When businesses talk about Social CRM, those discussions often devolve to a discussion of technology -- which is completely understandable. There’s no one turn-key Social CRM application out there, so a truly complete Social CRM solution is going to involve several technology components -- CRM, social measurement and monitoring tools, sales enablement applications and the integration needed to make them all work together.

But if there’s one common hazard that lays CRM efforts low, it’s the inclination to view it as an IT issue. Selecting the right tools is not an IT effort -- at least not initially. It needs to be based around business needs first, with the IT department acting as a partner to ensure that the solutions that meet the business needs satisfy the technology, financial and compliance needs of the business as well as possible.

From there, however, CRM lives and dies on the behavior of the people who use it. If there’s executive support for it, if it’s evangelized internally, if the reasons for its use are effectively explained, and if the early wins scored through its use are broadcast through the entire organization to help encourage future wins, there’s a good chance CRM will take root. The philosophy of CRM is crucial for the technology of CRM to succeed.

Social CRM Requires a Commitment to Becoming a Social Business

The same goes for Social CRM -- but the need for the right philosophy is even more important. Social CRM is really an additional layer on top of the CRM foundation. It requires that commitment to CRM -- but it also requires a commitment to becoming a social business, one that embraces the revolution in communications and the shift in the control of the conversation from the business to the customer.

The degree to which businesses can be qualified as “social businesses” is debatable, and like anything social, it varies according the work style of the people involved. But here’s the reality: You can’t possibly be good at social CRM without being a social business to a corresponding degree. Maintain a pre-social era business style internally while attempting to deal with customers in a fully social way will leave you with enormous gaps in understanding that will expose themselves to your customers.

Example: Customer Service Request

For example, a customer service request you receive via social media needs to be dealt with as rapidly as any other service request. That means there has to be a process for handing off these requests from the people charged with monitoring social media (usually marketing, sometimes service) and the people in the organization who can directly help the customer. In the pre-social era, those people may not have been thought of as “customer-facing employees.” Guess what? Everyone who has an impact on your customers is now likely at some point to interact with employees if you’re a social business.

That means a few things. First, you have to quickly move social media-generated customer issues internally to the right people. The social business knows how to do this. Second, you need to trust your employees, and while internal social collaboration helps you build that trust, you need to trust them externally, because as businesses expand the numbers of the conversations they have with customers, these employees will invariably become involved in those conversations. If you can’t trust them, you need to make changes.

Example: Product Co-creation

Another example is product co-creation. Customers have lots of good ideas about the things you sell, and the social media revolution has given them the ability to broadcast these ideas. If your business is not fully social, the problem will not be that you don’t hear these ideas -- someone, probably in marketing, is likely to see them. But if you haven’t shifted into social business thinking -- in which the ideas of people outside the organization are seen as useful, relevant and inexpensive supplements to the expertise you have internally -- then that free assistance is likely to die while on its way to the part of your organization it can help the most.

Learning Opportunities

And this represents a classic CRM problem: an inability to translate collected data into actions that affect all the stakeholders in the relationship: sales, marketing, support and, most importantly, the customer. To avoid this, Social CRM strategies need to have the path from data collection to action clearly outlined. If the business does not function in a social way internally, it’s hard for that business to take social ideas generated externally and act upon them.

Social Business is About More than Social Media

A social business is not a business that has all the technology doo-dads in place and a bunch of young employees who spend their time staring at social media on their iPhones. A social business is one that understands the opportunities that the social media revolution presents and shifts its thinking and its information-handling processes to take advantage of those opportunities.

Your customers have all gone social. Your employees have all gone social. Your competitors are becoming social. At a certain point, you need to suck it up and recognize that this is the way the world now interacts.

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