Why the need to add “Social” to the term “CRM”?


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This is an interesting question that I see cropping up of late, since the news about the arrival of the new kid on the block – Social CRM – is reaching new ears. Is it just old wine in a new bottle or is it something more disruptive? I have been asked this when I meet people & strike a conversation around Social CRM, mostly from the CRM folks, who have just heard about it. The technologists are fine with it, its just another channel to be integrated to CRM, like an email or a call center, and they are happy if you give them the specifics on the integration modules.

But then people who are not too deep in CRM technology or who are involved with CRM from a business perspective (the later I have been interacting more only in the past couple of years), are not too happy with yet another prefix to CRM – it brings to them memories of the previous attempts like eCRM & mCRM.

In a recent post by John Bell of Ogilvy titled “What Defines Social CRM?“, Tim Sanchez, General Manager of ABIS Consulting Group, asks in the comments section:”The more I hear it, the more I don’t like it. If there’s such a thing as “Social” CRM, then shouldn’t there be “Non-Social” CRM? Isn’t CRM all-encompassing of the relationship with the CUSTOMER? … There’s no doubt that CRM has many different facets, but I’d rather refine the definition of CRM instead of sticking another fork in the road.“Thus I figured I might as well put my thoughts around that here. 🙂

Yes, it is always about the customer & they have always been social. But unfortunately, the businesses haven’t been. Its always been increasingly inside-out ever since the advent of industrial revolution, the firm / the company and mass media. These advances made the businesses product centric & company centric. The conversation has ever since been around the product or the company.

Will my message better my brand or not. Send a message out & see if it sticks & we get in some money. Or listen in to what they are saying & figure out if they might be interested in our products & then send them targeted messages. Yes, these are important, but not all or the most efficient or effective.

Social CRM is not out there to replace CRM. As a philosophy, it extends it, as a technology, well, it extends it. But if you follow me, both the ‘extends’ have different connotations.

As a philosophy, it now goads the businesses to consider getting ‘social’, not merely transactional. If you are still not clear about the ‘social’ bit, consider not measure everything with money. For example, Social Capital is something to consider too, though you cannot relate to it in terms of getting revenues out of it, like you would calculate for your human capital or infrastructural capital. Being social means being part of the community, embedding your value into your relationships. Make yourself indispensable to the community not by being monopolistic but being the enabler/catalyst who helps the community to increase its potential/worth/utility.

Graham Hill’s manifesto for a social business might give you more thinking points.

As a technology, its a bit complicated if not convoluted, as the above philosophy might seem to many. The advances in online social networking & communities, social media and other advances like miniaturization & increased mobility (flipcam, iPhone/Android, etc.) or democratization of product design (tabletop 3D printer, threadless.com), has allowed the people be able to create and share both content & connections at very high speeds and with very little transaction costs means that the very nature & essence of the Firms are being shifted.

Still don’t get it? Well, then consider this Forbes.com piece titled CIOs in a Virtual World which talks about the changing role of the CIO from that of a code developement organization to that of a procurement & delivery organization. (Full disclosure: Malcom Frank is SVP of Strategy at Cognizant, where I work).

There is suddenly a credibility crisis that wasn’t necessarily of the current CIOs’ making. Over the last 10 years they were told to keep it cheap, keep it secure and keep it stable. They did that. What happened is corporate IT became pretty boring, while for the past 10 years there has been an explosion on the consumer technology side. People have a fabulous experience at home on a Sunday night for an $800 investment, and then they get to work and are faced with old technology and a bill for $20 million.
So now, tell me, do these change the philosophy that the businesses need to adopt towards their customer-centricity or not? Are the technologies a mere strap on of a new channel to CRM, even though they can be depicted as such, as was in the case of eCRM & mCRM, which was nothing but merely delivering the CRM app on a new platform – web instead of client/server and mobile devices rather than desktops – at the core (or some might argue that it was also about integrating newer channels)?

So, though it has always been about the customer, there is a huge shift happening. This huge change might not have a big impact on the businesses if we do not treat it a bit differently. Social CRM is not here to replace CRM, it is to get businesses to consider it from the new perspective of having to respond to the social customer who is now armed with technologies that the businesses have been ignoring for the past 10 years or so. As well as overcoming the practices that were impressed upon us by the industrial revolution & mass media.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


  1. Prem,

    Good post.

    I worry about the reliance on yet a new set of technologies to lure businesses toward customer-centricity. I don’t buy into the belief that change like this can be driven from below. Having said that, someone from below could ultimately climb to the top, but driving cultural change before being at the top is crap shoot at best.

    I think the term “Social” was promoted over CRM 2.0 (my preference) because of it’s encroachment on areas ruled by social media consultants and companies. They seized an opportunity and you see them claiming to be Social CRM all over the place. The reality is that an “extension” is really an evolution, which is nothing more than a new version.

    I’ve always found the social part to dilute what we’ve learned over the years about customer-centered strategies. The social tag suggests that it has to be social…which it certainly does not. There are many examples of customer centric strategies well before the latest technologies became available. It’s because knowing your customer is a lot tougher than simply monitoring sentiment and keywords in Twitter (or other community based customer locations) — A lot tougher.

    “Social” makes it sounds so easy, just sign up for a service, brand it, sit back and transform your business. Sounds pretty familiar for something so “disruptive.”

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM

  2. Mike, you make a fair point about “social” (in the context of social media, at least) not being essential to being customer-centric.

    I could argue that being social in the human sense (or collaborative if you prefer that word better), has always been a part of a customer-centric enterprise. In other words, truly engaging with customers, not just treating them as targets.

    In my view, “CRM 2.0” and “Social CRM” are both attempts to get people to move beyond the inside-out, company-centric approach of earlier CRM efforts. So in that sense, these new terms are helpful. We’ll have to see in a few years if Social CRM can move the needle but in the meantime, it’s good for CRM vendors and consultants and may help get businesses to re-think their prior approaches.

    I’d also like to point out that “CRM” wasn’t a new idea when it became the hot buzzword in the mid- to late-1990s. The philosophy behind CRM was built on Relationship Marketing and Database Marketing which became hot topics in the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, Gartner proposed TERM (Technology Enabled Relationship Marketing) when the software industry (SFA etc.) took an interest, but eventually CRM won out as the accepted industry term.

    So, it’s not all bad that “social” is giving a mid-life kicker to CRM. Sure, the concept of CRM has always been social, but in practice, not so much. Maybe this industry do-over will work, or maybe some other term will catch hold. For me, so long as people are working on being more customer-centric, it’s all good.

  3. Bob,

    Yes, I was hearing about customer-centricity from relationship and database marketers a long time ago. That might be why I’m so stubborn. If the term social gets folks thinking about this (finally) then it’s good thing. I do see a problem where too many new disciplines are entering the “CRM” realm and talking about it in a narrower context. I hope we can avoid that.

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM


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