CRM in the age of the Social Web


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I was invited to give a talk in Montreal this past week by SugarCRM , immediately after my attendance and participation at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston. I also had also just released a Guide to Understanding Social CRM, a white paper produced with Chess Media Group, some really smart folks who I really enjoy working with, and look forward to more. Personally, I am growing tired of the definitions, the spin, nitpicking on what is a strategy (yeah, probably mine too). I have been working really hard to remain objective and balanced. I do not really care what we call it either, I just use an umbrella term which simply allows people to understand at a glance the general topic. So, if I stop using the term, what will happen – for one, I might miss out on what Gartner releases in their MQ (which I am concerned is going to really confuse things). The main issue, which is the key to the presentation below and the supporting white paper is that things have changed, therefore you need to change too.

What is really new?

The one area I did not really touch upon in the presentation is The Social Customer. The Social Customer is new, I know some will agree with me, and some will not. OK, so the Social Customer is not really new, I will disagree with myself right there, done. Let’s move on. What is new is the ease (time and energy spent) with which this type of individual can make an impact (Vast and Fast as friend Brent Leary likes to say). What is also new is the amount of information this individual has instantly available on a wide variety of topics, including your products. How do you respond? Some people are happy to refer to this as a strategy, some suggest this is not the case. Again, I am a a bit tired of that battle. My objective is share that things have changed, and let’s work to respond to that change. Here is a quick example, showing why I think things have changed:

In 1984 Ben and Jerry’s successfully carried out a campaign, which at the time was almost unheard of, but it worked. In 1984 pre-Web and certainly pre-Social Web the campaign took a lot of effort (6 months – 1 year, selling t-shirts 1800 numbers and an airplane over a football game), but that special type of customer certainly did exist. Ben and Jerry’s “beat the establishment”. The funny thing is that my next example is also a Vermont based controversy. Fast-forward to 2009 and a small Vermont Brewery, RockArt, ended up in a similar battle with “the establishment”. This battle time line can be measured in weeks, not months. Why? Because of the social web. In both of these scenarios, the ‘small guy’ would not have survived if it were not for vocal advocates, customers, influencers (US Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter in the Beer battle). I bet if the issues were reversed in the historic time line (Beer in 1984, Ice Cream in 2009) the relative time to impact would have also been reversed.

So what does this prove? It proves that a special type of Customer did exist prior to the Social Web. Now, was the earlier version the “Social Customer”, I do not think so, but feel free to disagree. The Ben and Jerry’s advocate did not have text messaging, much less a cell phone, no email, no Facebook, myspace, youtube – you get the point. I know that I am going to hear “well those are all technologies, so Social is just technology”. Social Technology has changed the culture of a generation or more. A response to this change will require more than just technology.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, this is excellent. Allow me to paraphrase a bit:
    Social CRM = CRM in the Age of the Social Web.

    Customers are customers and have always been social.
    Business is business and most are internally focused.

    So what is the new news? The Social Web.
    Social Customer = customers using social media.
    Social Business = businesses using social media.
    (and I’d be fine substituting Web 2.0 or collaborative technologies for those who don’t like the world “social.”

    But people didn’t all of a sudden become social. The “social customer” has always been a factor, because WOM matters even without cell phones and the web. But the Social Web empowers social customers so the benefits and dangers of WOM are magnified.

    The white paper is a fine piece of work by you and Jacob.

    This statement nails how CRM has been implemented by most companies, based on CustomerThink research:

    CRM is a technology-based framework used by companies of all sizes and by several departments: sales, marketing and support departments. When used by sales, CRM is alsoreferred to as SFA (Sales Force Automation). The first generation of CRM focuses heavily on data, task and transaction management. CRM was, and is,
    internally focused, with an emphasis on specific processes, and optimization of those processes.

    Nicely said, but some would argue that CRM is a strategy and you’ve just dumbed it down to a technology implementation.

    But you/Jacob lost me a bit here…

    SCRM is an extension of CRM, not a replacement, and among the important benefits is that it adds value back to the users (increased adoption) and your customers. It is the one part of the social business strategy that addresses how companies need to adapt to the social customer and the expectations these customers have with respect to companies they do businesswith. With a focus on strategy, customer engagement and relationships, Social CRM moves beyond management of customers, transactions, and money.

    So CRM is basically internally focused and is about managing customer information, and Social CRM is an “extension” that now engages with the social customer… and has become a strategy? Hmmm, that’s quite an extension indeed.

