5 Ways CRM Can Transform Sales Force in Insurance Industry

When people are talking about innovation, the insurance industry rarely finds a mention. While the mid-1900 saw the use of a lot of technologies and innovative ideas, the spurt has gradually died down, with the segment requiring a shot in the arm again to gain momentum. With the segment built on the notion of managing risk efficiently, the need for change may be rarely felt. Companies in the segment have always managed to invest premiums received efficiently and somehow remain in the black.

Although, the industry can be considered averse to sudden change, it has by no means ignored the needs of customers. This is one industry which constantly churns out products and strategies to attract new customers as well as retain old ones. However, just like the stock market, the insurance industry’s strategies have not been matching historical precedents. For one, cut throat competition, erosion of customer loyalty and the depleting growth in insurance premiums has forced companies within the sector to come up with solutions that add to the bottom line and help in providing value to precious customers. In addition, their revenues are not sky high, like they used to be during the golden decade of 1960 to 1970, resulting in a pressure to constantly lower cost and find new sources of revenue.

Key benefits of CRM in Insurance
This is exactly where a CRM solution comes into the picture. Cutting edge CRM solutions available in the market today can be integrated within insurance companies and bring about major transformations in business activities. Though, there are manifold benefits CRM in insurance can bring about like customer 360 degree view, purchase history, cross selling recommendations, contacts' social profiles, etc., I'll outline five transformations from the top level that are high on my list:


i. Optimize customer experience
In a heavily competitive market, the ultimate goal for any insurance company would be to keep customers happy. This would ensure their loyalty and prevent them from switching over to the competition. However, keeping a tech-savvy customer who has access to information  and is always impatient for solutions is not an easy task. A CRM solution that is customized for insurance companies employs a multi-prong approach for one simple goal - to keep customers satisfied.

A CRM solution not only helps insurance companies in predicting customer expectations, but also collects important information that equips customer service executives in call centers to serve customers better. If an insurance company is able to solve a majority of customer queries at the call center, it can ensure complete customer satisfaction. In addition, a detailed profile that is put together with the help of data from the CRM software helps insurance companies in handling customers with a more personalized touch. The ultimate result -  enhanced experience and happy customers.

ii. Provide mobility to the sales force
As I mentioned earlier, competitiveness in the insurance industry is staggering. In such a scenario, equipping the sales force with the latest communication tools and technology can be the difference between a successful company and an unprofitable one. A CRM solution ensures that the most up-to-date information is available, not only within the corporate office, but also with the sales force, which is usually mobile and active in the field. Mobile CRM solutions are increasingly being deployed to increase the effectiveness of sales pitches. This strategy is coming up mainly due to the prominence of tablets and smartphones with the customers and the sales force too. The purpose of such an integrated CRM solution is simple for any insurance company - to provide the sales force with access to business and customer details, so that closing a business deal becomes easier and convenient.

iii. Boost competitiveness
The sales team of an insurance company has to be constantly on their toes to remain competitive and close deals faster. An effective CRM solution in an insurance company gathers data efficiently. This, in turn, enables the sales force to foresee customer expectations with precision and as a result, enable them to sell more competitively and aggressively. In addition, it also gives them detailed information about newest products introduced by the company and match them with the needs of the customer they are facing.

iv. Build a strong brand
In addition to the bottom line, insurance companies are also giving due importance to customer loyalty. As with any company, their brand's reputation is becoming increasingly important because online tools make it easy for customers to share their feedback and enhance or tarnish any company’s image. A CRM solution not only aligns internal and external process, but also helps the sales team in collaborating with agents and customers. Some CRM solutions also help companies in monitoring and resolving customer concerns on social networks. By meeting customer expectations, insurance companies can maintain their brand image in the long run and establish a reputation in the segment.

v. Lowers costs and adds to the revenue
Insurance companies are typically constantly under pressure to cut costs and add to their bottom line in whatever way possible. However, this needs to be done while delivering quality products, world class services and satisfying customers completely, even after the sale has been made. A CRM solution enables effective management of customer requirements, thereby adding to revenue growth each year. In addition to ensuring customer satisfaction, a CRM solution also adds to the efficiency of company employees, helping further in reducing costs. Leaders in the insurance industry are increasingly realizing that an effective CRM solution can help retain existing customers as well as attract new ones.

Insurance companies, although slow on the offtake, are increasingly getting prepared to leverage the latest technology for cutting costs and increasing profitability. A CRM software is part of this strategy. After all, that is what will ultimately help them remain competitive in the toughest of markets.


