When Implementing Social CRM, Walk Before You Run

Executives can learn quickly about CRM software from independent reviews, best practices and case studies. But getting your head around social CRM is a challenge. We all know how incredibly useful social CRM is today. And it will continue to grow in usefulness as new methods and tools are developed and existing Customer Relationship Management software products further leverage social channels.

Social CRM (sCRM) leaders will continue to adapt and innovate to use social media better and differently from the pack and thus find greater value and competitive advantage. These innovators exist today, and they'll continue to proliferate in the future, most likely leading to be recognized as sCRM "all stars." They consist of both consultants and employees, who become in-demand pros that companies will woo to give their CRM efforts a boost of imagination and effectiveness.

For all organizations, however, this social-infused revolution is going to come only after the basics of merging customer strategy, processes and software technology have been mastered. Much of the business world still does not have a fundamentally sound CRM 1.0 strategy in place, and many more who do are struggling with the pitfalls that have plagued the discipline for the past decade. sCRM is a continuation of the customer focused journey; CRM 1.0 is the pre-requisite.

Social business objectives are unique to each company. Many adopters are lured by the opportunity to create buzz, conversation and engagement that then convert into attention, awareness and buyer preference. While these are helpful to a company's demand generation, customer acquisition and revenue building programs, more specific, financial goals such as increased top-line revenues make social business programs more measurable and sustainable.

Social media is an increasingly pervasive technology and many business leaders who need to grasp the criticality of CRM are actually more familiar with the components of sCRM than they are with the basics of Customer Relationship Management strategy and processes.

We're going to see many organizations try to run with sCRM before they walk, with often unpleasant results. If you're a business leader in your organization and you're trying to get a handle on the scope of traditional CRM and sCRM, be careful of the conclusions you draw from any missteps. Anecdotally, they can suggest that business - especially small and medium-sized business – cannot handle CRM in its new, more social incarnation. That's not true. Rather, you need to first walk before you run.

To begin you have to understand how to use social listening tools to collect and organize customer data – for sales, for marketing, for service, and for creating customer loyalty through all three branches. And as a leader, you have to understand this new process in the context of your organization's existing business processes. That's job one, but it's only part of the job.

The next important thing is to make sure your people understand the value of contributing to this effort, and that your IT staff understand their value in the process. You're talking about a business transformation process, but such a process shouldn't be sold as one big idea. It's better to break it down into specific components for the constituents who will make it work and who will reap the rewards when it does.

Note that there was nothing in there about buying software technology. The incremental steps of CRM progress should not be based around technology; CRM's not an IT buy. I know that many businesses would love to buy some software, get everyone trained and have the technology solve the business problems. It doesn't work that way, because CRM is a discipline, not a technology.

The technology helps you master, automate and continuously improve that discipline. Once you have the right people in your business aligned around the discipline and strategy, then you can start evaluating technologies and select or upgrade your CRM software solution. Many CRM systems have social engagement tools, but many companies don't use them.

Once the big picture foundation is in place, then you can start folding in aspects of social media to your sales, marketing and service operations. Many forward thinking people in each of those areas will already have some great ideas about what tools and channels to consider. Tap into those ideas – this is a social effort, after all, and sales, marketing and service are all closer to customers than other parts of the organization.

But all of this has to be built on a CRM foundation in order to have organization-wide and sustained impact. Ad hoc solutions that result in non-repeatable successes are nice, but they don't have the same sort of resonance as ideas built into that underlying CRM platform that the entire company can then employ.

This is not necessarily a weakness on social CRM point solutions. But to become an effective customer-centric organization you need to have an underlying CRM technology platform that manages social and non-social customer interactions.

The point here is that you can't have sCRM without CRM – and if you don't have an effective CRM system yet, consider this the precursor to the next step.