    I really like this statement/definition:

    Social CRM is a customer engagement strategy in support of your defined goals and objectives towards optimizing the customer experience. Success requires focus on people, process and technology associated with customer touch points and interactions.

    Although you could substitute “Customer Experience Management” for Social CRM and it would be just as good.

    Over all, a nice piece of work that will help move the industry forward. Kudos!

    I can’t wait to see how Gartner defines Social CRM as a technology space.

  2. Bob Excellent clarifying comments, thanks. Your comments highlight how difficult it must be for a manager or business owner looking at these topics from the point of view of a “beginner.” It’s not easy to get your head around all the terminology. And if you’re admitting to being “lost” !! Mitch I loved the presentation, great visuals and some great simplifying text. I think the key slide is number 20 where you show sales, marketing and customer service “targetting” the customer. I’m not sure what the accompanying commentary was but the one directional arrows tells it like it is and in my mind tells it like it will always be with silos that have evolved into largely one directional (still very valuable) functions. I believe the changed market that you describe needs new cross functional roles whose arrows come from the customer with a second set of arrows leading on to the existing silos. From these new empowered employees would come the insights, derived from customers that would help the existing silos provide a more effective experience.

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for the comments and kind words. It is fun to watch things change, and I am willing to change with them, really. When I really started focusing on this topic about a year and half ago, very few could have predicted where we would end up.

    I am good with the summary version of Social CRM is basically CRM in the Age of the Social Web. The only slight hedge is that the Social Web pushed by the customer use of Web 2.0 Technology has also pushed the customer to share more with people via standard/old school means. WOM is still alive and well, as much as it ever was (so is the 1-800 number).

    I differ a bit on the Social Business, but this response will not completely answer the question. Mark Tamis has a nice post on the topic and the resulting answer is probably somewhere in the middle. I will say that Social Business includes a lot about collaboration, from information derived from customers, suppliers and partners, and this might be from any means, not just ‘Social’ means. I do agree with your comment on magnification – both in scale, and speed.

    Yes, I do position it as quite the extension, and it will at some point need to be reeled in a bit. I think by comparison, from what I have heard, my extension pales in comparison with the Gartner MQ yet to be released. There is still a lot to explore and learn. The details will start to get pretty specific as we attack different industries and geographies.


    Mitch Lieberman
    President and CEO
    Comity Technology Advisors

  4. Ray,

    Thanks for the comments, I appreciate it.

    I agree that internally we will need to learn from what works and evolve to where our customers want for us to go. I am looking forward to exploring for specific businesses!


    Mitch Lieberman
    President and CEO
    Comity Technology Advisors

  5. Hi Mitch, Bob

    An interesting and yet, troubling post.

    I think Bob is abdolutely right when he says that customers – people like you and I – have always been social and thus, we haven’t really ‘changed’ per se. Human evolution takes place over many generations, so it is extremely unlikely that we have changed like so many who hype SocCRM, but clearly don’t understand it, claim.

    What has definately changed is the tools we use to help us with important jobs. Some of those jobs were always social, but social networks also provide new ways to do some functional jobs too. For example, I didn’t ask anyone what brand of butter to buy from my local Metro store, but I did ask colleagues which Nokia handset has the best trade-off between iPhone-like functionality, and un-iPhone-like reliability and network findability. Most of the SocCRM I see around me is largely about using new social tools to do old functional jobs.

    As an unintended consequence of the connectedness of these new social tools, the speed and reach of social influence has also increased. We probably still only have five ‘real’ friends (on average, accordng to research), but social tools mean we are now influenced by many more people and by the social networks themselves.

    In other words: Old Jobs + New Social Tools = Increased Social Influence

    Note that its the old jobs that really matters in this equation, not the new social tools that everyone is currently focussing on. We have to forget the social bling and get back to the business basics.

    Quod erat demonstrandum.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  6. Graham,

    You and I are pretty much in agreement – albeit for me it’s purely gut feel and not research. I see so many companies that are simply getting by with fundamentally flawed strategies and process that to put new tools to it could be dangerous – even the old jobs. The ones convinced to create new jobs before understanding this are in real trouble. But, we’ll have some good case studies (again) to talk about in a few years.

    Unfortunately, telling people to get back to basics isn’t sexy. The impulsive side of many executives, or collectives, is exactly why we are seeing the over-hype. A few “entrepreneurs” cashing in on the fools rushing in.

    Mitch, I liked your document but had a few areas, like Bob, that I think we all need to work on. It’s fun watching how white papers and presos have changed over the past year and a half since I (also) got involved in this topic. I know where I’d like it to go, but you have to draw the folks down the path of reason and can’t simply pitch the answer on day one. They aren’t listening then.

