Research firm Gartner has issued a new report noting that it expects IT budgets to increase significantly in 2013 and 2014, led by both cloud computing and CRM initiatives.
The reasons given are pretty simple: cloud will provide for cost savings and other long-term efficiencies. Gartner posits that CRM investments will increase due to an emphasis on improving customer service and satisfaction among both large and midsize organizations.
While I do think Gartner is right in predicting greater spend on CRM in the next 24 months, there are more reasons for the increase.
For one, I think mobile CRM is just now getting its rightful piece of the CRM investment pie. Now, “mobile CRM” investment is more about devices AND software licenses, so overall spend does not simply benefit CRM vendors 100 percent. But, as companies look to get more sales and support professionals connected 24-7 – CRM providers will benefit from more licenses. In a “social” world – professionals need to access data, or make connections at any time, and mobile CRM has matured to meet this need.
Akin to the above point, social and new approaches to collaboration have changed the way large companies are looking at CRM. At SugarCRM – we are calling this “CRM for Everybody” (which is a big theme of our upcoming SugarCon event). Past approaches to CRM were very much around silos of users; the cost and complexity of large deployments meant decisions had to be made around who gets a user license. Today, cloud-based and open CRM tools can be deployed across a company – everyone can have a license, everyone has access to the best information – and everyone can provide the best service to every customer. (This ties into Gartner’s notion of increased emphasis on service levels.)
Finally, I think a lot of large CRM deployments are simply showing their age. Lacking mobile capabilities, cloud access, simple customization and integration – the time has come for many large CRM deployments to be put to pasture. This represents a huge opportunity for modern CRM providers to land some big replacement deals. This, in addition to Gartner’s prediction of net new CRM license growth in emerging markets – bodes well for the industry. And, in the end, organizations ideally end up with far more user-friendly tools to create deeper engagements with every customer, at every touch point.
Who says you can’t go home again?
When I first started this blog back in 2007, I had no idea what it might become. Now, after six years, hundreds of posts, and a few “owners” later I am back working with a lot of the team I knew while initially launching CRM Outsiders.
One of the things I love best about this blog is that even while I was away the content was relevant, timely, and useful. The blog eschewed deep technical jargon and “speeds and feeds,” type posts in favor of practical advice on how to optimize your CRM initiatives. Usually, this advice was around being in the right frame of mind – not about deeply technical features.
I want to thank Chris Bucholtz for doing an amazing job making this blog an even more respected, “must read” destination.
It is an exciting time for me, and subsequently for SugarCRM (or, I should say, CRM in general). I think we are truly starting to see major market shakeup in the form of major implementation and product shifts. Many of these shifts were ones I hinted at, and were more “visions of greater possibilities,” rather than reality back when I started this blog. Today, the shift is in place and making real impact.
SugarCRM is in a lot of ways leading the CRM charge in light of these various shifts in business (social, mobile, cloud – you name the buzzword du jour) – and thus I am even more excited to be a dedicated CRM observer attached to a company dedicated to making major changes towards improving how everyone gets things done in their professional lives.
I’ve written a lot about CRM and customer service. Bad service can sabotage even the best CRM strategy, but adapting service to cope with the evolving customer and, more importantly, evolving customer expectations is difficult. It’s doubly difficult in businesses where the view of service persists that it’s a cost center. (Hint: it’s no longer a cost center – in fact, it’s the key to your ability to retain customers and maximize their value to your business over their entire customer lifecycle. Change your thinking now – you’ll thank me later.)
A great place to start centers on what Paul Greenberg termed “doing the basics” in a blog post many years ago (my apologies for not being able to find it – but it was a long, long time ago). That means that when people have a question around something basic about your business, they should be able to find the answer on their own on your web page. Where do I send payments? Where are you located? What’s your return policy? Your hours of operation? How can I reach you over the phone or through other channels? This stuff is really basic. But a lot of businesses don’t have this kind of bread-and-butter information easily accessible on their website, thus forcing customers out of the self-service mode and into the “I gotta call these guys” mode. Then, support does start to become an expense.
The next level is characterized by something that happened in the office today. It’s when a company analyzes its own unique business, spots common service issues, and makes it easy for customers to resolve them on their own. Specifically, I’m talking about SurveyMonkey, in this case. The team developing this year’s SugarCon sent out a one-question poll to attendees of this year’s event and last year’s asking about a potential location for 2014.
