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When Implementing Social CRM, Walk Before You Run

By Chris Bucholtz

For Sustained Success, Implement Social CRM on a Sound CRM Foundation

Executives can learn quickly about CRM software from CRM reviews, best practic

es and case studies. But getting your head around social CRM is a challenge. We all know how incredibly useful social CRM is today for those who have figured out how to use it, and it will continue to grow in usefulness as new methods are developed and existing Customer Relationship Management software products further leverage social channels. Social CRM pioneers will continue to adapt and innovate to use social media better and differently from the pack and thus find greater value and competitive advantage. These innovators exist today, and they'll continue to proliferate in the future, most likely leading to be recognized as social CRM "all stars," and likely consisting of either consultants or employees, who end up as highly in-demand pros that companies will woo to give their CRM efforts a boost of imagination and effectiveness.

For all organizations, however, this social CRM revolution is going to come only after the basics of merging customer strategy, processes and software technology have been mastered. Much of the business world still does not have a fundamentally sound CRM 1.0 foundation in place, and many more who do are struggling with the pitfalls that have plagued the discipline for the past decade. Social CRM is a continuation of the customer focused journey; CRM 1.0 is the pre-requisite.

Since social media is an increasingly pervasive technology, I suspect that many business leaders who need to grasp the criticality of CRM may be more familiar with the components of social CRM than they are with the basics of Customer Relationship Management strategy and processes. We're going to see many organizations try to run with Social CRM before they walk, with often unpleasant results. If you're a business leader in your organization and you're trying to get a handle on the scope of traditional CRM and social CRM, be careful of the conclusions you draw from any missteps. Anecdotally, they can suggest that business - especially small and medium-sized business – cannot handle CRM in its new, more social incarnation. That's not true. Rather, you need to first walk before you run.

To begin you have to understand how to collect and organize customer data – for sales, for marketing, for service, and for creating customer loyalty through all three branches – and as a leader, you have to understand that in the context of your organization's business processes. That's job one, but it's only part of the job. The next important thing is to make sure your people understand the value of contributing to this effort, and that your IT staff understand their value in the process. You're talking about a business-transforming process, but such a process shouldn't be sold as one big idea – it's better to break it down into specific components for the constituents who will make it work and who will reap the rewards when it does.

Note that there was nothing in there about buying software technology. The incremental steps of CRM progress should not be based around technology; CRM's not an IT buy. I know that many businesses would love to buy some software, get everyone trained and have the technology solve the business problems. It doesn't work that way, because CRM is a discipline, not a technology. The technology helps you master, automate and continuously improve that discipline. Once you have the right people in your business aligned around the discipline and strategy of CRM, then you can start evaluating technologies, select a CRM software solution and implement it.

Once the big picture foundation is in place, then you can start folding in aspects of social media to your sales, marketing and service operations. My guess is that the more forward thinking people in each of those areas will already have some great ideas about what tools and channels to consider. Tap into those ideas – this is a social effort, after all, and sales, marketing and service are all closer to customers than other parts of the organization. But all of this has to be built on a CRM foundation in order to have organization-wide and sustained impact. Ad hoc solutions that result in non-repeatable successes are nice, but they don't have the same sort of resonance as ideas built into that underlying CRM foundation that the entire company can then employ.

This is not a weakness on social CRM – it will be what defines truly effective customer-centric organizations in the next decade. But you can't have social CRM without CRM – and if you don't have CRM yet, this is the time to start building your foundation.

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