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May 24 2013

Construction, CRM and social media

‘Enterprise social networks’ and ‘enterprise collaboration’ are terms being increasingly associated with customer relationship management (CRM), and may change face of construction sales, marketing and customer service.

m-hance logoOn Tuesday, I attended a London seminar organised by m-hance concerning its Microsoft Dynamics-based CRM (customer relationship management) solutions and related tools. As a construction PR and marketing consultant who frequently liaises with sales folk, my main reason was to learn a bit more about use of CRM by project-based organisations in the UK construction industry, and, as one of Microsoft’s Gold Partners and Inner Circle members, m-hance seemed a good place to start.

Ian Langley introduced the session and we also heard from David Bullock, who delivered a case study on contractor BAM Construct UK’s use of the CRM platform and a presentation on managing risk in the sales pipeline. Having previously worked for a business that used Dynamics, I expected we would also hear a bit about Sharepoint (not one of my favourite systems, I confess) and, yes, we saw a demonstration of how the CRM system could pull in information from a SharePoint document management platform (though it wasn’t clear if the CRM system could also be integrate with third-party cloud-based construction collaboration systems – David said he’d look into this for me).

Enterprise social networks

m-hance social businessHowever, my ears pricked up when Ian talked (briefly) about “Enterprise social networks” (ESNs) and how they might supplant email as the primary means of communication for a significant minority of users. My delegate pack included an ESN document (“Is your business social?” – downloadable here, registration required), which talked about breaking down silos of knowledge, improving sharing of knowledge and promoting collaboration while reducing “email noise”.

The brochure includes a screen-grab of a ‘social feed’ which could incorporate internal messages (Yammer is, of course, now a Microsoft-owned product and being integrated with Office 365 – see TechCrunch post) as well as Twitter and RSS updates, with tags, groups, user presence awareness and other capabilities drawn from Microsoft’s portfolio and “m-hanced”. Given that many UK construction businesses are heavily reliant upon Microsoft tools, this endorsement and integration of social tools may be what some organisations need to finally start incorporating social media into business processes, particularly if its implementation reflects construction people’s needs.

CRM in construction

Asked what other CRM systems people had experienced, one delegate volunteered that his business had used the cloud-based Salesforce (which also has a private social network, Chatter) but found it “too complex” and “not user-friendly”. One of the m-hance people suggested this was because Salesforce hadn’t been “verticalised” for the architecture, engineering and construction sector (a similar issue when it comes to making Sharepoint work as a pan-project team construction collaboration tool – partly addressed by similar value-added resellers, such as Cadac, who provide AEC templates so that SharePoint is quickly “construction-flavoured” – 2011 post).

By coincidence, the following day I received an email about another cloud-based CRM platform, Zoho, and when I asked if anyone was using this, Antony Slumbers mentioned a further small team alternative, Glasnost21, which is apparently widely used in the UK property world.

We appear to be on the cusp of a major change, in which email may be becoming less important in how organisations manage their sales pipelines, deal with customer issues, share information and collaboration internally. CRM systems are increasingly recognising the needs of remote or mobile workers, and cloud-based or web-enabled interfaces are reducing reliance on traditional client-server systems. And corporate solutions are less about “knowledge is power” and formal communications, and more about conversations, broadcasting, transparency, empowerment and engagement using familiar, intuitive-to-use tools.

Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook are apparently frequently considered as ‘enterprise collaboration’ tools (see this Toby Wolpe post), but these are often not integrated with wider collaboration activities (eg: documents, data, communications and directory services), connecting people and work with data. Microsoft Sharepoint (perhaps “m-hanced”) and Salesforce Chatter (if “verticalised”) are both tools that can help in these respects internally; from a project-oriented collaboration perspective, I would also like to see similar integrations with the information and functions of SaaS-based collaboration platforms too.

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