I have always advocated that CRM is a growing field, and that it grows at the margins whenever some innovative company introduces a new application type. As such, the definition really speaks more about all of the front office than CRM alone. Nevertheless, over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of new applications in sales, marketing and service that fit this description.
So imagine my surprise last week when I was speaking with the CEO of a self-described “social networking” company.
The CEO told me in plain terms that they didn’t want to be associated with CRM, and that their customers found more resonance in social networking, and had an easier time in cost justifying acquisition when they called this particular solution “social networking” rather than “CRM.”
Call the CRM Police
My first reaction was to say something like, “No, you can’t do that, and where are the CRM police?” but then it made a certain amount of sense.
If you ask me, social networking suffers from some of the same positioning woes as sales effectiveness. The description is so nebulous that I am not sure it has value.
Sales effectiveness covers a lot of ground, from intelligence gathering to operations, and while every solution in the category can make a case for belonging, to me, it’s like a zebra trying to take center stage at a horse show. Same thing for social networking — there are so many solutions that use the moniker from sites like YouTube and MySpace to Linkedin, that you wonder what the connection is.
I believe there is a legitimate argument for including social networking in CRM. At its core, social networking enables customers and vendors to interact better on multiple levels, and if companies use social networking’s techniques, they might be able to capture thoughts, impressions, ideas, needs, biases, and a lot more from people and contribute greatly to CRM processes.
For example, this voice of the customer data can be folded into product development to accomplish co-creation of value, which makes a company more competitive because it can deliver products, services, messages, Web experiences, and real in-person experiences better and faster.
Similar but Different
Now, to be fair, every social networking application doesn’t do these things, and a select group of functions, techniques or methodologies — call them what you will — should be attached to social networking to help define the branch that butts up to CRM. I am all for that, and will help with that process, as the opportunity presents itself.
No offense to the social networking sites that my kids subscribe to, but that’s not CRM, and I think most people would agree with that. Also, I am pretty sure that any technology that enables perfect strangers to ask me to forward their resumes to my friends at a company is not CRM either. A tool that enables a marketer to develop a volunteer community of interest to probe the public perception of products, product ideas and marketing messages would fit the definition, though.
What I think this is saying is that just as CRM is a way of doing business and a set of technology, so is social networking. A company that implements a CRM system without adopting a CRM outlook is like a symphony trying to play some Charlie Parker bebop. The symphony will probably hit all the right notes but the notes won’t swing.
So in case no one has done it yet, let me be the first to claim part of social networking for CRM, or more precisely, the front office. Social networking is an important new contributor to front office business processes. It gives us a way to look at the world through the eyes of the customer, and makes good on some of the promises of CRM.
A New Way of Doing Business
Today’s CRM is based on the idea of using technology to improve internal business processes and that was and is a good goal. When CRM got going, internal customer facing business processes ran on a shoestring and scraps of paper.
I think we might have taken that kind of CRM as far as possible for the time being. We have all kinds of CRM systems today that systematize and organize our customer facing processes, but what we lack right now are effective ways of capturing customer feedback.
With feedback we can know whether or not we’re on the right track earlier than the time when we first put a product on the market, and that kind of information serves to save money and improve our business processes in immeasurable ways. So, no offense to my friends who think that social networking is a separate activity, but I really think it’s our space.
Denis Pombriant runs the Beagle Research Group, LLC, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing, and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].
CRM and social networking are natural partners when done correctly and I think any social networking site that would want to blow off the possibility of tying in CRM features is missing the boat. One great site is http://www.octopuscity.com, which is a free contact manager that includes a business network and you can sync in contacts from Gmail, other webmails and Outlook.