3 Reasons to Incorporate Data Mining with CRM

Data Mining is a step towards Knowledge Discovery (KD), which is critical in a market flooded with competitors. Losing deals by making the wrong suggestions or overpricing goods can continue to be a downward spiral, unless the intelligence is used fruitfully. The unprecedented growth rate of databases, larger product offerings and the need for rapid decisions are some factors for increasing the popularity of data mining.

The whole concept of devising and improvising customer relationships and inter-department communication, so as to make them more accordant, may be termed as customer relationship management (CRM). The reason why data mining is considered important for CRM is because of its role in the utilization of various modeling and data analysis methods used for detecting customer patterns and relationships in the data.

The key to success in this century is to know what your customers need. The use of data mining with CRM solves this problem exactly and enables a higher return in revenues. This is in most cases is only possible when you are able to utilize minimum resources and generate maximum value to achieve the following:

  • Understand and respond to customers' needs. 
  • Send them the right products and offers.
  • Reduce the resources required for managing consumers. 
In commercial sectors, Data Mining and CRM software have become a strategic tool. In the following pointers, a few key reasons to integrate CRM in Data Mining.
  •  Creation of strong marketing databases:  This consists of making the right choices for marketing niches, the adept methods to apply in your marketing and the resources you plan to use in the marketing procedure. Creation of database is a critical step - the data one may have stored may not consist of what is relevant to you. There is a need to sort this out and develop a new one by employing data mining tools that are acclaimed in precise data collection.
  • Data analysis: The process consists of probing for information related to consumers on various rostrums such as forums, review sites and many other social media networks. Relevant data is collected and analyzed for the application and construction of business models, thus, leading to the development of a good predictive model. Consultants are appointed so that the data can be amalgamated and arranged in appropriate formats. An effective use of this unique information is through CRM solutions - users can view an analysis of each record along with cross sell effectively. Visualization tools and graphing techniques may be used to display the information in a more palpable format.
  • Identify correct model: After analysis of customers’ data, one can visualize a model conceding to behavior and trends like demand, purchasing patterns, investments and incomes. The model created should be monitored right away for assistance in decision-making regarding the firm’s relationship management.
The employment of data mining techniques and CRM software enables competent customer relationship management in companies of all sizes. Understanding customer mind sets and their propensity to buy particular products will help sales and services teams to identify the right suggestions when up-selling or cross-selling with a financial CRM . Marketing teams can also effectively pinpoint target audiences for specific products through data mining and accordingly devise bespoke strategies thereby increasing cost effective lead generation and overall ROI.


Forecast for Social CRM in 2013-14

Social media transactions are over a couple of billion every 24 hours and over 500,000 new Android phones are registered every day. Tracking and monitoring user generated content from social media can obviously generate a vault of actionable information - networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and more are constantly buzzing with user activity. Social CRM is the most reliable tool to ensure two-way communication between customers and businesses in real-time without triggering churn, if implemented correctly, it works quickly towards improving customer experience.

Why is Social CRM important?

It is common knowledge, social networking is trendier with every passing day. Be it social networking websites or the compulsive usage of smart phones and tablets, the ‘social’ inclination is compelling organisations to sharpen their focus on these social applications in order to provide a new dimension to important business functions.

Whether it is customers, employees or business partners, there is a gnawing need for all to communicate and collaborate through channels that merge social media into business applications. This phenomenon is rooted in the fact that in today’s day and age, almost everyone is actively involved with social networks and almost everyone owns at least a basic smart phone or tablet. Realizing this, businesses want to make the most of the trend to ameliorate all business processes, especially CRM. It can therefore be concluded, a social media business strategy is not discretionary, but, essential. In most industries, organisations will have no choice but to acquire the necessary intelligence and competencies to help stay equipped with social software tools. Closely and constantly monitoring relevant communities, participating therein and do the best to derive concrete analysis of these activities will become a necessity.

Studies indicate that in the next one year, the kind of social CRM software packages that are likely to emerge, will bring about the fusion of peer-to-peer community proficiency with already established CRM solutions in such a manner that customer involvement in business processes is heightened.

Impact of Social CRM on important organisational functions

Key features of Social CRM, 2013
Marketing
A social CRM strategy can give all aspects of marketing a face lift. In today’s scenario, social media has the power to influence even ‘traditional’ purchasers. In the marketing arena, social media is used to hear out and engage customers, and turn them into brand advocates.

When correctly applied, social marketing strategies increases conversion rates, shorten product development cycles and promote innovation. Additionally, it also facilitates a valuable source for organisations to gain important information and build meaningful relationships with customers.

Sales
Sales teams are also showing an increasing interest in social CRM software. As an extension of this, business organisations are making social networking websites widely accessible to their sales personnel – who in turn are successfully using these sites to contact, track and monitor leads.

