Will the real Social CRM leader please stand up?


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The past year has been really interesting as vendors enter the Social CRM market. And by “enter” I mean decide to use that term in their marketing.

But some of the stronger players don’t label their solutions as “Social CRM.” And others flying the Social CRM banner lack essential elements that should be part of a Social CRM solution.

What is a Social CRM solution?

Let’s start with a clear definition of a Social CRM solution. Last year I proposed that Social CRM should be thought of as Social+CRM. You need social computing integrated with CRM technology. Simple, right?

Apparently not. After months of debate, there are still some who say that Social CRM is a strategy for collaborative (win/win) relationships, where technology is not necessarily required. Personally, I’m all for collaborative relationships, but I think it will be exceedingly difficult for the market to accept that Social CRM includes things like golf outings.

Most take a more pragmatic view that Social CRM doesn’t make much sense unless you’re connecting with customers on social media/networks. The theory being that customers are using the Social Web to empower themselves, so companies should engage with customers socially on Facebook, Twitter, online communities, etc.

Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group summed it up nicely in his response to my question: What is a Social CRM Solution?

Social CRM is the connection of social data (wherever it is) with existing customer records (CRM solutions) that enable companies to provide new forms of customer intelligence.

Example: BestBuy aggregates the tweets, public FB messages, FourSquare checkins of customer John Wong to understand his interests, preferences, friends, location, and mood and is able to serve up contextual products and experiences on the fly both online and in store.

In other words: Social CRM = Social+CRM.

Muddled vendor landscape

Now that we have a clear definition of Social CRM, let’s take a look at how vendors are approaching this market opportunity. That’s quite a bit less clear…

  • Early last year, Oracle launched a Web 2.0-enabled sales collaboration suite called Social CRM. OK, this is CRM in the SFA sense of the word, but doesn’t connect with customers on the Social Web. Really should be called Sales 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0.
  • Then Lithium re-branded its customer community solutions as Social CRM. Yes, Lithium offers connectors to CRM systems, but who doesn’t? Meanwhile, blueKiwi, INgage Networks, Jive and Telligent all offer social/community software but for various reasons have opted not to use the term Social CRM.
  • Not to be outdone by its former partner Lithium, RightNow acquired HiveLive to become the first major SaaS vendor to offer both CRM (customer service) and community functionality in one integrated suite. Except RightNow doesn’t like the term CRM and so, not surprisingly, Social CRM is nowhere to be found in its marketing messages. Instead, HiveLive is part of the RightNow “customer experience suite.”
  • Last year SAP introduced social connectors (e.g. SimplyBox and Twitter) to its CRM suite, but executives were also heard to say “Social CRM doesn’t exist.” Really? Maybe SAPers should try reading some of the nearly 400,000 hits on Google to see what people are talking about.
  • Late last year Salesforce.com pre-announced Chatter to add a Facebook-like service, but it’s mainly for internal collaboration. Most call this Enterprise 2.0. Kind of weird for Salesforce.com, definitely not shy about using the term CRM, to avoid using the term Social CRM. Maybe Benioff doesn’t want to appear to be following Oracle?
  • In April of this year, social business software vendor Xeesm introduced Xeesm/Edge! as a Social CRM solution. I think it’s a radically innovative design that could usher in a new era of truly social selling—for those brave enough to leave the current SFA paradigm behind. But comparing this solution to Oracle’s Social CRM is like apples to kumquats. And since it doesn’t connect to existing CRM systems, is it really Social CRM?
  • And finally this past week, Attensity acquired Biz360 to offer a solution that includes social media monitoring (from Biz360) and sentiment analysis (from Attensity). While it’s a great combination of services and can be integrated to existing CRM systems, does this acquisition really propel Attensity to a “dominant position” in the Social CRM market as stated in the press release?

Just the beginning

This is far from a complete list. B2B marketing/sales vendors are also adding social functionality, but most prefer to go to market under the banner of Sales 2.0 instead of CRM. I’ll be writing more about the social trend in digital marketing in another post soon.

These are exciting times, and I’m delighted to see innovative technology coming into the market. However, for Social CRM to become a real technology market and not just a buzzword, we’ll need more vendors to join the fun. (Microsoft and SAP, are you listening?) That’s what helped the CRM industry gain momentum in the 1990s.

