can be bettered, customer retention and loyalty can be achieved, and the overall value of customer interactions can be raised a bar above by taking responsibility for every online interaction and conversation.

SCRM with LinkedIn has well defined advantages for users – just the ability to view detailed profile information and connections for every contact linked to an account can make a world of difference in choosing the correct person to initiate a sales pitch with and whom to convince for finalizing the deal. A ‘true’ 360 degree view of an account through any CRM solution is lacking without details of all relevant key contacts and their LinkedIn profiles. In a nutshell - LinkedIn and SCRM can facilitate improved business relationships by assisting companies in generating stronger referrals plus building better rapport with prospective and existing customers.

CRM Solutions in Retail can Help to Derive Business Intelligence, Market Basket Analysis and Demand Forecasting

The retail sector in India is witnessing exponential growth with the rise of modern retail stores which are taking over the traditional neighborhood stores. According to research firm Nielsen, sales at modern stores are increasing at a much higher rate than those of traditional stores; 29.3% versus 6.2% in 2010. The Boston Consulting Group has estimated the size of organized retail market in the country at $28 billion and projected growth of nine times over the next 10 years. With the Indian retail market finally opening to Foreign Direct Investment from global chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, the sector is all set to experience a makeover in which business functions such as CRM will play a major role. Customer Relationship Management is already a core business strategy for such multinational brands, with loyalty programs and data mining playing a crucial role in acquiring and retaining customers.

Business Intelligence in Retail CRM
CRM strategies can help provide integral business intelligence. CRM provides the necessary customer data which gives businesses the acumen required to make informed decisions. When a company understands what the customer wants, it can align its business goals and strategies to fulfill these wants. This is the function of business intelligence. Businesses across the globe are increasingly using BI software to aid business functions. According to research firm Gartner, the market for such software is all set to reach $12.5 billion in 2012, a rise of 7.2 percent over last year.

Business intelligence goes a long way in helping managers gain crucial insight about their business and customer to take efficient and actionable decisions. Managers in the retail sector can use business analytics to get insights about store operations, product demands and trends, customer’s purchase behavior, stock and inventory to make strategic decisions about product placements, loyalty programs, promotions, marketing and much more. For a sector where competition is on the rise and customers tend to be highly price-conscious, customer insights help retailers to provide the right mix of product, place and promotions to increase store revenues. It can help improve the overall shopping experience to keep the customers coming back.

Understanding Market Basket Analysis
As most purchases from retailers tends to take place on impulse, the concept of Market Basket Analysis helps retailers understand buying behavior and utilize this to make strategic decisions. Market Basket Analysis seeks to understand customers’ buying behavior by linking together types of purchases. Often customers are more likely to buy item A if they have already bought item B. With the use of this technique, companies can estimate sales and forecast demand for their products. Software used in market basket analysis are highly complex and are thus able to provide comprehensive information on customer’s shopping behavior, covering a variety of permutations and combinations.

One of the key advantages here is the ability for retailers to cross-sell their products. Furthermore, they can place products and promotions within the store in such a way as to facilitate purchase from customers. Retailers can also compare purchase habits between demographic groups, different stores, at different times of the week or during different seasons to further optimize their sales and marketing strategies.

Demand Forecasting
With a combination of business intelligence and market basket analysis, retailers are able to forecast demands across stores, different time periods and demographic profiles. Information from various customer interactions and transactions is integrated to conduct real-world retail forecasting. Demand forecasting is essential in the retail world to manage stocks, handle large volumes, highlight potential areas of concern and take actionable decisions to tackle falling sales. Furthermore, retailers can prevent wastage, residual stock and stock-outs caused by inefficient forecasting. Using this technique in retail enables efficient stock replenishment and equips retailers with the ability to respond efficiently to sudden changes in the market or environment that may cause a boost or decline in demand. It also prevents inaccuracies in holding stock to make the overall operations more efficient, leading to increased profitability. Daily forecasts of demand help retailers take the right strategic decisions for their business and keep customers satisfied.

Retail CRM is all set to witness a drastic surge in the coming decade. The way forward in this regard is to utilize essential business intelligence in understanding customer needs and forecasting demands to improve operations. Retail CRM solutions are designed to enable opportunity recognition, manage sales processes, track business activities and sales. They also provide cross-functionality between different stores and departments. With such capabilities, there is no doubt that CRM solutions for retailers will be a crucial link for business strategies in times to come.