E-Commerce sites are a reflection of how social CRM strategies are applied in sales. By the next year, a considerably large percent of sales personnel will make use of social media technology. However, quantifiable results are yet to see an increase in magnitude.

Customer service
Social for CRM initiatives are largely being applied in the area of customer service and support, as a measure to strengthen collaborative processes. When applied in this functional area, social for CRM elevates the quality of customer engagement and gives after-sales experiences a whole new dimension. Senior organisational executives are going all out to ensure that the sales and marketing teams develop unfailing processes that enable sharing of the best customer engagement examples and practices. Experts opine that customer service and support will be the area which has the maximum potential as far as innovations in social CRM are concerned.

Opting for the right vendor

The market for vendors who provide social CRM services is well defined. These vendors offer a range of products that leverage formal as well as informal customer communities, with the objective of fostering customer engagement not only with each other but also with the organisation, business and brand. The resultant positive impact greatly improves sales, marketing, customer services and relationships, as discussed above.

Social CRM software vendors can be segregated on the basis of the attributes by which they target and assist clusters of customers, internal users, partners, employees and all other stakeholders, and how they help with key organisational processes - the final objective being benefiting customers and organisations mutually.

Businesses today express the need for better cross functional integration and clutter-free applications. Organisations also want software that can seamlessly integrate social data with customer information contained within sales, marketing and customer service systems. A direct consequence of these needs means that most organisations will not really prefer ‘niche’ specialists, but would rather opt for those vendors who are able to successfully amalgamate social capabilities with existing CRM software.

With the passage of time, social for CRM vendors will require the ability to demonstrate how and where social data was fruitfully used in and contributed to core business functions. This means that in order to be successful and establish a strong identity, vendors have to be able to quantify results through ROI evidence; and deliver consistent, but at the same time, exclusive social for CRM solutions.

Studies by Gartner indicate that over the last two years, the number of vendors in the social CRM market has gone up by almost 32%. This computation is based on research about advanced offerings made by vendors, along with the vendor references in client queries.

Companies must do extensive research about which vendors will be able to provide the best assistance in the creation of online environments which not only enable relevant customer exploration, but also offer opportunities to successfully turn prospects into clients.

From the company point of view, all stakeholders must put their heads together with the IT teams, and shortlist vendors which will bring in maximum productivity, empower the organisation to realize their full social CRM potential, and constantly hand hold the organisation to successfully achieve their social for CRM objectives.

Conclusion

It is more than evident how a social for CRM strategy is imperative for any business organisation that wants to keep pace with changing times and merge social findings with business achievements. Choosing the correct vendor is the primary decision in that direction. Next, the organisation must ensure that all LOBs collaborate with the IT department to collectively define common objectives for a social CRM project. It is also vital that the exact usage of the social for CRM strategy is clearly defined in line with all the relevant business functions.

Though, it is true that the social CRM trend began in the field of marketing, it now influences every other discipline as well. Social for CRM strategies are rapidly impacting all the important functions that are crucial to flourishing sales organisations.

It would be safe to say that in the coming years, as social tools and networks progressively multiply, the market for social CRM software and applications will also witness a massive upsurge.


How Customer-centricity Can Boost Sales

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”- Henry Ford 
A mere serious thought to the above statement reflects, how then, it is the customer from whom the need arises and the customer eventually who keeps the business going. So, it is not hard to fathom that the client is the nucleus of all business activity. However, when the concept of Customer Alignment is being seriously pondered, one can infer that somewhere the customer got alienated from the main business cycle, or at least the focus seems to have drifted. Now, if the premise of any activity gets a little disoriented, how can optimum results be expected.

The 'demand and supply curve' forms the basis of all economic activity. Businesses run to fulfill the demand of the customers and thereby influence the factors of Price and Quantity. The demand arises from the client and the supply is made to the client to satisfy this demand. So, even in this entire number game, where price and quantity are pure numeric fields, what cannot be ignored is 'customer-centricity'. No organization in today’s times can afford to get complacent in this regard.

Importance of setting Sales Goals
A ‘sale’ is what gets in the revenue. It is the fodder on which entire business mechanics thrive. Various plans and techniques are discussed and put in place and there is a constant watch on figures and statistics on an everyday basis, when it comes to Sales. So, it is only natural that for something so critical, a targeted approach has been envisaged. Organizations usually set a sales target for their teams and keep a very close watch on the progress. Critical decisions are based on the numbers finally achieved. The following shall illuminate the benefits of doing the same:
  • Concentrated and focused effort 
  • Quantifiable and measurable progress 
  • Easily comparable performance 
  • Ease of identifying the highest achievers 
  • Can act as a pointer towards areas of improvement 
  • Can prove as a tool towards effective Change Management
There is absolutely no denial to the fact that, it is imperative that sales in an organization should be correctly measured and monitored. Also, what is of prime importance is the fact that, there should be drive and motivation to achieve and surpass targets. With competition having reached stratospheric levels everyone is vying for a place under the sun.

