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Using the social web to get closer to your customers and increase sales and profit

For those organizations which link the social web to their customer relationship management and marketing systems, the commercial spoils are there for the taking. Making this connection is the essential next step in extracting commercial value from the social web and in creating a powerful, real-time feedback system.

Until now, the social web has most often been regarded more of a communications channel than a business development channel with the debate being focused on which tools and channels to choose and which channel is best.

This focus need to be discarded in favour of a new debate.

This new debate should focus on how to use the real-time intelligence available from the social web effectively, quickly and systematically to improve and grow customer relationships and increase sales.

Knowing your customers through the social web

Businesses may already be tracking and engaging with what’s being said about their brands. (If they aren’t, they are probably already being left behind by those competitors which are.) But this tracking is often done in isolation. The focus remains too rooted in the individual social media platforms or in the limitations of the existing tools. The questions around how investment in social media translates into sales and influences profit go unanswered.

This scenario needs to be replaced with an organizational-wide one: a comprehensive view of the market conversations and how they relate and link to your customers.

Without this, the quality of insights devolves to meaningless, tactical “noise” measurements. The one-size-fits-all-measurements based on volume (total number of conversations, total number of followers, total number of hits, proportion of overall positive over negative comments, and so on) rarely deliver any actionable insight.

Two discrete worlds, that of the customer and that of the customer marketing engines and systems, need to be brought together. The technology now exists to make this a reality.

Time to move away from instinct towards insight

CEOs and senior management can now aim to do more with more, and spend less doing so, because the conversations they invest in can be the right ones with the right people at the right moment.

The key is knowing where to deploy valuable resources to maximize returns, so that the value of being able to react almost instantly to signals received from the marketplace is magnified and accelerated.

Organizations can now  systematically plug the “instant insights” of the social web into their existing marketing, sales and service fulfilment worlds, to create a single view of that often-elusive customer’s bigger picture, and then to take immediate action.

The social web can guide organizations on which opportunities to exploit, and on which actions to take to deliver to customers what the customers actually say they need and want and at a time they want it.

This is integrated marketing and selling thinking.

The time is right to connect conversations, insights and action together, to move from instinct to insight.

You can’t ignore the signals received from the connected real world world (and you no longer need to)

Consumers are in charge.

They are more connected than they have ever been, communicate using new channels more than ever, and consume and evaluate more content than ever, relying on people they trust for information and validation.

Consumers participate in their connected communities to varying degrees ranging from the passive observer to fervent activist. They communicate their personal preferences, views, relationships, their allegiance to brands they care about, and their desires.

And consumers understand that these conversations are public.

In the past it has been difficult to track and react to the conversations taking place among all these many thousands of people.

Without interpretation and analysis, the result is noise, an on-line version of a riotous classroom or the hubbub in an auditorium before a speech. You can hear the noise and you catch snippets of interesting stuff, but what does it all mean, is it your customer talking, and if it is about you, how should you respond?

Connecting the social web to organizational value

In a world in which social media are connected to an organization, the marketing and sales cycle will now become more efficient, effective and speed up.

At the heart of this new phase of customer fulfilment (listening to, selling to, and servicing and supporting customers) is an ability to personalize customer experiences and to make them relevant and timely.

What’s different is that the social web combines immediacy and scale: within seconds, thousands of people can be made aware of anything.

Customer insights, inbound from the marketplace via the social web, start the process.

These insights are valuable data that enrich the profiles of customers held on customer databases. Because they signify potential sales leads and opportunities, they become sales triggers.

If these insights plug into the CRM system from one direction, connecting into this integrated view from the other are lead capture, customer engagement, service delivery, market awareness, lead generation, social campaigns and corporate reputation.

Think of social media as providing the input triggers (insights or leads), and the existing marketing decision engine and CRM system providing the best output trigger to act on that insight, whether that be an instant service call, telemarketing, direct marketing, a sales call, or just a change of profile or interest setting used in the next campaign.

The combination of instant insight and existing customer data gives managers the information they need to direct resources to those customers who have declared an interest in buying something.

Understanding that it’s all about people

That this has become a cliché doesn’t alter the fact that customers want to be served in a way that is individual and personal.

The challenge of course is that companies have hundreds or thousands of customers, and consumer brands may have millions.  The answer is in mass-personalization.

New technology can now help make sense of all this, in a way that deciphers the implications of what was actually said and who said it.

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Making connections

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The first step is to connect your entire customer database with the comments taking place across the social web. You want to find out which of your customers are talking and determine how this may be relevant to you.

Next comes the start of the interpretation of these conversations, with a systematic profiling of these individuals from the information they have chosen to place into the social media. This is not about breaching privacy, and it’s relevant because this is information that’s important to the individual and how they present themselves.

The result is a new customer database, built off the investment you’ve already made, and the data you have already collected, one now with enriched profiles loaded with relevant sales triggers.

No longer guesses or assumptions, it is knowledge and facts.

Transforming understanding

The result is a transformation of the customer database. Instead of just a name, an email address, and perhaps a location, the information now includes a combination of name, age, social media presence and activity, marital status and whether or not the person has children, level of education, work status, interests, brand preferences, and indices about how influential the person is within a particular topic as it plays out in specific communities.

Organizations can understand and take advantage of key life events like changing jobs, getting married, moving house, buying a car, planning a holiday, or merely more general indications from consumers about their excitement about the release of certain products.

The level of detail reflects the information posted into the social web by the consumer. It’s a rich data set that when plugged into a CRM system allows decisions to be made about how best to connect customers to the right offers (or response) at the right time through the right channel.

Organizations no longer have to rely on historical data to make decisions about the future. They now have valuable real-time data that strengthen the quality and depth of their understanding of customers and decisions.

Plugging the social web into your CRM system makes decision-making and marketing engines run more smartly and more efficiently.

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Now you’re closer to your customers, increase your sales and your profits.

Connecting existing CRM and marketing systems to the social web closes and tightens the integrated business execution loop, and triggers an improvement in business at every level.

The result is context, meaning and insight. Companies can more easily identify the right people to talk to, to increase sales, and keep customers.

Companies can find the right people in their customer databases to sell new products and services to.

They can offer a better, more interesting and personalized experience to the right people, and increase these numbers.

They can provide services with a clear difference to the right people at the right moment.

They can identify which customers are at risk, and take action to retain them.

They can discover which customers influence others, work to engage them as ambassadors, and find other influential people who can do the same thing.

By connecting content, people and connections in the social web, and connecting all these to existing internal marketing systems and processes, organizations close the gap between themselves and their markets and drive real measurable value from the social web.

This paper was first published in June 2012. Download a copy of the paper here

Alan Smith: is Head of Customer Engagement at DIGIVIZER.