• September 1, 2011
  • By R "Ray" Wang, founder, chairman, and principal analyst, Constellation Research

The Evolution of Social CRM

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Recent interviews with more than 100 early adopters of social business practices (i.e., social CRM, Enterprise 2.0, and social media marketing) revealed the five phases of maturity. Let’s trace these stages chronologically with the following descriptions:

1. Discovery. A few individuals begin the process of finding new tools. They try to identify consumer technology innovations that influence enterprise business processes. Leaders must discern the hype from the reality and then generate support from executives.
2. Experimentation. Small teams try out new tools. They fail fast on experiments, learn, and then move on. Leaders must foster internal collaboration and begin the process of vendor selection.
3. Evangelization. Small department leaders seek repeatable processes and commence test pilots of technology. Momentum builds for projects, as leaders incorporate social components into business models and track meaningful business metrics.
4. Formalization. Successful evangelization leads to enterprise-wide acceptance. Processes become repeatable and predictable, and leaders scale to match demand and ensure long term-funding.
5. Realization. With a successful project at hand, the enterprise seeks to expand usage to ecosystem stakeholders, so suppliers, partners, and customers are brought into the fold. Leaders anticipate convergence and develop social business governance plans.

Transition from Discovery to Experimentation
Line-of-business executives, CMOs, CIOs, social strategists, and COOs shift from discovery to experimentation. As most projects enter a pilot stage, 63.1 percent of respondents said they focus on identifying meaningful metrics and 55.3 percent of them struggle to incorporate social into existing business models. Many organizations have engaged in multiple pilots with a midterm goal of selecting the right tools.

Focus on Non-Technical Aspects
The train has left. Organizations must put together a social CRM strategy that meets their business objectives, matches their organizational culture, and provides the right level of technological support. Expect reference architectures for social business to emerge that incorporate design thinking, innovative user experience models, business APIs, and a deeper vertical focus. Not all organizations can and will adopt social business. But leaders can start by taking the following steps:

• Begin with the end in mind. Start with metrics that matter and agree on what to measure in current and future states.
 Align with existing CRM processes. Take the metrics and map back to business processes. Identify where social CRM processes meet traditional CRM.
 Plan for change management. Map out where processes tie back to individuals and departments, and determine how to connect individuals to processes and break down functional fiefdoms.
• Build the future state. Focus design on customer experience business cases, and identify opportunities to ensure agility and flexibility.

The Bottom Line
Leaders have an opportunity to adopt critical success factors when it comes to social CRM projects. Those that succeed will leapfrog their competition with a disruptive technology and business model for 2011 and beyond. Start with the five rules of social CRM:

• Trust is the new social currency; it drives influence, engagement, and relationships. But people and organizations must earn trust through their actions in relationships. Trust can be used to gain influence, create engagement, and foster relationships. It also can be taken away by a lack of credibility, bad behavior, and dishonesty.

• Social is a cultural shift, not a fad. The growing preference for engagement through social channels drives new relationship models. Social has moved beyond the tipping point. How does social evolve and permeate our lives? Expect a smaller but strident anti-social movement to counter this current trend. Nevertheless, social is here to stay and is one of the five forces of consumer technology entering the enterprise.

• Building community is the goal. People and organizations seek a sense of belonging, and communities form around personal ecosystems that transcend geographies, time, and individual status. Communities provide the force multipliers to amplify messages through advocates and detractors. To succeed, communities require curating and nurturing. Once your community is in place, organizations and individuals must earn trust to create social currency.

• Peer-to-peer (P2P) is today’s reality, and B2B and B2C are dead. Social business is conducted through P2P relationships. Attempts to pigeonhole individuals into forced-fit, artificial market segmentations fail because each individual brings multiple roles to the community. Each role brings a new perspective and a set of expectations when it comes to customer experience.

• Social business is just good business. While the moniker “social” eventually will disappear, business has always been social. Breakthroughs in technology and cultural adoption drive the social business phenomenon. However, business cannot be conducted without relationships, so social business will be all the rage.

R “Ray” Wang is a principal analyst and the CEO at Constellation Research Group and the author of the enterprise software blog, “A Software Insider’s Point of View,” which centers on how disruptive technologies and new business models impact the enterprise. Ray blogs at Forbes CIO Central and for Harvard Business Review.

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