Sales Goals and Customer-centricity 
The criticality of customer-centricity is undisputable; for the organization as a whole and for each specific department. And the importance of customers can be individually elaborated for each department as well. However, the connection between Sales and customers is by far the most glaring. It is the sales person who is performing the entire ‘selling transaction’ and is dealing with either the actual end user or the final decision maker.

The entire sales process, right from the first call or meeting to the final closure, is a direct interaction between sales person and the client. Sales goals, no matter how quantitative they appear to be, cannot be at odds with the client. The situation will not work at the individual/department/organization level. Had the objective been a one-off deal, then just the number of deals closed could determine the success rate. But, if the agenda is continuous and sustainable growth, then there is a whole paradigm shift in the process.

Approach each customer with the idea of helping them solve a problem or achieve a goal, not of selling a product or service.Brian Tracy (motivational speaker and author; Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International)
What the above statement outlines is that the sales numbers would be a direct outcome, if customer-centricity is the approach.

Selling is a two way process:
1. New account/client acquisition
2. Repeat Sales

The sales force needs to emphasize both equally. A business definitely needs to add fresh clients to its portfolio because that is what expands the business and opens up fresh avenues. However, satisfied existing clients are extremely important as that is where the steady revenue stream lies. Along with that, satisfied clients are an excellent source of ‘Referral Business’. As most successful sales people will vouch for, getting new business through a good reference is far more easier and efficient way of doing sales.

Application of Pareto’s Principle
Another theory to be considered is the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule). The principle when applied to business implies that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.

The above categorically defines how critical customer-centricity is to sales figures. A huge percentage of sales figures are attributed to a small percentage of clients. Clearly this 20% covers the satisfied clients segment, which eventually become your biggest buyers and has the highest share of the sales pie.

What this boldly signifies is the basic understanding of the fact that the aim of the business should be client satisfaction and sales numbers would be an eventual outcome of the same. You need those 20% of the clients who would give you the maximum business.

Changing Dynamics
Sales goals cannot be looked at in isolation or just as a number game in terms of units sold or revenue generated. Sales is now an elaborate client inclusive process and the actual sale is the final step.

Certain parameters other than the final numbers are actively being incorporated in the sales goals and sales persons are evaluated on their basis as well. A few of them are:
  • Number of client meetings held
  • Client Retention rate
  • Client feedback in terms of overall professionalism and access to relevant information
  • Knowledge and understanding of the product by the sales person
Business, no matter how practical an endeavor, cannot be successful if it is neglecting the very consumer, it is intending to serve. It is a widely known fact that brand loyalty forms a very crucial aspect and has a big impact on the sales numbers. Customers refuse to change brands regardless of difference in price or even quality. Their personal interaction, the brand image that they carry, the past experience are huge influencing factors while making the final purchase. A focused approach towards customer-centricity makes a big difference in the sales figures and companies that realize the potency of the fact are sure to benefit in the long run. Sales automation with an enhanced workflow and effective customer strategies are best achieved through a future proof CRM software solution for organizations of all sizes.


How CRM Solutions Empower Customer Service Representatives to Match Customer Expectations



Optimizing customer experience is the ultimate goal of any CRM solution from this decade. In today's hi-tech market place much of the customer experience is online, when a customer chooses to interact directly with a company whose products or services they are using, they have several avenues through which they can communicate. Ultimately, the customer only wants to know one thing and that is “Did you receive my service request? What is the optimal solution?”.  With so many reasons driving a customer to interact with the company, most times what any customer wants is to know for sure is whether their requests are being handled and how much time will it take. A CRM solution integrates all of the customer information from across touch points (website, call center, branch, social network, etc.) and provides the tools to skilled customer service representatives to effectively handle all customer requests within specific target SLAs (Service Level Agreements).

In most cases, if a customer actually has to make a phone call to talk to somebody in person, it means that other attempts to communicate have either failed or the customer has not received an official response. So, when the fateful call happens and the customer is on the phone attempting to follow-up, it becomes the responsibility of the Customer Service Representative (CSR) to ensure customer satisfaction. Again, what is the customer really looking for? They just want a confirmation their request or complaint has been logged and that something is going to be done within a short span of time to match at leat their first level of expectations. This is where a CRM solution provides the CSR with the business tools needed to be able to respond accurately to customer queries. But, to understand the customer's needs and provide appropriate solutions, the company should enable access to the relevant information. An effective CRM software becomes the go-to system for customer facing representatives because of its centralized repository of solutions and workspaces for content libraries in these situations.