    I think we’ll all end up closer to Graham at some point, but frankly, Graham’s take on things will likely always be his competitive edge, because the vast majority of consuming businesses will never stop to do the hard work, and from the right perspective. OK, that’s just an educated guess.

    P.S. I just couldn’t change that “auto” subject line ROFL

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM

  7. Mitch, it’s great to finally get some agreement that CRM is mainly a technology-based initiative. It remains to be seen whether Social CRM can be:
    A. an upgrade to use social technologies (already happening)
    B. a real strategy to collaborate with customers (not necessarily dependent on social tech, but it helps!)

    What you’re suggesting, really, is a CRM do-over. That CRM in this next social generation will become the real business strategy that many of us in this community evangelized 10+ years ago.

    Hey, I’ve got an idea for a name! Let’s call this CRM 2.0! 🙂

  8. Graham,

    Thanks for stopping by, and getting me into trouble… Though in reading your reply, I am not quite sure what the troubling part is, that is not clear to me.

    Yes, human evolution does take generations, but customer evolution does not. The evolutionary behavior of customers is inconsistent across industries, product types, geographies and age. There are certainly some categories which are the same, no change (everyone who drives a car needs gasoline). There are others which are very different (if not, why then do we need new video games, my kids should just like the ones I played with – 1 line is ping-pong, 2 is tennis, 3 is hockey and 4 is football). Maybe video game was a bad example, just trying to illustrate a point.

    As you stated, the “unintended consequence” has caused a change, if something happens faster than someone is prepared for, then they will get in trouble if they are unable to handle it. I think customer expectations are different, the way in which they look for things, know things, and expect to be treated. How different, I surely do not know, and admit as much.

    (left the subject line alone as well 🙂


    Mitch Lieberman
    President and CEO
    Comity Technology Advisors

  9. Hi Mitch

    You know the thing about trouble; it sneaks up on you when you are least expecting it.

    There is a troublesome myth circulating in SocCRM circles that there is this new class of customers called Social Customers. And that somehow they are new, different, more demanding than traditional customers. Naturally, the mythmakers would have us believe that their SocCRM solutions are the answer to all the Social Customers’ problems.

    You know what we do with myths. We bust them!

    There is no such thing as the Social Customer. They are just traditional customers who have discovered that online social networks and social tools can help them do some old jobs. Functional jobs like searching for information about involving new products, personal jobs like helping others avoid broken services, relational jobs like communing with your peers and social jobs like telling stories to friends. All these jobs existed before online social networks and social tools, but customers had to use other tools to do them. The customer hasn’t really changed, but the tools they use to do old jobs have.

    There, myth busted.

    It’s time to get back to basics. It’s all about the customers and their jobs, not about social tools.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  10. Hi Graham,

    I agree it’s all about Customers and their jobs, not about social tools. Yet, I do not agree with you that the myth is busted.

    It’s not all about the functional jobs, it’s also about the context & the emotional state in which these jobs are being performed. Both of those elements changed. Maybe not “in a flash” but they did. More importantly I believe, although the desired outcome might not have changed significantly, the way Customers are trying to reach this, has. Hence, the job changed..

    Here are some of the changes that have effected the context and emotional state, and thus the Customer’s job, imho.

    There’s an abundance of goods, services, information and options available at all times. Customers may well be subject to analysis paralysis, when trying to make up their minds. This has significant impact on the way they are now trying to reach the outcome they desire..and on their emotional state when doing so..

    The traditional Customer was a buyer/consumer. In these days of a rapid increase of multi-sided markets, the Customer is increasingly so both a creator, vendor and consumer for one and the same company. So, the number, as well as the characteristics of jobs Customers are doing with companies have changed.

    Customers have become increasingly averse when it comes to waiting. Much of this is a consequence of our own business doing: we have let them wait for ages in IVR’s, for customized products etc etc, to an extent people do not accept this anymore. At the same time people have grown accustomed to self-service solutions. All this results in the fact that Customers have a need for more speed.

    Las but not least: accelerated by the financial crisis and the fact that lot’s of Customers lost their hard earned cash to financial institutions Customers have serious trust-issues with financial institutions. This lack of trust is not limited to those institutions, it is a more general phenomenon. As a consequence people now place more trust in their peers’ peers as opposed to representatives of institutions..

    I believe that these changes to the context of the Customer are leading to a fundamental change in the way Customers are trying to get things done. As a consequence Companies should adapt the way they support Customers in getting their jobs done..