The analyst community will also need to dig far deeper than I just did in this blog post. Buyers need help understanding a very confusing vendor landscape. I’m sure we’ll see many such reports in the months ahead.

Until then, remember this: Social CRM = Social+CRM.

And also this: Caveat emptor.


  1. Hi Bob: Would really the opportunity to talk with you about your interests in Social CRM. There are many more vendors, analysts and consulting companies discussing and providing Social CRM solutions and services than listed above. Also, the BestBuy scenario that you mentioned uses Lithium’s solutions for their community platform w/Twitter integration…a great solution with tremendous value – public case study. The level of articles appearing on the topic has more than tripled compared to a year ago, and significantly grew starting in the summer of ’09. Radian6 was the first social media monitoring firm to use the term Social CRM a year ago. I just searched the RightNow Tech web site and got 778 results for the term “Social CRM”. You may also want to go to Twitter and search on #scrm — You’ll see thousands of tweets on the topic and key visionaries (including the use by RnT’s twitter handle). Cognizant and Accenture offer Social CRM service solutions. The Altimeter Group’s whitepaper on Social CRM use cases published 1 month ago has 38K views and 4.3K downloads. Additionally, Gartner has 4 analysts regularly publishing research on Social CRM topics. The trend is very strong. Best, -Dan

  2. Hi Bob,

    Thx for referencing my post…. although you left me confused a bit as to what is your point of view, comparing your statement in this post to your comment on my post.. I could argue they contradict, no?

    Whatever it is, I like to continue thinking that Social CRM is “Social Customer” Relationship Management, allowing it to be a Customer Centric, not a vendor/tool/channel centric, Strategy..

    In my humble opinion of course, and “caveat emptor” 😉

    Wim Rampen

  3. Wim, I understand your confusion. I’m confused too!

    The problem is that while you, Paul and a few other thought leaders are promoting that Social CRM mean a truly collaborative relationship, everyone else is excited about how to use Social Technology with CRM, regardless of whether it’s collaborative or not.

    The good work that you’re doing is quickly getting lost in the blizzard of posts and tweets about Social CRM technology. And it will only get worse as analyst firms start pumping out reports in the next few months.

    This shouldn’t be a surprise, because exactly the same thing happened with CRM.

    Instead of tilting at this same windmill again, here’s my recommendation: Start discussing the strategy part of SCRM as Social Customer Strategy (SCS). This is a term that isn’t owned by the vendors or vendor analysts, and can be defined and promoted independently.

    Then what we’d have are
    Social Customer Strategy = creating collaborative relationships with customers
    Social CRM = using social computing integrated with CRM systems

    You have the option to use SCRM (tech) as part of SCS (strategy) or not. Just as today a customer-centric strategy may or not involve the use of CRM tech.

    Just an idea!

  4. Thanks, Dan. You’re right, the trend is strong. Lots of chatter about Social CRM from vendors, consultants and analysts.

    So who is the Social CRM leader?

  5. Great Post Bob:

    I agree with you that it is important to Engage customers through Social Media channels to realize the full potential of Social CRM. This is the reason why I have defined Social CRM as the “business strategy of engaging customers through Social Media with goal of building trust and brand loyalty” (for more see this post: http://www.customerthink.com/blog/definition_of_social_crm_explained

    It is important to remember that Social CRM is about changes brought about by Social Media – customer’s conversation (with the company and with other customers/prospects) are online, visible to every one, irrespective of geography and indexed by search engines in almost real-time.

    This is the big change we are talking about here. Had it not been for the “public” and “social” nature of online conversations, traditional CRM would have sufficed. But thanks to Social Media, brand managers have to engage customers through Social Media – so that they can influence the opinion of all who are paying attention.

    Collaboration is just one element of engagement. But key in Social CRM is engagement THROUGH social media for building Trust and Loyalty.

    Also, it is very important to have a simple definition. Imagine explaining a Social CRM definition to an agent in Customer Support Center who is being trained in Social CRM. We need to have a simple, yet adequate definition that says what it is.

    Just my opinion – would love to hear feedback from others.

    Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

    Website: http://hkotadia.com/
    Twitter: http://twitter.com/HKotadia
    LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/hkotadia

  6. Harish, I really like your definition of Social CRM…

    Social CRM = “Business strategy of engaging customers through Social Media with goal of building trust and brand loyalty”

    … because
    1. it includes an action (engaging customers though social media)
    2. and a business goal (building trust and loyalty)

    However, you could execute this form of Social CRM without using CRM systems. Just put up a Facebook fan page or participate on a blog, and this could be Social CRM.

    The consensus is building that you can’t “do” Social CRM unless you’re also using social media/networks *and* CRM systems.

    Like Wim, you’re taking the high road on SCRM and I like the strategic thinking. Of course we are all free to have our own private definitions, and I don’t mean to discourage that. It’s just that when you and and Wim use the term Social CRM, what others will probably hear is using social tech and CRM tech.

    Again, I think the business strategy part of SCRM needs a different term. Do a Google search on “social crm” and you’ll see the tidal wave of tech posts.

    In the end, the market will decide what Social CRM means. I think the direction is pretty clear now.

  7. Bob – Thanks for your reply and the kind words:

    You can execute Social CRM using Facebook, Twitter and blog if your customer base is very small and the person who engages customers knows the transaction data for every customer (highly unlikely for a Medium or large corporations).

    For meaningful Engagement, you need to integrate Social Networks with CRM systems (that will provide customer profile, transaction data and support history). As a result, you need both – Social Networks and CRM Platform for Effective Engagement and for Social CRM to be a success.

    Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.

  8. Thanks for the mention Bob – Wow!

    It’s funny, when we started Xeesm last year, it wasn’t really meant to become a Social CRM system. And I was and to some extend still feel not comfortable with the term CRM one way or the other. But what we did is what most would consider a “Real Social CRM” product.

    @Harish – totally agree playing in LinkedIn and Facebook is nice but not very productive the way people use it – can use it. Yet “Integrating” it into a CRM system isn’t very practical either. We are all “networker in practice” – we need to become “networker in technology” – Networking Facebook with the sales processes is the way to go. As such Xeesm/Edge! networks all the social sites (about 100 right now) into the system.

    @John – you are right Social CRM in the end is CRM. I guess the only reason why we (Xeesm) add social to it is to indicate fundamental differences in:
    – System Architecture
    – Usage behavior
    – Key performance indicator

    @Wim – Yes, a Social CRM system must include the customer not as an “entity” but as an active player. I fought for “Social Relationship Management” as a term and we are using it internally – but we don’t have the ego to fight on terms so we use sCRM too – but wholeheartedly stick to our “Social Relationship Management / SRM” vision in what we do.

    I hope you can make it to our “Release Presentation” next Friday May 7 – We will give Beta Access to every participant.
    We introduced the product last week and I know for fact it caused heated discussions within at least two CRM companies.


  9. From my own experience I know that it is hard to fight market perception. For the past seven years we have been trying to teach dutch entrepreneurs networking (the Ivan Misner/BNI way) and we have only been able to create tiny ripples in the pond. Definitions about networking are still not clear and market perception about networking as a tool is poor.

    I presume the same will be the case in the field of CRM and Social CRM. I appreciate and value the definition from Mr. Harish a lot.

    There are very few applications that can deal with referral processes. I am convinced that Referrers/Referrals are ( or in future will be) the greatest influencers on possible customers.( Edelmann Trust Barometer) To my opinion that (the referral process) is the “social” part of customer relationship management. I am part of the alpha testing team of Xeesm and it is shaking my world since for the first time I can set up a programm to have a Referral-group jointly start working to approach their “common” target customers in a structural, well administrated process going after the potential customers at the places they “hangout”.

    Jos Essers

  10. Bob et all,

    I love the discussion here, but I would like to hear more about what those of us who actually use the tools feel. As a long time business developer and marketing person I have been actively using CRM systems in one form or another for since 1980. I love the direction the industry has moved with SaaS and products like Salesforce.

    However as someone who makes the actual phone call, face to face to face visit, presents the proposal and closes the sale, its tough out there. I have been using social media for my selling
    process for the past 7 years. When I was introduced to Xeesm,
    I jumped at the chance to be in the Alpha testing group and then the Beta.