Sangita Patel, the extremely competent woman running registration, set up the poll – but for detailed information, you have to pay. She didn’t want to pay out of her own pocket, especially since there was an account in-house already, so she wanted to transfer the poll to that account.
Did she have to call an agent to make the switch? No. SurveyMonkey included the “how to” about this on its web page. A few simple steps later, the survey was transferred to the right account and Sangita was on her way – a satisfied customer, and one satisfied with the expenditure of very, very little on SurveyMonkey’s part.
When we talk about customer self-service, too often we think in terms of the customer off-loading work from our service organizations. In reality, we need to do the work for the customer by anticipating when and where our processes could cause confusion or uncertainty, then developing ways for the customer to solve his or her own problem. That’s why SurveyMonkey gets a “Bravo Zulu” for their ability to project ahead and give customers the tools to solve basic problems.
Heard of any other examples of businesses thinking the right way about customer self-service? Let me know in the comments section.
Last week, I spoke at Social Business Atlanta. My talk was on the three P’s of avoiding social CRM failure (the article that started that train of thought rolling can be found here), so I served as the voice of caution and/or the source of comic relief for the event.
The other speakers were among the most notable voices in the CRM space and included organizer Brent Leary, Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant and Jon Ferrara (the whole list of impressive speakers can be found here).Add to that a really engaged bunch of audience members and you had a very energetic and exciting one-day event.
One of the ideas I heard that struck me most came from Brian Bell, the CMO of Zuora. The team at Zuora sees the world through the prism if the subscription economy – which is natural, considering that their product enables the management of small, recurring payments. There are many applications for this, but Zuora did not create them – they already existed in the business ecosystem. The advent of SaaS proved this was a do-able thing and now they’re busy advocating for the application of this concept to everything from fruit delivery to mass media.
The thing Brian said that was so interesting to me was that the subscription economy creates a potentially new kind of buyer-seller relationship. We all know B2B and B2C; Brian said that subscriptions could create a new category, B2Any.
A new category raises a lot of questions, especially since many businesses are still wrestling with what B2B really means. B2Any implies that the differences between B2B and B2C have eroded. That’s true to an extent, and I think social media has driven that (sorry, subscription economy). In fact, while working the B2C side with social media is challenging and fraught with potential for disaster gone viral, social media has made B2B easier. Knowing your existing customers in a B2B environment doesn’t mean casting a wide social net but instead communicating specifically with those customers via social media and noting the relevant data that comes from those conversations.
I believe Brian’s idea was that the subscription economy flattens the playing field and allows businesses of all sizes deliver value to customers of all sizes – and that’s a good thing. The subscription economy will take out the cost barriers for customers and allow smaller and more innovative companies to work niches of the market successfully, even those which until now were never really practical.
So, from Zuora’s perspective, “B2Any” makes sense. From a sales and marketing perspective, however, it initially sounds like a bit of a step back: by combining the B and the C, you’re back into “C” territory again and attempting to reach a broad audience with the same or similar messages. Instead of a personalized conversation, you’re having a “one-to-many” conversation again.
The answer here is what it’s always been: even if you’re working in a subscription economy, you need to tailor the way you communicate to customers and potential customers in a manner that makes sense to them and is based on the way they communicate. If they’re consumers, segment that audience and deliver the proper messages to the right people; if they’re business buyers, cultivate those individual relationships. Regardless of whether you view customers in B2B, B2C or B2Any terms, all customers want relevant conversation. When it comes to that interaction, we’ve always been in a B2Any environment.
Building a customer relationship starts not with CRM but with a good product or service, and the ability to deliver it. That’s the foundation of your business. If you fail at that foundational aspect of your business, no CRM program’s going to save you.
That said, I have just identified a company that is on its way to oblivion. I just got off the phone with 1-800-FLOWERS. Like a lot of exceptionally lazy men, I went to them as a source for a Valentines’ Day gift for my wife. Why? That’s a really good question.
The company called to inform me that my flowers couldn’t be delivered today – the day I asked for delivery, and the day for which delivery was confirmed when I placed the order. The agent said their florists were overloaded and he offered to deliver it on Monday. Clearly, the agent has never been married, since a Valentine’s gift delivered four days late would probably have the exact opposite effect of what was intended.
This year, I’m the person to blame. You see, the exact same thing happened last year - 1-800-FLOWERS (and others in the floral industry) had a complete process failure last year and thousands of orders were not delivered. Mine was among them.
