Social CRM is Just the Beginning: Looking Beyond Customers

In Engage!, I review the important catalysts and methodologies defining the new era of Social CRM or sCRM. In the discussion, I also introduce the idea of SRM (social relationship management), a concept that may at first blush, seemingly appear to introduce yet another acronym or perhaps challenge the promise of sCRM. However, its only intention is to spur thinking beyond the literal frameworks of traditional customer relationship management, whether it’s social or one-way.

Much of this chapter was cut as the book was already well over its target word count. As it’s an important topic, I’ve reassembled the pieces into a two-part series to spark useful conversation and innovation around the subject.

At a minimum, SRM focuses beyond the social customer and escalates the promise and potential of sCRM across an entire organization, not just customer service. Equally, SRM zooms in to evaluate the various stages of decision making and the channels and people that influence outcomes.

The Culture Shift: CRM to sCRM

If we look at CRM and the methodologies and technologies that support customers today, social CRM represents much more than a modernization or even socialization of an aging system of support and service.

I believe that among the chief attributes of social media, the ability to identify active communities of relevance, trace channels and voices of influence, and also discern and dissect the various stages of decision making, all in real-time, is nothing short of profound and transformational.

Information is becoming commoditized. Conversations, sentiment, inquiries, and intentions are vocalized and open for organization, categorization, and analysis. Our newfound sense of hearing is there for the benefit of learning. Accordingly, adaptation will be the key to earning relevance in our markets and this continuing practice of adaptation is how we will ultimately establish prominence.

This is easier said than done of course.

The culture that prevails within businesses today actually works against the pillars of socialized CRM. As such, everything begins with change and the compelling case to do so. While social media has traveled a great distance from our personal exploration to our profession endeavors, this unstructured groundswell has forced a bottom-up revolution led by us, the social champions who believe that the customer should once again, come first.

Eventually however, we hit a ceiling where the effects of championing change are met with challenge and skepticism. This opposition is natural, as the energy and persuasion necessary to break through the ceiling and impact the entire organization from the top-down, requires much more than enthusiasm.

Before businesses can collaborate within their communities, they first have to learn how to collaborate internally.

As Charlene Li points out in her new book Open Leadership, organizational transformation is only truly attainable through the willingness of leaders to embrace a change of course, act, and do so without having all of the answers. But, neither Charlene nor I endorse changing for the sake of change, nor do I suggest that we take any steps blindly. Instead, I believe in the power of data and as such, I rely on the real-time social information that visualizes impact, influence, sentiment, and opportunities.

Research, analysis, and insight offer clarity and direction. When combined with recommendations for process enhancement and ultimately compelling forecasts, we can then begin to demonstrate the ability to increase customer acquisition, retention, sales, and market share overall. This is the only language, for the time being, that seems to resonate with executives.

Introducing the Mantra of SRM

The premise of SRM is that the Social Web is distributing influence beyond the customer landscape, allocating authority amongst stakeholders, prospects, advocates, decision makers, and peers.  The activities that govern each form the separation and distinction between customer acquisition, retention, and advocacy. I believe at the heart of sCRM methodologies, the recognition that customers are only part of the new equation, sets the stage for long-term and advantageous change.

Every day, customers and prospects are faced with making decisions and the paths that they take are increasingly open to input. People are not only taking to the social Web for options, research, and recommendations, the insight they receive is derivative of the experiences and observations of others.

We reap what we sow.

This is why the concept of SRM shatters the boundaries set forth by CRM and the prevailing methodologies that inspire the progression towards sCRM.

Again, the idea of SRM recognizes that whether someone recommended, purchased, or simply recognized a product or service publicly each makes an impact on behavior at varying levels.

In the realm of SRM, influence is distributed. If we define influence as the ability to inspire action and measure the corresponding activity, the socialization of influence now expands beyond the strategies and software that organize and optimize customer relations and the management processes that govern it.

