The Top 20 CRM Blogs of 2013, Part 1: Greenberg Through Rampen

When you write regularly about CRM, you realize what a challenge it can be to keep a blog going. The same themes come up again and again, and the technology does not radically change from release to release. So being a great CRM blogger requires something else — the ability to understand the always-fascinating human behaviors that CRM is supposed to document, analyze and influence.

The reality is that, compared with the complexity of the technology, human beings are infinitely more interesting. Understanding the human aspects of the discipline of CRM is much more useful than simply reflecting the technology, and that’s what the best CRM bloggers of 2013 did on a regular basis.

I’ve compiled a list of the best CRM bloggers since 2007, starting at InsideCRM and progressing on to the now-defunct Forecasting Clouds and continuing on to the CRM Outsiders blog — the last two lists can be found here and here.

The criteria remain the same: content, readability for CRM users and consistency. Some of the past winners have suffered from “blogfade,” as Marshall Lager — a past winner and admitted blogfading victim — put it. It’s hard keeping up the energy to post regularly. We placed the bar at five posts in 2012; that knocked out some old favorites but opened the door for a few newcomers.

This year’s list has a lot of returning names, though. That’s a salute to their writers’ devotion to the topic; rather than being marketing tools, most of these blogs are labors of love from people who love the subject of CRM.

Without further ado, here’s my list’s first 10 entries; stay tuned for the rest.

1. Paul Greenberg — PGreenblog and Social CRM: the Conversation

Paul has topped this list for many years, and he has an advantage: When people routinely refer to you as “the Godfather of CRM,” you probably have both a foundation of internalized knowledge to draw from, plus you’ve been at this game long enough to be able to put developments in technology and trends into context.

Paul does that well, and this year, he’s done a great job of organizing his blog thoughts. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, PGreenblog has become more personal — it’s CRM as it rubs up against Paul’s life, in most cases. Meanwhile, “the Conversation” has become more businesslike in its coverage.

In both cases, Paul delivers cogent and on-target assessments of industry events — not exactly next-day coverage, but better analysis trumps faster analysis any time. The blogs also provide a venue for Paul to comment on his various projects — namely, CRM Idol and the CRM Watchlist — providing not just visibility for these projects but also visibility into them and the things he’s learning as they progress.

With more than a decade as a blogger under his belt, Paul shows no signs of slowing down or fading away — and so he defends his spot on the list for another year.

2. Beagle Research GroupDenis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is almost the opposite of Paul. While Paul often gets personal in putting his CRM observations in context, Denis often pulls back to put CRM in the context of broader economic, social and global trends.

This year, Denis delivered some important observations on the emergence of the subscription economy, and his coverage of various partnerships, product announcements and other bits of maneuvering by CRM companies and other tech companies that revolve around the CRM sphere is accompanied by some thoughtful analysis.

It’s Denis’ ability to relate these maneuvers to others, however — in the recent past of the tech industry, or in the more distant past of history — that makes his blog fun to read. While he doesn’t share as much about himself as other bloggers, some key concerns that extend beyond CRM (sustainability, namely) shine through, making Denis’ opinions interesting on multiple levels.

3. CRM Search Blog — Chuck Schaeffer

The excellent blog from this excellent CRM site is written primarily by Chuck, a very respected CRM thinker who’s spent time in almost every role that touches CRM: customer, user, consultant and former CEO of Aplicor.

While Nos. 1 and 2 on our list are more focused on trends, the CRM industry and the concepts around CRM, Chuck writes about things that are a bit more concrete, and thus may map more directly to your planning of CRM programs. It’s not really a “how to” blog — it’s more like a “why and how to” blog. For example: “Mobile CRM: Why it Fails and How to Succeed” concisely illustrates the problem (mobile isn’t for all CRM tasks — some still need to be done at a desk somewhere) and then leaps into a set of suggestions for successful introduction of mobile into a CRM plan.

Earlier in the year, Chuck published a “winners and losers” column that examined the relative momentum of vendors; this was not based on anecdotal evidence or gut feeling but on the results of a methodology (which he explains) and the use of a third party for research. After getting the data in, he added his analysis. This is what you can expect from the CRM Search blog — ideas supported by real data and hard-earned experience.

4. ThinkJar — Esteban Kolsky

Perhaps the strongest personality in the top 10, Esteban couches his expert analysis behind a (possibly unintentionally) well-crafted persona — a CRM pundit/diva who takes great joy in making fun of himself. That allows him to be brutally candid when he thinks a company is making mistakes (for example, Oracle’s software applications are a “messy, poorly delivered approach to fit in a market where they have limited possibilities,” he wrote in October — and Oracle is one of his customers!) and, at the same time, keep it light and digestible.

He provided perhaps the best explanation of what Salesforce1 actually is, versus what people thought it was following’s own description at Dreamforce. That’s what makes Esteban’s blog so valuable: He has a knack for seeing things as they really are, and he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. The next time you see an announcement that seems puzzling from one of the major CRM players, check in with Esteban to see what that announcement really means.

