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The Disconnect Between How Vendors and Strategists Approach Social CRM

Posted by on June 18, 2010

After spending a lot of time speaking and interacting with vendors and strategists in the Social CRM space it became very clear to me that vendors and strategists (or consultants or analysts or whatever else you want to call them) are on a very different page when it comes to understanding and explaining what Social CRM is and/or does.  I think what we are seeing now (also in the E2.0 space) is a space which is being “pulled” by vendors so to speak.  I realize it’s not this cut and dry and that not all vendors fall into the “vendor” mindset and that not all strategists fall into the “strategist”  mindset.  Having said that let’s a take a look at where the disconnect might be between vendors and strategists.

The Vendors

I won’t mention any specific names but there are many vendors (and people who represent those vendors) who are touting Social CRM as a product or a technology solution while neglecting the strategic, change management, and cultural aspects that are also critical components.  We also have very different vendors with very different product offerings that are all calling themselves Social CRM solutions.  There are monitoring tools, community platforms, CRM tools, and others.  They all do something very different yet all call themselves Social CRM platforms; this can get a bit confusing from the client side when they are looking to implement a social CRM solution yet are trying to differentiate amongst the lot.  We are seeing many traditional CRM vendors who bolt-on social features into their existing legacy CRM platforms and offer that up as a “social CRM” solution.  Again, to capitalize and make money on a growing and hot space.  Now before coming down or saying anything bad about vendors we have to understand that they are in this space to make money and boy are many of them making a killing.  Many of these vendors also offer professional services but this usually comes in the form of community management which I equate to giving an adrenaline shot to a community when it slows down.  Sure it picks up the conversations for a while but it’s not a scalable solution.  There are only so many conversations, incentives, and promotions that your company can offer.  I prefer to take a long term view, is what you’re organization doing now going to work in the next 1, 3, or 5 years time?

I can’t really blame vendors because they are all businesses that are in the space to make money, plain and simple.  Many of them are getting away with selling temporary short terms solutions but this won’t last.  So is social CRM really a technology solution?  In my opinion absolutely not.  I heard a quote from a presentation once which said, “if you focus on tools then you are one,” and I couldn’t agree more.  There are countless examples of failed communities and CRM implementations (I’m sure folks like Mike Boysen can list many of these) that focused on the technology instead of the people.  I just came back from the Enterprise 2.0 conference and the greatest underlying theme from every session was that it’s not about the tools or the technologies, it’s about the people and strategy.  Focusing on anything else is in my opinion very short sited and quite frankly stupid.

Now having said that, I can sort of understand where some of the vendors are coming from.  The argument is that many strategists are focusing too much on hypothetical scenarios, concepts, ideas, and unproven or perhaps not tested methodologies.  I get the frustration here from the vendor standpoint but to be honest the space is still a bit new and strategists don’t have all the answers yet.  There is no blue print or template but folks like Jeremiah Owyang, Esteban Kolsky, Mitch Lieberman, and others are working very hard to try to push the conversations forward and they are doing a kick ass job.  But again, I see the issue and agree we need move past “conversations” and we will when the “market” is ready to really move forward (which we are starting to see).  We saw the same thing with the E2.0 space a few years ago where vendors were also focusing on technology as the ultimate solution and now at every E2.0 conference we see that technology is not the focus or any organization, strategy, culture, and change management is.  Technology is an enabler and a supporter.

The Strategists

Strategists in the social CRM space view technology as a secondary supporting element to culture, change management, process, people, and strategy.  The challenge here is that social CRM strategies are still early in the game and while companies are getting interested and getting started there aren’t really any case studies that look at full scale social CRM implementations from beginning to end.  I consider myself a strategist (and sometimes analyst) in the social CRM space and one of the things I get frustrated with the most is the assumption that you can select a technology, use it, and that all of a sudden all of your problems will be solved.  We see this over and over again within the E2.0 space as well.  Deploying a technology solution doesn’t mean that people are going to use it.  The same is true for anything social CRM related.  Any platform and technology solution you deploy won’t guarantee that you get a community or that you will build advocates or in any way improve your business performance or solve any type of business challenge you are faced with.  Time and time again we are seeing that strategy should always come before technology and never the other way around.

As I mentioned above I understand the frustration that some of the folks in the “vendor” camp are experiencing because strategists, while creating great content, ideas, and concepts – are still lacking in the hard case study and end to end implementation examples.  However I think if technology solutions continue to pull either the E2.0 or SCRM space that we are going to see a lot of disappointed clients who are not seeing the results they want or expect from their efforts.  Gartner predicted that 50% of companies that rush into social computing initiatives will fail during this year and reason for that is because of a lack of strategy and clearly defined objectives and value for both the customers and the organizations.  Strategists are looking at this from a long term point of view, something that can last and scale years down the road, not something that provides a temporary boost or increase in sales or performance.  Strategists don’t want a band-aid they want a solution.