Real-time customer information
The CSR who handles the customer's call is facilitated with instant customer recognition through CTI integration to ensure positive customer experience through auto-populated screens. It falls on the shoulders of the CSR to be able to provide this optimized experience directly to the customer through the information accessible via the CRM's interface. A comprehensive CRM solution should provide the CSR with instant information regarding all communications that the customer has had with the company through activity management. To be able to say “Yes, we got your email” or “Yes, we saw your tweet” and “Yes, we will have that for you within a specific time frame,” is critical to the empowerment of the CSR in satisfying the customer's needs.

What enables the CSR to be able to confidently speak for the rest of the company is the pervasive information that goes into the CRM solution from all aspects of the business. An effective CRM software for customer services will be securely accessible from all levels of the business for input of critical information, so that a “Big Picture” can be maintained for access by everyone in the business. When a customer calls with a query, their experience will be optimal, regardless of which CSR ends up handling the inbound call. The representative will be empowered with updated information pertinent to the caller and provide adequate solutions to their needs, thus preserving the integrity of the customer relationship and enhancing the customer's perception.

Before I finish, let me answer an important question -Who uses the CRM? The answer - everybody in the organization does! From the President, CEO, CFO, CMO, sales representatives, marketing teams, supply chain staff, shipping and warehouse department, production and acquisitions all the way down to the CSR. The CFO and upper management staff can keep a birds eye view of what is happening to the business on a global scale and make key executive decisions based on real-time metrics and pipelines. Production and 
acquisitions can in turn gear themselves to meet the needs of the sales force. The CSR at any location can always speak with authority because of the completeness of the information in the CRM software and build better rapport too. Last but not least, the customers themselves will always have timely responses across geographies and products when they contact the company. Customer experience optimization is easily achievable and CRM solutions work behind the scenes and through user interfaces to support everybody so that everybody is working in conjunction to “Keep the customer happy”!

5 Reasons Why Using Mobile CRM Improves Sales Performance

There are more than 900 million mobile connections within the country (India), with around 8 million subscribers being added on a monthly basis. This exponential usage of mobiles combined with the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets–which is not only being witnessed in the urban areas, but also in the rural pockets of the country–have significant ramifications for CRM solutions. A Gartner report states that by the year 2020, the mobile device will be the medium through which nearly 50% of all web-based customer service interactions will take place. Whether it is for the purpose of marketing, customer service or price competition, mobile devices are quickly becoming the key to communicate with customers, and simply cannot be ignored.

5 reasons to make your CRM mobile:
Customer 360 degree view on the go

1. Increasing the efficiency of the sales force
This, for a business, is a crucial function of a mobile CRM solution. Once the sales person is out of office, a mobile CRM ensures that he not only receives important updates in information, but is also able to access and change customer details within the system as and when required. Latest information will also enable him to close a sale efficiently and confidently. Until recently, leads generated by applications were available only to sales people who were in office and were able to access the company network. But, with mobile CRM coming into the picture, leads are integrated with the sales forces’ devices, eliminating the need for physical presence in their offices in order to grab a sales opportunity. Mobile CRM for sales is also equipping sales teams that face customers to provide competitive prices on the basis of buying history and the current market scenario.

2. Improving customer engagement and satisfaction
A classic example of this is what Amazon and eBay have done with their mobile applications, both the organizations allow customers to look up and compare products through their camera devices. This has led to a concept called ‘showrooming’, wherein customers look up and examine products in stores, but buy them from the web through their mobile devices. Keeping in mind that consumers might often shop online using their mobile phones when they are short of time or killing time at an airport lounge or mile long traffic jam, web interfaces for mobile users should be easy and quick to navigate with options to compare similar products and provide a secure payment portal.

In addition to this, mobile CRM allows sales people to enhance customer experience. For instance, a sales person can instantly access customer details and his own schedule on his mobile device, and confirm a follow up meeting, eliminating constant back and forth in communication with a customer. Customer service professionals can also utilize their devices to provide better, faster and more efficient service, making a positive impact with new and existing customers every time.

3. Enabling real time information and collaborations
An effective mobile CRM solution unlocks real time information and makes it available to everyone within the organization simultaneously. This ensures that all team members are on the same page, and can utilize the information to their advantage instantly. If a salesperson is on tour and requires real time information while facing a customer, they can easily access these details through a mobile CRM solution.

