One of the fun things about being an analyst in a market -- one where there is as much innovation as you can find in CRM -- is that it’s all so unpredictable and surprising. As I was researching social media in the context of Salesforce.com’s sales cloud and service cloud recently, it struck me that something very different was going on.
Very often vendors describe their social CRM offerings as extensions to an older paradigm of CRM, one that I think is vanishing and becoming hard to reconcile with the reality of today’s marketplace. Over the last several years I’ve watched as social CRM has tried to find its voice and I have not always been in agreement with its early deployments.
Social media in general are powerful tools for researching, reaching and maintaining contact with large numbers of people, most of whom are casual acquaintances. To many, it would seem that social media would therefore be an ideal mechanism with which to advertise and market to a large homogeneous market. But though the market is large it is no longer uniform -- if indeed it ever was.
Social media’s dominant characteristic, its social aspect, means that recipients can screen or block out unwanted content. That’s not something new. For instance, in broadcast advertising, you can always walk away, lower the volume or use a DVR device to record and then skip over unwanted content. However, if you want the programming -- the good stuff -- eventually you have to let yourself be minimally impacted by the ads. Not so with social media. There’s no sponsor and therefore no bills to pay. Broadcaster and content are fused and the receiver has a simple choice to follow or not.
For many reasons I have never thought of the marketing idea as a particularly great fit for social media or social CRM. That’s not to say that social media can’t be made integral to CRM. I believe it can but that the integration has not been figured out yet with the possible exception of the sales and service clouds from Salesforce.com.
The Salesforce clouds are mature in their deployments but possibly are not so mature in market perception. While they are somewhat outward focused, there is a lot that they do that is focused on the internal workings of the company -- a trait that appears to be held in common with the soon-to-be released Chatter product. The internal focus is surprisingly powerful and productive and even opens up a new way of looking at common business processes in sales and service.
The commonality in these products is that in very different ways each helps an organization to capture intellectual property from sales and service almost like a device that re-captures waste heat from an industrial process can improve efficiency and reduce costs. For me that revelation was both surprising and showed an elegance of understanding the core processes. It also hints at one of social media’s true benefits for CRM.
If you haven’t studied Salesforce’s application of social media to sales and service, here’s a quick primer. The Sales Cloud captures metadata generated by a sales team in the course of its work. In a short time, the metadata can, using simple analytics, tell a user about success and failure patterns inherent in the sales practice. The user learns which documents, strategies, tactics and presentations work best. The system has many other attributes, such as enabling a user to select, edit and transmit appropriate documents, identify prior deals for study and emulation and more. Social techniques for ranking and sampling the wisdom of one’s colleagues makes all this work.
Salesforce is not the only vendor exploring this fertile ground for social CRM analytics. Oracle has a content library that aims at a similar process, and independent companies like Kadient refer to this collection of specialized knowledge as “playbooks”.
On the service side, search engines, Twitter and Facebook play an integral role in helping an organization to know about its customers service issues so that it can take appropriate action. Often that action includes dispatching solutions that other customers might have already voluntarily provided to others either directly or through social media.
These descriptions are oversimplifications of the real processes and I leave it to you to check them out in more detail. But my point about intellectual property holds. A company generates a great deal of intellectual property within its business processes and while companies do a good job in the back office, operations and manufacturing, there’s never been a good way to capture that waste heat in the front office.
Sales teams often reinvent the wheel for every sales process or sales representatives cling to one course of action, or maybe one product, because that’s where their expertise is. Capturing intellectual property generated by the whole sales team offers at least the chance that it can be shared and that it can positively influence future deals.
You can say much the same about service intellectual property because service solutions are unique to an organization and using social media to capture user generated service solutions is a great way to lower costs and improve service.
Taken separately or together, these solutions represent an improvement on older processes and represent a great fit for social media. This is a great productivity boost and it’s worth noting that it couldn’t have happened until employees and customers developed facility with the Internet and Web based social applications. Observing the human element’s impact is what makes my job so much fun.