What’s Good for Social Business Is Good for Social CRM

I’m ensconced at the Swan and Dolphin Hotels at Walt Disney World in Orlando this week for IBM’s concurrent Lotusphere/IBM Connect shows, and all the announcements here paint the picture of a company and a partner ecosystem that is going all-in on collaboration. (Paul Greenberg runs them down nicely — and does so in a CRM-centric way — here.)

Big Blue’s fuddy-duddy reputation is being completely overhauled, it seems, amid a host of new technologies that allow more, faster, better and more secure cooperation between employees, partners and customers.

What does that mean for CRM? Well, first, let’s get a level set. The highlight of these events is not the sessions or keynotes, but getting a chance to talk to ordinary users. They provide a dose of reality. I’ve talked to several who were really excited about IBM’s social efforts — but many knew almost nothing about CRM. In fact, one fellow I spoke to worked for a business with US$350 million in annual revenues, and that company had no CRM application.

That’s pretty astonishing — but it also indicates how much potential growth exists in the market, and the IBM announcements indicate how many points there are for businesses to, eventually, connect to CRM.

From Collaboration to CRM

However, these users are here for a reason. They use IBM products, and they are increasingly using them to incorporate elements of social business into how they work. It becomes almost inevitable that if a company fares well with internal social efforts, it will extend that thinking outward toward customers — and that leads them straight to modern CRM.

The traditional entry point for adopting CRM has been sales: Your salespeople need help, and CRM gives them automation, which makes them more productive (and, more importantly, lets your sales manager know what’s going on). Oh, yeah — it could also be useful for marketing and maybe customer service.

The three-legged stool’s become better balanced recently, as service has gained in importance in the recessionary era. New customer acquisition is less critical than keeping existing customers — hence, a new entry point to CRM from the service side.

Now, with social collaboration tools and increasing integration, there are going to be numerous new avenues that will introduce CRM to an ever-expanding number of businesses and employees. Does your company host a community? Does it collaborate among multiple partners to go to market? Are employee collaborations resulting in new ideas for products or processes that affect the customer?

In all these cases — and dozens more that have yet to be discovered or invented — social business and collaboration may have enabled the creation of these ideas, but CRM is the system that records them, distributes them and allow you to take action.

Natural Progression

CRM is already at the heart of what I envision as an atom-like business software structure — it’s at the center, like the nucleus, and other applications orbit around it like electrons, driving value in and out of the system. While many businesses understand that CRM is critical and have invested in it, others are lagging behind.

However, the inevitable ascendancy of social business applications will increase the value of CRM. It’s unlikely that a business could adopt these social tools and then stop the social process just before getting to the point where they interact with customers. That social tendency will naturally lead these businesses to CRM applications, which collect and store customer data, and the discipline of CRM, which is all about strategically building relationships.

That’s why all the IBM news is so encouraging. It harnesses the power of relationships, and because social business tools and CRM are both built around relationships, the success of one will bring with it the continued success of the other.

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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