Archives For January 2013

In a recent blog, Ernst & Young’s Laurence Buchanan quite astutely pointed out that we are entering a new age of CRM. For want of better terms, he defined the age we’re leaving as the “analog” age and the age we’re entering as the “digital” age, primarily because the penetration of digital technology has had a change in the way businesses reach customers and vice versa.

Laurence delivered a tremendous keynote at SugarCon 2011 that touched on these topics (you can see it on SlideShare)  but this blog expands on these ideas, and it led Laurence to these set of characteristics of a “digital age” CRM application:

  • Designed for Customers and front line customer-facing staff, not just for management
  • Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum
  • Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.)
  • Delivered in an iterative fashion with constant business involvement
  • Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package)
  • Cross-functional in nature, busting through internal silos
  • Paid for based on value delivered to the business

It’s always great to see a respected thinker independently assert ideas that you hold dear, and that’s what Laurence has done here. He wasn’t talking specifically about Sugar, but he articulated many of the ideas that SugarCRM has used to build its platform. Here are a couple ways that Sugar achieves that:

“Designed for Customers and front-line customer-facing staff, not just for management:” This is the heart of SugarCRM’s “user first” philosophy. There’s no point in designing an application that caters to management and focuses on reporting if the people who feed data into the system (the front-line customer-facing staff) don’t use it. Sugar’s constant focus on the front-line user means that managers get better, more accurate data to work from, and the users clearly how using the application makes their jobs easier, makes them more in commissions, allows them to market better, or enables them to provide better support. A CRM application should make everyone better at his or her job, not just the sales manager.

“Focused on speed to value and positive internal momentum:” This is such a vital consideration we created a white paper about this very subject.  It’s critical that you take this into account, not just at the time of the initial deployment but as new features are added. The paper suggests that you ask yourself, ”from the time you begin deployment of a CRM solution, how long did it take before the solution delivered real business value as measured by criteria that you defined? We believe that with the right approach, you can achieve measurable business value from CRM in as little as 30 days.”

Of course, deployment time can be affected by outside influences, like the quality of the data you start with. But when the application is designed with this notion of speed to value as a critical attribute, you’re far more likely to see a return on investment – not just a faster ROI, but ROI in general, since delays can harm your ability to gain user buy-in and the universal adoption that leads to a truly effective CRM system.

“Designed with a core foundation (e.g. data, processes) but able to embrace change at the front-end of customer interaction (i.e. devices, apps, social networks etc.).” Sugar’s basic functionality is solid, but there’s a lot more to it than just the basics. As you get beyond the core sales force automation features you’ll see not only built-in support for mobility  (and that means mobility on all major devices) and for social media input (via activity streams), but also an unparalleled ability to integrate with the applications that are key to running your business.  Which leads directly to…

“Open and integratable in nature (often made up of a collection of services rather than a single package).” That doesn’t mean applications or services from a specific technology stack, as in the case with other major CRM vendors. That means the applications you select because they’re the right choices for your business. Because flexibility and integration are two more basic tenets in the Sugar design philosophy, and because SugarCRM works with over 400 resellers worldwide to deliver the application, it’s far easier and far les expensive to maintain that control over your business software systems. The vendor doesn’t dictate which applications you will use; you decide what’s best for you.

Laurence wasn’t describing SugarCRM in his blog post, but we’re exceedingly pleased that his choice of words fits us so well!

The shift from transactional selling to solution selling has turned business people into something akin to therapists. Today’s best sales people need to immerse themselves in their customers’ problems and create customized, long-term solutions to these challenges. They can’t just take orders for what they have on the shelf, but rather map their products to their customers’ pain points and unlock the value of their solution.

It’s the difference between saying, “Would you like to super size your French fries?,” and asking, “So you need French fries. Tell us more about the current lack of fries in your organization. Have you considered Belgian fries? If you had better fries, would you be better positioned to hit your goals?” Customer problems are far more complex these days, which means it’s your job to think through the in-depth answers.

