Archive for the Social Media Category

What is CRM and why do you need it?

Posted in Business systems, Mobile, Social Media with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by multimediaman
CRM Logos

CRM solutions (clockwise from top left) Salesforce.com, Microsoft Outlook Business Contact Manager, ACT! and SugarCRM.

I have used CRM software tools for more than ten years. Some of these were single user apps, some were client/server-based and included workgroup collaboration. Others were integrated with corporate-wide ERP systems and linked all departments together. Among the well-known solutions I have used are ACT!, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Microsoft Outlook Business Contact Manager.

Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses. Many functions and features are common to them all such as contact management, sales pipeline management, sales forecasting, etc. Each also has unique and distinguishing capabilities. Among the most important technical features of a CRM for me have been:

  • browser access
  • mobile app access
  • staff and management user levels
  • customizable dashboards
  • email client/server synchronization
  • APIs for ERP integration
  • automated email and text notifications for both staff and customers
  • custom and automatic report generation

The purpose of this article is to review the evolution and importance of customer relationship management as a business discipline and then explain some key lessons I have learned in my experience with CRM tools over the past decade.

Although it did not always have an acronym or business theory behind it, CRM has been practiced since the dawn of commerce. In short, customer relationship management is the methods that a business uses when interacting with customers. Although CRM is often associated with marketing, new business development and sales functions, it actually encompasses the end-to-end experience that customers have with an organization.

Therefore, customer relationship management is an important part of every business; how you manage your client relationships—from initial contact to account acquisition and development through delivery of products and services … and beyond—is vital to your future. It stands to reason that companies that are very good at customer relationship management are often among the most successful businesses.

Around the time that computers were used in business—especially the PC in the 1980s and the World Wide Web in the 1990s—the phrase customer relationship management and its acronym CRM began to acquire a specific meaning. By the late 1990s, entire schools of business thought were developed around strategies for the collection and handling of information and data about customer relations. CRM-specific technology platforms that place the customer at the center of business activity grew up around these theories.

In the first decade of the new century, the warehousing of customer information as well as the availability of demographic data about the population as a whole made it possible for CRM tools to be used for integrated and targeted marketing campaigns for new customer acquisition. Later, the growth of Big Data and cloud computing services moved CRM data out of the IT closet and made it available with software as a service (SaaS) solutions that are very flexible and can be deployed at any time and anywhere.

Most recently, social media has added another layer of information to CRM whereby companies can monitor or “listen” to dialogue between their organization and customers in real time.

CRM software industry growth

Source: Gartner Research

Business software industry experts are reporting that investment in CRM tools has been exploding and shows little sign of slowdown. According to an enterprise software market forecast by Gartner Research in 2013, total spending on CRM systems would pass that of ERP spending in 2016 and reach a total of $36 billion by 2017.

Cloud adoption by business functions

Source: Really Simple Solutions

The Gartner Research study also showed that by 2014 cloud-based CRM systems would represent 87% of the market, up from 12% in 2008. Meanwhile, in their Cloud Attitudes Survey, Really Simple Systems showed that cloud-based adoption by CRM users is more than double that of all other business functions including accounting, payroll, HR and manufacturing.

Mobile CRM adoption

Source: Gartner Research

Along with the growth of Cloud-based CRM solutions—and also driving it—is mobile technology. According to Gartner Research, mobile CRM adoption experienced the following in 2014:

  • 500% growth rate in the number of apps rising from 200 to 1,200 on mobile app stores
  • 30% increase in the use of tablets by the sales people
  • 35% of businesses have been moving toward mobile CRM apps

While these trends show that expectations are very high that increased CRM resources and investment will produce improved business results, there are countervailing trends that the path forward is far from a straight line. A survey by DiscoverOrg showed that nearly one quarter of all businesses do not have any CRM system. Additionally, one industry study shows that many organizations face setbacks during implementation and some (25-60%) fail to meet ROI targets.

Finally, other research shows that companies that have invested in CRM tools do not take advantage of some 80% of their potential benefits, especially integration and extension throughout the entire organization. All of the above statistics correspond with my own experience. While decision makers and business leaders have expectations that a CRM solution will significantly impact their bottom line, the challenges of implementation can be daunting and bog down the effort quickly.

Therefore, it is critical to have a CRM implementation plan:

  • Develop an integrated CRM strategy that places the customer at the center of all company departments and functions.
  • Map your IT infrastructure and identify all centers of customer data.
  • Evaluate, select and test a technology solution that is appropriate for your organization.
  • Utilize IT resources to build an architecture that will bring all or most of your customer data together within one system.
  • Identify champions in each department and build support and buy-in for the CRM throughout the company.
  • Work on your data quality and make sure that the information that is going into the system at startup does not compromise the project.
  • Provide training and share success stories to encourage everyone to use the system throughout the day.

