CRM Evolution is generally a discussion focused on how companies aim to create, retain and manage customers. In a perfect world, at events like CRM Evolution, the timing for vendors and buyers would always be perfect. Vendors would know when to arrive with their product just baked fresh and ready for delivery.

The practitioners would know exactly why they need it, where the technology fits best, and how to use it.

The speakers would come with clearly defined philosophies, and no one on panels would disagree on those terms. Sort of like how the judges on Fox’s competitive cooking show, Masterchef, never disagree on food.

But this is not the case.

We live in a world that innovates faster than the blink of an eye.

Conferences always aim to do the best they can to build an event that caters to the senior-level practitioners they hope to attract, the vendors who need to sell their technology and the rest of the community involved (press, analysts, etc).

CRM Evolution is the place you learn about what’s on the cutting edge of the industry. But for many of us, a lot of the content is yesterday’s news. We sit here studying it, writing about it, and debating it over Twitter.

But the people who are busy fielding customer inquiries all day are generally not sitting on Twitter. They are still trying to get funding for better call-center equipment.

Most companies just aren’t there yet. Many companies today are still trying to clean up their call centers or their bad data.

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There were many highlights of this event, but one was David Gergen, CNN Analyst, who focused his opening keynote speech from day one on the importance of leadership. While CRM work is quite tactical, it’s the people at the top steering the ship. Their decisionmaking affects many. Gergen talked about the importance of delegation, particularly with some of these new channels such as social CRM.

If most of our leaders have never set foot in the call center, why would we expect them to look for customers on Twitter and Facebook?

Most still see customer service as a cost center.

It is evident that we are still having the same conversations as we have had over the last few years. Companies today need to be taught how to restructure their management models before any of these tools will have widespread adoption. We aren’t quite talking about that. We are going to need to see the collapse of assembly-line management before we see a company successful in social CRM.


The culture and change management topics should preface the technology adoption questions. This is difficult because culture challenges are organization-specific. As Mitt Romney said last week in his address, “corporations are people.”

While that is a little tongue-in-cheek, every organization is made up of people, and while culture challenges are shared by many organizations -- all are unique to a specific culture.

Thoughts on Session Styles

I also will objectively say I hope we eventually move away from the PowerPoint presentation style. The conversations we are having (hopefully more focusing on management issues for the next event) call for dressing down.

As I sat through the SAP luncheon on the first day, I looked around the room to wonder how many people were excited to swallow a PowerPoint presentation along with their lunch.

No matter what event I attend, I am struck by our inability to remember that the audience doesn’t just want to be talked at -- they want to be engaged. They want to be inspired out of their seats with powerful stories.

I don’t think this is a generational thing -- this is a human thing. As someone who used to produce events, I hope one day we break out of old-school thinking about conference formats.

Additionally, it would be interesting next year to have a track with only practitioners. Practitioners generally want to hear from other practitioners. If we want to progress in customer engagement strategy, we need to talk -- as an industry -- about what works and what doesn’t work. Companies are going to have to swallow their nervousness about over-sharing.

A highlight for many of us at the event is the conference happening online in concert with the live conference. A lot of the conversations and reporting that goes on during the event can be found on the event’s Twitter hashtag #CRMe11. This is the place where ideas are embraced, dismissed and debated. This is the ultimate conference watercooler where thoughts are validated, endorsed and spread to other communities. This is also the place where people who aren’t in attendance attempt to join the conversation (for better or worse) and act as if they are indeed present.

The Social State of the Industry

Because there is just far too much content to write a pristine overview of all that was said, here is a rundown of what I’ve been hearing (and what I think matters).

  • We are still way ahead of the market (we as in vendors). We don’t agree on what defines #sCRM. Nor do we have more than two or three cases to define what #sCRM looks like. Additionally none of us agree on these case studies.
  • Vendors are still defining the products. No one offers a perfect social CRM offering. Except perhaps P&G (but they didn’t speak at the event).

Vendors -- and the theorists who support them -- do have a hand in defining this stuff for the rest of us. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

But I do think there’s a practitioner disconnect. Meaning, practitioners should be more involved in these conversations. Practitioners’ presence at conferences and in online conversations about social CRM are like vegetables. One can never eat enough vegetables.

On Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet blog on the Gartner Social CRM Magic Quadrant, he comments on the mercurial nature of a few of these “social CRM” vendors.

Lithium and Jive…are very powerful in a B2C or B2B environment respectively, but they still don’t incorporate the backend operational capabilities that are critical to a Social CRM application, though they increasingly incorporate the analytics. There is a reason that Lithium calls itself a Social Customer Suite and no longer a Social CRM suite.”

Neither of these companies had a booth at the event, but both are major players in the space of social technologies. I think they are also important players in this conversation about social CRM. Notable vendors with a social application that did have a presence at CRM Evolution included Sword Ciboodle, MZinga and Attensity.

Final Thoughts

Let’s just agree that we don’t have all the answers at this point -- and stop pretending that we do. We -- as the industry pundits -- are enjoying flushing it out, because we like to.

But let’s also agree that social technology is not for every company, and as Art Hall, Director of Customer Solutions at Alvarez & Marsal, said in his talk at CRM Evolution, we need to work with what we have.

We need to clean up our shops -- in particular, our data. We need to look at our cultures. Only later can we shop for technology that might make sense for our particular business.


So in conclusion, at conferences we do our best to put easy-to-digest and understand content together for attendees, in addition to engaging vendors that are relevant to those in attendance at the event; however, the events are rarely ever as Utopian as we’d like them to be. But just as Woody Allen said, most of success is just showing up. Participating in these forums, even if we are a little awkward in our conversations, our timing and our relevance, is still rewarding.

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