Social CRM Needs Clarity

Brian Solis By Brian Solis
Expert Author
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As the headline implies, even though Social CRM exists as an official category, what it is and what it is not is blurry and hotly debated. No, it doesn’t need a new definition. And, no, it doesn’t need new leadership. sCRM, and now “social enterprise” as categories could however, benefit from clarity around what it is they’re solving for, which companies actually provide solutions against those objectives, and ultimately, how everything works together for the benefit of customer engagement and relationships.

Think about the vast array of vendors selling social media solutions for a moment. Many of them are positioned as Social CRM or sCRM tools, but when you examine true capabilities versus stated positioning , you will find that many vendors are in fact stronger players in social media management (SMMS), social CMS, listening, collaboration, intelligence, and conversation management.

If you think about this from a business perspective, it’s almost impossible to identify which vendor is truly qualified to deliver against the goals of a new social CRM system.  Decision makers have to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to sort through what is true and what is simply good marketing. Often, they must recruit experts to help survey the landscape and qualify vendors.

Earlier in the year, I met with Houston Neal to discuss the state of Social CRM, where it’s headed and where it needs to go. As you can see, I believe that 2012 is the year when we finally start to accurately segment the market while better defining what Social CRM really is and how businesses need to think and rethink their approach to customer relationship management.

So, no. This is not a post to redefine sCRM. Nor is this a post to argue about nomenclature. This is an attempt to bring clarity and alignment around real world business problems and vendor capabilities. More importantly, in 2012, I hope to see greater movement toward solving for the business issues that software and social media cannot fix. It’s part technology and part philosophy. Because, in the end, it’s about relationships.

Here’s the transcribed conversation?

Houston Neal: To begin, do you think a true social CRM suite exists in the market?

Brian Solis: That’s a good question. Let’s first take a step back. The thing that’s a little bit more interesting about Social CRM – and definitely one of the things that’s under appreciated – is the idea that it forces us to rethink the definition of CRM. By that I mean, CRM was originally about putting together an infrastructure, processes, and methodologies to support customer and sales processes and customer relationships. With Social CRM, we are introduced to a customer that resides in different channels, channels businesses don’t control. This introduces new touch points within the business ecosystem that we didn’t design around originally.

Paul Greenberg introduced a working definition of Social CRM that I think helps frame the conversation, “Social CRM is the integration of traditional operational customer facing activities including strategies, programs, systems, and technologies with emergent social channels to provide businesses with the means to communicate and engage with customers in their preferred channels for mutual benefit.”

When you ask if there are any solutions out there, the answer is yes and no. What was CRM and what will be CRM are two very different things. By this, I mean this is an opportunity to evolve an aging infrastructure and philosophy to adapt to customers where they expect engagement. And, as a result, you’re actually going to see a complete transformation in business in general. It goes by names like “social business,” “adaptive business,” and “holistic business.”

What we’re learning now with the democratization of information is that individuals are in control of the brand and brand experience as much as the business. This is paramount. This is at the heart of what’s fueling the socialization of CRM. If I could put it into one nutshell statement it would be that customer relationships and engagement channels used to be defined and governed businesses. That was because they controlled the technology and the media.

When you try to design software around capturing this activity, you have to begin by questioning your business strategy and your intentions for customer engagement. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Are you trying to steer experiences at the beginning, during, or after? Or, all of the above? Tools are starting to emerge that allow you to identify decision making processes across distributed platforms outside of the firewall or call center at every step. They are all, in one way or another, adapting to certain parts or many parts of this social CRM idea. But if indeed social CRM is much bigger, as we’re discussing here, then it’s just getting started.

Finally, just to make things a bit more interesting, what if for the sake of this discussion, we removed the “C” from CRM? For all the pundits who read this, I’m not calling for a new category. This is about perspective or how businesses view customers. Let’s say that in a connected world where customers are gaining influence, customer relationship management becomes only part of the opportunity. What it’s really about is relationship management, before, during, and after meaningful transactions. You can influence the decision of someone before they’re even a customer. You can manage the whole information work flow process, channel it within the organization so that you’re not just learning and responding, but so that you are adapting as a business to be better structured to handle the customer of the future.

Moving on to a more specific question, what type of applications do you think would make up a social CRM suite?

I recently wrote an article about Dell and Gatorade building social media command centers. These rooms resemble NASA’s mission control with screens everywhere displaying conversations, relationships, keyword clouds, sentiment, and real-time trends. But it’s so much more than social media marketing. It’s about intelligence. It’s about learning from customer activity to design new engagement programs, better products and services, and ultimately optimized processes.

