4 "Non-CRM" CRM Companies and Their Influence on How We'll Engage Social Customers

Updated: May 28, 2010

Google

I wrote about Google Relationship Management (GRM) in my previous briefing last month. But since that time there is even more reason to watch Google, from a CRM perspective. Smartphones powered by Google's Android operating system recently moved past Apple's iPhone in units sold for the first time. So when you couple this with their supremacy in search, Gmails growing adoption in the email space, and their ever growing number of collaborative tools in the cloud (Google Apps, Buzz, etc), Google's impact on CRM may be just as important as any company - including the major CRM vendors. And just imagine if Google takes the same tools they're using to provide contextual ads in Gmail messages to provide sentiment analysis (not publicly, just to the email owners) this could be an incredible development.

The bottom line here is that email, instant messaging, search, mobility, cloud computing and social media/networking are driving collaborative business interactions (vendor/customer, customer/customer, vendor/community, transactions, etc). Google has a leading role in just about every one of them, and there aren't many other companies who can say that.

Apple

Just this week Apple took over the mantle of "King of Tech" from Microsoft, based on market cap valuation. It has done so on the strength of mobile devices of all kinds that have changed the way we experience content and communicate with each other. With the release of the iPad, I believe Apple will continue to lead us. To be honest, tablet computers have been around for a long time, but none of them caught the attention of both consumers and business professionals like Apple has. The numbers are staggering:

  • Over a million units sold in less than a month
  • Over 200,000 apps developed
  • 12 million apps downloaded in the first month
  • One million books downloaded from the iPad Books app in the first month

And just as CRM on mobile devices has gone from nice-to-have to need-to-have in the Social Age, the iPad (and other tablet devices that will flood the market) will be another mobile platform companies will have to design for. And it won't be enough to just port an app originally built for a desktop or browser, it will need to take advantage of the unique interface the iPad provides to create a remarkable experience. But I think the initial reaction to the iPad will spur CRM vendors to quickly provide these applications because of the potential impact they can have on customer engagement and relationship building.

Amazon.com

While many may still view Amazon.com as a book seller (and now for the Kindle), they have become so much more than that. In many ways they are both the original social network platform and cloud service platform - all based on the foundation of their ecommerce expertise… yeah, their ability to sell books. But it's that foundation - technical infrastructure and e-business expertise - that makes them unbelievably important from a CRM standpoint. Amazon created a social network on top of the transactional foundation of selling things by allowing people to create profiles, rate books, comment on them, and suggest related books they may want to buy - all the staples of social networks today. They created affiliate programs to entice people to help them sell books, and when they got the whole process down for all of this for books, they used these processes to sell other things - based on customer information they gathered and analyzed.

This on its own merits Amazon.com attention, but what makes them one of the most influential "non-CRM" CRM companies is how they've taken all their know-how and infrastructure and have made it available to any business willing to pay relatively small fees to use their cloud services. And businesses of all sizes are taking them up on their offer, including companies like Sage Software - who recently announced the availability of SalesLogix running on the Amazon cloud. Netflix also recently announced they will use Amazon's cloud services to run a number of their mission-critical, customer-facing apps.

But there are businesses of all sizes beginning to take advantage of a number of Amazon's cloud-based services, from storing gigabytes of information to delivering content via the CloudFront service. And just this week Amazon announced the latest incarnation of the Amazon Webstore, a full-featured e-commerce product allowing SMBs to build and manage their e-commerce businesses using the Amazon platform.

Cisco

Speaking of the iPad (I just can't seem to get away from it…), I recently participated in my first web conference via the Webex iPad application... which brings me to Cisco - Webex's parent company. Cisco has provided the plumbing that has driven the rise of broadband access for all the content flying around the world today. Do you remember how long it took to download a 1MB email attachment a few short years ago? It's actually too painful for me to try and remember, but suffice it to say it was bad. Now we are able to download gigabytes in a few minutes, and this has enabled the growth of social media and allowed large groups of people to collaborate in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago. And from a business perspective, web and video conferencing are tools that will enable companies to create and expand business relationships, while limiting costs traditionally a part of the customer acquisition/retention process. Cisco will play an ever increasing role in this moving forward.

Despite the popularity of video on the web, video and web conferencing has not reached the critical business mass as of yet. According to a 2009 Forrester study, only 11% of knowledge workers surveyed used video conferencing for communication and collaboration. But as the technology becomes easier to use, more affordable, and more accessible from mobile devices, video/web conferencing should really gain traction with respect to both customer acquisition and support.

Cisco has shown they not only understand what it takes to build the infrastructure to move all this content around, but also the "human connection" that propels us to do so. Through video/web conferencing, unified communication and other services, Cisco is creating tools to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to efficiently connect with customers and prospects through richer communications. With a new social video system - Cisco Show and Share - they are providing tools for businesses to create and manage video content in ways that are more in line with business needs, which should increase adoption of video. This, along with their Webex services and unified communications products should prove attractive to companies looking to engage customers in ways that create relationship building opportunities in an efficient, manageable approach.

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