4. Increasing business opportunities
Smartphone devices are increasingly allowing a majority of customers access to the web, this provides businesses ample opportunities to increase business and touch base with their target audiences. Organizations can not only initiate a marketing strategy to target these customers through specialized campaigns and lead capture forms. Rules can be customized to assign new leads based on their location and product to the most appropriate members on the sales team who will be updated immediately and can access the record to start the follow up process through their mobile CRM.

5. Boosting organizational efficiency
Simply by integrating information, making it available to everyone at all times, and enabling employees to utilize it to their advantage, a mobile CRM boosts employee productivity, and in turn, overall organizational efficiency. It also cuts time spent in administration and management of information, as real time information can be added or edited instantly via a mobile device by the relevant user. Unproductive hours can also be cut down because of consistency in information, enforced through validations, deduplication and merge rules.

Smartphones are fast becoming the new hub for promoting businesses and increasing profitability. If your sales team is not using mobile CRM, you are losing out a valuable source for effective collaborative team efforts and quicker lead conversions. Mobile phones should be part of any organization's long term strategy to avoid customer churn through access to instant updates and quick allocation of activities to other CRM software users regardless of location or time zone.


4 Step Process for Leveraging Big Data to Create Future Proof CRM

Enhancing strategies with big data
To comprehend the potential value contained in something, it must be understood what it means in the first place. In order to know how ‘Big Data’ (a regular phrase in today’s global business jargon) brings in real worth to business organisations and CRM solutions, the value of such data should be holistically and intrinsically weighed.

The definition of Big Data according to Gartner - "High volume, velocity and/ or variety of information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing, in order to enable enhanced insight, decision-making, and process automation."

Technological intelligence and its appropriate application are no longer luxuries; they have in fact become a necessity in today’s economic and industrial scenario. In its “2013 Priorities” predictions report, Gartner concludes that four important words herald the future of technology – Cloud, mobile, social, and of course, information. After in-depth research, Gartner has indicated that business organisations that successfully manage to leverage these four ‘tech territories’, will race ahead of those organisations which don’t. This model, which recognizes the mammoth power of these four technology pillars is called the ‘Nexus of Forces’ – and the model explicates how fruitful the synthesis and mutual reinforcement of the four co-dependent pillars can be. Gartner further explains how the coalescence of these dynamic forces can empower both individuals as well as organisations in mutually beneficial information exchange, through smartly designed, ubiquitous technology.

However, it is stressed that though each of these forces have their own set of advantages to businesses, it is important to bear in mind that actual value can only emerge from the union of these forces. Cloud and mobile go hand in hand, and social media works wonderfully with information analytics; all these together contain maximum appeal when they work in unison. As far as companies and their marketing efforts are concerned, only those organisations will be triumphant who can proudly announce their conspicuousness in cloud, mobile, social and information (big data) markets.

How the Nexus of Forces impacts CRM

The Nexus of Forces is making an enormous impact on CRM solutions. The advent of Sales Force Automation (SFA) a few years ago was the first indication of the same. In current times, social networking platforms have given marketing and customer service a face lift, while on the other hand it is being predicted that mobile will be the future enabler for important organisational functions.

Even though any CRM solution by its very definition embodies a large quantum of customer information, the Nexus of Forces is further reinvigorating the magnitude, momentum and miscellany of such information. The natural consequence is a revolution in how this multifarious customer data is managed. Gartner foresees big data that as the next disrupter in the Nexus of Forces for marketing, sales and customer service.

It is thus clear that big data holds the potential to provide actionable insights which in turn can generate a huge number of customer-related opportunities. However, since these opportunities will span across the “functional tripod” of organisations i.e. marketing, sales, and customer service, they will vary accordingly.

Big Data Application to CRM solutions: Roadmap

In order to draw worth from Big Data, it is imperative for organisations to pinpoint relevant customer services spanning across sales, marketing, customer service and even E-commerce which can derive value from those actionable customer insights that stem from analyzing big data. Following the identification of a customer service process as a ‘big data’ advantage, CRM leaders must work in close coordination with top level executives to ensure that true business gains are achieved.

All customer processes that are singled out should follow the roadmap below:
  • Customer information sources which could be instrumental in formulating effective big data strategies must be identified.
  • The sourced customer data must be systematically managed and integrated.
  • Big data analytics must be leveraged to extract pertinent customer insights.
  • The derived insights must be applied to make appropriate customer-related decisions. 
Step 1: Source identification

Business organisations most often have extensive quantities of both big data as well as customer data - this includes information in CRM solutions. Another facet of available customer information is unused or so called ‘dark’ data which comes from online sources like blogs, speech and location based contexts, texts, etc. The dark data is actually where the maximum untapped potential lies. However, since this kind of information is usually unstructured, it often becomes a major challenge for organisations to manage it effectively.

