Growing Into Social CRM

My childhood birthdays and Christmases had a few eternally repeated phrases associated with them: “Happy Birthday,” “Merry Christmas,” and “He’ll grow into it.”

The latter one was always perplexing to me. The volume of oversized clothing I received as a kid from aunts, grandparents and family friends was astounding. It left me with two conclusions: one, my relatives simply weren’t paying attention; or two, they overestimated my physical presence in a way that mirrored my enormous personality. (Hopefully, you detected the sarcasm in option two.)

Over time, I did actually grow into those clothes. In some cases, they were put away so completely I grew right past them, but the majority of those oversized clothes eventually fit me.

Social CRM, for a lot of businesses, is like those gifts: It may not be a perfect fit immediately, but given time and the evolution of your business, you’re likely to grow into it.

No Resistance

It’s not an unprecedented thing, either: Businesses often had to grow into CRM. Typically, CRM arrived via the sales team, then spread its influence into marketing, which exists to feed leads to sales. There was a natural fit there. Then, businesses grew to understand the data CRM systems were capturing could be valuable to people in other roles throughout the organization. Again, CRM proved to be a good fit, but only when the business had grown into it.

When we talk about CRM failure, we often talk about force-fit situations — a CRM application brought in and imposed upon workers and departments that aren’t ready to use it. Adoption rates are terrible, ROI is judged to be nil, and the entire endeavor receives a black mark. In reality, the application could have been successful had its rollout been managed better.

Social CRM is like this, but the growth isn’t being driven by business issues alone. The great thing about social is that it’s the flip side of the proliferation of the PC in homes, which was driven by workers’ mass exposure to computers at work. The social revolution is the same phenomenon in reverse: Social networking has been inculcated into people in their private lives, and they’re now eager to bring the freedom and ease of communication they’ve found in their off hours into the workplace.

First Things First

That means readiness to accept and adopt social CRM is already present in many organizations. For some employees, there may be an age-related barrier (which is rapidly eroding if studies of usage are accurate), and there may be the ever-present barrier of change and change management to overcome.

However, there’s little lack of understanding of what social is, or how it can help enhance customer relationships and lead to improved sales and loyalty. Your workers have already experienced that in their private lives. So, depending on where your business is on the continuum of CRM maturity, it may seem that you’re more ready for the trappings of social CRM than for the foundational basics of CRM itself.

The issue becomes one of helping the organization grow into social CRM — and the best way to do that is to make sure it’s grown into CRM. You need the CRM foundation to capture and organize data, and that data will include what you pull in through social media.

You wouldn’t get your kid track spikes for sprinting before he was able to walk on his own (unless you were my family). The same goes for social CRM. Make sure you have your feet under you with a good CRM foundation before you embark on a full-fledged social CRM initiative — and when you do, don’t be surprised if your employees race ahead faster than you expect.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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