Social CRM: Not a Blanket You Buy, But a Quilt You Stitch Together

Updated: July 09, 2009

What I think is happening is that the leading companies in this revolution - not CRM vendors, but their customers - are understanding their real needs, and then, with those needs in mind, are researching the technologies available to them, then stitching together their own combinations of technologies and processes. It's a lot like the process of buying a CRM or SFA product (or, really, any technology product, when you get right to it): know what you need, then focus on the solutions that meet that need. And, oddly enough, it may be that companies considered "old school" - traditional consumer goods companies, for instance - may have a clearer thought process about this than technology companies.

A great example came from Rand Schulman, the CMO of InsideView (among other roles with various organizations). He cited a major insurance company that had realized that tapping into social media could help build a better picture of its customers and potential customers and provide greater understanding into what their insurance needs might be. Thus, the company built into its sales force automation process a mandatory step involving the use of a social media aggregation tool (you can probably guess which one) to paint a picture of each prospect - their age, family status, property ownership, automotive preferences, and so on based on the data that the prospects are broadcasting about themselves - allowing agents to develop personalized coverage plans before they ever pick up the phone.

Insurance, despite its deep dependence on hardcore mathematics, is still a very personalized business for customers and agents. Because of that, what it needs and what social media can deliver are pretty clear.

Technology companies, I've noticed, often get confused about their needs and can become enamored with products at the expense of solving problems. But this insurance company's solution is not the result of buying a large, already integrated product, plugging it in and letting it do its thing. Unfortunately, that product for Social CRM is not here yet. Instead, it is the result of understanding what the company needs from Social CRM, identifying the technology that lets it gather and use it, and then integrating it. That first step is the most important, since it's the most unique to your company and the most critical for your success.

Another example, cited by Michelle de Haaff, chief marketing officer of Attensity, is Whirlpool, which is not the sort of organization you'd immediately associate with this type of technology. Lo and behold, Whirlpool uses Attensity to monitor, correlate and understand the sentiment of what's being said about its products on a variety of social media types, emails and service calls, then applies what it learns directly to its service and products. For instance, early users of one product were discovered to be talking about a minor and inexpensive-to-fix defect; Whirlpool learned of the issue through social media two months earlier than it would have through its previous process, and had processes in place to put this news to work, thus minimizing the number of service calls and preventing another 160,000 units from being shipped - a number that could have precipitated a costly recall. Not only did it save Whirlpool a lot of money, it allowed the company to project the image that it was paying attention to its customers, and to proactively service customers already affected by the defect.

In these two examples, you can see how sales, marketing and service are coming together. Social CRM is only going to accelerate this. The companies who will have a head-start in the Social CRM revolution will be the ones who stitch together the best solutions for their needs and, at the same time, bring these three often-combative groups into alignment. Without that reconciliation, I fear, Social CRM will not be the next revolution in how businesses understand their customers but the next wave of how systems and processes are silo'ed within companies.

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