Gathering relevant information from scattered sources is the first step towards deriving big data value. Source identification is the step where relevant data sources needed for big-data-directed processes are uncovered. However, the diversity of sources makes this a tricky phase.

All internal, external and potential sources are collectively responsible in contributing an assortment of customer information. Internal data comes from the company’s internal systems. As far as externally sourced data is concerned; suppliers, distributors, partners and other third party data suppliers are contributory factors. Another source of external information is cloud based solutions. Then there is social media, which needs no mention about magnitude and heterogeneity. Together, this can almost lead to an information overload, sometimes making it a Herculean task for organisations to accurately acquire and manage the same.

It is therefore important for organisations to be able to determinate the most fitting customer data sources, which will be in congruence with both organisational objectives as well as customer processes. Other critical considerations are privacy terms and legal usage policies with respect to information sources as well as management.

An interesting observation by Gartner is that most companies still depend on structured data lodged in their internal marketing and customer databases, or data coming from third-party suppliers. Very few are capitalizing on unstructured information which is mostly rooted in mobile initiatives and social networks. Gartner predicts that 2013 will witness an increasing number of organisations who are willing and able to amalgamate structured with unstructured data stemming from multifarious sources towards their big data CRM drive.

Step 2: Management and Integration

As discussed above, contributory information sources towards big data CRM initiatives will be widespread. This is exactly why information management and integration will be pivotal.

Appropriate administration of information is the next step towards achieving value from big data. This involves effective information management using big-data-supportive technologies, data quality tools, master data management (MDM) solutions and finally an enterprise information management (EIM) discipline.

Organisations are usually well equipped with advanced, well-defined tools and techniques for the integration and management of hierarchical and structured data. This is primarily because such kind of information has a pre-determined structure, well known optimization and a more or less fixed pattern. Secondly, the structured data is stored in conventional marketing, sales, and / or customer database systems, making it more easily accessible and modifiable.

The large quantum of unstructured data arising from social, mobile and speech data sources is where the challenge in information management lies. This happens because organisations have become habitual in the management of structured data and their relational data systems. Ironically, majority of big data CRM initiatives will need the management, integration and analysis of structured and unstructured data both, in order to bring forth actionable insights. Unfortunately, existing information technologies and infrastructure cannot simultaneously handle both information types. Heterogeneous cases can be best managed when multiple data sources and multiple data types can be consistently integrated using well designed processes and practices.

It is important to use proper integration methods to merge the two data categories (structured and unstructured) in order to effectively create a single customer view. The next step would be application of the same at various levels in the technology stack, which would produce results varying from strategic to tactical – both of which are equally important for businesses. Achieving a single customer view also requires the creation of a strong foundation for future applications along with a physical MDM master.

All the above will need utmost dedication from C-level executives, who will have to put their heads together with CRM leaders to ensure all of the above are actualised. Overall organisation coordination and commitment with respect to resources and time is also a must.

Step 3: Extracting insights

Application of advanced techniques for analysis is the third step in the process of value derivation from big data, so that fruitful customer insights are generated. A variety of analytical tools and capabilities can be applied which will yield different kinds of insights – insights which will hold the potential to bring about accurate customer decisions.

Customer analysis analytics answer vital questions like what is happening, why is it happening, what will happen in future, and how the organisation can be instrumental in making something substantial happen in the future. Getting actionable answers to all these questions forms the crux of successful big data CRM initiatives.

Understanding what is happening and why, will unveil several new opportunities for organisations to sell more to customers and take a lead in preventing customer service problems. The next step forward for organisations will be to understand what opportunities the future holds and what their contribution to it will be.

What and why questions generate data that helps in creating a concrete foundation for the next two levels. At present, most CRM initiatives are focusing on taking action in concern with the first two questions. However, in areas like marketing, gaining a better understanding about what the future is likely to showcase, will ensure better cross-selling and up-selling efforts. Only a handful of organisations are taking the lead in exploring what substantial role they can play in the predicted future.

Step 4: Converting insights into decisions

To achieve the desired objectives and generate fecund business results, the customer insights which have surfaced must be converted to useful action. Here, information application translates to the application of the surfaced customer insights to the relevant customer processes and decisions in a manner that positively benefits the organisation as well as the customers. This is the final step in the derivation of rich value from big data. For example, social listening is an inseparable part of the social networking world. Here, companies must actively ‘listen’ to customers on social websites, so they can understand new patterns, reinforce the existing (positive) ones, and basically get a clear picture about customer perception about their brands/ products and even the organisation in general. The reaction to such feedback will shape upcoming strategic business models, by way of collaborative decisions or predictive analysis. Feedback loops hold heavy potential because the insights gained from feedback can largely improve all processes.