5. CRM Consultant — Richard Boardman

Richard provides regular, thoughtful analysis of what’s going on in the CRM industry, asking some interesting rhetorical questions as a part of his analysis (for example, “how long will the peace last between Oracle and Salesforce?”).

Richard’s blog really shines, however, when he does what he did early in 2013, which is to provide hands-on, tested advice to CRM users and those looking to deploy CRM. With a long background as a consultant, he’s seen a lot (you can never really see it all) and distills it into some perfectly achievable advice. “Six Ways to Transform Sales Productivity Using CRM Technology” is a good example; drawing on his own experience, Richard provides concrete suggestions that, with a little thought, can improve any CRM implementation.

Even pursuing one of his ideas will enrich users’ experiences and result in better return on CRM investments. Although his industry analysis is useful, here’s hoping Richard will return to more posts about practical ways to improve CRM efforts in 2014.

6. Think Customers: the 1to1 Blog — Mila D’Anotnio, Tom Hoffman, Cynthia Clark, Anna Papachristos

There are a ton of great things about this blog. First off, as a team effort, it’s updated daily — there’s no shortage of content here. Second, when the 1to1 team isn’t writing, they’re pulling in great guest bloggers from Forrester Research, businesses serving the customer experience space, and — of course — Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (who head the 1to1 empire).

This blog spans the entirety of CRM, not just sales. Customer service commands a large percentage of the posts, as do topics touching on marketing and, increasingly, on the metrics used to see how well businesses are keeping their customers happy.

Rather than focusing on CRM vendors — or any vendors, most of the time — the focus tends to be on serving customers, which is the real goal anyway. Regardless of what your CRM vendor does, you must keep the people who buy from you happy and loyal, and that’s the idea that underscores this blog.

7. A Title Would Limit My Thoughts — Mitch Lieberman

Okay, you’ve spent enough time thinking about the nuts and bolts. Now it’s time to get existential. Who owns data? What is privacy? If you fail to provide satisfactory customer service, do you mean, “I can’t” or do you really mean, “I won’t?”

This blog dwells at times on definitions of things that we think we understand, and much to Mitch’s credit, he successfully articulates how CRM concepts change, evolve and mutate through exposure to customers, social media and business practices. These are not purely academic thought experiments: The blog ties the more ephemeral ideas to key CRM objectives, like loyalty, customer service and social influence.

Mitch’s blog often presents more questions than answers, but they’re questions you need to think about, because how you answer may determine how well you tune the customer experience for your customers.

8. Michael Maoz

Blogging at large analyst firms isn’t easy, because as much as they want a blog presence, the firms don’t want their analysts giving away information that could otherwise be sold. Michael Maoz jammed up that formula a while ago by creating so many interesting ideas — and telling them in an engaging, entertaining way — that there’s more than enough information to satisfy both the readers and the overseers in the firm alike.

Michael’s real sweet spot centers on loyalty and customer service. The blog showcases examples of successes and failures that he encounters in his daily life. Similarly, he showcases just how few really good options exist for stable, high-volume customer engagement centers (“there is no choice,” he said late in 2013).

Michael pulls no punches in pointing out how vendors miss their stated goals when it comes to customer service, but it’s also clear that when a solution arrives that really delivers, no one will be more enthusiastic about it. Michael Maoz will be the guy who heralds the arrival of the truly effective customer support product.

9. Value Creator — Brian Vellmure

As we change technology, how is technology changing us? That’s a question Brian Vellmure likes to ask — and it’s more than just speculation, because it applies directly to how well businesses connect with customers. If the programs a business uses to connect with a customer cause the customer to change his or her behavior or perceptions, does that render those programs ineffective — and if so, how do you anticipate and adjust for that phenomenon?

If this sounds futuristic, well, it is. But “the future” seems a lot closer today than it used to, as the customer data collected by businesses is exploding and as customers themselves volunteer that data. Count on Brian to suggest aspects of this future that can give you an edge in your CRM efforts.

10. Win Rampen’s Blog

Win spent much of 2013 exploring “the Consumer Decision Journey,” or the pathway customers take when they research and buy products (and, by inference, services). That’s a pretty rich field to mine. How do you influence that journey, and shape the infrastructure of that journey to favor your company?

Win certainly didn’t exhaust that vein in 2013, but he tapped into some important ideas with long posts about marketing’s responsibility in driving that journey, the importance of shifting to accommodate that journey and the value of opening up your organization to understand the journey — not just using data acquired digitally, but using all your “sensory apparatus” to truly understand the customers’ paths to purchase.

One of Win’s secret weapons is that he loads his blogs with links to the articles and reports that inform his opinion, so don’t be surprised if you end up devoting serious time to each post and its associated content.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. 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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