A Talk with Brent Leary: Changes in Social, Big Data & Facilitating Creativity

September 20, 2011
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Last week, I had the chance to chat with Brent Leary, a crm industry analyst, adviser, author, speaker and award winning blogger. We talked about the changes in social media and what he meant by extreme listening. Brent is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business.

Jen Roberts (JR): Can you provide a little background on your work and what you are working on currently?

Last week, I had the chance to chat with Brent Leary, a crm industry analyst, adviser, author, speaker and award winning blogger. We talked about the changes in social media and what he meant by extreme listening. Brent is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business.

Jen Roberts (JR): Can you provide a little background on your work and what you are working on currently?

Brent Leary (BL): I’ve been involved with training thousands of business people on the benefits and best practices of implementing CRM strategies and technologies. I also work also with corporate enterprises and government agencies to build programs aimed at informing minority and women owned business of the importance of understanding the positive impact of CRM. But where I’m most interested is in the social media maturation of small to medium businesses; they’re going from using social media to becoming a social business. This industry is at the very, very beginning of using social media to transform business into social business.

(JR): Do you think the perception of social media has changed?

(BL): Companies initially viewed social media as a one-off, which could be used by marketing to build online brand reputation. It was really easy in the beginning to put social in a box of sorts but now after using social companies are beginning to realize that there is more opportunity for impact by thinking about how to improve the customer relationship. And this moves the thinking beyond the single department to how internal and external engagements can influence collaboration, develop partnerships with others, and help to find new or extend the life of existing customers.

So, as companies become more experienced using social and grow more comfortable, they are expanding what they can do, how they can use this new philosophy and technology in other areas of communication.

(JR): What do you think contributes to the success or failure of a company’s transition to a social business?

(BL): Part of what contributes to companies struggling in their transition is that they are not listening. A lot of great ideas come from customers. But if an organization doesn’t have a culture of listening, and facilitating creativity, they’re going lose out on a lot of things. They need to be able to take what they hear and find ways to act on it. Listening is a good start but listening and not doing anything is not good. They have to be able to act.

(JR): I’ve often heard about the importance of listening but encouraging companies to facilitate creativity is a new term for me? What do you mean and how can companies do that?

(BL): Companies need a strategy of extreme listening and this is going to take larger, more established companies time to grasp but they really need to take hold of this idea and do things that are important to listening, engaging and facilitating this creativity that they can then act on.

And facilitating is an important component of this process. Often companies come in and take over the conversation or attempt to lead the conversation in certain directions. Of course, there may be instances where it is appropriate for organizations to take the lead but before they can do that they need to understand what is being talked about, the sentiment of the conversation and promote efforts to facilitate the discussion, even if it means bringing in other voices. This approach ensures customers are getting the information they need, the needs of the community are addressed and companies are perceived as loyal participants in the community.

(JR): You were at the Dreamforce ’11 Conference, what were a couple of the big take-aways from the event?

(BL): A couple of things really stood out for me. The first one was looking at the history of the technology platform and noting how every 10 years or so it changes. We went from mainframes to PCs, client servers to on-demand, and now mobile. There’s been a complete platform shift every decade or so that required a new software delivery, which then required a change in how we do business. These types of events require companies to be nimble and to take competitive advantage of the change.

Today, technology is enabling people to do things they’ve always wanted to do. Social media is changing customer activity, behaviors and the expectation they have for companies. And like platform shifts, companies that will be successful are those that are nimble and able to change their philosophy; many companies were established before the age of social, they have a culture of controlling the conversation, the message and the means of delivery. This type of culture has this idea of control built into the corporate structure. So, like the platform changes, those companies that can embrace openness, transparency, and view their customers as having value beyond the transaction are the ones who will realize the biggest gains.

The second take-away dovetails with the first in that from a small-medium-sized business perspective those companies that are nimble enough, clued-in enough have an opportunity like no other time before to create something truly different. Today, they have access to the computing power, IT expertise and services that they would have not been able to afford in the past. This gives them the room to think outside the box of their core business and create something different.

(JR): What are the emerging trends you see in Social CRM? Any surprises?

(BL): The biggest thing I am seeing, that is also good a sign, is that companies are looking to see how they can engage with customers throughout the organization. They are no longer relying on just one group going off and trying something. This maybe because of the unexpected results of one group going off and doing a promotion that led to more customer service issues than leads. But this is the whole maturation process, where companies are taking a more holistic approach and using social to drive customer acquisition and retention.

I’m seeing a shift where marketing, sales and customer service are driving the usage and need for social data. Social information that comes from networks that customers are using to provide critical, real time insights. But it’s still only one piece. There is also transactional, webinars, blogs, and other activities that generate data and all are important. One of the bigger challenges is not only analyzing social media but also knowing how to bring in the information in such a fashion so that you can tie it to transactional, or activities they’ve participated in. This type of merging of data provides a view on what drives customers that companies can use to create products or services.

(JR):
How will Big Data influence the development and direction of Social CRM?

(BL): It’s going to be getting bigger and bigger and it is becoming increasingly important now more than ever to get a handle on how you are going to process different data streams: customer, partner, employee and how you are able to make sense of them in an efficient way. Companies that can manage and make sense of their data are going to be much further along than companies that aren’t even thinking about it. Knowledge is power and time. The more you know the quicker, faster, and more efficiently you can interact with you customer, providing your company with a competitive advantage.

It’s the resulting information that can help companies create products or services that allow them to continue to stay connected with their customer. But we’re still very much at the beginning. Many companies are using only a fraction of their internal information compared to what is out there. The big question companies need to be asking themselves is how they are going to maximize the use of this internal information in addition to capturing real-time social media conversations. How companies choose to handle this question can influence and impact how they are able to extend and expand their relationships with customers, partners and employees. Because it’s not just about filters and insights, although it takes a lot work to surface true business insights, it’s also about how you choose to engage. Companies need to take some time and realize these business insights are really human insights and that changes the connection in a very important way. Choosing to engage with a customer with empathy and understanding makes the most of all the work you’ve completed to get to a point where you engage with a customer.

(JR): Brent, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

 




 

Brent Leary is recognized by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine’s Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, on the advisory board of the University of Toronto’s CRM Center of Excellence, and on the editorial advisory board for The Atlanta Tribune. Leary writes regularly for Inc.com and MyCustomer.com, and serves as Blogger-in-Residence for TheSocialCustomer.com. He hosts the “One on One” conversation series at SmallBizTrends.com, and teams up with Paul Greenberg on the CRM Playaz video show, sponsored by Microsoft and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.