The entire organization needs to socialize and optimize in order to affect decisions and earn relevance.

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff formerly of Forrester Research called for sovereignty through jurisdiction in her post, Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction:

“The best strategy for a company is always to have everyone do what they do best. That’s why the various functions departments got created”

Customer service, combined with participation and engagement, forms a powerful foundation of marketing without blatant marketing. And, as the socialization of our business is introduced through open leadership, engagement brings into focus the fifth “P” of the marketing mix – people.

Indeed, this is about people and the recognition of influence wherever and however it takes shape. Equally, this is about relations and relationships. As such, we need principles, guidelines, processes, and systems to identify and engage in relevant communities and corresponding activity to trigger, cultivate and harness the rewards for paying attention and connecting.

This is just the beginning. The road to SRM is rich with insight and it affects the entire organization and in turn, the ability to impact decisions.

In Part Two, Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, continues the discussion of sCRM and SRM.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading my new book, Engage!, I think you might like it…


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  • http://startups.com/ juliacassidy

    EXCELLENT article! I especially liked the sentence “The entire organization needs to socialize and optimize in order to affect decisions and earn relevance.” Great concept.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  • http://twitter.com/mjayliebs Mitch Lieberman

    Brian – Interesting concept and SRM is going to be important, but not to the extent you state, and certainly not now. Relationships with and about Customers, Past, Present and Future will trump relationships with influencers and advocates, as far as companies are concerned. Social CRM is based on the simple premise that you are able to interact with your customers based on their needs, not your rules. But, we cannot forget about the customers needs, and what the customer needs to get done – their job. A business needs to focus on customer experience, great product and understanding what their customers challenges are, and how those challenges can be overcome.

    You mention “distributing influence beyond the customer landscape, allocating authority amongst stakeholders, prospects, advocates, decision makers, and peers. ” but, what is the value back to these people? They have the ability to influence, great. Influence what? Among the important benefits of Social CRM is that it adds value back to the end users, stakeholders and customers. Stakeholders sound like internal people, so I agree with what you are saying, but not that it is a new concept. Relationships are important, to facilitate getting something done. Yes, you talk about the ability to act. We do not need another TLA – Social CRM is a fantastic way to break down the silos of the organization, let's give it a chance before we call it a failure and say we need something else.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Mitch, I don't disagree with anything that you're saying…and the sole intention for sharing this information was to show just how much thinking outside of the box has us actually thinking inside of the box. Remember, I'm one of the early proponents of sCRM.

      I start with these words intentionally, as the discussion of SRM was to get us thinking beyond existing methodologies, “…a new concept that may at first blush, seemingly challenge the promise of sCRM, however, its only intention is to spur thinking beyond the literal frameworks of traditional customer relationship management, whether it’s social or one-way.”

      We're all working to the same goal, as you say, “Social CRM is that it adds value back to the end users, stakeholders and customers.”

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  • @DavidJacques

    “(…) customer relationship management, whether it’s social or one-way”. I didn't know anything one-way could be considered CRM.

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  • http://bateshook.com Uwe Hook

    I would argue SRM is only the bridge to VRM. We have to stop the guessing game of what the desires and needs of people are (because we are highly unpredictable primates) and deliver to them product and services when they want them. On their terms. I agree with the premise that SRM will be important in order to transform the whole organization to a more social and human enterprise. But the idea of SRM is still to enterprise-centric and not focused on the real needs of people.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Yes! In fact, that's a post that's coming. :)

    • THYRAXX

      I agree with Uwe Hook and I would call it more NRM (Network Relationship Management) than CRM. Because the focus is not always about being popular among your actual friends whom you relate to, to recommend you a good product/service. And also reminding that not everybody is that social that they constantly want to interact or be approached for something. When the need is there, they will go and find information first and then ask friends what there experience is and if they will recommend it.

