Round and Round

So, I admit it.  I’m a product of the MTV age.  How many hair bands did we have to see before they all blurred into one big Ratt’s nest of mousse, gel, spandex and eyeliner?

Being of that age (not sure what official generation I fall into), I’ve been through what I’ll define for argument’s sake here as four major cycles in which companies have been attempting to get closer to their customers:

  1. SFA
  2. CRM
  3. eCommerce
  4. Social CRM

(Feel free to thrash those categories.  But, that’s not really the point)

Here’s my point.  Haven’t we seen this social crm thing all before?  I think we have.  And, its not a bad thing.  In fact, the place where I think we’ve gotten derailed at each one of these stages above is where we’ve tried to take the same goal, the same strategic objective, and call it something different.

Bob Thompson nailed it the other day in a comment to me on CustomerThink where he declared that social CRM is not a strategy.  And, he’s absolutely right.  It’s not a corporate strategy.  As Bob noted, social CRM strategy is, at best, an implementation strategy of technology or business process; a “how to”, not a “what to and why”.

Each time over the past 20 plus years that we’ve relabeled the same objective, we’ve created opportunity, no doubt.  Opportunity for whole new industries of consultants.  But what’s the common theme throughout?  What is the actual strategic imperative that all of these initiatives have been striving to accomplish?  Create a more customer-centric business.  Focus on the customer.  Improve financial returns by putting the customer at the center of all the company does.

So, how is that different today than it was 20 years ago?  What goes around comes around.


  1. Hi Barry,

    You know, you're right, you're wrong, does it matter?

    I don't care how people call it, or define it. Mostly because all definitions of Social CRM, after Paul Greenberg's stake-in-the-ground did not really add anything new.

    Paul, did not name it Social CRM. He just called it a day with the discussions on how to name it. The essence of his post is not the name, it's what "it" is about..

    You can read it here (if you did not already, do read items 1 to 18.. that's where the good stuff is):

    Just for the record: it something completely new, not something we have been doing 20 years ago..

    The Customer has changed dramatically, and so have the tools Customers create, share and communicate with.. And business has changed dramatically, from local to global, from Company – Customer relationship to multi-sided markets, from single provider to multi-partner solutions.. etc etc

    Yes, this requires a Customer centric focus, or even a stakeholder centric one, like you always should have.

    But there is more, much more, you should take into consideration if you want a prospering, sustainable business that successfully caters for the needs of Customers and other stakeholders, that grew up in a world that has a significantly different "20 years ago" than you and I did..
    Thx for allowing me to vent.. I highly value your thinking, insights and contributions to the discussions.. You just happened to be the first one around that provided me with a window of opportunity to say, what I think needed to be said.. I may even turn it into a blog-post later this week..

    Let me know what you think?

    Thx again :)


  2. Thanks Wim for taking the time to articulate such a specific response. I must admit, part of my objective in this post was to elicit such a response (at least I was hoping for some sort of reaction). But not entirely to be provocative, I do believe the goal/objective has always been the same.

    We've strategic execution, our tactics our approaches to achieve the goal. But the goal has not changes.

    I'll borrow from Wikipedia for a moment. A strategy is "a plan of action to achieve a particular goal". In a military application (and this is probably most close to how I'm approaching this issue. And I'm assuming how Bob Thompson was defining corporate strategy), strategy is separate from tactics. The first is the "what" or the plan. The second is the execution of the plan. So, in this context, scrm in my mind is a set of tactics. The strategy answers the question "do we even want to model our business in this way and why". So, scrm can have a plan for execution and a set of tactics, as loosely defined, that plan would be technically a strategy. But, it is not a corporate, board-level strategy.

    So, here's my point. While we all want the C executive to embrace scrm, don't spin a lot of cycles you don't get his/her ear. S/he has a strategy. Potentially, s/he is going to view scrm as an execution vehicle to accomplish that strategy and drive those decisions elsewhere.

    Perhaps this is why the age-old consulting model revolves around the three P's (people, process and technology), not "S and the Three P's).

    Tell me if you think I'm putting too fine a point on it, being too granular.

    Last, thank you for your kind words in your last paragraph. I'm always looking to challenge conventional thinking. That's the way we grow. I'm glad I gave you that window. Hope to see that blog post soon.


  3. Hey Wim, This thought just came to mind. If you remember at the SCRM Summit in Washington. When we did our case study, we were asked to develop a strategy to attack the issue. Did you happen to notice that we all jumped right to execution and tactics? The teams developed tactical plans before even answering the question "does going after this market make sense" Thought that was interesting.

    Not to contradict myself, I did write a post the other day about not getting bogged down in strategy either, which I still believe is true. It's important to distinguish but also important not to hide away in the ivory tower and pontificate a strategy while the market passes you by.

  4. I'm on vacation in the Mediterranean but can't resist this post. Sigh. I stand by my original definition of SCRM which does define it as a strategy. Its simple. A strategy for customer engagement that encompasses the use of processes, technology etc. which involve implementation. But they are for the most part supportive. The reality is that its a customer engagement strategy that defines a program to deal with a social customer – one who DIDN'T exist a few years ago. What he/she demands changed, how he/she communicate changed, and who they trust changed. That means that businesses have to think about customers differently – not just with different tactics but with a program for the engagement of that customer. Honestly, I don't think I would have wasted my time with an 800 page 4th edition of CRM at the Speed of Light if I didn't think that new strategies and programs were needed for how to engage that customer. Really. I swear. :-). Now back to Barcelona. Wim is completely right – about what he's saying and what he told me about Barcelona too. :-)

  5. Hi Barry

    As I commented on someone else's blog post recently, the confusion about what SocCRM really is is an artefact of the rapid growth phase that SocCRM currently finds itself in. A phase characterised by hype, hyperbole and a high degree of wishful thinking.

