Cisco Listens To B-to-B Social Media Chatter

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

While business-to-business CRM may start with a backslap and a martini, Cisco Systems is using social media to build a better backslap.

“Businesses go to certain [online] watering holes,” says Theresa Kushner, director of customer intelligence within Cisco’s strategic marketing organization. “And those companies have individuals who are making decisions, who have voices they are sharing outside of their companies.”

The task of listening to customers and gaining insight isn’t limited to one department within Cisco: It’s an organization-wide initiative, and each branch – service, brand managers, marketing, sales – takes an active hand in making sure information gleaned gets to the right department. And each department will have its own set of keywords and sentiments which are valuable to it. It’s not uncommon for the company to track more than 200 such phrases.

Then there’s making sure the gleaned information gets to the right departments. For instance, if Cisco determines people are talking about security applications within a borderless network area offering, it could forward the information to product development. Or it might go to salespeople, especially those in who knew their customers were using competitive products.

“The minute you get those [types of concerns], someone can say ‘we had that feature six months ago,’” says Kushner. Similarly, if buzz is high regarding telepresence in healthcare, Cisco can elect to focus on HMOs as a target audience.

Tracking sentiment is easy when existing customers log on from work, or identify themselves as being with a specific organization. Keyword analysis software can isolate areas of concern. The hard part, says Kushner, is identifying business customer contacts when they talk about Cisco from personal accounts. “From a social media perspective, we have to listen both to the individual as well as the company the individual might represent,” she adds.

An additional difficulty is that data used in traditional customer relationship management programs tends to be fairly structured. An organization has an account, and it captures interactions, records outreach efforts and measures response to stimuli.

Not so social media data, which is “terribly unstructured” according to Kushner. You have to figure out how to turn those nuggets into things people care about, she adds and then make sure a salesperson takes advantage of it.

There’s also the question of which comments to act on. Part of the unstructured nature of social media data is that it’s not “hard data”, as Kushner put it. “It’s sort of like eavesdropping. Would you eavesdrop and then act as if it were fact? Don’t take the first thing you listen to and say ‘I am going to get an inroad.’ You might have to have four or five conversations.”

The ultimate goal – figure early 2012 — is for Cisco’s sales force to have a constant stream of customer insight send right to their desktop, whether through a Salesforce.com system or a social media feed.

“We can still do a backslap and a martini: We can just be better about it,” says Kushner. “This arms the sales rep with more of the softer environment he is walking into.”

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