    You are right it is all about Customer and their jobs, not about Social tools. With a highly and rapidly changing context in which the Customer performs his jobs, I think it is evidently true that the Customer has changed.. whether you name her Social Customer or not..

  11. Functional, Personal, Relational and Social Jobs as Graham puts it seems to be the same, thus the characteristic of a customer hasn’t changed, or has it?

    Comes in social customer today…

    The functional job still remains the same to seek information.

    The personal job remains the same help each other “fix” things.

    The relational job communicating with peers.

    The social job sharing narratives/stories.

    The characteristics are the same, the rapidness of those needs has changed, the level of trust among peers has changed, the stories have become more deep, the problems have become more detailed, the information has become more valid…

    I think it’s not the customer who has changed but the response to the rapidness of customers who are using social tools to speak more openly, freely and doing so without realizing they are doing it…

    Nothing’s changed, we’ve only unfolded more awareness of their thoughts, desires, wants and needs….

    In relation to Wim’s response this has made the customer more contexual and more emotional because they feel connected to others sharing the same issues, but the characteristics have remained the same…

    functional, relational, social and personal…

  12. I’d like to respectfully disagree with your statement that the notion of the social customer is a bunch of hot air. Yes, in some ways, she is doing the same thing but with different tools. But social media is not a tool (it’s that fondness of tools that gets us into trouble) – it’s the fundamental shift in how we consume information and connect to others. Twitter can go out of business tomorrow, but the paradigm has changed forever.

    Here’s an example:
    How things are the same: we still trust our friends and people like us to give us the true, no B.S. recommendation with our interests in mind as consumers. But before social media, if I wanted to get 5 different opinions immediately, I would have to call 15 friends (because some aren’t available to talk, and some know nothing about the topic). That’s not scalable and loses value for a question to which the answer can’t get found immediately. To be honest, this is a pain in the you know what, so I’d rarely do this, unless we are talking about a big ticket item.

    How things are different: with Twitter (or any realtime platform), I can easily ask a question and get a dozen of answers in realtime, from people who have self-selected to answer the question, whether or not I know them. So with pretty much each thing, large or small (from restaurant reco, to questions about setting up Google Voice) – I know I can go there and get what I need immediately. Whereas I almost never called my friends to ask about restaurant recos in a different city, now I almost always ask that question on Twitter. Thus, my BEHAVIOR has changed – NOT just the tools through which I ask.

    With all due respect, to say that social media is a tool and not a fundamental change in sharing and producing information is a very narrow view.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion, BTW! I love all these different viewpoints.


    – Maria

    Social Media Director at Attensity360. Connect with me on Twitter at @themaria or @attensity360

  13. Interesting discussion and as someone that participating in the creation of the white paper I can say that it’s just really great to see the back and forth discussions/debates and as Mike said there is clearly stuff to improve on, adapt, and evolve moving forward.

    my 6 cents

    I don’t think the “social customer” has to based around social media there is a lot more to it in my opinion. The fact that customers now ignore ads, have a less attention span, value openness above quality of products when considering corporate reputation, turn to people vs companies for information (this was not always the case), etc. to me signifies that customers have evolved and that perhaps is the social customer. sure people have always been social but now it’s a lot easier to find other people “like you.” When I compare myself to my dad for example (as a customer) I see a clear shift and change in how he interacts with and consumes with brands/companies and how I do (I see the same difference amongst customers my age as well).

    I think there have been several excellent comments already provided above but I do think that there is such a thing as the social customer.

    Hope that makes some sense, if not then please blame Mitch 🙂

  14. Maria,

    I would prefer to wait for my “trusted” 5 friends than to scale to a community I can’t possibly have more trust with. To me, the scalability argument is like saying let’s increase revenues by discounting our price. Immediacy is important for impulse shoppers. Of course, that’s just me. I fear for my kid if he, as an adult, if is making all of his decisions based on feedback from the cloud.

    Social Media is really not the right term to describe a shift in behavior. At best, it’s a “medium”, at worst it’s a collection of tools. The social customer may be a better term, but in the end, the term is “customer” (or business or CRM) with any new prefixes.

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM

  15. I think the important question here is…

    What has “social” done to the customer?

    What has “media” done to the social?

    The characteristics of a customer are always going to be the same.

    To get the job done. PERIOD!

    However what social brought was more sentiment to CRM.

    Hence, SCRM.

    What media brought to the social was technology that can as Graham says, improve relational jobs, improve social jobs, improve functional jobs, improve personal jobs.

