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Best Buy, ING offer CRM marketing strategy tips at IBM summit

Companies need to push forward on CRM marketing initiatives and not wait for the ideal time to launch social CRM or marketing analytics programs.

BOSTON -- Just get in the game.

That was the advice from several marketing executives and analysts attending the IBM Marketing Innovation Summit in Boston this week. The executives, members of a panel discussion that examined how marketing teams can innovate by using social channels, data analytics and other tools, all agreed that the mistake is to wait for the perfect moment to launch a new CRM marketing program.

“You will never find ideal circumstances,” said Shar VanBoskirk, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., who moderated the panel discussion. “Build a foundation, instead of waiting for the next big thing.”

This concept is particularly vexing for marketing organizations trying to figure out how to best tackle CRM in social media. Unsure of how to manage it or calculate ROI, some companies are in a holding pattern.

In a follow-up interview, VanBoskirk said CRM marketing teams need to first determine why they want to use a social channel in the first place. Even though a company may feel pressure to be on Facebook, it may discover that its customers aren’t big players there. Or, a company may decide it should be fostering communities of customers on Facebook but not directly engaging them on product support issues. Still others may determine it should focus its attention on strictly listening to customers so it can gain more insights.

Once a company is clear on exactly what to do with this channel, it should implement a short-term engagement that it could either expand or scuttle, depending on the results.

Matthew Smith, vice president of CRM at Best Buy Co. Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn. said it is critical to be willing to try programs on a small scale.

“We test and experiment constantly and some programs don’t work," he said. "You need to be more flexible.”

Best Buy works with customers on Twitter and Facebook and sometimes takes serious hits from customers who lob nasty comments at the electronics retailer online. The company’s Facebook page has nearly 2.9 million fans and is used to market programs and retail offers. On Twitter, the company created an account called Twelpforce (Twelp is a portmanteau of Twitter and help) through which employees can assist customers with product support.

In a follow-up interview, Smith said the company knows some customers will bash Best Buy online, but as long as the retailer is honest with customers, the good interactions should outpace the insults.

Further, Smith said there is a self-correcting nature to public forums like Twitter and Facebook and communities don’t like unwarranted negative comments.

“You will see someone flame Best Buy, and then another customer will say go somewhere else for that,” Smith said.

It is also important to factor in the corporate culture and the company’s approach to communications in general. Some companies are steeped in decades of conservative communications policies or governed by regulations that limit their options on the social front.

Executives also stressed that it is important to remember the social channel is just one of several pieces in a CRM strategy.

Kim Verhaaf, a marketing leader at banking giant ING, which is based in Amsterdam, said the company pools customer data from social channels, traditional customer service as well as customer surveys. In addition, the company requires the marketing staff to call customers to get direct feedback. The marketing team meets and assesses trends on a quarterly basis and determines how to adjust programs.  This is effective in part because ING customers are typically making longer-term commitments to products.

“You don’t wake up and say, “I’ll buy a mortgage today,” Verhaaf said. “Our focus is to discover what kind of life events are going on.”

Once the quarterly data has been assessed, “we bring this all back into planning and figure out what to do for the next month,” Verhaaf added.

Finally, executives suggested that their peers start participating on Facebook and other online channels so that they understand these environments. Otherwise, marketing executives who have been in the field for 10 or more years could find themselves without the credibility to effectively oversee marketing innovations.

“If you are not experiencing social media through your own life, do it.” Best Buy’s Smith said. “Open a Twitter feed, post videos, post photos on Flickr. Otherwise, you won’t understand this space.

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