Software can be appropriately designed to drive workflow automation tools to help in lead generation and tracking, design special offers for specific customer segments, feed automated alerts to customer support centers, and fine-tune product recommendations in online and offline business sources.

CRM leaders, IT teams and top executives must work in harmony to automate customer decision making using the seek, analyze, model and adapt framework. They must also work together to acquire, manage, analyze and apply big data insights successfully to customer processes.

Other concerns surrounding Big Data

Privacy: No matter how active and informed today’s customers are, a small speck of doubt always remains. Hence, it is important to ensure that appropriate information is revealed to customers, and requested from them to reveal as well, so that they never experience violation of their privacy.

Timing: Correct timing can make or break things. Every customer opportunity contains an apt time frame within which offers and messages must be communicated. Promptness in resolving customer queries and addressing grievances is also vital.

Channels: Channels and individuals who deliver offers/ messages should be very carefully selected, since this largely influences customers’ decision making actions. Additionally, the tone of messages must be in sync with the kind of offer being made as well as the channel through which it is delivered.

Consistency: Big data brings big opportunities. But with these voluminous opportunities come the likelihood of bombarding customers with excessive, inconsistent or even contradictory messages. If the thin line between informing and bombarding is crossed, customers may be lost for life.

Upshot

Customer-centric strategies encounter both opportunities and challenges from big data. Gigantic, complex data sets can definitely offer significant value and insights to organisations, however, most organisations are still unable to put a finger on what exactly the accrued benefits are. This is what needs to be addressed first.

With progressing time, data sets are increasing in complexity and diversity, which can be complementary to business processes and CRM solutions both. These diverse data sets also assist businesses to fill in any vacuums in the system, as a direct consequence of which, operations, decisions and business delivery are significantly improved.

The complexity does not lie in information resources – it lies in the growing demand for fresh and efficacious forms of information capture, storage, management, integration, conversion, and finally analytics.


6 Ways Social CRM Strategies will Increase Lead Generation in 2013

Social for CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or social CRM is a mutually beneficial and highly engaging business strategy that strengthens cloud-based communities, business organisations and their relationships with customers by creating new and enhanced opportunities for organisational functions like sales, marketing and customer service. Customer-company relationships are redefined too.

A social CRM strategy encompasses processes and software which create linkages between customers, organisational employees, partners, agents, and prospective clients on two levels. At the first level, it enables intra-group interaction and on the other level, it facilitates inter-group interaction, on a larger scale. When all these interactions reinforce sales, marketing and customer service, the solution or strategy is termed as 'Social CRM'.

The interactions surrounding a social CRM strategy include a whole range of business activities. However, the spotlight remains on leveraging social networks to expedite marketing and sales campaigns/ promotions and resorting to crowd sourcing in order to develop new product concepts, enhance the quality of services and create solutions for existing as well as anticipated problems.

The 6 key benefits of an effective social CRM strategy
Social CRM allows organizations to interact with customers through their preferred channel and at their convenience thereby capturing and generating experiences that are natural and more heartfelt.
  • Elevates brand visibility and awareness - social campaigns, user generated reviews/ comments and related conversations on today's most popular social channels improves customer perceptions and generates fresh leads.
  • Drives higher web traffic thereby increasing advertising revenues - sharing links and displaying ads on social networks with content targeting specific customer segments ensures better brand visibility and more website visitors.
  • Assists sales through a pool of contacts generated - social profiles and inter-related connections help sales persons understand prospective and existing customers along with their preferences and interests.
  • Increases lead volumes - leads can be captured from social networks and assigned to the most relevant logged-in user through social CRM to hasten the follow-up and conversion process.
  • Provides a platform for customer generated reviews - user generated reviews are the best way to cost-effectively increase lead generation through word-of-mouth advocacy. Facilitating easy access through any web enabled device to your company's social pages ensures feedback can be readily shared by customers and leads around the clock.
  • Capitalizes on valuable feedback captured through various social communities - companies can continually improve their products and services by analyzing social conversations to understand needs, expectations and mindsets of their existing and potential customers along with those of their competitors.
Incorporating social networking tools in CRM solutions ensures a smoother information flow and enhanced internal/ external collaborations, especially important when the exchange of news and views between users are at supersonic speeds and visible to a multitude of people. Social CRM is a contemporary organisational strategy, fueled by the power-packed potential contained in trust, connections, recommendations and goodwill. The ultimate objective of the strategy is to offer advice and recommendations in order to carve a more sensible path towards buying decisions. The primary benefit driven directly to businesses is that the interaction and participation among employees, prospects, customers, partners and agents is given a whole new meaning, which ultimately brings about long term gains to organisational functions, goals and to the organisation as a whole.