    I am interested to see how it affects my selling process as I adjust to the buying process. In the end, I don’t care if its Social or CRM, + or – , technology or social relationship. The question is – Does it help me build something better with my clients? Better solutions, better relationships, better sales. I am blogging about my experience over the next few months in actual use of Xeesm Edge. I already have some requests lined up for the development team. So far they have been responsive and are working on the improved functionality we all are suggesting.

    wendy soucie

  11. I like Bob’s angle of keeping the conversations about social customer strategy and the tools, which have captured SCRM, as two lines of thought. It’s the same as distinguishing social media strategy from the tools, which we all appreciate.

    The social side of Social CRM is about building real and real-time information about real people and real concerns and conversations as the opening phase of building out a CRM profile about the artifacts of the business or customer. In the past the artifacts got a lot of attention and energy with people heads-down at at a terminal while the customers conversations breezed past in the wind – unheard!

    It’s a pity that the “social” term in social media still distracts so many conversations especially in rather pointless arguments about social versus business. As I understand it, or how I explain it anyway, is that the “social” simply referred to the “free” web as opposed to having to pay for access to commercial paid media sites for connections, services and advertising. Kind of like the follow-on from blogs becoming the free media of the masses as opposed to paid journalism and newspaper sites. I’m preaching to the converted but “social” CRM or “social” customer strategy to me doesn’t mean it is not business like or for business but that it is “freely” accessible.

    As @jos says, we’re seeing new tools like Xeesm.com, which are not CRM but navigate the social networks and can link with CRM, and there are sure to be zillions more. I think what’s really exciting is the new era of loosely coupled cloud ecosystems, APIs with industry standards and specifications, and open social graphs, which means we will see some fantastic new ways to build and manage social business – provided of course you have the right business strategy in place.

    Exciting times.

    Walter Adamson

  12. Great article, Bob.

    It’s still early days with social CRM, so I appreciate the effort to come up with a reasonably crisp taxonomy on these topics. Your definition — “Social + CRM” — augmented slightly by Jeremiah’s — “…the connection of social data (wherever it is) with existing customer records (CRM solutions)…” — is just about right for me. More importantly, I think, for my clients, most of whom already have a CRM strategy/platform that they have no intention of scrapping.

    These people KNOW there’s value out there, in the form of all those social data they keep hearing about, but for them it’s only potential value if they can’t marry it to their existing customer records.

    I was intrigued by Walter Adamson’s equation of “social” with “free”. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but he’s got a point…to a point. I can imagine social data being valuable enough to pay for, and maybe I do already: I subscribe to InsideView and for $99 per month I can import a certain number of contacts and leads from various places, some social/free (LinkedIn), some commercial (Jigsaw, Hoovers). If I’m enriching my CRM with better information, maybe I don’t care where it comes from. Or maybe it’s not the data I’m paying for, but the organizing of it. That’s valuable also.

    Another thing that struck me was the absence of Microsoft from the dicsussion — I take it they’re late to the social, so to speak. I specialize in Dynamics CRM and admittedly see the CRM world through Redmond-colored glasses…but I wouldn’t sell Microsoft short here. Dynamics CRM is a solid product, has a lot of momentum with customers, has important new versions coming up, and has an enthusiastic ISV/partner community.

    This will be an exciting year for social CRM, and I’m glad we have thought-leaders like you leading the conversation.

    Richard Knudson
    Blog: http://www.DynamicsCRMTrickBag.com
    Twitter: http://Twitter.com/RichardKnudson

  13. Richard, thanks for your comments and welcome to CustomerThink!

    Since you just attended Microsoft’s annual Convergence conference, can you share what Microsoft talked about re: Social CRM, and what capabilities exist today?

  14. “Customer” seems to be defined differently in social CRM dialog here.

    I was/am hoping that customers will be able to participate in or have access to CRM information through social CRM construct.

    Not just self service help desk stuff but seeing and projecting their customer path guided by company, community of like users, some background predictive models and sensors alert to service/market/user changes.

    Social CRM implies more than just sales or just service customer contacts as I would expect Social to envelop prospects, current customers, former customers, subject matter experts and all other interested community participants (yes, even analysts.)

    You could extend the community further by having network aware products also participate (heaviest users, newest users, highest fix contributors rated by social system as part of social profile.)

    Even without bells and whistles – the value of social CRM should be based on how it improves the customer’s experience and justified by how it grows customer lifetime value (otherwise these technologies just add expense and chatter.

