OPINION

Doing More With Less: The Social CRM Challenge for the Mid-Sized Biz

One of the great promises of the Social CRM revolution was — at least in my mind — the opportunity for quick, creative, smaller companies to develop the same sort of customer relationships that larger companies could afford to create.

There’s a gulf between small businesses, which may speak or even see their customers in a one-to-one scenario, and large businesses, which have sufficient manpower and money to create intimate relationships through the use of the right technologies and processes.

Last week’s Gartner Customer 360 Summit in Los Angeles, however, pointed one thing out to me very clearly: The companies in the middle may have a harder time with this than they might expect.

Committee of One

The content was strong and supported by research, and the ideas were well presented. Each session was concluded with a call to action — what to do when you return to the office, what to do within 30 days, and what to do within 90 days. The advice given was solid — but it was tailored for a distinctly Gartner-y audience.

Most medium-sized businesses don’t have manpower enough to assemble committees to look at ways to combine online and offline marketing channels, for example; they may have one person who handles all of marketing — social media and otherwise.

There were numerous people attending the conference who fell into the category of the medium-sized business head of marketing or sales or service. Unfortunately, an industrial-strength approach to the issues of making their CRM efforts more social isn’t available to these people.

There was still value in the conference for these folks. One marketing director told me that she was relieved, after listening to numerous sessions, to talk to a peer who was in the exact same situation she was in: Roles for monitoring and acting on social media were expanding far faster than resources, and so it became necessary to stop and think hard not about adopting a comprehensive set of tactical social CRM activities, but to pick the ones that best fit into the business’s overall CRM strategy.

“It was a relief to know I didn’t have to do it all,” she said.

Find the Sweet Spot

Indeed, when you’re a one-man band, you can’t do it all. However, you can appropriate some of the strategies intended for the big boys and put them to work. For example:

  • Measure everything. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that content is so vital that you can use its creation as an excuse not to do the hard work of determining the proper metrics for your efforts and then keeping a vigilant eye on how well the efforts you’re pursuing are paying off. It’s even more important for smaller, more resource-constrained businesses to do this than for large businesses; a big budget can justify limping along with an effort that a smaller organization can do without.
  • Listen hard. The customers will tell you where you need to devote your time and attention. Again, smaller businesses are compelled to do this by their limited resources; large businesses may simply start with a broad list of channels and expend budget on them before they start to listen.
  • Create great content. Your ideas will set you apart, so it’s imperative that your participation in the channels you select is authentic, on target and informative. It’s better to deliver excellent content to a limited number of channels than it is to deliver so-so content all over the place. In the social era, good content can be a force multiplier and get your presence in front of more eyes than the ones you initially targeted, while poor content can rapidly brand you with a negative public impression.

These little lessons, among many others that could be distilled from Gartner’s social-heavy summit, indicate that CRM champions at smaller companies are actually forced to do the things that any business has to do to be successful with social CRM. To be successful — and even to survive in their jobs — they need to be the most disciplined at listening, selecting channels and acting efficiently on communicating back into those channels.

So, if you want to see how social CRM works, don’t look at the Fortune 500, or the small shop down the street. Keep an eye on the companies in between that need to execute precisely to wring the promise out of social CRM.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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