It couldn’t happen again, right? And so I ordered. And so I was hosed again.
This year, at least I got a warning call. So, what 1-800-FLOWERS learned was that they should at least not leave gift-givers in the dark to be given the cold shoulder on the evening of Feb. 14, when the objects of the affections were left feeling as though they had simply been forgotten.
What could they have learned instead? How about this: figure out the capacity of your subcontractors. Know what florists can deliver; if you reach capacity, stop taking orders. You should be able to ascertain that ahead of time with a minor amount of outreach to your subcontractors. Not doing so suggests you really don’t care about satisfying customer orders.
Here’s another thing they should have learned: there’s a massive revenue effect a failure like this brings. Valentine’s Day attracts a lot of people who are not in the habit of regularly sending flowers. Not only has the company lost the once-a-year money from these customers, they’ve chased them off from future flower purchases.
Their website also has problems; it refused to accept any credit cards (giving me an “INVALID CREDIT CARD NUMBER” message that was simply wrong; the numbers I entered were correct, and I checked it on all three cards I tried to use) and I was forced to use PayPal instead.
These things are not directly related to 1-800-FLOWERS’ CRM program; those folks may be doing a great job. But from a CRM standpoint, 1-800-FLOWERS has committed the fatal sin: the most elemental and basic problem of not being able to deliver what it promised. If your product is frabbed up or your ability to deliver products to your customers is in shambles, it doesn’t matter what else you do to build customer relationships. You will demonstrate that you can’t deliver and you will force customers to look for alternatives.
Will Rogers once said, “when you’re in a hole stop digging.” He certainly did not have social media in mind, which is a pity when you think about it: he would have killed on Twitter, and he could have checked Yelp! for customer reviews of Wiley Post’s flying abilities.
However, it is a saying that fits social media to a tee. It’s a medium that the customer controls (or at least has equal control, shared with the buyer), but that reality escapes businesses – so they try to assert their control again, and again, and again. Not only do they fail to regain control – which they will never do – they end up provoking those in the conversation, and those attracted to the conversation by their provocations. These usually start out with a misstep or perceived misstep by the company; instead of trying to remedy the problem, there’s rationalization, arguments and, at times, bad behavior. In other words: dig, dig, dig!
Last week saw the latest example of this: Applebee’s Restaurants. Here’s the set-up summarized from R. L. Stollar’s stellar blog post on the company’s godawful social media response:
A waitress at a St. Louis Applebee’s lost her job for posting online the receipt upon which a pastor had declined to leave a tip, with a snarky note saying she gave God 10 percent.
After her dinner on Jan. 25, Pastor Alois Bell crossed out the automatic 18 percent tip charged for parties of more than eight. “I give God 10% why do you get 18,” she wrote above her signature.
Employee Chelsea Welch — a colleague of the stiffed server — took a picture of the receipt and uploaded it to the online site Reddit. She subsequently lost her job, an Applebee’s spokesman confirmed to TheSmokingGun.com, for violating a customer’s privacy.
Even though what the minister did was boorish, what Chelsea did was not 100 percent cool, either. Calling your customers out by name in social media is not smart behavior. But this is the kind of thing that should result in a talking-to from a manager, not a canning.
When the story reached social media, there was a lot of negative commentary; many of us worked as food servers during the early part of our professional lives, and we can relate to the difficult job they do even when their customers aren’t pulling douchenozzle games with their tips.
So how did Applebee’s respond – with a statement of policy, an expression of regret at the need to let go of an otherwise good employee, and an acknowledgement of how hard servers work – and then silence? Oh, no. That would be too easy.
Part of it stems from Applebee’s use of a widget on its home page that displays tweets about the company – which became populated with people complaining about the company.
Applebee’s social media managers then tried to quell the complaints with a Facebook posting that asserted that the firing had to happen because the posting of the note exposed private details of the customer. True enough – but then people began re-posting items from Applebee’s own site, like notes from customers left on receipts – that violated the rules the company use to fire the waitress in question. Applebee’s responded by removing that image from its site.
Then, the company posted a longer explanation and justification for its actions as a Facebook status update, at 2:53 a.m. eastern time on Saturday. But, with 1000 posts an hour being left by irate visitors, that update sank out of sight within moments.
With all those posts coming, apparently Applebee’s thought it needed to make some space – so it allegedly began deleting negative posts and blocking people from its Facebook page.
