Social CRM: 3 stages of Social integration within sales force automation

(note: this piece was originally written for the Orange Business Services blog)

A couple of days ago, I was able to talk to Jan Sysmans, director of product marketing at Sugar CRM in Cupertino, California. Jan was able to take me through a major evolution of its CRM systems in order to incorporate social media. This is more than just about adding a few features to a piece of software, it is an entire change in the approach to sales force automation and how salespeople do business; let’s see why and how.

Those familiar with orange business TV may have already had the opportunity to watch our video interview with Larry Augustin, recorded a little bit earlier this year, which introduced the famous open source CRM platform to our listeners. This time, we pursued our discussions with the execs from the Silicon Valley firm in order to analyse how Social was transforming CRM. In just the space of six months, the entire landscape of customer relationship management and sales force automation in particular, has changed dramatically. The intrusion of social media in our lives, both professional and personal, has brought in new requirements in the traditional landscape of sales force automation. It used to be sufficient for sales people to keep track of deals, prospective deals and customers in one’s own proprietary database, but it’s no longer the case. Customers want to be talked to in many different ways nowadays. At a time when e-mailing performance is slowing down, mostly in the US, customers want to be talked to through various channels and don’t be mistaken: they are the ones who want to be calling the shots, not you. Here is what is happening with regard to the integration of social within CRM systems as seen through the eyes of one of the leading experts in that area.

defining what Social CRM really is

“A lot of people talk about social CRM, but few know what it means” Jan Sysmans told us when he introduced to us this major shift in the way that sales force automation is designed at this very moment. There are three ways in which social can be introduced within customer relationship management Jan said, on top of the manual access to information from various sources:

  1. what my customers are saying about themselves on various social media platforms: this is the listening component
  2. there is the way that your customers want to be talked to: this is the talking component
  3. there is the way that your customers want to be engaged with: this is an engaging component

(see CRM adoption curve on the lefthand side, click to enlarge)


One of the most important things you must do in sales is not talk but listen. Listening is important because it enables you to understand your customer’s interests and pain points. Listening used to be done through face-to-face interviews or telephone conversations; and it still is. But they are new ways of listening to customers nowadays. One can be linked to one’s customers and customers’ company pages through LinkedIn for instance, or their company twitter account, or even each individual person’s twitter account. The possibilities are numerous; and each individual or company chooses their own preferred channel. Some prefer to use Facebook, others favour twitter. And one needs also to look at blogs. As you can see, there is a variety of ways in which you can gain insight about people and companies. But the real issue is how you keep your salespeople focused on raising dollars and not be distracted from their main tasks by having to look at umpteen different sources of information.

The answer to that question is “by moving that information to the CRM application, because this is how people stay focused on their sales job” Jan added.

This is why Sugar CRM has developed a way of bringing the information back into the CRM platform which is populated by sales people. The latter can attach blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter handles, and LinkedIn addresses etc. to a customer/company profile. This is still not real-time though, Jan admitted, but this is the way forward for getting the information through different channels. The challenge though it’s about how to try and make this information relevant to the sales person/company. Chances are that for the foreseeable future, human intervention will still be required in that area.

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