    Bob, great job as usual cutting through the fog
    Michael R Hoffman, Customer Worthy, Why and How Everyone at Your Organization Must Think Like a Customer

  15. I like the recommendation to separate Social Customer Strategy from the technology component. If you do, it seems to me there are really three categories:

    Social Customer Strategy = creating collaborative relationships with customers

    Social CRM = using social computing integrated with CRM systems (for connecting customer interactions)

    Collaborative CRM = integratign internal social tools with CRM systems to bring Enterprise 2.0 transparency and communication to CRM business process

    All three have their place.

  16. Great post. At Buzzient, we’ve had customers use our integration abilities to pull social media data into CRM systems such as Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, and Oracle CRM OnDemand. On the other hand, there are customers (particularly in online and social gaming) that use our social monitoring and analytics application as the CRM system itself. We believe we’re going to see both modalities as the market matures.

    twitter: tbjbuzzient

  17. As Jerimiah posted, simply, which any CRM should be-simple, regardless if Social or not. I believe the confusion is not only adding the Social to the CRM animal, but CRM is still a monster to most companies these days.

    Many see the beauty of CRM, then pile on Social-ooops you lost me at CRM. Try explaining this to someone who doesn’t even know what Twitter is.

    Now we have the issue at hand-education meets opportunity. SocialCRM is simple, append your Social Profile information to your current database. Done. It costs about .05 per record to do this not $1,000’s of dollars. You will know all of their profiles, title, location and many other key points.

    SocialCRM is effective because your customers and prospects now have many addresses not just one or two. Keep up with where the movement is in these channels, and you can enjoy fishing where the fish are.

    I liken this to the same one around Social ROI and Measurement. It’s not that tough. The vendors that “act” the part with no backbone to real valuable data connecting social data to customer’s records will be sniffed out fast. I don’t agree that a Lithium could call itself a SocialCRM unless that is within each of it’s own walled communities, unless… they are databasing all the social profiles of every community their technology sits behind… hummmm.


  18. As always, Bob, thank you for including us in your post on Social CRM. Internally, our team at INgage Networks likes to refer to it as “social + CRM.” 🙂 Pls allow me to offer your readers and visitors a couple of key resources:

    1. Our 20-minute Webinar on the topic, “Social CRM: Can Social Ever be Really Good for Business,” is available to view here: http://www2.ingagenetworks.com/l/1134/2009-08-21/ENHOX

    2. And our white paper on the topic, “CRM: Integrating enterprise social networks to create conversation through customer engagement,” is available for download at the very bottom of this page: http://www.ingagenetworks.com/white-papers

    Thank you, Bob,

  19. Very useful comment here, Dan. I think that with the size of sCRM and the sprawling discourse surrounding it, breaking it down into those three subsections is an extremely logical approach.

    I think that the first two elements are creating all the talk. Marrying the tactical elements of the Social Customer Strategy with the practical issues surrounding Social CRM requires a strategy all in itself.

    Still, it will be interesting to see the outcome of Collaborative CRM converging with Social Customer Strategy, and the extent to which the commercial/social line really will be blurred.

  20. Dear Bob,
    Great post…finally the vision of Social CRM that I was looking for….I’ve seen the Magic Quadrant of Gartner on Social CRM and visit most of the vendors but was dissapointed about the features despite all the buzz….I’m looking for a CRM system where I can see the social data of my leads and customers and profile them based on their potential to bring me more customers in the future through word of mouth and their social network….any reccomendation? I’m starting a new company so I dont have any legacy…..So who is the real Social CRM Leader almost one year after your post…?
    Kind Regards

  21. The so-called Social CRM market is still highly fragmented, with no real overall leader. There are lots of great solutions for specific problems, but if you want a complete solution you’ll have to piece it together yourself.

    With a new company you can consider a new approach. From you comment it seems you’re looking for SFA function with social data included. For starters, I’d suggest looking at some of the newer designs including http://coffeebeantech.com/, http://www.nimblecom, http://www.jitterjam.com and http://www.xeesm.com.

    And virtually all of the established CRM solutions offer some kind of social add-ons. Try Salesforce.com, Microsoft and SugarCRM.

    These are just top-of-the-head ideas to get you started. I’d encourage other readers to suggest options to consider.


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