The New Small Business On-Ramp to Social CRM

The New Small Business On-Ramp to Social CRM

There’s one company that looks to be creating a platform small businesses can use to turn a variety of online interactions into stronger customer relationships — and it’s not even a CRM company, in the traditional sense. It’s Google.

By Brent Leary |  Aug 16, 2010

Over the past 12-18 months, major customer relationship management (CRM) players like Salesforce.com, Sage, SAP and others have been adding “social” abilities to traditional CRM applications — like viewing social profile information from Twitter and Facebook.  Additionally, newer services such as BatchBook, BantamLive, and others are creating CRM applications on a social foundation aimed at the small and mid-sized business market.  And with every passing day, social technologies are merging with traditional CRM functionality, giving companies more efficient ways of transforming clicks into valuable customer relationships. 

A little over two years ago I wrote about the Three A’s of Social CRM.  Back then most people were focused on social media, but not so much on its impact on customer relationship management tools and strategies.  Even a year ago when I compared traditional CRM with Social CRM the interest was pretty much limited to industry insiders.  That’s not the case today, as the topic of Social CRM has become the focus of many in business. 

Having focused on CRM for almost two decades — as an application developer, early Salesforce.com certified implementation partner, and finally as an industry watcher — this may be the most important development I’ve seen.  I say this because technology has amplified the voice of the customer, and given them greater control over who they engage with, when they do, and how they do so.  This in turn is forcing those charged with engaging them to change their approach:  in order to connect with customers who Tweet to thousands of followers, watch videos on mobile phones, and form their own online communities.  This also is forcing CRM vendors to provide services that do more than just store customer information and track activities. 

But there’s one company that looks to be creating a platform small businesses can use to turn a variety of online interactions into stronger customer relationships — and it’s not even a CRM company, in the traditional sense.

Keeping with the AAA theme from a couple of years back, below are a few reasons why Google is becoming the onramp to Social CRM success for small and mid-sized businesses.

Apps — Internal

Even with Facebook hitting the 500 million member mark — with billions of interactions taking place weekly — the majority of people in business-to-business (B2B) organizations  I’ve come across say no more than 15-20 percent of their total interactions on Facebook are business related.  Conversely, about 80-90 percent of e-mail interactions these same folks have are business related, and with much higher frequency.  And in many cases, the e-mail exchanges are more intimate in nature, from a business perspective.  This may be because the conversations are more direct and focused, and the people engaged in the conversations are more focused on each other — not the overall community — during these interaction.  So even today, a large percentage of customer relationship building takes place in our inboxes.

Just as Microsoft Outlook was (and still is) key to increasing CRM user adoption over the past decade, Gmail is looking to be that key in the Social Age. More small companies are using Google’s low-cost e-mail hosting services — making Gmail the fastest growing of the big online e-mail providers, closing in on 180 million accounts. 

But the choice to use Gmail goes well beyond price.  Google has turned the inbox into a relationship-building platform enabling multiple points of contact, and increased opportunities for meaningful interactions. When you exchange e-mails with other Gmail users, Google can (based on your security settings) connect you with them if you both use Google Reader — giving you the ability to see what kind of information they are interested in, and start feeding them more of it.  And when you go to YouTube, Google lists the YouTube channels of those you interact with via Gmail at the top of the page — giving you a chance to subscribe to them. 

So Google is building an interaction-based platform on the bedrock of Gmail.  And as you exchange emails, you can grow the relationship wider by engaging across apps like Reader and Youtube.  You can also deepen the engagement with real-time collaborative interactions via Google Docs, Sheets and Sites.

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