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Successful social CRM looks back to get ahead

Are all the elements of social media and CRM so new? No, says columnist Allen Bonde. He suggests three questions to ask when looking at the past.

As we last discussed,building a practical social business strategy starts with equal parts looking forward to see how to best achieve your goals; looking around at the current use of channels, customer needs and the competitive landscape; and looking across the choice of governance, content creation, community building, and technology models to get from here to there. This, of course, is similar to the way many of us have rolled out Web strategies, CRM programs, and the like.

But as we know, social business is different. The user is in control. Mass marketing is dead. We need to “fish where the fish are,” as they say. Yes, we still need to establish our priorities and get buy-in from those with the budget and perhaps even go down a similar software procurement path. But many of the questions and options -- and the way we roll out social media -- are unlike what came before. Because, well, social media and many of the elements of Web 2.0 and social computing are so new.

Or are they?

Yes, social media and Web 2.0 approaches have enabled some very different models, such as crowd-sourcing and open innovation and new businesses like Facebook and Digg. And they have helped a growing number of organizations better share information, cultivate their brands and deliver a superior experience via early deployments of social CRM. But if we step back and take a more historic view of what we are seeing, a lot of what looks to be shiny and new is in fact an evolution of what has been transpiring in media and computing and business over the past several decades.

Looking back – three questions to ask

Taking a look back and promoting a renewed effort to see how the “new stuff” – channels, models and behaviors – can borrow from or force change on the “old stuff” is to me a critical missing piece of most social business strategies. We look forward and look around. But we don’t often look back! Of course, once we start to look at the impact of social media on existing business models, and enterprise applications, and devices, and consumer expectations, and behavior, things can get a bit tricky. But this rigor is good – and necessary to truly tap the potential of social business models.

So what should we be looking for? The following questions are a good starting point and ensure that while we look forward to the potential of new social CRM and Web 2.0 (3.0?) models, we also consider lessons from earlier waves of technology adoption.

First, how much will social alternatives really change the long-term use and viability of existing channels? For example, if the costs of content production and distribution approach zero, are all traditional publishing businesses really dead? Or will some (many?) media companies evolve their models to leverage the new economics and emerge as more focused, innovative and profitable social businesses? This is similar to the question we should have asked when email and then chat and then online support came along. Will it really render the telephone obsolete? Of course not!

At the same time, while efforts like’s “Facebook for the enterprise” service have certainly brought the idea of collaboration for the masses into the spotlight (a good thing), is this model really going to replace email and portals and other information stores anytime soon? History tells us that these systems stick around a long time. And there is the small issue of reaching users not on the Salesforce platform -- and how to blend content with process and context.

Which brings us to the second question.

Will the path from social media to Enterprise 2.0 really open up as quickly or be as smooth or direct as many pundits think? (Hint: was CRM easy?) Using communities and social networking for customer facing processes seems like a slam dunk, especially if we apply a social media model that incorporates the subtleties of engagement across online and offline channels. But few companies today are using Web 2.0 for core business processes like finance or purchasing because many tools, data models and even trust models from the consumer world don’t fit the enterprise mindset and IT stack.

Beyond social CRM, where will social business find its beachhead? Past success with large-scale enterprise software initiatives typically was linked to two basic success factors: keeping expectations in check and making sure that users actually were motivated to use the system. In my experience, SFA and even some ERP rollouts often struggled with both issues. Social business tools have it all over CRM when it comes to the latter. Users typically want to use social tools. It’s the former -- expectations (and ROI) -- that will need to be addressed for enterprise social software to avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors.

Third, while it’s easy to get (initially) excited about the latest apps like Chatter and Google Buzz and cross-over devices like the iPad, if we focus too closely on what consumers want vs. what the business needs, are we at risk of losing the battle over style vs. substance? Good design serves up emotion and utility. For social business and social CRM to take off in most enterprises, utility must come first.

The evolution from desktop computing to mobile devices to perhaps specialty “terminals” for the cloud provides some lessons for the next social-enabled devices and service channels. Is seamless data aggregation the missing piece -- or smarter customer analytics and feedback? Or is it ease-of-use and simplicity across all touch-points? History can again provide some lessons. But it’s the customer who will ultimately decide!


About Allen Bonde


Allen Bonde was recently CMO of eVergance and is a well-known analyst, entrepreneur and management consultant. He has 20 years of experience at McKinsey, Extraprise, the Yankee Group, and GTE (now Verizon). He has written for and, and he has appeared on CNBC and Fox News. Bonde is the founder and managing director of Evoke CRM Partners (, a consultancy focused on multi-channel customer strategies and the convergence of social media, self-service and CRM. He encourages readers to connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter:

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