My Thoughts On The Gartner Customer 360 Summit

July 2, 2010
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conference roundtable 

conference roundtable 

I got to attend Gartner Customer 360 Summit this week, which quite honestly impressed me. This is a rare occasion for someone as jaded with conferences as I am. Most conferences I go to typically offer an amazing networking opportunity, but the alarming trend is that quality of content is at a steady decline. There are many reasons for this (or at least as how I see it), but that’s a topic for a whole different blogpost altogether. The Gartner conference registered in the top percentile of content + networking for me. The two reasons for that are below: high caliber of attendees and a proper blend of social and business.

High Caliber Of Attendees

Regardless of how good or bad the content is, the thing that makes all conferences worth going to is the networking. Social media and tech conferences offer a tremendous opportunity to bring the offline and the online elements under one roof. Two things happen to me at conferences: I meet people in the flesh with whom I’ve had a social media relationship, and it’s magic every time, because instead of exchanging empty niceties, you can jump straight to substantial conversation because you have a strong base already. The second thing that happens is that I meet people I’ve never met before, and use social media to amplify the relationship and “keep it warm” until we meet again. Gartner was no different. I got to meet many members of the accidental Social CRM community, whose work I read and respect, and with whom I have started to build a social media relationship. As far the caliber of the people I met for the first time or after a social media relationship, this conference can run with the best of them. It wouldn’t be right to not give a shoutout (but not too big – I don’t want to come across as a complete and total fangirl 🙂 to Paul Greenberg. I am totally kidding, by the way — Paul deserves every bit of fandom he gets because he is a force to be reckoned with and a key thinker and doer. But I digress… Because we had read each others’ stuff, we had an immediate point of connection, and my professional admiration is even more deepened after witnessing the smarts in real life, adorned with the warmest and most humble personality for such a key person in the community.

The Perfect Blend of Social and Business

Many conferences are too focused on the enterprise technologies, while some are focused on social media. This conference was just right. It’s truly difficult to blend enterprise and social content, and what I mean by “blend” is not 50% of one and 50% of the other, but a truly blended discussion. In each (or at least most) sessions, the discussion needs to focus on social living inside the organization, and not as a silo, but rather integrated into the fabric and culture. Truly social enterprise technologies are still in their nascency; bolting on a couple of social features to an existing product does not make it social business or social CRM. As I’ve written about before, social media is not a channel, it’s not just a thing you measure, it has truly upended the way we work and communicate with each other.

I think Gartner came closest to positioning social as part of the complexities within the enterprise. Pure play social media conferences are great for discovering new tech and thought leadership around social media as a communication revolution. The focus of social media conferences, although it’s starting to become more business-oriented is primarily on the point of passion and the premise of social media’s ability to change the fabric of our society. I am not saying that there’s no place at social media and web 2.0 conferences for business discussion, but there’s still a large disconnect between adopting social media as a brand elevation or a customer service channel and creating another silo out of it, vs. fully integrating it into the fabric of the enterprise. This is because it’s not easy — and the larger the organization is, the harder it gets — and most people, myself included, are still trying to figure it out. We will be at it for a while; it’s going to take time. You are breaking down silos, changing culture and paths of internal influence and inviting large “ships” to turn (which we know how that goes). So it follows, in my opinion, it’s easier for smaller businesses to become social businesses, because although they are typically strapped for resource, they don’t have 50 moving parts and communications are much less complex.

On the other side of the spectrum, traditional enterprise conferences (and these I haven’t been to too many of, but I got a glimpse during Enterprise 2.0 most recently) do not yet understand social and haven’t placed it front and center (or at least as much as it should be). People don’t understand it fully, which is reasonable at this point — we learn every day. Whereas there has been some focus on company’s response to the social customer, it feels defensive and reactive vs. truly visionary and proactive. Even at Gartner, many companies came up to us at our booth, confessing that they either don’t do anything social, or have no idea how to measure it, or are completely freaked out by it. One thing that everyone had in common was that they knew instinctively that rules of the game have changed, and they needed to change as well.

Social CRM is Still Largely Misunderstood

Ah, my favorite topic. Social CRM is both shrouded in mystery and exposed a shiny new object. It’s at the receiving end of a debate over terms and definitions. But its intent is very simple – to serve and work with the social customer. It’s been overcomplicated to the point where we, industry pundits, no longer understand it. A great way to simplify it is to talk to someone who gets it, like Paul Greenberg or Mitch Lieberman. What it boils down to: we are different because of social media, things have changed, businesses must change, starting with culture, following with process, and then followed by tech. You have to be willing to change first, and that’s the hardest part.

I think we overcomplicate it because there’s quite a bit of lack of understanding, and no best practices have emerged. There are a lot of companies who offer social CRM, but who do very different things. This is not surprising for two different reasons: because the best practices are still largely unsettled, and, most importantly, different organizations have to work through very different problems in order to collaborate with their customers. Their customers may be different and (implicitly and explicitly) asking for different things, and their organizations may be set up in very different ways. For example, a B2C company will create very different communities and platforms to collaborate with its customers, than would a B2B. They would be listening and engaging with different volumes and kinds of social media messages, across different platforms. And a company organized around products (as is the case with traditional CPGs) would need very different internal collaboration than a company organized around one product. So as you see… diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks! And although I appreciate Gartner’s attempt to organize and evaluate the new and confusing and increasingly competitive space with its Magic Quadrant, I think we must be careful to not engage in a discussion about tools, but rather individualized solutions. Kudos to the Gartner guys for putting this together, but each company adopting a SCRM process, must first sit down and understand its own business problem.

Here’s what I say: “SCRM is in the eye of the beholder”. The ultimate test is: does it translate into value for the customer? Does it solve a problem? I can guarantee you that no customer is going to come to you and say “Hi, I need a SCRM solution”, just like few are asking for CRM.

Social business tools are still largely unsettled, and acquisitions and partnerships will continue booming (which has obviously started already), as certain tools become commoditized and wrapped into more complete solutions. When demoing Attensity360 at the Gartner conference, we are demoing to potential partners almost as much as we demoed to potential clients. For us it’s about helping our customers create value with their customers! Now let’s go do it!

Photo credit: jonas_k

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