Social CRM: Curb Your Enthusiasm

If you’re a marketer in a medium-to large-sized B2B company, you’re almost certainly using customer relationship management (CRM) software to track your customers and prospects. And if you’re a CRM user, you’re almost certainly hearing about Social CRM, the hottest new craze in that 20-year-old field. I encourage you to restrain your enthusiasm.

CRM is a well-established discipline that presumes that the more information we can capture about a customer’s interactions with our company, the better we can deliver products and services that the person wants to buy. It seems only natural that online social interactions should be part of this profile. Vendors of CRM services, who are always looking for differentiation points in that crowded market, have lately been talking up this social dimension as a kind of CRM 2.0.

The problem is that most of their customers are still struggling to get CRM 1.0 right. CRM is hard to do well because A) everyone who interacts with the customer must be committed to documenting every touch point; and B) the company must have the analytical chops to know what to do with the data it collects. Strategy changes, turnover, layoffs and the like make the first step difficult enough, and we all know how analytically challenged sales managers can be.

Social CRM introduces potentially enormous new complexity to the process. Social maps – or diagrams of relationships across social platforms – sound good in theory, but are nearly impossible to create on a broad scale. What’s more, I question how much social interactions have to do with decision-making in many cases.

For example, I have 725 friends on Facebook, nearly 1,000 connections on LinkedIn, and almost 7,500 Twitter followers. I know most of these people little or not at all, a result of my admittedly promiscuous approach to accepting friend requests. Trying to map these relationships in any meaningful way would be nearly impossible. What’s more, it would be pointless. The fact that I’m connected to people has little to do with their influence over my decisions. Like most people, I keep my network of truly trusted advisers small and communicate with them largely outside of the public eye. There is no way that social profiling would reveal which relationships really matter.

I also often seek advice from people who aren’t part of my social network. For example, when I consult TripAdvisor to make a hotel reservation or Google Maps to find a restaurant, I put faith in the advice of total strangers. No social map is going to unearth these relationships. When my iPod went on the fritz this week, I became briefly involved in communities that provide diagnosis and repair advice, but it’s unlikely I’ll ever visit those places again. In fact, I routinely seek the advice of experts outside of my social circle when I have important decisions to make.

Even if you were able to identify the relationships that matter, I’m not sure customers are entirely comfortable with that idea. A few years ago, the marketing industry became enamored with the concept of “one-to-one marketing,” which was about building customer profiles that were so detailed that marketers could literally respond to individual needs.

I don’t know about you, but I find that whole idea a little unsettling. If someone were to cold-call me to follow up on a stray comment I made on Twitter, I would be as likely to hang up as to ask for a proposal. Many of us now live in public to a degree that was unimaginable a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that we want our activities to be used as a basis for commerce. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that this “creepiness factor” is an important reason why Google doesn’t do more with the behavioral data it collects.

I do believe that some of the core concepts of social CRM are valid. For example, an automotive dealer should be able to generate sales by tracking public comments from nearby consumers who are looking to buy a car. A contact within a person’s social circle may be valuable in reaching that person (that’s just good prospecting). A customer’s Twitter handle and tweet stream should also be monitored to look for opportunities or signs of dissatisfaction.

It’s incumbent on all companies these days to track comments from customers that might indicate an opportunity or a problem. Conversation monitoring is good business practice. But it’s not 2.0 anything.

7 thoughts on “Social CRM: Curb Your Enthusiasm

  1. Paul – Great points all. We are so quick to race to the next big thing while the last big thing is not even half completed. As a result we leave trails of unanswered questions and unreached expectations which make marketing as a whole look less like science and more like fad. Too bad because if any marketers would just sit back and even get search marketing right (how 2000 and uncool is THAT idea?) the success of doing something like that well would far outstrip the value of being on the bleeding edge with the cool kids.

  2. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for raising some great points about CRM and Social Media. I come from a simple perspective/background of relationship management. I created GoldMine, an early pioneer in the team relationship managers.

    I think business is social. I think people buy from people they like and they like people who know them. You can’t know people if you don’t listen to them, look at their walls and understand them and their needs. Whenever you look at a client’s record you need to know who they are, what’s pending, who’s going to do it, what’s been and, who’s done it and all communications they’ve had with you and anyone on your team, no matter where the conversation occurred. I think Social Media communications integration to relationship managers can help here.

    You made an excellent point – A) everyone who interacts with the customer must be committed to documenting every touch point;

    Most people, especially salespeople will never fully document communications. It’s the way they are. The proper use and integration of Social Media would integrate all forms of communication, IM, Text Message, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, POP, IMAP, Exchange, Google, Skype and even VoiceMail into contact records.

    All of this can be done simply and easily so that anyone could use it without being intimidated by the old school look and feel of Grandpa’s CRM platform.
    This is my vision of a Social Relationship Platform. Unified communications. One place to read/respond to everything. Integration of the three C’s; Contacts, Calendars, Communications. No matter where the data resides. All of it unified into one web based program.

    I hate acronyms. I never liked SFA, CRM and I don’t really care for #sCRM. Ultimately the customer only cares about getting a solution that works for them and I know they do not like going to fifteen places to communicate and they don’t like the big complex, expensive CRM systems that they are forced to use today. They didn’t like them ten years ago either, Seibel or Brock 20 years before.

    So I agree that the CRM evolution/solution is not done yet and that throwing Social on top with all the vendors everyone and his brother calling themselves a Social CRM platform is confusing. Ultimately the customers will help clear the landscape and the jargon by marching with their feet towards something that works the way they want to.

    I do agree that it’s creepy to think someone would map my social graph and hit me up to buy something because I mentioned the Grateful dead or something. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about unifying all the things you need to manage the relationships you do care about.
    Twenty years ago I created GoldMine as a simple tool to help teams manage relationships. I’m back with an updated vision that’s a bit more Nimble.



  3. Thanks for the nice words. All of these concepts are basically derivations of contact management, aren’t they? In the end, collecting pertinent data is the goal, regardless of where it comes from.

  4. Fine Post Paul!

    Personally i think it should be CRM+S really, in stead of SCRM. Social is just a channel on one hand, although on the other hand it’s an entire movement that’s fundamentally changing the way we live and work

    It will destroy relationships-as-we-know them ( but there’s no need for a Social everything indeed (

    Enterprise-wise, however, it’s very likely that CRM will be the first to tackle Social within: I have a theory about that as well: it will unleash the beast (

  5. Pingback: Organizing the Chaos of Social CRM |

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