Social CRM technology is alive, well and ready for work!


Share on LinkedIn

There’s been plenty of spirited debate lately about what exactly is Social CRM. I’m sure some of the vendors watch in bemusement as industry gurus wordsmith definitions, while business people and potential buyers ask a more fundamental question: “What will Social CRM do for my business?”

My view is that Social CRM means Social+CRM—bringing the two worlds together through integration. And while I’m a big proponent of strategy, I’m also a pragmatist. Without new social media technology, we wouldn’t be talking much about Social CRM. So this post will focus on a few industry developments to show that there’s more to Social CRM than vendor hype and guru debating circles.

A few months ago I wrote a snarky post about Oracle’s Social CRM because it was basically about internal collaboration for sales reps. Social SFA, really. I was concerned that Oracle, being the big bad marketing machine that it is, would just reinforce the internal orientation of CRM. SFA is not about customers, it’s about deals.

Since then, other vendors have stepped up and it’s becoming clear that there are many faces to Social CRM solutions, and most actually do involve customers!

Seeing is believing

In our Showcase webinar last week, we polled the audience and found that 59% thought Social CRM would help improve marketing effectiveness, and 51% believed that it would help optimize customer service/support. A bit more than 1/3 picked improving sales or ideation. Oh, and 19% admitted they wanted to stay buzzword compliant!

Demos from Lithium, Helpstream and SAP helped show that Social CRM is not just a concept. Lithium’s robust community solutions are being used by some major brands like Barnes&Noble, Intel and Logitech. Helpstream has a nifty integrated Social CRM solution that has been focused on customer service to this point, but is pushing into marketing now. More on that in a minute.

And SAP? Well, this is not exactly a vendor I would have expected to do much in the social arena. But SAPers appear quite serious about getting into the Social CRM mix; they showed interesting SimplyBox and Twitter integrations with SAP’s CRM solution.

The webinar was recorded and is available for viewing online (free registration required), so I’m not going to give a detailed account here. Suffice it to say that if you’ve been wondering what a Social CRM solution looks like, these demos will help clear some cobwebs.

Helpstream expands into marketing

But this is just the beginning. I believe we’ll see a wave of announcements over the next year as vendors scramble for a piece of the Social CRM pie. While it may not become a market in its own right, it’s still the best thing to happen to CRM in a long time.

Helpstream, one of the younger companies, pioneered an all-in-one social customer service solution that combines communities (social) with incident management (CRM). I think that will appeal mostly to SMBs, but for larger enterprises, integration is key. This week Helpstream announced a new social marketing module that includes social media monitoring, Twitter integration and marketing automation (e.g. Eloqua and Marketo) integration.

Helpstream CEO Bob Warfield advocates that companies should first focus on building a thriving community—and customer service is a natural starting point. But then marketing wants to join in to leverage insights and, dare I say it, generate leads. Done thoughtfully, strong relationships built on customer service can provide better opportunities for marketing. Let’s hope marketers have some common sense and use these tools appropriately.

Neighborhood America and Gov 2.0

I also recently caught up with Neighborhood America, another social software vendor pushing Social+CRM. In fact, Tom Edwards, VP of Sales and Marketing, told me that CRM integration was the key to “driving true value out of social.”

Neighborhood America has been around for some 10 years, but now appears to be gearing up for a major push into Social CRM, backed by substantial private investments. Microsoft has become a close go-to-market partner in the public sector, helped along by Obama’s push to create a more open and transparent government (Gov 2.0).

Microsoft is also a customer, using Neighborhood America to power its Public Sector Idea Bank while also integrating to Microsoft’s “backend” CRM system. Hmmm, this is interesting. Could it be that traditional CRM systems will become the “back office” and social media the new “front office”—a friendlier way for customers and employees to interact?

Amir Capriles, Director of Alliances for Microsoft Dynamics, shares my view that Social CRM is the marriage of the unstructured social world with structured CRM processes. He says that early results from the Idea Bank have been “very very positive” but it’s just six months old so a bit premature to share hard ROI figures.

Show me the money!

Well, hopefully this post will illustrate that while the gurus debate, vendors are busy churning out new tools and expanding suites of technology. But that’s not enough.

We need more real examples of how Social CRM—from strategy to technology—delivers real business value. I challenge the vendors pitching tools, and the consultants debating the concepts, to provide more examples of successful Social+CRM initiatives. Case studies will be key for Social CRM to “cross the chasm” into the mainstream.

Further Reading:


  1. Bob, I enjoyed the discussion as well, wrote my blog post which drew a fair amount of discussion in my small circle of friends:

    At the end of the day it looks like we’re moving away from Social CRM (which, as I’ve noted will never be built) to the less robust Social + CRM solution you’re proposing. Instead of seeking to solve the failings of CRM we are focusing on adding features, bolting on social tools, and making vague promises of future ROI.