    There is also much unadulterated rubbish written about SocCRM too: Such as Paul's suggestion in the previous comment that social customers didn't exist a few years ago. Sure online social networks are now pretty ubiquitous and are migrating to the mobile internet, but the number of real friends we have hasn't really changed over the past few years. As research suggests, almost 95% of our communications are still face-to-face, with friends, family and other acquiantances. Real social networks for the vast majority of people are built around people we know, not ephemeral 'friends' on myspace, facebook or twitter. In spite of the growth of online social networks, the evolutionary pathway we have taken over the past 100,000 years still drives who influences us, how they influence us and when they influence us. The trouble with the SocCRMers out there drowning in all the hype is that they have forgotten that normal people are not like them.

    I would be willing to make a small wager that if you would take two identical companies and give one to Paul to be run on SocCRM lines and one to me to be run on traditional CRM lines, that the one I run would outperform Paul's on every meaningful measure.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator

  6. Paul,

    Responding from a beach-side bar with cold drink in hand, I hope,

    I'm good with your definition as well. I've pronounced it, at least the short version, where ever I have the chance.

    So, maybe my point requires clarification. I'm not actually talking about the definition of SCRM (I agree the definition is not worthy of further energy at this point), but what it is as relates to a corporate business function.

    When I think of a corporate strategy, I picture my trusty strategy map. A strategy map is your long term guide. And behind each one of those elements of the map (financial, customer, internal & growth) are metrics. Those are the metrics that should be guiding C level decision making under the customer bucket: customer focus, create better customer relationships…whatever…that map looks not much different to me in a customer-centric business than it did 20 years ago. If you took a look at that strategy map of world class customer centric companies that have spanned this time horizon, I guessing there maps are not much different. The execution, how to get there, is certainly different and that's my point.

    I'm not suggesting that the same (often time, failed) approaches of twenty years ago are still valid. I'm suggesting that the same strategy has been in place. The tactical execution and methods for accomplishing that strategy have certainly evolved, mainly because of the proliferation of social technologies and the ready access to information now possessed by the consumer.

    While Graham stated it well, I'll reiterate. That the social customer is not a new phenomenon. Customers, people in general, have been talking about and recommending or flogging products, services and companies to their friends since…well forever. WOM now just happens in a more public forum among a greater number of "friends". This empowerment, in fact, has created a bit of a customer pathology in response, most likely, to long term fatigue from customer service dysfunction. To your definition, perhaps customers now have control over the conversation. But, they've always had control over the "relationship". As long as that dollar is in my wallet, I've always had the control over whom I hand it over to.

    Thanks for the comment.


  7. Graham,
    If you stick to the basic premise of CRM, with the right strategic objectives, I'll take that bet.

    Interesting side bar, I was in a room full of service executives last week. And to a person, those in BtoB businesses saw little impact of leveraging emerging social "things" to build better relationships with their customers. Their customers just aren't on these platforms. Are their customers social? Hell yes! They are talking at industry conferences, in trade journals (gasp!) and at local networking events. Are these companies engaging them in dialog through these channels? Yes.

    Are any of them on Facebook? Nope.

    Just the way Nordstrom gained a reputation for customer service 20 years ago by listening to customers, engaging in a dialog to understand needs, wants and desires, they're doing the same thing today and are a customer service star. Has their channel mix changed? Sure. But the strategy has remained the same.

    Thanks Graham for your insightful comments.


  8. Gentlemen,

    This is a debate over terms.

    If we can step away from terms for a moment, perhaps we can look at some facts.

    (1) Motivations of customers haven't changed.

    We all still want what we want, when we need it. What has changed is that we are more demanding and generally expect more than we did before. This is a byproduct of choice.

    (2) Behaviors of customers have changed.

    Customers used to have a narrow set of information sources to determine if a product or service provider could meet their needs. They now have a near unlimited amount of information to listen and sift through. Companies must recognize this and seek to be where they are looking and respond in a way that is favorable and/or preferred by the customer.

    (3) Advances in technology have opened the path for changes in strategy AND tactics.

    Some companies have been built around the customer for a long time. The rapid growth of social technology has allowed those companies to simply extend their strategy by layering in additional tools and/or tactics in additional channels.

    For other organizations, the disruptive nature of what is happening is awakening them to the opportunity and necessity to define a new core fundamental business strategy.

    The important thing to consider for organizations and those of us who advise them is to identify the core needs of their marketplace, where they are is relation to meeting those needs, and identifying opportunities to exploit inefficiencies and maximize opportunity both for the organization and for participants in their extended ecosystem.

    In my mind, this is not an either or. These opportunities might be seized strategically and/or tactically, depending upon what the marketplace opportunities are, and how aligned the corporate strategy is with serving the needs of the marketplace.

    Let's stop going round and round, and let's move forward, shall we?

  9. Brian,
    I'm all for that (until I find another topic where I can weave a bad 80's song or pun into a blog post). If the objective is the same and we all move ourselves (and clients) in the same direction, then everybody wins. There's no one-size-fits-all answer as to how to get there. thanks so much for the comment.

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