    Put it all together what has changed is we talk more, we share more, we fix things better more, we come up with better ideas more…

    Can it be that simple?

  16. Thanks Maria, great input into this interesting conversation – Somehow the rest of what I wanted to say was truncated. Sorry about that.

    “Social Customer” the term seems to be what everyone is getting stuck on, which bothers me from the core point of what I was trying to say. You said it well “BEHAVIOR has changed – NOT just the tools”. I agree with this statement. What frustrates me a little is that when examples are given, people rebut that ‘that is great for that department or role, but what about everyone else’. Yet, when I try to speak in broader terms and try to give people something to think about I have those that tell me I am being too high level, and I need to give specific guidance.

    My core statement in all of this is that things are changing. I believe they are changing rapidly, and I suggest that people be prepared for the change. If you ( not you specifically Maria, the general population ‘you’) do not agree, but have thought through the problem statement then great. If simply suggesting that nothing is really different and we are conducting business as usual, then that is one way to approach it, just not my way.

    Maria – thanks for the comments. I hope it is clear that this response was an agreement and reinforcement of your position!

  17. “today’s social customers are highly influenced by what their friends do. Their behaviour is highly emergent. If we are to be successful in Social Business we must create a portfolio of customer options with which to respond to changes in customer behaviour.”

    This seems to be a profound statement, am I taking it out of context? I am not saying that the Social Customer is totally, 100%, new. I am saying that behaviours evolve and we are allowed to associate a new term to the evolved form of the species. I know I will certainly lose the genetics debate here, out-matched, but it is not wrong to use the term Social Customer to represent a type of customer who is different in some, or even many ways. If the changes are subtle, then maybe it is hype, but if the changes are more drastic then I do not believe it is hype.

    While the jobs existed before, and they will continue to exist, the functions required to be successful at the jobs are different. I do believe if the tools used to perform a function change enough, the job itself might be the same, but the characteristics of the person performing it might need to be different. The skills required to did a hole with a hand shovel are different from those to use a backhoe. Flying a fighter Jet is different from flying a drone.

    This is supposed to be a response to Graham’s comment, having threading issues…


    Mitch Lieberman
    President and CEO
    Comity Technology Advisors

  18. Mike,

    Let’s not get bogged down with terms. I am also annoyed by this new “fashion” of sticking “social” in front of everything. “Social marketing” actually existed way before social media, and refers to the cause marketing side of things. But I digress… Oh Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? You get the point. It’s just a name.

    I do firmly believe that behaviors have changed. I can’t say that I agree with your argument of scale. Even if I have 5 twitter friends who are my real friends, if I can send one tweet to all of them and get 5 answers back vs. having to call them individually – that’s a win, and that’s something I will more readily do to get realtime feedback. It doesn’t even have to be realtime. It’s about the effort. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to call 5 people to ask the same question.

    Re: quality of your network – well that really depends on how you build it. I know a lot of my Twitter network personally, and I know ALL of my 800 FB friends personally. Would I trust all of their opinions? Of course not! But even if I get back 20 responses, and 10 of them are from people I communicate with on a regular basis – that’s still better than having to call 5 numbers.

    If you really don’t think that there’s been a change, I suggest Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” – he talks exactly about how the EASE and VELOCITY of sharing leads to very different behaviors – i.e. news breaks faster on Twitter and in blogs than anywhere, you can ask and get an answer much faster, etc. The barriers to sharing, (i.e. clipping an article, putting it in 10 envelops, licking stamps and mailing) – has been removed. You can just tweet / blog / email the same article and get it to more people in one fell swoop. And… if people like it, they will share it with their networks. It’s not just articles, but anything your company does or doesn’t do – you better believe it, it will be all over the ‘nets.

    Social Media Director at Attensity360. Connect with me on Twitter at @themaria or @attensity360

  19. Nice post and very interesting application of social CRM by this tire
    dealership (one of the best small business cases I’ve read). Though not sure
    if their idea of burning tires on an airfield thing gels 🙂

    However I’m not sure if we can really classify “Social CRM as primarily a
    small business engagement because its too complex to change an enterprise
    towards it”. From what we’ve seen the Social CRM strategy is being applied
    by organizations of all sizes to accomplish different goals with varying
    degrees of success.

    Also agree with the “If you take social crm serious you stop the intrusive
    spam” statement. It’s already pretty prevalent and will only get worse as
    companies see more success with social CRM and others want to exploit it. Do
    you think CAN-SPAM will someday be extended to include social identities
    besides just email?

    Asst Manager Finance
    crm certification
    Yatra NEWs


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