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In search of real, practical Social CRM

Social CRMThe search for next big thing when it comes to Customer Relationship Management has been a long, strange trip for those of us who remember when Siebel was battling it out with Brock and Saratoga, and cloud computing was still a gleam in Eric Schmidt’s eye.  But here we are, a dozen years after the burst of the dotcom bubble, entering what is arguably the golden era of CRM.  Not just any CRM, but context driven, intelligent, user-centric, truly multi-channel, Social CRM.

Yet despite the hype and lots of apparent success stories, Social CRM is not a product.  And it’s not a market.  Rather it’s a vision about blending transactional processes and insights with social interactions and data.  And – this is key – shifting CRM from the “management” part to the “customer” part and delivering solutions and content and campaigns that get people talking, and ultimately doing and buying things that they will love.  Oh, and helping businesses do more with less of course!

So what do organizations and vendors need to ramp up their Social CRM efforts and generate real, practical results?

First, realize that that time is right, in case you still have skeptics to convince.  With social media and mobile adoption through the roof, the next wave is clearly about having conversations and connecting with customers (or future customers in a “pre-RM” scenario) on their terms.  And with a myriad of cloud/SaaS and even freemium options and quick deployment models, the barriers to getting started continue to get lowered.

Second, Social CRM is an evolution of many parts and pieces and therefore very much a composite market and ecosystem.  Early CRM (and eCRM) was driven by upstarts and innovators, flanked by generally slow moving platform providers, as I discussed in this piece for CIO Magazine back in 2006.  Today we have a similar landscape, although one can argue the platform providers like Adobe, Google, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP have awoken and have been much more aggressive participants at “the edge” via partnership and acquisitions.

So what does the Social CRM ecosystem look like?  I’ve envisioned it as an interconnected universe of solution providers, each with their own relationships and specialty vendors clustered around 4 categories:

  • Social listening, monitoring and analytics tools,
  • Community and collaboration platforms,
  • Fan marketing and profile management tools, and
  • Social sales and marketing automation.

Listening and monitoring is where the journey starts for most, and there are many options from free social search from Topsy and HubSpot’s grader tools to higher-end analytics tools like Radian6 (now Saleforce) or NetBase.

Communities and collaboration were one of the first success stories for Social CRM.  Powered by a range of tools like Get Satisfaction and Lithium, support communities were also where a number of “enterprise social” vendors like Jive got their start.

Fan marketing and profile management is where a lot of the M&A action has been and includes campaign-centric tools like Wildfire (now Google), Involver (now Oracle) and Offerpop (disclaimer: I was a co-founder) as well as integrated social management tools like Awareness, Spredfast and Vitrue (also Oracle).

Social sales and marketing automation is perhaps the holy grail for front-office fans, where monitoring meets social contact databases and campaign management. While still emerging, players the furthest along in pulling these parts together include upstarts like Nimble, as well as SaaS leader Salesforce and old school CRM power Oracle – in both cases powered by a number of recent acquisitions.

Third, you need a strategy.  Interestingly, the goals of CRM and Social CRM are quite similar: foster relationships, better understand needs, and create great experiences that lead to interest, intent and a (repeat) purchase.

More specifically, with the potential of harnessing social channels and data (plus the benefits of self-service delivery), organizations should be looking to do 3 things:

  1. Provide sales and service via social channels – in the format and timeframe to exceed customers’ expectations.  It’s not enough to have staff monitoring Twitter or interacting in a forum on Facebook, you need to speak the language, understand social behavior and make offers or resolve issues in a way that fits the “persona” of each channel.
  2. Enrich your understanding and aim to create a complete picture of customers, their segments, influencers and even competitors by combining insights from social channels and campaigns with Web analytics and transactional (traditional CRM) data.  This is where influence comes into the equation (see my broader discussion of the role of content and the formula for social marketing on the 1to1 blog), as a multiplier for word-of-mouth and factor in targeting.
  3. Transform your products, messages and mix of delivery channels based the effectiveness of #1 and insights from #2.  When done well, Social CRM provides an amazing feedback loop that not only put the “C” back in CRM when it comes to channel of choice, but also provides the mythical “360 degree” view of customers that help both parties to get to know each other and find out which buttons to push – or not.

So Social CRM is just the latest step in the evolution of CRM (and CEM).  But a critical step nonetheless that offers great upside for customers, vendors and organizations that keep an eye on what it could be someday, while focusing on developing and deploying the parts that can have a real impact today.


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