How is Social CRM relevant for B2B organisations?


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Most content produced around Social CRM relates to B2C scenarios and describes the shift in the balance of power from provider to consumer. Recently I’ve been working with some B2B organizations who understand the concept of Social CRM but have pushed me to define how specifically the topic can be applied to B2B organizations. Below are some initial thoughts.

Perhaps the most obvious fit for Social CRM within B2B is with those organizations that in effect sell B2B2C, for example Consumer Products companies, selling to retailers, who in turn sell their products to consumers. Historically the Consumer Products company’s primary relationship has been with the retailer. However, as consumer demand drives retailer demand, many Consumer Products companies have seen an opportunity presented by Social Media channels to build a direct relationship with the consumer in order to capture consumer sentiment and feedback and feed this back into product development, marketing and sales. For example, an ice cream manufacturer allows it’s consumers to vote on new recipe ideas on its Facebook fan page. Those recipes that receive the most votes are put into production, and the level of consumer participation gives the ice cream manufacturer an immediate audience receptive to marketing offers, as well as a feel for the likely level of consumer demand; valuable information which in turn can be used to support retailer (B2B) negotiation.

What about pure B2B? Selling accounting software or professional services to an industrial manufacturer or selling electronics components to an aerospace company. To date most discussion around Social CRM in B2B has focussed on three potential uses of Social CRM:

1. Social Sales – this is perhaps the category that receives the most focus. Most SFA solutions capture transactional information that can be greatly enriched with social information. For example, relationship or profile information from Linkedin, or information services like Hoovers, can provide valuable insights for an account manager trying to build relationships with new stakeholders within an account. New conversations are much easier if the account manager can find a mutual contact or at least show that he/she has come to the meeting prepared, having done some background research.

2. Sales Genius – Some vendors like Oracle have built Sales Genius functionality into their SFA solutions. the basic idea behind Sales Genius is to identify “similar customers who might want to purchase”, in theory helping a sales person to hunt for new leads within their installed base and maximise up-sell opportunities.

3. Internal collaboration – I tend to categorize internal collaboration tools like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter more as Enterprise 2.0 tools, rather than Social CRM; but definitions aside, there can certainly be value in applying the same principles or technologies more commonly associated with consumer social networks to internal or partner collaboration. My own company, Capgemini, are extensive users of Yammer which can be used for Facebook-style status updates, or to crowd-source answers to questions.

The danger I see with the above three categories is that they ignore the fundamental inside-out to outside-in mindset shift that Social CRM demands. Social CRM is not about technology tools; these are merely one enabler for a customer-driven, outside-in strategy. The danger in leaping straight to tools, is that this simple principle is often ignored; social sales tools, for example, could conceivably provide sales people with more Linkedin contacts to cold call and bombard with offers; doing nothing to change the core sales approach towards one of listening first and understanding the customers wants and needs, before creating a customised proposition to meet those needs. Recruitment companies and corporate events companies are often particularly guilty of this; seeing Linkedin as a potential goldmine of contact information that can be used for cold calling, but failing to engage, build relationships and understanding before pushing product. B2B customers are just as intolerant to irrelevant marketing spam and privacy invasion, as consumers are!

We can argue and debate whether “Social CRM” is a worthy term or whether it should really just be part of “CRM”. I don’t particularly care much for these debates. I’ve been happy to adopt Social CRM as a term (as defined in Paul Greenberg’s “Stake in the Ground Post”) as I think that it brings to life a key distinction from the CRM of the last 10 or so years; namely a clear shift in the balance of power between buyer and seller, enabled by social communication channels. Social CRM compliments an organisation’s investments in CRM by capturing the true, authentic and unstructured voice of the customer, enabling them to be customer-driven and not simply pay lip service to customer-centricity.

If we then apply Social CRM to B2B in this wider sense, encompassing the shift to outside-in, more usage categories emerge than those that have received the headlines to date.

1. Social lead generation – one of the tenets of Social CRM is the shift within Marketing from outbound-blast campaigns (Seth Godin calls this interruption marketing) to conversations with customers and prospects. Customers are more likely to engage in a conversation if they feel listened to and if the individual or company they are conversing with has established credibility and subject matter expertise. Gary Vaynerchuck’s book, “Crush It”, describes this concept pretty well. Gary advises anyone starting a business to first establish credibility through blogging, commenting and engaging in discussions. This is true across both B2B and B2C. Kachiwachi, an IT consultant and Logitech customer who I have written about previously, has established himself as a subject matter expert in Logitech’s products through extensive participation in Logitech’s online customer support forum (he has single handedly answered over 40,000 customer questions on Logitech’s behalf). In turn I suspect that Kachiwachi is in great demand as an IT consultant – if you were a business looking to set up web conferencing using Logitech’s products who would you turn to? Kachiwachi or XYZ consulting firm? By participating in online discussions, blogging, contributing and sharing you can establish credibility, start conversations and create leads. 

2. Communities – I’ve come across a few B2B organizations who have started to set up B2B communities. SAP’s software developer network is one of the best examples with around 1.8m members. The community allows SAP to give it’s customers a voice – allowing them to blog, participate in discussion groups, download training material etc. The community is powered by Jive Software who also practice what they preach, setting up dedicated collaboration portals for their partners to share leads, request information etc 

3. Product innovation – one of the benefits of a healthy B2B community is that customers can start to participate in the product innovation process, ensuring that their requirements are gathered and fed into product development funnel., for example, use their Ideas platform in this way to capture ideas for product enhancements from their customers. Dell do the same with Dell Idea Storm, this is just as relevant to B2B as it is to B2C. 

4. Social support – Wim Rampen’s recent series of posts on the Future of Marketing reminded me of the sound principle that from the customer’s perspective, value is not created at the point of contract, it is only created as an outcome of usage. B2B organisations who wish to ensure that their customers generate value from their purchases can use communities to keep in touch with their customers and ensure they are receiving value from their purchase. They can also facilitate non-competitive introductions between their clients. One organisations embarking on a difficult or challenging project may gain a great deal from building a relationship with a similar organisation who has worked through the same challenges. Of course social channels like wikis, community sites etc make this collaboration much easier.

What have I missed? What other key usage scenarios exist for Social CRM in B2B?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.


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