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Here at SugarCon in San Francisco, there are four watchwords I’m hearing from the speakers repeatedly: Social, Mobile, Open and Big Data. If you take out the middle two -- which are unique strengths of the hosts of the event, SugarCRM -- you get two trends in CRM that are inextricably linked.

Social’s been a trend for a long time. But to far too many people, that trend involves scraping data from social media into customer records in CRM. That’s Social CRM (SCRM) on training wheels. That’s a failure of imagination around the potential of SCRM. It assumes that social media is simply another source of data without acknowledging it’s also a tremendous opportunity to engage in conversation with customers.

What’s holding people back from engaging in these conversations? In too many cases, it’s an inability to grasp what social actually means.

It does not mean a new broadcast channel for outbound communication; that’s the sort of omnidirectional communication that dominated marketing over the last 50 years.

That era has come to an end, but there are many who are in charge of their social CRM efforts who still act as if they live in the era of Don Draper and Pete Campbell. Sorry, folks: we live in an era where customers have an ability even greater than your own to control the conversation.

One of the terrifying things -- especially for small businesses -- is that the number of conversations may well outstrip the number of human assets you have devoted to engaging with customers.

How you commit those assets is critical, especially if you’re a small or medium-sized business; the opportunities to engage may be so numerous you can’t leap into every conversation. At some point you’re going to need to prioritize those conversations so the ones you do opt to engage in are the ones most critical to your business.

Enter Big Data

That’s where big data comes in. The sheer volume of conversations taking place in social media makes it very difficult to understand where all of the pertinent conversations are happening.

Discovering them becomes a data analysis problem -- a problem of sorting through enormous volumes of conversation in search of those that reference your business, or your competitor’s business, in order for you to engage effectively. That’s a classic big data issue.

So, what does that mean for the next generation of CRM? In order to achieve a genuine CRM solution -- not one that simply scrapes social media data into CRM records, but one that also helps businesses engage effectively in conversations that are important -- big data is going to be a crucial component.

Sifting Through the Data

The next generation of CRM is also going to need the ability to distill these conversations based on the topics or sentiments that are most critical to the business at any given time. Filtering and sentiment monitoring will be critical to this process. Then, it’ll be vital to apply some kind of algorithmic ranking to the results to prioritize conversations so that the most important can be responded to first.

That will require a way for the business to enter the kinds of messages it considers most important to respond to -- whether it’s issues pertaining to customer retention like customer service or product co-creation, or issues of lead generation, like dissatisfaction with competitor’s products or services.

Sifting through this data and filtering it against this criteria is a challenge, and one no CRM vendor has yet risen to, but in order to truly be social this is where we’ll eventually have to go.

That will require a dramatic re-imagining of what CRM is supposed to include -- which means it may remain in the offing for some time.

The reality right now is that most businesses don’t see SCRM this way; most are still marooned on the simplified idea that social is simply a way to broadcast the messages you control more efficiently. In reality, social is just that: an interchange of ideas, with as much give as take.

Just as CRM is a way of scaling up the one-to-one relationships businesses have with their customers, SCRM must evolve into a way of scaling up the one-to-one-to-many conversations that characterize social media. Any solution that ignores that is not a true Social CRM solution.

Title image courtesy of Gunnar Assmy (Shutterstock).

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