In my opinion it’s crucial to have a long term strategic view of anything you do but it’s also important to understand the short term view and what needs to and can be done.  However, focusing solely on a technology solution will cause nothing but problems down the road.  If you’re going to invest the time, effort, and money into doing this then do it right or don’t do it all.  Go big or go home.  We are not talking about pilots or test projects, we are talking about the evolution of how businesses operate.  I presented to one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies a few days ago and asked them if they really see themselves operating the same way they are now in the next 1 or 3 years given the growth of social CRM and the social customer.  I’ll let you guess what the answer to that question was.

Chess Media Group is actually getting a good amount of interest from vendors to help them align themselves with strategists and consultants.  It’s important that the two work together on this.

What do you think?  Are you seeing a disconnect between how vendors and strategists are approaching Social CRM?

  • The problem that I often see is that Strategists are tied to a Solution; so, even before finishing the analysis phase of an engagement with a client they have already arrived at a technology solution that must be implemented.

    I don't think Strategists who are tied to a Vendor's Solution should call themselves Strategists.

    Strategists should be Solution agnostic. They should look at a Client's business problem they are trying to solve and propose, perhaps, 3 or 4 different Solutions that could help solve their problem (along with People and Process changes too, in addition to the Solution).

    Can Strategists who have a partnership with Vendor really call themselves Strategists?

    If a Strategist does have a partnership with a Vendor who sells a Solution, are they really nothing more than an extended Implementation Department for the Vendor?

    • Great point Ron. Although we have several technology and biz partners we do remain absolutely agnostic and work with clients on selecting things that make sense as opposed to just recommending vendors we know. This is definitely a problem we are seeing. I don't think there is anything wrong with have partners in the space as partners oftentimes co market/brand and co-promote things you work on. However, when it comes time to actually recommending a client solution then yes it's important to select a solution that makes the most amount of business sense which is the exact approach we take at CMG.

      Great points and thanks for the comment!

  • Jon_Ferrara

    Nice post Jacob! I agree 100% – Companies need to shift the way they see and interact with the outside world. The corporate walls need to be torn down and everyone in the company needs to be empowered to “Listen & Engage” the entire community that effects the way they do business. Most companies can do Social CRM today by cobbling existing tools together. They will get more out of changing their business practices and policies than by buying new technologies from existing Vendors who put “Lipstick on their Pigs”. I do believe a Social CRM solution might be simpler than we imagine as we all would love to be more Nimble…

    Keep up the great education work!



    • Well look who it be. Mr Jon, I believe this is your first comment here so welcome sir! I think we definitely agree since we've spoken about this many times, love how you throw “nimble” in there 🙂

      thx for the comment!

  • Fredant

    Good analysis! Just as a short note. I think it's all about balance. E2.0 and Social CRM are both enabled by the tools, and the tools are important, but the strategy is at least equally important. Then, founding that strategy on the business goals and implementing the whole thing so it integrates nicely into existing processes (of which you might have to change some), and finally making sure you pay attention to adoption cycle (don't want to call it process, sounds to static), nurture it, monitor it, and learn from it, so you make sure the people know how to use the tools and start being creative.

    • Absolutely, we have to have balance but that's the tricky part, understanding how collaborative to be or how open/etc. thx for the comment!

  • May I do a suggestion to all of us understanding that social media is changing, rather revolutionary, the way we do business. STOP talking about social CRM. CRM is considered by most people as a solution, and social media is not about CRM. Remember people look at the same situation differently. People not really understanding about Social Media will look at the situation Social CRM, hey we have CRM so we add Social to it. And our vendor has the solution. CRM is a solution/strategy to help sales, marketing and customer service work more efficiently. I compare social media impact often with Ford's introduction of the assembly lane. It was not the assembly lane which made the difference but the efficient way of working causing low prices making the car affordable for the large audience. And efficiency is and was all we did since then. Now there is a different ball game ahead of us. Social made is opening ways to work different with customers, to co create, to quicker and better understand their needs, new way of offerings and many more. But we need to do things different, totally, we have to share knowledge, show that our company is about people -really – caring and more than bricks and mortar. We need to work on real customer service, not limit the service to the “silo” customer service department. We do the opposite of behavior now. I hate the word putting the customers central (because it is often so abused) but if taking seriously it effects much more than the departments now responsible for sales, marketing en customer service. It is about an entirely difference in behavior of the company towards the customer relation and its relations. Not another extra channel within CRM giving marketing and sales new insights how to approach the customers in the same way. That is doing more of the same and expecting different results. So I think if we believe what social media may impact, drop social CRM as definition.

    • I think it's important to understand what scrm is and how it is different from sm and crm. I won't say too much more on this for now as we have a white paper we are going to start sharing soon which I hope will help clarify some things. thanks for the comment!