In our intensely competitive environment, it is clear that CRM tools can enable an organization to effectively respond to multiple, simultaneous and complex customer needs. Every department—marketing, sales, customer service, production, shipping and accounting—has a critical role to play in building the customer database and using the CRM.

The following conclusions are derived from my experience:

  1. Few companies have implemented CRM technologies and even when CRM tools are available, few people embrace and use them.
  2. Those with effective CRM implementations are significantly outperforming the competition on the service and communication side of their business.
  3. The best and most successful companies connect their CRM infrastructure with business strategy and make its use part of their corporate culture.

2013: A big year for Big Data

Posted in Digital Media, Mobile, Social Media with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by multimediaman

The year 2013 will be important for a couple of reasons. Believe it or not, 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the World Wide Web. It is true that Tim Berners-Lee developed the essential technologies of the web at CERN laboratory in Switzerland in 1989-90. However, it was the first graphical browser called Mosaic—developed by a team at the National Center for Computer Applications at the University of Illinois-Urbana—in April 1993 that made the web enormously popular.

ncsa-mosaic

Marc Andreessen, developer of the first graphical web browser Mosaic in 1993.

Marc Andreessen, developer of Mosaic the first graphical web browser in 1993.

Without Mosaic, brainchild of UI-U NCSA team member Marc Andreessen, the explosive growth of the web in the 1990s could not have happened. Mosaic brought the web outside the walls of academia and transformed it into something that anyone could use. In June 1993 there were only 130 web sites; two years later there were 230,000 sites. In 2007 there were 121 million web sites; it is estimated that there are now 620 million web sites. Now that qualifies as exponential growth.

This brings me to the second reason why this year is important: worldwide digital information will likely surpass 4 zettabytes of data in 2013. This is up from 1.2 zettabytes in 2010. Most of us are familiar with terabytes; a zettabyte is 1 billion terabytes. In between these two are petabytes (1 thousand terabytes) and exabytes (1 million terabytes). 2013 is going to be a big year for Big Data.

Companies that grew up in the age of the World Wide Web are experts at Big Data. As of 2009, Google was processing 24 petabytes of data each day to provide contextual responses to web search requests. Wal-Mart records one million consumer transactions per hour and imports them into a database that contains 2.5 petabytes. Facebook stores, accesses and analyzes 30+ petabytes of user-generated data.

DataTerms

The expansion of worldwide Big Data and the metric terms to describe it (yottabytes or 1,000 zettabytes are coming next—beyond that is TBD) has become the subject of much discussion and debate. Big Data is most often discussed in terms of the four V’s: volume, velocity, variety and value.

Volume

The accumulation of Big Data volume is being driven by a number of important technologies. Smartphones and tablets and social media networks Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are important Big Data sources. There is another less visible, but nonetheless important, source of Big Data: it is called the “Internet of Things.” This is the collection of sensors, digital cameras and other data gathering systems (such as RFID tags) attached to a multitude of objects and devices all over the world. These systems are generating enormous amounts of data 24/7/365.

Velocity

The speed of Big Data generation is related to the expansion and increased performance of data networks both wired and wireless. It is also the result of improved capturing technologies. For example, one minute of high definition video generates between 100 and 200 MB of data. This is something that anyone with a smartphone can do and is doing all the time.

Variety

The Big Data conversation is more about the quality of the information than it is about the size and speed. Our world is full of information that lies outside structured datasets. Much of it cannot be captured, stored, managed or analyzed with traditional software tools. This poses many problems for IT professionals and business decision makers; what is the value of the information that is largely “exhaust data”?

Value

There are good internal as well as external business reasons for sharing Big Data. Internally, if exhaust data is missed in the analytical process, executives are making decisions based upon intuition rather than evidence. Big Data can also be used externally as a resource for customers that otherwise would be unable to gain real-time access to detailed information about the products and services they are buying. It is the richness and complexity of Big Data that makes it so valuable and useful for both the executive process and customer relationships.

Every organization today is gathering Big Data in the course of its daily activities. In most cases, the bulk of the information is collected in a central EMS or ERP system that connects the different units and functional departments of the organization. But more likely than not, these systems are insufficient and cannot support all data gathering activities within the organization. There are probably systems that have been created ad-hoc to serve various specialized needs and solve problems that the centralized system cannot address. The challenge of Big Data is to capture all ancillary data that is getting “dropped to the floor” and make it useful by integrating it with the primary sources.

