B2B Social CRM for Software Vendors and the Lifecycle of Customer Experience

Julie Hunt

Customer loyalty has become even more essential for software vendor success. As many software solution markets have become highly commoditized, competitive engagements deteriorate all too often to price wars. In price wars, the customer is always in charge, which is even more the case with the economic downturn. So tap into the power of the customer-in-charge—sell to and support them through interactive relationships based on understanding what matters to customers.

Social CRM has a very natural fit for B2B software vendors, if companies are open to engendering a "social culture" as part of their go-to-market and company strategies. Social CRM is proving its value to attract, convert, support, and contribute to the success of customers. Social CRM (SCRM) also has a natural fit for company strategies that are customer-centric and market-driven—basically empowering software vendors to make a real commitment to address what matters to their target customers and prospects.

In return, software vendors are likely to receive long term customer loyalty, more new prospects, and invaluable information from the customer base regarding the relevance and usability of vendor offerings. A true bidirectional and active relationship with customers results from strong Social CRM programs.

What is Social CRM?

SCRM is comprised of two major "pillars": an articulated business strategy that aligns with social media in conjunction with CRM processes, and the technology that powers social and CRM applications. A company builds from the composite of these two pillars to engage customers (and prospects) in collaborative/interactive activities that provide mutually beneficial value and support. At the center of the SCRM strategy and implementation is the customer. Customers are now empowered and enabled to interact with the vendor on individual customer terms, using the social tools provided by the vendor (ie: wikis, forums, knowledge base, ratings/reviews, community, and so on). Additionally, integrations with popular social networking applications (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) will robustly extend the SCRM program while tapping into rich communication venues.

Social CRM maps to the "lifecycle of the customer experience" during the customer’s tenure with the software vendor. This lifecycle is dependent on new ways to provide support to customers for current and future needs and success, and involves a continuous process of customer engagement, listening and responding, support and service, all of which are effective only if performed with authenticity and commitment. In no way is SCRM a "quick and dirty" one-off marketing campaign. Successful SCRM will require constant attention and care.

Formulating a Strategy

To create a strong SCRM strategy, explore these basic points relative to your company:

  • Who are your target customers, current and desired?
  • What really matters to these customers?
  • What can my company do to fulfill the desires and needs of my target customers?
  • How will my company show responsiveness to my customers?
  • What does my company think it will accomplish using social CRM?
  • Does my company promote a social or collaborative culture, internally?
It is likely that answering these questions thoroughly will also require segmentation analysis for all customer groups in the mix. The SCRM strategy should acknowledge relevant sub-segments to accommodate the variety of customers, in order to effectively connect with each customer segment. This is especially true for B2B vendors with direct and channel sales models.

To really work, SCRM is not "one-size-fits-all." Understand how your SCRM strategy will help with your CRM objectives and obligations; then figure out which social media you want to use and why. Become a master of your preferred social media by establishing a social culture in your own company (see below). SCRM requires an authentic personal touch, both for how your customers are communicating with you, and how you respond. Here are other points to consider when building SCRM strategy and implementations:
  • Listening well and Responding thoroughly–interactive conversations with customers; feedback loops to ensure consistency
  • Enabling enthusiastic customers to disseminate the power of "word of mouth"
  • "Live" support through forums, chat and wikis to help customers help each other and to educate your own company on real problems and needs
  • Crowdsourcing with your customers to help to design your products and improve your processes
Establishing a Social Culture in Your Own Company is Essential for SCRM Success

To really make SCRM work, software vendors must engender a social culture with all of their own company teams who touch customers and prospects–basically the vast majority of the company. The commitment, usage and value of SCRM must be real–customers will quickly figure out if the vendor is faking it. With a healthy social culture in place in your company, the support and growth of SCRM for customer interaction will be a natural and vital part of your overall company strategy.
It’s really not that hard to be social on the personal level, but it does take real planning and decision-making to know how to be social as a company. However, establishing a social culture is somewhat easier now that many in your company and many of your customers already know how to be social, and have real experience with tools like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on. Be sure to tap into the lessons learned from your employee and customer social experience to finetune your approach for SCRM, to best connect and engage with customers and prospects.
A Quick Summary of SCRM Technology Options

There are a lot of Social CRM and Social Media offerings available at wide variety of price points. Many options are easy to implement and can be set up as SaaS subcriptions. The main advice here is: First understand your SCRM strategy, then understand which technologies will best help with the strategy.
Social CRM technologies to consider include:
  • Social media / Social CRM applications–available as individual applications or as suites/platforms (on premise, SaaS, cloud, open source options)
  • Affinity/sentiment monitoring and analytic tools
  • Integrations with CRM applications/platforms
  • Integrations with popular social media applications (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
  • Analytics/metrics for understanding business value and for fine-tuning the SCRM approach
  • Robust integration of your company website with your Social CRM applications and with your go-to-market strategy
Social CRM Activities Increase the Findability of the Vendor

Using social media for current customer support can bring an additional bonus: increased "findability" for your company—for attracting new customers. Social media content adds greatly to Web presence and SEO. It’s now pretty much accepted that the web is the roadway to connect customers and companies, so the value of increased "findability" is obvious. The same forums, wikis, blogs, etc. used to help existing customers can also attract prospects interested in the subjects of the conversations and in how you respond to your existing customers.