Social selling tools, or “social CRM,” can help businesses understand these new and complex problems, and address them (and solve them) even before their customers can properly articulate them. By staying social with customers, you can identify and squash problems before they affect a business – something for which your customers may never stop thanking you.

Unfortunately, not enough companies make it possible for their employees to talk to each other in this manner, much less talk to customers: A recent study from IABC and Prescient Digital Media notes that 39 percent of companies don’t have any social tools on their intranets. On the other hand, research is showing that the benefits of this social interaction are real: An ongoing McKinsey & Company study is clocking such outcomes as increased market share and reduced time to market.

Social tools are a big help in gaining benefits like faster time to market and higher customer satisfaction, but they need to work in concert with each other to have any real impact. Random tweets and off-the-cuff blog posts that are not part of a larger customer relationship strategy will just become noise. Here’s a more cohesive, five step approach to creating an ongoing dialogue with customers and showcasing the good work that you do to ensure satisfaction.

Social CRM building block #1: Your social profile. If you haven’t done it already, create your LinkedIn or Xing (in Europe) profiles.  This is where you list your industry experience and tell the world why you enjoy selling what you sell.  You will be amazed at how often your prospects and customers look at your LinkedIn profile to see who you are, what you look like, where you went to school, how long you have been in the industry.  They want to know what makes you tick.  Why?  Because people buy from people.

Social CRM building block #2: Your blog. This is where you expand on the ideas you have been posting to Twitter and LinkedIn. Think of the blog as the online equivalent of giving a keynote speech at an event. You’ll profess your position on issues most important to your customers, and see if you can generate any interest (in this case, via comments on blog posts). Posting at least once a week will help your audience get into the habit of turning to your blog for guidance.  Starting your personal blog at is easy and free.  Figuring out what to post can be harder.  This is where you should focus more on being conversational than pontific and let your natural voice that you use with your customers come out.  What do you talk about with your prospects every day?  Well, write it up in a series of short blog posts.

Social CRM building block #3: Dialogue in the Forums. If your company doesn’t have a corporate forums site, it’s easy to start a Group in LinkedIn about your company or just your industry. Think of this as the Q&A session that follows your keynote speech. This is where the conversation really starts. Ideally, you and your team start these conversations with provocative questions, like: Why do we even need XYZ product? Why can’t anyone seem to solve such-and-such a problem? Then listen to the answers, and keep the dialogue going. Don’t waste everyone’s time with “soft” questions – you need to hear the dirt if you’re really going to uncover the customer problems you need to solve. For key members of the sales team, I’d suggest spending at least one hour a day on reading, developing, and responding to such questions.

Social CRM building block #4: Twitter: Here’s where you start getting the word out about the insightful conversations you’re having in the discussion forums, and the thought leadership that appears on your blog. Tweet out the best nuggets from the forums, engage in skirmishes (hopefully, polite ones) among the subject-matter experts and begin attracting attention for the community you are building. Posting at least once a day will entice your audience to connect and follow your online commentary. I suggest using HootSuite, a free social media tool, to help you monitor your social activity streams and quickly post to your social outlets.  I also like for automatically tweeting content on a daily basis that I find interesting.

Social CRM building block #5: Internal social networks: This step doesn’t involve direct communication with customers, but it does help you disseminate the knowledge you’ve gained to the rest of our team. And by the “team,” I don’t just mean sales. When customers aren’t happy, it’s not just the sales people who should be getting nervous – it’s everyone from the CEO on down. Therefore, when you think about connecting with customers and understanding what makes them tick, you need to think about giving everyone access to these conversations. You can use internal social networks like IBM Connections or Jive to make sure that your colleagues have a way to share customer interactions in an always-on environment.

The end result of these social CRM building blocks is that you can uncover more effective ways to connect people with problems (that’s your customers) to the people with solutions (that’s you). It’s also the best way to cut through much of the noise surrounding customer needs, and let discussions bubble up about the real challenges that need to get addressed – and that will drive your business success.