Making Big Data available offers organizations the ability to establish a degree of transparency internally and externally that was previously impossible. Sharing enables organization members and customers to respond quickly to rapidly changing conditions and circumstances. Some might argue that sharing Big Data is bad policy because it allows too much of a view “behind the curtain.” But the challenge for managers is to securely collect, store, organize, analyze and share Big Data in a manner that makes it valuable to those who have access and can make use of it.

I remember—upon downloading the Mosaic browser in 1993 with my dial up connection on my desktop computer—how thrilling it was to browse the web freely for the first time. It seemed like Mosaic was the ultimate information-gathering tool. I also remember how excited I was to get my first 80 MB hard disk drive for data storage. The capacity seemed nearly limitless. As we look back and appreciate the achievements of twenty years ago, we now know that those were really the beginnings of something enormous that we could not have fully predicted at the time.

With the benefit of those experiences—and many more over the past two decades of the transition from analog to online and electronic media—it is important to comprehend as best one can the meaning of Big Data in 2013 and where it is going. Those organizations that recognize the implications and respond decisively to the challenges of the explosive growth of structured and unstructured data will be the ones to establish a competitive advantage in their markets.

Going mobile

Posted in Mobile, Social Media with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2012 by multimediaman

Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle of The Who in 1971

Readers may recognize “Going Mobile” as the title of a song by the rock band The Who (from their 1971 album Who’s Next). Guitarist and vocalist Pete Townsend was writing about the joys of traveling the open road in his RV:

Out in the woods
Or in the city
It’s all the same to me
When I’m driving free, the world’s my home
When I’m mobile

At the time, Townsend could not have known that forty years later the song would take on a completely new meaning. Today, the world is indeed going mobile.

According to recent data from Canalys—a leading provider of computing technology analysis—the year 2011 was the year of the smartphone. For the first time ever, worldwide smartphone sales (488 million units) surpassed PC sales (415 million units).

“Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone,” a Canalys analyst said. “In the space of a few years, smartphones have grown from being a niche product segment at the high-end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass-market proposition.”

Some have referred to this transition as the beginning of the “post-PC” era of computing. Indeed, the expansion of smartphones beyond desktop and notebook computers signals a major shift. With their increased processing power, advanced touch user interface, availability of wireless broadband service—not to mention high resolution cameras, HD video and GPS navigation capabilities— smartphones are dramatically changing the way people interact with computer technology, access the online world and communicate with each other.

This sudden change has important implications for consumer marketing and advertising planning and media buying. And this is not only impacting traditional media such as TV, radio and print. The mobile revolution is affecting social media and online advertising models developed more recently.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Facebook’s Mobility Challenge,” revealed how the social media giant is struggling to come up with an effective solution to advertising to its expanding number of mobile-only users. “We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven,” the company said in its review of the threats it faces.

This is particularly problematic for companies like Facebook where much of their user growth (worldwide Facebook users are now at 845 million) is taking place in countries like Chile, Turkey, Venezuela and Brazil where many people have never had a broadband connection to the Internet other than through their smartphones.

The transition to a mobile dominated world is being taken note of by major advertisers. They are looking for opportunities to deliver messages in unique new ways and also drive mobile commerce. A recent report by Forrester Research forecasts that interactive advertising in the US will reach $76.6 billion by 2016 and be equal to TV ad spending. As significant as that projection is, the truly interesting part of this report is found in the details.

Forrester breaks down interactive marketing into five subcategories:
• social media
• email marketing
• mobile marketing
• display advertising
• search marketing.

Of these, mobile marketing is projected to quintuple in size to $8.2 billion between now and 2016! This is a compound annual growth rate of 38% and far faster than any of the four other categories. The report also shows that mobile marketing overtook both email marketing and social media marketing in 2011.

It might seem impossible, but the media landscape is once again shifting dramatically under our feet. Companies such as Google, which went public just 8 years ago on the basis of the latest in search advertising revenue, are now being challenged by mobile alternatives. To its credit, Google is making a huge play into the smartphone and tablet markets with the development of the Android operating system.

But every aspect of marketing and communications should be reconsidered in light of the rapidly expanding mobile universe. For print media companies, this means developing capabilities to assist clients in converting their content into “mobilized” experiences; it means partnering with firms that specialize in all forms of interactive advertising and recognizing that “going mobile” is now on the agenda.

Those that ignore the changes underway, or bury themselves in nostalgia about the good old days of traditional media, do so at their own risk. They may wind up singing another great track from the Who’s Next album: “The Song is Over.”