Data Mining with CRM can Create a Winning Strategy

Customers today have little time for sales pitches and trivial marketing campaigns – the average sales person has around 30 seconds to create the right impression with a prospective customer or lose them to a competitor. To overcome these challenges and avoid customer churn, it is critical to enhance every interaction with a prospective customer and gain their appreciation for the value a particular product or service will bring to them. Information relating to myriad customers generated from a data mining tool which is seamlessly integrated with an effective CRM solution provides the most efficient interface for improving customer interactions and related activities to grow loyalty and increase advocacy.

The sheer volume of data that businesses have to deal with today is a proof of the importance of data mining techniques. Managers are fed information from various different departments and markets. It is essential for them to extract useful data from this and make informed predictions for their business. Data mining is the technique used to analyze data from different perspectives and turn raw information into operational information that can be used to cut costs, increase revenues and improve the overall productivity and efficiency of the business.
Data mining works by finding patterns in large databases to summarize the information into smaller useful statistics, using a combination of statistical and mathematical techniques as well as database systems. It is used in CRM to get useful insights about customers. In today’s highly cluttered market, businesses interact with customers through a multitude of channels. These interactions lead to the accumulation of large amounts of data relating to customer attitudes, buying behavior, demographic profiles, preferable channel of communication, preferences and much more. But, this data is only useful when it can be used in the business to take strategic decisions and improve the product and service offering. This is where data mining is applied.

Why use Data Mining in CRM?
One of the main advantages of data mining is the ability to extract previously unknown patterns and information that can help managers make better decisions. Businesses can isolate customers who are likely to have a higher Lifetime Value and concentrate on these. Alternatively, one can recognize potential customers and target them based on their likes and preferences. Data mining helps to create the optimal combination of media channel and product/ service offer to increase the likeliness of response from the customer. In this way, one can ensure proficient spread of resources across the business.

How is Data Mining used?
Data mining is used to facilitate a variety of business functions. For example, once the information generated from the data mining tool is integrated with related records on a CRM solution, auto-populated Templates can be emailed to prospects and customers with details of products and services that are most likely to make their life simpler. Responses can be captured and mail blasts can be scheduled through the CRM solution as per the marketing team’s requirements. Data mining is used to get crucial demographic information about the customer such as income group, life stage and customer life cycle. Once this data is extracted and integrated with a CRM application, it can help predict buying behavior based on the general behavioral patterns within the target group. These can help CRM users in up-selling products, generate well-targeted marketing strategies, finding other similar people for prospects and much more. Every customer is continuously present at a point on the Customer Life Cycle, from prospects to current customers and even lapsed customers. By recognizing the point at which customers are present, businesses can strategize to cater to such clients accordingly.

Data Mining Techniques used in CRM Solutions
Descriptive and predictive data mining: CRM uses both descriptive and predictive powers of data mining. Descriptive techniques are more exploratory in nature. They can be used to define the customer sets and draw out clusters and associations or make predictions based on current patterns. Predictive data mining is a complex procedure used to forecast behavior and aid in decision making. These work in conjunction with management needs. Based on the type of predictions required by the business, different data mining models may be used.

Market Basket Analysis: A popular data mining tool is Market Basket Analysis, whereby customers’ purchasing patterns are studied to forecast demands, understand buying trends and opportunities for cross-selling other products. This method is largely used within the retail sector to manage stock as well as optimize promotions and product placements within stores.

Clustering: This is a technique used in data mining to aid customer segmentation. It works by drawing out clusters from the customer base where customers with similar characteristics are grouped together. Algorithms are used to group customers based on pre-set parameters. These help businesses better target the product by using different tactics with different groups. Through a process of trial and error, one can create clusters which are closely linked by innate characteristics leading to tighter targeting.

Data mining techniques depend on the need of the business and can vary from simple statistical software to the most advanced analytics extracting cross-functional patterns to make healthy predictions. Decision makers must understand the kind of customers they need to target – those with the highest LTV, most likeliness to respond to an offer, opportunities for cross selling, etc. Once this is highlighted, the correct option can be chosen for optimizing customer experience along with bottom line revenues.