    Here is my proposition. Let’s pull together a Social Business Design Working Group made up on vendors, consultants, gurus, and self-appointed watchdogs (i.e. me 🙂 ) and focus on how to:

    – Help businesses implement a strategic approach to their social business design.
    – Help consultants, vendors, and everyone elese learn how to overcome the chronic failure that faces the CRM industry.
    – Move past the hype into the promise of what could truly be a brighter future.

    We cannot count on today’s vendors to lead the way alone. While they have great intentions many lack the ability to successfully deploy their own social solutions, as I note further here:

    So here is the challenge. Will we be part of the hype or are we willing to take the brave steps necessary to be part of a solution.

    John Moore

  2. John, I’m all for robust definitions and visions. My point is that social CRM is about doing the CRM things and the social things together. In the end, for various reasons but mostly because of vendor marketing, Social CRM will be considered an extension of CRM, not a makeover.

    Catherine Sherwood notes that managing relationships and being social are two very different things. Looking at CRM from the eyes of a social media consultant, her view is…

    …CRM seems to be more about data mining to better exploit customers (and I am using “exploit” non-judgmentally). The top-down approach is what – ultimately – gets in the way of developing relationships with customers based on trust. I think that being “social” with customers and potential customers is a very different thing. Through social media you have the ability to relate in ways that are similar to real life. The difference is that you can connect with hundreds of people, not just a dozen or so. Social media is obviously enabled by technology, but it is essentially about the people who converse there.

    Now creating a social business (Social Business Design) is something a bit different. SBD includes external (SCRM) and internal (E20) collaboration but it’s not a replacement for CRM either. Nor a replacement for CEM.

    There are so many buzzwords flying around that it’s hard to keep them flying in formation! It’s no wonder that robust concepts are dumbed down to IT solutions to be installed.

    I think it would be beneficial to have an industry standard definition of social CRM and how it relates to CRM and social business design.

  3. Bob

    As is sometimes the case, you are both right and perhaps also wrong in the same paragraph.

    You are clearly right that early adopters of SoxXYZ (as Social seems to be followed by so many sets of letters these days) should help us to understand what they did, how well it worked and if they know, why it worked. Companies are the main driver of this, but vendors play a supporting role. If I remember back to the CRM debates about five years ago, all the robust, independent studies (by CRMGuru, Wharton B-School and Insead B-School) showed that the choice of CRM technology had NO IMPACT on CRM project success, providing that a minimum of enabling technology was present. I expect this to be the case with SocialXYZ too.

    But I think you are perhaps wrong when you rail at the CRM thinkers (most of who are also active doers) for daring to think about what SocXYZ is before leaping into the waters below. Pretty much all action-based approaches to business advise companies to spend time planning before doing, doing before checking results, and checking results before acting to adapt what gets done next time round, and which may require more planning. Discussing what SocXYZ in seemingly arcane detail is a big part of the sense-making process before planning starts. This applies equally whether you are doing a major, big-bang implementation of SocXYZ or an iterative, options-based implementation that I prefer. It applies especially to an emergent phenomena like SocXYZ, when no-one really knows what it is. At least not yet.

    You are also right when you say that SocXYZ vendors with stuff to sell and big marketing budgets to support sales are likely to set the agenda. Having said that, we should collectively be smart enough not to let vendors steal the show like they did with CRM. I don’t need to remind any of us in business what a disaster CRM was once vendors had driven it down an IT-focussed cul de sac.

    Vendors are an essential part of the emerging SocXYZ ecosystem. They are just as important as processes and culture as Dachis group suggest. Our challenge is to understand what SocXYZ could be, before deciding what we can make it do for us, before getting started with early experiements. We want SocXYZ to be all that it can be, not just what compnaies and vendors can make money from making it do. Or did I miss an earlier tweet?

    I am already enoying this journey of SocXYZ discovery with my business clients. How about you?

    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.

  4. Graham, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    One clarification I’d like to make, though. I’m not railing at the thinkers for um, thinking. This site is called CustomerThink, after all.

    We’re having good debates, but it’s time to share real-world experiences. Vendors are showing their tools, and some of their customers are willing to tell their stories. I think that helps business people understand what the technology side of Social CRM looks like.

    That’s why I say tools are “ready for work” but I agree that doesn’t mean the tools will necessarily be used wisely.

    But where are the the examples on the strategy/practices side? That’s what I’d like to see more of. Consultants are debating definitions and developing nice diagrams, but I believe we need more examples of “here’s how we developed a SocialXYZ strategy with a client.”

    I know it’s early, but vendors are setting the tone already because they are doing marketing and providing examples. This helps build Social CRM awareness but the term is quickly becoming unbalanced towards technology, just like CRM. If consultants want to avoid SocialXYZ becoming another tech buzzword, they need to do the same. Unlike the CRM 1.0 days, we have social media as a counterbalance to marketing $$, let’s use it!

    You say you’re enjoying the journey of discovery with your business clients. Why not get them to come forward and share their perspective on strategy, technology and lessons learned? CustomerThink is the perfect forum for that!

    We could write about them, or we could do phone interviews, webinars, whatever makes sense. This is an open offer to any consultant that’s willing to help provide some clarity to the strategy/practices side of social CRM.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here