That Steaming Pile of Social


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There’s been constructive commentary of late with respect to missteps with CRM and how the pain gets amplified when you consider the coming data tsunami from social media. I’ve also lamented about the coming migraine. So have others.

A few weeks ago, I read a well argued post by the astute Paul Gillin called Social CRM: Curb Your Enthusiasm that got me thinking about the tension between CRM and Social Media. Paul’s central argument is that mining social graphs is not all that it’s trumped up to be and they can be outright misleading when applied to ascertaining purchase intent.  Paul goes on to state that customers “are still struggling to get CRM 1.0 right” and he’s spot on. I encourage you to read it in its entirely.

Sidebar: If Social CRM sounds like gobbledygook to you, here’s a primer on Social CRM by the terrific Paul Greenberg and a few other very good write ups by Brian Vellmure and Esteban Kolsky, amongst others.

As I see it, Paul’s right for the most part based on the view he takes. But I’d content that the central hypothesis relies on the wrong basic value proposition of super imposing social data on CRM. To be clear, what Paul argues is a fundamental topic that needs lots of mature thought by those honestly interested in accelerating performance.

Here’s some food for thought:

Managing Customer Relationships is not synonymous with CRM – the category of software

Paul says:

“Social CRM introduces potentially enormous new complexity to the process. Social maps – or diagrams of relationships across social platforms – sound good in theory, but are nearly impossible to create on a broad scale. “

It’s this ‘Inside Out’ approach that’s going to get most customers into serious trouble. The reality is that it’s the proverbial process that’s broken. We’ve been blindly relying on how our CRM systems mandate we engage with customers and so, piling on social data to a broken process only gives you more broken.

There’s many uses of this vast, unruly data source we called participatory media. But one thing is clear: trying to manufacture a problem that’s looking for a potential solution won’t be the way to get value. You need to start with business constants that pre date social and CRM (the set of features offered by CRM vendors). Examples are:

  • Supporting the customer as they are researching, or making buying decisions
  • Making them aware of your best offerings
  • Offering better support and at the most appropriate location
  • Co-creation or sourcing ideas from them
  • And yes, qualified lead generation

That’s in sharp contrast to enriching the data and technology stack (, Siebel, etc) that’s traditionally been confined to static features that represent cookie cutter repeatable business processes.  Focus on the what’s in actuality a very very non repeatable business process gets you to innovate on how you engage with customers and prospects to build trust and then get permission to make an offer. Focus on adding social data management to CRM gets you more bloated software and an even more expensive consulting tab.

Business context enables us to understand what to slivers of data to monitor, the protocols and justification for customer and prospect engagement and the basis for analytics that can outlast operational changes but yet be malleable to shifts in market and competitive dynamics of the business.

Raw Social Media Data + CRM Data make Social CRM not

Paul is absolutely right when he wonders “What’s more, I question how much social interactions have to do with decision-making in many cases.”

I reckon most of the explicit data out there has little to do with decision making. But the point is that you shouldn’t be attempting to drink from the social media fire hose anyway. There’s unfathomable hype around direct monetizing and lead generation based on the social graph.  Whilst Facebook is making piles of money with ads, for every business out there its important to sober up and remember that the CPMs and click throughs are dismal.  Facebook makes plenty of money because its sheer scale can make up for any amount of bottom feeding advertising inventory.

And whilst we are on the subject of drinking from the firehouse, I don’t believe Social CRM ever signed up to get in front of that parade. That’s a social media problem, not a customer engagement one.  It’s the people driven process of building relationships and putting more qualified data in front of sales at the right time. Not pointing the real time social data hose at marketing and sales via CRM screens.

Building Relationships to Flatten the Funnel

I’ve had the good fortune of working with large marketing and sales operation teams on customer and employee engagement and collaboration. And I’ll say this:  What we know of as CRM today is often a glorified outdated contact management system. At best, its something a sales rep updates the night before to get her commission check. Enriching such a system that has no real relationship-building capabilities with social data wont really improve the implicit and explicit contract between business and customers in a meaningful way.

The point is that we need our people to build relationships with customers and prospects. Unlike the original deployments of CRM that were largely driven by process automation, we need to build business programs this time and surgically leverage technology to make sense of the social stream. Every organization has different business drivers and these need to be the nucleus around which strategy and execution plans are built. Thankfully there are tools that help tame the wild west of social data if and only if you have clearly articulated your offensive (the opportunity) and defensive (reactions to market dynamics) business strategy. Here are some of examples of these tools I mention:

  • Applications such as ScoutLabs help monitor social media banter in context (an influencer, a lead, a competitor, a topic, etc).
  • Partnerships such as Seesmic + Chatter put the right people in front of both social data as well as internal brains that can respond to the needs of the social customer.
  • InsideView puts unruly social data in context of structured customer and prospect records in CRM applications.
  • Forum technology from Jive Software and Lithium Technology help build trusted relationships before you seek permission to turn a customer into a customer record.
  • And yes, dead simple light weight utilities such as Rapportive and Xobni fold in social context to turn potential inquiries in your email inbox into dynamic rich identity profiles.

Social CRM has been a bit of a moving target forever. Not for lack of definition. But often for a philosophical belief that if you don’t consider a prescriptive set of activities and features in your customer engagement mix, it’s not really Social CRM. That needs to stop or we’ll be left with a serious case of analysis paralysis and a very overwhelmed enterprise buyer. 

SocialCRM is really a bag of multiple tricks and as Mark Tamis writes, with many different flavors. And it’s still in its infancy so expect more changes. Whether centered on innovation, customer support, engagement or other decisive business need, each attribute has different applications and considerations to specific operational and financial metrics of organizations. We need to let each unique attribute breadth and prove out its value to solving discrete business problems. In turn, considering Social CRM to be social data infused into CRM will end up resulting in a worms-eye view of the new social, vocal customer who will reject traditional CRM enabled customer acquisition tactics, and fly right by.



Next month at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, we’ll be discussing different flavors of SocialCRM with expert practitioners from organizations such as Citi, Landor, Comcast-Spectator / Philadelphia Flyers talking about their unique experiences with melding social and process to drive operational and financial value to their respective organizations. I fully expect a mature discussion that moves us from theory to “just do it” business execution via Social CRM concepts.

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel is a founding partner at the Sovos Group, a consulting firm that helps leading organizations accelerate employee, customer and partner performance via the strategic use of social and collaborative approaches and technology.


  1. There’s no question that social interactions are relevant to customer relationships. Being aware of them helps us to form a well-rounded view of the customer. I think you hit the nail on the head in pointing out that most CRM systems are basically being used as glorified contact managers. If the companies that use CRM aren’t recording all of their own interactions with customers, how can they expect to get value out of integrating third-party social data?

    I don’t believe social CRM is a bad idea, but I suspect there are few organizations that can apply it successfully.

    Thanks for the shout-out.

  2. While I agree that there are too many businesses that haven’t yet ‘mastered’ CRM 1.0, that in itself isn’t a reason enough to avoid sCRM. Obviously, a company that can recognize and achieve the strategic element of CRM 1.0 will be better prepared to embrace sCRM. Meanwhile, I understand the sense in learning to walk before running.

    My point being that while some of these new practices have their roots in CRM 1.0, sCRM supersedes them in places. To spend time and effort implementing a change from whatever they were doing before to CRM 1.0, only to then change the strategy and practices to sCRM a little down the line will cause unnecessary disruption and undermine staff confidence in business planning and processes.


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