Social CRM: Walk Before You Run

Had a meteor hit the Dulles Westin outside of Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, it would have set social CRM back 10 years. That meteor, in addition to melting a lot of snow, would have vaporized in a trice the vast majority of the world’s serious thinkers on the topic of social CRM, gathered there for the BPT Partners’ Social CRM Strategies for Business Seminar.

The journalists, consultants and business leaders there shared their ideas about the impact social CRM will have in the next few years, how it will transform businesses, and how it will propel smart organizations toward truly becoming customer-centric.

As forward-looking as the discussions at the event were, one thing was inescapable: None of these discussions would have made the first bit of sense had the participants not had an in-depth knowledge of the essentials of CRM — not social CRM, but the original three-letter acronym and all it stands for.

Blazing a Path to Failure

None of those at the seminar characterized social CRM as a panacea, but there are others out there who are keen to position it the way CRM was initially positioned in the late 1980s: as an easy technology-based fix to some terribly complicated business issues.That sales pitch gave CRM a black eye back then — and in an era of tightening marketing budgets and reduced sales assets, it threatens to strangle social CRM in its crib.

Here’s the reality: CRM was the introductory course, and social CRM is the upper-level course. If you haven’t taken the prerequisite, you’re going to be lost taking the advanced class.

CRM forms the foundation for social CRM. It’s all about understanding customers by managing the data about them. Without a solid grasp on how to do this — from how to persuade sales people to input data to how to close the loop on leads, and from how to manage customer information to turning that information into an exceptional customer experience — social CRM is like frosting on a sawdust cake.

Actually, it’s worse. Social CRM holds the promise of harnessing the data customers volunteer about themselves through social media, blogs and other sources, and then adding that data to what already resides in CRM to create a more in-depth portrait of each customer. If the underlying foundation of CRM is weak, social CRM creates an even less manageable tangle of customer data and provides no direction about how to use it. It allows your CRM initiative to fail faster and more spectacularly.

CRM Is a Discipline

Step one, before you embark on any social CRM initiative, is to reexamine your existing CRM implementation. Is it functioning the way you expected it to? Are there technology or process changes that need to be made? Are your people completely on board with the technologies and the ideas they embody? If not, then correct those issues before moving ahead with the evolution of your CRM strategy.

If your CRM is where you want it to be, consider that the go-ahead to begin getting seriously social. The organizations that think seriously about CRM are going to transition to social CRM without much difficulty, in most cases. My worry is about smaller businesses — the ones that may not even know what the acronym “CRM” stands for yet, although they may understand their need for the capabilities it brings.

The foundational aspects of CRM are unknown to the decision makers in these organizations, but many are well aware of social media and its ability to engage customers. Their impulse may be to rush headlong toward social media without a CRM foundation or a social CRM strategy, preventing them from capitalizing on what they learn and the relationships they build.

It will be difficult for vendors and consultants to teach these companies to walk and to run simultaneously — and it threatens to cloud the future of social CRM with disappointments, failures and missed opportunities stemming from a lack of a complete awareness of the essentials of CRM.

The last 15 years have shown that it’s hard to get businesses to understand that CRM is a discipline and not a technology, and that its importance is far greater than a simple IT project. Now, with customers changing and the emerging social CRM concepts trying to deal with that change, the need for education on the basics is more pressing than it’s ever been. Users, vendors and consultants must take this educational challenge seriously.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 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 two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

1 Comment

  • In the midst of all this social media hype, I had not even begun to ponder the CRM entering the "social" world…it’s either scary or enlightening, depending on the businesses that decide to go the social route. As stated, if the CRM has not been mastered as a discipline, it can not be effectively used in the social world. Very good post.

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