Does Social CRM Need Gartner’s Seal of Approval?

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How can you tell when a marketplace is exploding? Maybe when the benchmark evaluation of that marketplace can no longer contain it. Just ask Gartner, which decided in the wake of its 2009 Magic Quadrant for Social Software report to kill off its Magic Quadrant for Social Software report. Like a Hydra, though, new reports sprouted in its place, and the analyst firm took on the familiar chore of assessing (and, notably, excluding) vendors in not one but three segments of social software: Social CRM (SCRM), Social Software for the Workplace, and Externally Facing Social Software (EFSS). Divide and conquer? More like be fruitful and multiply: Most vendor evaluations and rankings leave some incumbents as well as rising stars feeling sideswiped, overlooked, or even misjudged. But each of these reports, perhaps due to the newness of the technologies involved, sparked three times the controversy of its single predecessor. 

Gartner Research Director Adam Sarner says the response was expected—even welcome. “We have an opinion of where the market is now and it’s backed up by research,” Sarner insists. “What the vendors say is important to us and we will continue to listen as the market evolves. For now, we shouldn’t ignore any input that we get.” 

One of the harshest criticisms—from vendors as well as industry watchdogs—was about the lack of attention paid to social media monitoring. Sarner responds that Gartner expects to soon see the microsegment—comprising Radian6, Attensity Group, and others—swallowed up by the larger social software market. 

Quibbling over omissions is one thing, but even the placement of included vendors has raised eyebrows. In two of the new reports—SCRM and EFSS—Gartner named only Jive Software and Lithium Technologies as Leaders. With only a few players in each report named Visionaries, most companies ended up crammed together as Niche Players, which Gartner describes as vendors that are narrow in scope yet “provide useful, focused technology.” Critics argue that Niche Players are perhaps too differentiated to be evaluated in the same report. 

Esteban Kolsky, founder of CRM consultancy ThinkJar (and a former Gartner analyst), says a MarketScope—a less-rigorous format Gartner applies to less-mature markets—would have been more useful here. “Then they wouldn’t put 19 vendors [on a Magic Quadrant] and attempt to score them all equally,” he says. “I’ve always questioned the validity of Magic Quadrants as a determinant in who is a market leader and who is not.” 

There’s also, Kolsky laments, a mindset in the technology field that a marketplace can’t possibly be considered “well established” until Gartner does a Quadrant. And yet Gartner hadn’t released one specifically on social CRM until now, despite exploding market demand. Kolsky says the Gartner CRM Summit in 2009 hardly addressed the concept of social CRM, and yet this spring’s Gartner Customer 360 event—just a few months later—devoted several keynotes to social CRM. “When Gartner enters a market, it’s full force—you have to give them that,” Kolsky adds.

Still, Kolsky takes issue with Gartner’s new three-part segmentation, adding that the SCRM report in particular should have paid more attention to two specific items: “Social analytics and integration are the keys in how to get value out of social CRM,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s just silos.”

“Silos” may be a buzzword, but one that raises an interesting point: If unified social technology does serve a purpose—closing feedback loops, bridging relationships with customers, integrating data—why would Gartner’s new reports choose to section off processes and elements?

Nathan Rawlins, senior director of product marketing at Jive, says his company is proud of its placement as a Leader in all three of the new reports, but that the overall value of social CRM gets lost in strict segmentations. “It’s important for businesses to look beyond just the Social CRM Magic Quadrant and look at social business across…employees, your customers, and the broader social Web,” Rawlins says. “It just doesn’t work to do it in one area and not the others.” 

Some vendors, though, do excel in one area and not the others—so why not have a Magic Quadrant for every sliver? Umberto Milletti, cofounder and chief executive officer of sales enablement vendor InsideView—a company named a Niche Player in the SCRM report (and, incidentally, a Rising Star in the 2009 CRM Market Awards)—isn’t quite asking for that, but takes issue with the mixed bag of vendors. “While it’s understandable that the first Magic Quadrant [for Social CRM] includes vendors in different markets—B2C, B2B, support, communities, marketing, and sales—[the report] is attempting to compare apples and oranges on a uniform scale,” Milletti says. “We expect that soon Gartner will want to focus a Magic Quadrant on the usage of social CRM in B2B sales and marketing.”

Sarner shrugs off the critics, noting that social technology by itself—any social technology, no matter what report it’s included in—produces nothing social on its own. “Strategy before technology in this market is essential,” he says. 

Besides, not everyone is upset with Gartner’s new reports. “We are excited to be named as a Leader in the Quadrants,” says Katy Keim, the newly hired chief marketing officer at Lithium Technologies (another of CRM’s 2009 Rising Stars). “But even more important, we’re proud to be recognized for generating measurable [return on investment]. To me, that’s validation we’re delivering on our promise to our customers.” 

Not that these reports are at risk of disappearing. Keim notes that prospects continually describe good analyst reports as very influential to their decision-making processes.  

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