We have been reading with interest all the angst on the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant and whether or not solutions deserve to be labelled as ‘Social CRM’. We would certainly argue that the solutions which have been lumped together unceremoniously into this catch all category deserve better treatment. And we would further argue that probably none of them represent a social CRM platform in their own right but all have applicability to some of the use cases for Social CRM.

Equally, we watch with some amusement the positioning of consultants, vendors, ‘gurus’ and experts all attempting to not only make sense of the Magic Quadrant (which is probably impossible) but also to  make the definition of Social CRM as complex as possible. Is Social CRM a product category or a strategy or is it just a consultants wet dream?

We focus on Social Business and in creating our own small market niche we have been very careful to remain CRM vendor neutral. This has been important for two reasons – firstly, I worked for a major CRM vendor for a long time and we wanted to be market neutral to ensure we were not excluded from some customers. Secondly, whilst there is no question that there are a set of more accepted CRM solutions out there; at the end of the day it probably doesn’t matter what solution you chose. That is, we believe that CRM is a strategy first and a tool second. On this point we find ourselves in violent agreement with people like Paul Greenberg.

But in everyone’s rush to make the term ‘Social CRM’ their own, there is a tendency to both over complicate it as well as focus too much on the supporting tools, platforms, workflows and all the other paraphanelia we are meant to complicate this. Again, I am drawn to Greenberg’s definition of Social CRM but I am not sure that all the conditions he describes need to be in place in order to have ‘Social CRM’. And people have focused on the last piece of his definition which speaks of a company’s ‘programmatic response to the customers control of the conversation.’ And I am not convinced by this last statement – I believe that in any relationship each party is in control at different points in the interaction. Its also one of the reasons I hate it when people talk about Social CRM being really Social CMR – Customer Managed Relationship. The reason I hate that is it give brands, companies, organisations, government agencies and small businesses an excuse – ‘I am not in control any longer and I no longer have the ability to manage this.” Just like the new publication ‘No Bullshit Social Media’ lets have ‘No Bullshit Social CRM‘!  Social does not abrogate our responsibility to take the lead and manage the customer relationship – whilst social media democratises the relationship between an organisation and its customers in ways that were not possible before it is still the organisations role to lead the relationship where possible – customers have a choice, organisations do not.

I have always believed that a strategy is a plan to achieve a goal. And being in the group that firmly says strategy first, tools second; shouldn’t we focus just a little more on the goals? Back in the day, I always spoke about the goals of a CRM strategy. And for me, it was always pretty simple. CRM is a strategy for an organisation to create and deliver a consistent, unique and superior customer experience regardless of the channel in which they interact with you. Back then, those channels were phone, email, face to face (remember that, when we actually met people?). And lets just be serious for a moment here folks – these channels work just fine today for a bunch of people. There is still 20% of the worlds population who have never used a phone. And less than 25% of the worlds population today are members of a social network. So lets not get too carried away with our self importance just yet.

But back to topic. If the end goal is this consistent, superior, differentiated customer experience regardless of the channel of interaction (and indeed, across channels) then does that still work in todays world. Absolutely, we just have more channels – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, Forums, Name this Social Media channel. So Social CRM is simply a business strategy to deliver a seamless, consistent, superior and differentiated customer experience across all channels – including social ones. And if you need tools for that – then go right ahead, And if you don’t, that’s fine too.

But at least this then gets us thinking about use cases rather than some all encompassing Social CRM platform. Do my customers raise service issues through Twitter? Ok, better look at that. Will customers use social networks to respond to marketing events? Ok, check that. Does my sales team need help to deliver a superior customer experience? Better address that use case.

And this is where I completely agree with Greenberg – this is simply an extension to CRM for some organisations in some use cases made necessary by the communications revolution that is social media. So lets treat it that way and recognise its likely to be different for virtually every organisation. And perhaps stop trying to have a single Magic Quadrant for this thing. Each of the solutions on that quadrant deserve recognition; and we represent a few of them; but not as Social CRM

Will B

Thanks to CloudAve for the Social CRM image