This is one way that the social CRM system would really start to begin. From there, it’s a matter of technologies and work flow that allow you to hear, see, process, respond, and adapt all within the infrastructure in the way the business is designed.

Take Nimble for example. It will allow you to track all of these different individuals, then at a point of engagement it, let’s say its Twitter, channel one individual to someone in customer service or product management.

If I send a Tweet, customer service then uses a tool like Nimble to bring in more information than what you would normally find in that tweet or bio, for example, the person’s name, what other accounts they have across other networks, etc. It would then introduce that information into a centralized database. Customer service can then push out a response and track the response. Nimble could also send a signal to the listening agent to say, “we’ve got this one handled, you can check it off your list.” If the listening manager finds a sales opportunity, they could funnel it over to sales.

If you look at my early blueprint for the social business you’ll see this thing called the conversation cloud on the left side of the blueprint. You’ll notice Get Satisfaction. What they represent is this conversation cloud that channels conversations into one place. So, let’s just say somebody asks a question on Twitter, or somebody asks a question on Facebook, or somebody goes to the website to ask a question. The magic of Get Satisfaction is that they can put together common responses and common answers from a knowledge-base, directly to the individual. So it can just constantly serve up the right answer without even having to have a human being present, which is huge. It saves them a massive amount of time. This is yet another dimension to CRM that we really haven’t seen before.

So, when you look at Get Satisfaction, combine them with Nimble, then combine with a command center, we’re starting to see pieces of this complete social CRM suite emerge. Then there is going to be some type of glue that brings it all together. That glue is probably going to be somebody like Salesforce who buys all of these pieces to offer one complete solution, or parts of the solution.

What trends are you seeing in the market, both in terms of product development, and general market activity?

I’ve seen a lot of innovation from vendors who claim to have leading social CRM solutions. Many however, offer facets of a bigger of social CRM system. There is great confusion in the market as businesses attempt to qualify vendors based on stated capabilities. For a while, it seemed that if you could track conversations on social networks and respond from one interface, that was all you need to qualify as a sCRM solution. There’s obviously more to the story. I believe we need to not redefine sCRM, but instead clarify what it is and isn’t. Additionally, we need to better align vendor capabilities with real world business needs. One trend that I see unfolding in 2012 and 2013 is a shift from a groundswell-driven process of move-and-react to a top-down leadership approach to innovation in technology adoption, innovation in processes, and a reassessment of mission, vision, and purpose. As a result, how businesses see the customer and in turn engage and manage relationships will dramatically evolve and improve to the benefit of all parties.

So basically coming up with use cases?

Ahh, use cases. Let me start by saying, I’m open to seeing case studies on this subject. Feel free to email me with your stories. Here, I’d like to talk about Dell,  a case that is often used in the realm of social marketing. But, I believe the true story is around how a big company used a crisis to innovate around processes, services, and ultimately transform its culture as a result.

For years, Dell was subject to severe problem that were catapulted into mainstream media via blogs and social networks. Michael Dell – and the rest of the company – took it so seriously that they innovated systems around solving the problem at a customer engagement level and also in product design. And it’s still evolving today. When there’s a problem on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, or anywhere else, they watch to see which issues gain momentum. As this happens, they unearth what the problem is, get a team to fix it, then push the fix before it’s a mainstream problem. This completely extinguishes those discussions. So that means that it went from a listening component to a development component to a distribution component of a CRM system. They’ve got the same infrastructure for sales, human resources, finance and legal. Dell is building an infrastructure, and more importantly, a methodology of philosophies around engaging with those experiences, dealing with those experiences, or managing those experiences. So while they’re far from being the complete example of an entire solution, Dell is by default, building a social CRM system for the entire organization.

On another note, I also wanted to send a special note of thanks to Lauren Carlson, Houston Neal,  and the Software Advice team for including me in the 2011 Authority Awards. Other winners include good friend Mr. Paul Greenberg and Denis Pombriant, who is someone I look forward to getting to know better in 2012.

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About Brian Solis
Brian Solis is principal at FutureWorks PR, an award-winning PR and Social Media agency founded in 1999. FW PR bridges the communications gap between companies and their customers, and between products and their specific benefits for their target markets. Solis blogs at PR2.0, http://www.briansolis.com, and regularly contributes to many industry trades. He is also frequently quoted in articles relating to technology trends and Marketing/PR strategies.

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