Then, Applebee’s started responding to posts with a cut-and-paste boilerplate answer, modified slightly to match the posts it was responding to. This is readily apparent, since they land on the page consecutively at times.
Then, the social media manager started tagging people and, at times, arguing with them.
Then it posted a new status update with another boilerplate non-apology – and hid the original post and its nearly 20,000 responses. People were not happy and let them have it for “deleting” their posts.
And it continues to go on, with more individual responses, more cut-and-paste posts and more blockages of users. Dig, dig, dig!
At this point, the case of the waitress and the self-righteous minister is long gone. The story is now about Applebee’s horrendous response and its ongoing efforts to keep itself in the news. Here’s a tip: if people think your business has done something wrong, take a step to remedy it. Don’t do things that will ensure that people keep talking about how your business has done something wrong, and don’t make your inept response into a new, possibly longer-lived story.
Had Applebee’s apologized for the situation, sought a solution that was amenable to both employee and customer, and then made a statement of support for its servers, the situation would have evaporated. Instead, it’s prolonged and intensified its own miseries.
Is there any business scenario in which cutting off customer discussions, arguing with customers or stringing out discussion of a topic that paints you in a bad light are good things? If you worked anywhere besides social media – like in sales, or PR, or even as a customer-facing employee – such missteps might land you in the same unemployment line as Chelsea Welch. Instead, because businesses have not caught own to the fact that they don’t own the conversation, this behavior is still tolerated – and perhaps encouraged by executives.
For goodness sake: if you find yourself in a social media hole, do something to remedy what put you in there in the first place, and lay the shovel down.
Listening to your customer via social is good for service, but listening to competitors’ customers is great for sales
Here’s a scenario for you: a company gets a social analytics tool and starts messing around with it. Initially, as is the case with most businesses, early applications are akin to “ego surfing,” where the company looks for mentions of itself (a handy exercise if you want to find issues to direct to your support team). But then, the social media manager gets creative.
She starts looking for mentions of the competition coupled with a negative word. Soon, she’s surfacing Tweets and posts from dissatisfied customers looking for a new vendor. And she forwards that information to sales, where they become leads – and where the sales team picks up the conversation armed with the customer’s own tale of woe about his current vendor.
This is an often overlooked but very concrete aspect of social CRM and social media: it allows you to keep an eye on your customers, but it also allows you to see what your competitors’ customers are saying, and what their mood is about the people they currently buy from.
The social analytics platform in the above case (which is a real one; the names have been kept quiet to protect the company’s competitive advantage) is NextPrinciples, which officially launched its social analytics and engagement platform Insight-To-Action last week, but has quietly been working with businesses to perfect the platform for a long while. They were a winner of the App Throwdown at SugarCon 2012, where they demonstrated how quickly and easily the platform could be used to discover trends and filter social information by slicing and dicing social media traffic from that day’s traffic about the show. That characteristic is still present in the product – I received a briefing about the platform from head of marketing and product management Ted Sapountzis and head of operations Ramalingam Subramanyan last week, and they had added a lot of smart business-centric functionality in the past several months. The result is exactly what you’d want from just such a platform, especially if you were in the midmarket space: something that’s intuitive to use so that instead of fixating on how to use the platform you can focus on thinking about what you’d like to learn, and then powerful enough to deliver actionable information.
But enough about them – let’s talk about you, the social CRM-inclined business. How you use such a platform and what you look for will determine your success. When it comes to understanding the conversations about your business, the objective should not be collecting positive feedback that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Really, it should be to isolate areas where you can improve – how can you make individual customers’ experiences better, and how can you then take that knowledge and apply is to processes internally to make every customer’s experience better? Precious few customers complain directly when they have problems. Social media makes it a little less intimidating to do so – so these valuable customers can be heard and their input can be acted upon more easily today than ever before (if you have the right tools, of course).
Back to the main idea: if you’re one of the few businesses who’s actually listening to what’s going on in social media, your real opportunity comes when you listen to your competitors’ customers, because the odds are great that your competitors aren’t listening. Last year, a study by Conversocial, another social monitoring and engagement platform vendor, found that 10 large brands had a miserable rate of responses to complaints on Twitter – 13 percent. Even the businesses that did well made rookie mistakes, like failing to monitor Twitter on weekends. You could extrapolate from this study of some fairly large brands (all in the apparel industry) just how effective other businesses (especially in the B2C realm) are; as a whole, 13 percent is still an aspiration.
