Lithium Floats a Social CRM Balloon

So you think you know what "social CRM" is?

CRM magazine recently devoted an entire issue to the topic — and Paul Greenberg, CRM columnist, founder of The 56 Group, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, and chairman of CRM's upcoming annual conference, recently declared that we've moved from the age of "CRM 2.0" to the era of "Social CRM" — but at least one vendor apparently believes there's room for another claim to be staked. 

Lithium Technologies, a provider of on-demand community solutions, today unveiled its latest offering, the Lithium Social CRM Suite. The suite comprises three products that the company claims will support a network of customer-advocates across the social Web by integrating customer conversations into social media channels and existing CRM business processes and systems. [Editors' Note: Lithium's press release can be found here; several multimedia resources are linked there.]

According to its own documentation, Lithium defines social CRM as "the strategy and applications that harness the power of online branded customer communities, broader social networks, and traditional CRM systems to turn customers into advocates for brands and ultimately become [those brands'] most-important competitive advantage." Lithium also believes that any worthwhile social CRM solution incorporates five essential characteristics:

  • a suite of customer community applications;
  • a profiling engine with reputation management;
  • workflow-based integrations with traditional CRM systems;
  • workflow-based integrations with social media applications (e.g., Twitter); and
  • actionable analytics for the measurement of business value.

"So many people are talking about 'social CRM,' " says Sanjay Dholakia, Lithium's chief marketing officer. "We thought it was important, for the market's benefit, to define it in a way that will allow people to be successful. We wanted to further the discussion in the industry."

These are the three additions to Lithium Social CRM's platform:

  • Tribal Knowledge Base — intended to help customers identify and aggregate the best content from online discussion forums to develop articles that can help other consumers. Dholakia says this component of the suite takes an approach to knowledge-base articles that's the inverse of conventional practice. Today's typical article, he argues, is like a new car driven off the dealer's lot — outdated soon after its debut, depreciating slowly but continually. "The content here," he contends, "will keep getting better because it's created and maintained by folks within the community and customer network."
  • CRM Connect — primed to bring community activity and social-Web behavior into more-traditional sales force automation and customer service systems -- echoing a similar type of functionality introduced not long ago by Lithium competitor Helpstream. Lithium currently offers what it calls "unique integrations" with RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com, but Dholakia insists that the integration capability extends beyond those two companies. "We've built this in [a] generalized-framework fashion," he says. "No fewer than 15 different CRM companies have contacted us about integration and partnering here. We started with RightNow because it was one of our first CRM partners and we already had a baseline integration in place there." The decision to partner with Salesforce.com, he says, "was based on customer demand and the fact that its community itself is powered by Lithium.... That just made it a low-friction opportunity to go there next."
  • Social Web Connect — promises to give companies the ability to set up search terms for -- and have visibility into -- real-time conversations happening on the Web. This component, Dholakia says, is more than your run-of-the-mill integration into the agent desktop. "We didn't want to get all of this data, create another channel, and bottleneck the agent," he says. "You can apply keyword filters at the node level to send particular terms to one area of the community, and another term to a different area. That way, you're not having an overload of discussions that feed into one place and may not be relevant."

Dholakia suggests that a pair of competitive differentiators will continue to push Lithium forward:

  • its reputation engine; and
  • the best practices Lithium has developed over the course of the last decade.

Ed Thompson, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, partially echoes that sentiment. Lithium's background, he says, traces back to the company's 1997 founding as Gamers.com -- and gives it an advantage over other software providers, which "are having a crack at [Lithium] and emulating what it's doing -- but [they're] struggling a bit."

The gaming aspect of Lithium's background, Thompson says, has driven the firm to develop more-stable offerings. "To be able to handle gaming," he says, "you have to have scalability."

Competitors' offerings, Thompson says -- such as Salesforce.com's Service Cloud and RightNow Technologies' May '09 release -- are starting to move in the same social direction as Lithium, but he believes that Lithium continues to position itself well. "The company is getting more money, cranking up its sales organization, and has plenty of new-customer wins," Thompson says. "Lithium is rebalancing away from developers to more salespeople, which is the classic trajectory of a good software company. This is an example of someone getting it right, and actually making money -- that's the biggest problem in social right now."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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