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  • http://www.nimble.com Jon Ferrara

    Brian & Mitch, you are both friends of mine and I think your both right about sCRM & SRM. It's just a matter of timing to determine which strategy is more important.

    Let me explain. I believe companies today have to use/implement both SRM and sCRM as it does take a community to build a brand. The community involves influencers and customers. In the early stages of launching a new brand before the product is released, SRM seems to be a more important strategy. SRM allows you to identify, listen & engage key influencers in your products community. The point of engagement is to establish a relationship, build trust and share vision. If you do everything well and your product is decent you might build support for your product early on with those key influencers. Once you have something you can put into the customers hands sCRM plays a critical role in 'Listening and Engaging'. So that means that Brian and Mitch are both right!

    Be #Nimble!

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  • http://www.jmorganmarketing.com jacobmorgan

    Don't think the concept of SRM is new, we're just talking about semantics. I think we need to focus on the operational side of making this work instead of on the idea side of things. CRM is built upon marketing, sales, service and support. SCRM is built on marketing AND PR, sales, service and support, and THE CUSTOMER. When referring to the “social customer” this is not in the literal sense that the person is an actual customer, this can be someone who is interested in purchasing, has purchased, wants more information, etc. As Mitch said below:
    “Relationships with and about Customers, Past, Present and Future will trump relationships with influencers and advocates”
    The way I look it your description of SRM is the way I look at SCRM, just a diff name for the same thing. the internal/external collaboration piece is how E2.0 needs to work with and fit with SCRM.

    just my 3 cents

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      What's interesting to me still, is that the operational side works against the culture that supports change…there's a lot of good lessons in Charlene Li's new book Open Leadership that help the migration of a more open enterprise. It goes back to our original discussion, how do you move something beyond the literal interpretation when the infrastructure (technology, process, and methodologies) works again much of what you're attempting to implement? This idea wasn't born on a whim, it was inspired by the consistent challenges I've faced over the years. I documented the impressions, the challenges, the roadblocks, the notions that broke through at every level, and how it affected outbound activity.

      As such, it's this sentence that forces the discussion beyond the “C”…relationships with and about customers, past, present and future will never trump relationships with influencers and advocates. Many argue that influencers and advocates are customers…so they're, by default, included. In my experience, most systems miss or downplay the distinct role of the person who influences decisions as some of them are not “your” customers at all. I'm a proponent for broadening the system…and that's where productive ideas and collaboration go to work beyond socializing CRM.

      We're all right…it's that I have become quite literal in my efforts around sCRM over the years as I have encountered the same challenges, questions, ah ha's and uh oh's, to learn that change is not embraced holistically, but instead incrementally.

  • http://bazaarvoice.com/blog Ian Greenleigh

    You're bringing the concept of the participation chain to non-customers. I like that. Perhaps it makes sense to look at SRM as more of a business development tool than a sales- or customer service- focused sCRM.

    Of all the nodes of influence out there, making recommendations, mentioning brands, facilitating introductions, so few of them are actual customers or qualified prospects. Many have no use for whatever your brand provides, or cannot afford you, but are no less motivated to share your strengths, and (importantly!) weaknesses, should you upset them.

    I'm working hard to get everyone in my organization to play to their strengths with social. I call this ideal “the un-siloed social organization”. Everyone has some value they can add to the online conversation, and they should be welcomed and recognized when they do so.

  • gregdelima

    Brian,
    In fact I wrote about Social CRM and the fact about using data and simply being human over on my blog. I think you're entirely right, steps cannot be taken blindly or change just for change. The key is to understand the balance of keeping in accordance to policy while delivering exceptional CRM. The problem is so many people AREN'T focusing on the customers enough. They do what's best for the company from a cost benefit view in the short term, but not for the client as a long-term customer.
    CRM starts from before the purchase and to well beyond after a client has used the service or product. I think that the while shareholders and directors matter entirely to the CRM process, they simply won't get their share without a happy customer…so where should the priority lie, please the company or please the client?

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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