Evolving Social CRM to Become CRM—Again

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If you've ever watched The West Wing (all seven seasons, all 154 episodes available through Amazon Prime—yeah, don't thank me yet—it is a rabbit hole with no end), you surely recognize the phrase "What's next?" In one of the early episodes, President Josiah Bartlet explains to his staff that there is a time for debate and a time for action. He is all about the debate and listening to different ideas and opinions, but when the time has come to act, he utters just one phrase—"What's next?"

This phrase becomes iconic within the entire series and is used at several points to signify a change in plot and/or direction. It is a useful phrase in the context it is being used, if you consider how hard it is to change plots in a television series.

I want to borrow that phrase (and the concept) to apply to the CRM market today.

These past few years, we have been debating about the concept of social CRM, the nascent (second-time) term of mobile CRM, and where the market is headed. I wrote about this in my last column, asking if there was a future for social CRM (if you don't want to read it, the answer is no—but it is more complex than a simple no and you should read why). I actually have been saying this from almost the beginning; there is no need to differentiate social CRM from traditional CRM—it is just one more extension of CRM functionality.

As 2013 got underway, my conversations shifted from definitional and what-if debates to what-now debates. More business stakeholders and IT people were coming together under the banner of what to do and where to place social CRM in the enterprise, and the answers were just beginning to form. It was no longer a question of "Should we?" as much as it was a question of "How do we?"

This is the perfect point in time to have the conversation about the next steps. Let me suggest four critical steps to take as you move your CRM implementation to the next generation.

1. Remember that each channel is good for one thing and one thing only. Using a channel with limitations on content (for example, Twitter) for customer service will never work. Never. Neither will exposing private information in a public network. Use channels for the right purposes, not to replace what works well.

2. Strategy rules the day. Bring the pilot and skunkworks projects back to the drawing board and figure out what to do. You've already figured out how everything works, what it has, and what it needs. Put two and two together and craft a strategy for that four.

3. Metrics, metrics, metrics. Are they really all that different? Do we really need to measure how many people followed us on Twitter? Or should we instead track how many of those became customers? The value of a follower is a big nothing until he or she becomes a customer and spends money. That has not changed.

4. Embrace the change, realize the gains, and leverage the benefits for further growth. Social CRM is another iteration of CRM. Remember when you started and everyone told you there would be several iterations and each one would feed on the previous ones? Turns out we were right for once.

Now, if you have been around CRM for a while (say, about 15 to 20 years, like me, depending on how you count those years and how you define CRM), you probably recognize the above steps as similar to the ones we deduced back when we were getting started with analytical CRM, multichannel CRM, or any of the other many incantations of CRM of years past.

You should.

You see, what's next is not something different at all. What's next is another evolution of CRM that will bring validated and specific value to your organization, to your clients, and—why not?—your career.

Go build what's next.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner, and has assisted Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments.

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