Editor’s note: Rawn Shah , Social Software Practices Lead at IBM, recently published the following article on Forbes.com. He has graciously given us permission to re-publish it here as a guest post.
As we expand how we can be contacted by others, we make it easy, almost trivial, for potential customers to connect and do business with organizations and businesses. Not everyone in an organization–however helpful they may be–is in a business development role or knows what to do with such a customer request. The dual predicament: it’s certainly become easier but most of us do not yet understand what to do with it; if you are in the marketing or sales departments, how do you handle such leads in the disintermediated, distributed world of social business?
If you are an active user of business-oriented social networking tools, you may often get requests directly from interested parties and customers who come across you online or at some event. You may notice that public social business tools sometimes have a premium paid version with advanced tools for mining leads from your networks. Not everyone needs these; more than that, a good many users with significant social networks do not actually need it themselves, but their sales team members might.
This is one nexus where the world of Social and CRM are at odds per roles and responsibilities. Consider that many lead social users are knowledge experts or well connected, but not necessarily involved in the more mundane tasks of managing customer leads, even if they do talk to customers often. In other words, their activities are generally invisible to or left out of the enterprise process of lead generation and management handled typically by marketing roles.
The implications here is that any leads that come through this medium may be outside the system of tracking and passing leads between marketing and sales. There is the possibility that they get dropped somewhere along the way, and the customer left hanging. Another possibility is that there may already be a sales representative for that customer who may not find out about this activity. On a practical level in large organizations, leads going awry or out of channel communications happen frequently, but lets focus on how it could be fixed, especially when you consider that some of this system is already automated.
Consider, for example, LeadShare, a particular feature of Slideshare, the popular online service for sharing presentation and documents over the Web. Slideshare’s popular and free service allows anyone to upload their presentation onto the site, and then send a URL for anyone else to view the document. File sharing services have been around for decades but Slideshare was one of the first ones to successfully allow people to view, share and socialize an entire presentation directly on a Web page without any downloading necessary.
Slideshare users can also manage collections of presentations, documents, videos, etc. and watch the activity and comments for each file, in addition to other common social business features such as tagging content, following other users, sharing by email, and tracking how many people like or reshare the document. According to Ross Mayfield, VP of Business Development at Slideshare, the Pro paid premium service “provides social content marketing features that can be used in all stages of a demand funnel… from raising awareness with a branded Channel to closing a deal in a Zipcast web meeting.”
Frost & Sullivan, a leading growth strategy and market consultancy, has used a branded Channel on Slideshare to generate over $125,000 across over 1300 qualified leads over seven months, through their $299 per month investment in a customized Pro Platinum account. Slideshare now has thousands of Pro accounts, with industry leaders such as Cisco Systems, Dell, Edelman and IBM creating individual or a network of such accounts.
LeadShare is one feature that comes with SlideShare Pro that allows the content owner to add a few process steps to anyone viewing or downloading the document to support customer service or business development. For example, you can ask someone who downloads to fill out a short contact form or questionnaire; you can display a “contact me” button along with the document, etc. In more advanced steps, you could also track separate campaigns for different leads; for example, if you have presented the same content in multiple venues, you could maintain separate tracking campaigns for each venue.
For business development roles, this is a great way to turn social into business. However, returning to my original point, not all lead users are necessarily interested in developing leads even if their organization is. The real need here is to be able to integrate you’re your enterprise’s process for Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Slideshare does provide such APIs and one particular available to pass these leads to Salesforce.com accounts, called Slide2Lead. In addition, you could download this information in a spreadsheet format. Speaking in the more general sense beyond SlideShare, there is a growing opportunity and not a lot of awareness of what is possible.
Lead Generation in a Social CRM World
Beyond just tool integration is the process question: who is ultimately responsible for this customer? This is a quintessential Social CRM question that is still being explored. Common wisdom currently says that such relationships need to be in the hands of the points of contact. However, not all points of contacts see it that way, and not all want to handle such tasks as business development, or support.
Another question is that which department now gets credit for this? Is it the employee who is contacted, their department, the marketing department, business development, or some other entity? Ideally, it shouldn’t matter when you consider it from the customer point of view, or from the 10,000-foot view of the overall organization, but in many companies this still does matter on a departmental level. It reflects how budgets and responsibilities are mapped. In this time of transition to the new models of social business such aspects will still remain.
This is where traditional processes are at odds with the individualistic and reputational nature of social networks. It creates disintermediation in one view: the customer and the expert may talk about and even work on issues together which may skip the normal channels of how these leads are handled. It would be naïve to say that we simply need to change the process to allow for this.
Looking more carefully, what it affects are several functions:
Offer creation and asset tracking that leads are related to
- the function of lead and demand generation marketing roles.
- the function of lead development representatives, or inside sales operations, or even direct sellers.
- the function of client executives or exclusive relationship managers with top customers.
- the responsibilities of experts and other influencers wherever they may be involved in the lead generation.
This is easy for small organizations which may not have to handle high touch, complex sales or complex portfolios, but as companies grow these roles emerge over time for a good reason generally focused on two factors: expertise in that aspect of the process for that particular role, and available time and resources to handle the responsibility.
Streamlining the social lead generation and management process is one key aspect of Social CRM whether from the marketing or the Social Selling view. From a business process view, what it creates is distribute across the organization where and how a lead can be generated, and therefore the process itself needs a transformation.
The first is to have a common process step that allows people to universally add some tracking information to the content or assets that they share. This is more complex than it sounds because such content can be anywhere on the Web, in live events, or other offline activities. Online, web URL shorteners like bit.ly allow you to simplify or shorten a link, but also allow you to track how this was used and where it came from. That certainly still requires people to first use the shortener, and also to let the lead management system know of the particular URL. This could be easier and we’ll leave it to the technology vendors to figure out how.
Beyond just tracking these assets, the question then becomes what to do with a potential customer request, which itself can also come through many avenues (email, the social tools, a web site, in person, etc.) This is followed by having an understanding of when and in what situation to hand this over in a natural transitional fashion to a sales representative to maintain the relationship. This is where employees need guidelines and perhaps training on how and when to do this; it applies to customer-facing roles certainly, but also to just about any employee these days.
On the receiving end of the lead pipeline, the lead development representatives themselves need to understand what to do when they get such requests. These can vary quite significantly in context, but this is why such roles exist: to understand the context of the customer request, to understand the role of point of contact (the expert), determine if this can be qualified and validated, and know how to progress this towards an actual customer engagement.
Transforming an organization and its employees into a Social Business brings many good things, but as part of this, there is a good degree of exploration that each organization needs to do of how it affects their current processes. Following this, they then need to understand how employees can help and share a common understanding of how the new model will work as well as why they need such changes. It becomes a common responsibility across the workforce, and organizations need to recognize that in doing so, they may be adding some workload to their employees. At this cost, employees need to be motivated and enabled to likewise support their organization. The secret is finding the right mix that supports both the individual’s and the organization’s goals.
Thanks again to Rawn Shah and Forbes. You can follow Rawn on SlideShare at