The Disconnect Between How Vendors and Strategists Approach Social CRM

June 18, 2010
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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,

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?

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