Regardless of which application or tool is applied, data mining information integrated with CRM solutions provide managers with a user-friendly means to study a detailed and in-depth understanding of their customers. What is crucial here for businesses is to understand the specific needs of customers across geographies, economic backgrounds and other critical criteria. Once they recognize the factors that need to be understood or predicted, they can choose the right combination of data mining tool and CRM software for their organization’s needs. Data mining is a crucial link in CRM setup - it creates the foundation on which CRM strategies are built and implemented.

Innovation and the Role of CRM

Innovation is increasingly being regarded as the most important driver of business growth and social welfare. For long, innovation has been about ‘surprising’ the customers, by presenting newer products with enhanced features, and possibly lower prices. But now with the advent of technology, and more importantly the Internet, the guesswork has gone out of the equation. Now customers can design what precisely (almost) they require and the task of the firm is reduced to delivering it at an acceptable value-price equation. The recent success of Dell’s Ideastorm, NikePlus and P&G’s Connect & Develop, among others, have raised a slew of questions on the role of a firms when the power of innovation increasingly lies in the hands of customers. Some of these are:
  • How does a firm engage with the customers to appropriate maximum value from customer generated ideas? 
  • Does the meaning of marketing change when customers aren’t just the recipients, but also contributors? 
  • When the locus of innovation shifts away from the firm, how easy is it to maintain customer loyalty?
These questions are interrelated and one of the common denominators that run through these is how the firm engages with customers. That’s where Customer Relationship Management (CRM) becomes imperative. In the following paras I discuss the role CRM solutions play in customer generated innovations and how in turn CRM gets impacted by the same.

CRM solutions have been gaining momentum among organisations and with increased consumerization and proliferation of the Internet, this practice has become almost virtuous for businesses, both large and small. In very simple terms, CRM intends to acquire, retain and enrich customers in order to enhance business value. It involves the activities of marketing, sales and services, and spans the entire lifecycle of the customers from a prospect stage all the way to retirement. Having known the host of alternates available to the customers and resulting hypercompetition in the marketplace, firms are increasingly realizing that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'. Hence customer retention is as important, if not more, than the customer acquisition, and if this satisfied customer can generate newer relationship, it’s worth the investment. With this backdrop, let’s investigate how the role of CRM changes when customer is no longer a source of money, but also that of ideas and that too ideas that could revitalize a business.

The way CRM solutions can leverage its already existing customer intimacy and business entrenchment to tap into customers’ creativity is the central issue the following passage discusses. Here’re a few recommendations of managers engaged in managing customer engagement-

1. Redefining the charter of CRM
CRM typically considers only the customers who can generate money or bring more customers as ‘valuable’. But how about those who don’t necessarily buy the firm’s products, but can propose useful ideas? Should they not be considered a part of the CRM process? They should be. Value needs to be redefined as anything ranging from raw ideas to mature relationships that could potentially bring more revenue to the firm. In this light, the charter of CRM should not only be to engage marketing, sales and services, but also product development and R&D division. This would also mean new reporting structure and incentive mechanism for the CRM group, such that both deals and ideas are rewarded.

2. ‘Listening’ to customers and prospects
While it’s important to listen to the customers, the departure from traditional CRM is that it isn’t about soliciting feedback or complaints, but about soliciting ideas. Here the Internet comes to resort. Firms need to create amicable online and offline environments where customers feel at ease, create communities and share ideas that firms can be recipient to. It’s not passive listening, but active engagement. One needs to however observe the caution that these online conversations about new ideas have to be shaped by the firm such that value can be derived; else the firm runs into the risk of letting chaos reign and in turn harming their brand value.

3. Share the responsibility and rewards
Customers feel the urge of exhibiting their individuality and by letting them do so, firms pass on a certain level of responsibility of value generation to them. But while the customer is participating in the making, they shouldn’t be deprived of the fruits either. And that’s where difficulty strikes. Knowing, evaluating and appropriating customer generated value isn’t that apparent and this may get even more tricky when multiple customers and firms are involved. Managers needs to factor such design constraints while implementing and reforming CRM software.

The next few years would see the rise of prosumers, even in India. The young, vibrant population, equipped with technology gadgets and an urge to exhibit their creativity, is the right concoction for such producer-consumers to flourish. And for firms that fail to tap into this opportunity, they would not only miss out on new products and markets, but also customer goodwill. Could India be a laboratory for such co-creation based solutions? I reckon so, especially in domains of telecom, entertainment, gaming and retail. CRM solutions, hence, has a task to play in engaging customers, and extracting value from such relationships to create new value.