And while only about one in five customers are taking their service issues to social media, according to the American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, among those customers 46 percent say they take to social media to vent frustration with a bad customer service experience. That’s free competitive research for you, if you care enough to listen to it.
Once you collect that data, and feed it into your CRM, the next step is to act quickly. Those unhappy customers were expecting answers from their people they buy from today; a delay in responsiveness is not going to help them decide to buy from you tomorrow.
But it happens – I know, because I’ve seen it. Complaints about you are opportunities to improve your customers’ experience; complaints about your competitors are opportunities to win business away from them. But this is only possible if you’re listening. Are you?
Social media-enabled service is a trend whose value seems painfully obvious: if someone’s asking for help from your company on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Google +, it’s a smart move to respond to them for a number of reasons.
First off, they’re customers, and they have a problem. That should be reason number one.
Second, they have a problem with your business and they’re talking about it in full view of all their friends and followers. From a PR point of view, it behooves you to get their situations sorted out.
Finally, if they’re using social media, there’s a pretty good chance they tried conventional phone, email or chat channels and were thwarted. So your social media-enabled service team is your last line of defense before these customers become ex-customers.
That’s why Charter Cable’s decision to pull the plug on “Umatter2charter,” its inelegantly-named social media support team, inspired a collective eye-roll from customer service pundits at the start of December. The cable industry is not known for its excellent service, and you’d like to think Charter would embrace any opportunities to reverse that negative image. Instead, the company retreated into its own reality, one in which customers feel closer to the company when they call on the telephone.
“We believe speaking directly with a customer is a more personal, effective and consistent way to answer questions, solve an issue or provide information, and we will focus our efforts on these means of communications,” said spokeswoman Anita Lamont in a statement. “We’re committed to treating our customers with great care, and we believe that person-to-person interaction accomplishes that in a more meaningful way for more of our customers.”
Here’s something to note in that last sentence: Charter says it believes that a call is better. But guess what: what Charter believes does not matter any more. It’s what the customers believe.
That statement also disregards the reality that an awful lot of customers turn to social media only after meeting with frustration through other channels. Fewer than one in five customers surveyed in the 2012 American Express Customer Service Barometer said they used social media for customer service in the past year. However, of those, half said they went to social media because they were “seeking an actual response from a company to help them with a service issue.” The inference here is that other channels did not get an satisfactory response.
So social media-based service efforts can be the backstop that keeps customers from finally pulling the ripcord and bailing on your business. The Charter social media service team was a mere 16 people. Why might Charter overlook the value of their social media team in retention?
Well, as blogger and social media strategist Mack Collier suggested, maybe it’s because of the classic erroneous mindset that service is a cost center, while sales generate revenue:
“…my guess is that Charter wants to use social media as a channel to drive new customers, instead of providing customer service to existing ones. So they likely see the team’s efforts on Twitter as a ‘waste’, even though as (customer Tweets about the service) prove, Charter’s CS efforts on Twitter are actually improving the brand’s image…”
That sounds like a painfully probable reason, especially for a company in a regulated monopoly position like a cable company. Acquisition is king, retention is an afterthought.
But it’s clear that retention means revenue. For a company as big as Charter to seek savings by cutting 16 employees whose entire role centers on retention shows it’s a victim of antiquated thinking and a culture in which new sales mean more than recurring sales. The math shows this is a bad idea. It’s rooted in the archaic view of what sales success looks like when it’s divorced from long-term business success.
Here’s the irony: had Charter mustered the gumption to re-work its more traditional service channels, the social media team might have become less necessary for the short term. Customers might have found satisfaction with the call center and never had to reach out to social media. And, while customers were becoming more accustomed to social media, Charter could have used the time it bought to envision what a next-generation multi-channel support operation would look like.
The number of customers using social media for even routine things is on the rise, and it’s unlikely Charter can ignore social media forever. At some point it will have to jump back in and start from scratch. Unfortunately for its customers, now and in the future, it will have to learn all these lessons from scratch.
– Chris Bucholtz
There was a great post this week on 1to1 media’s blog about an airline wrecking a guy’s guitar. Yes, again – this time it was not United, but Delta Airlines, and they managed to squish Dave Schneider’s 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar between a service elevator door and a rail on a loading dock. They squished it real good.
(Note to passengers: why are you flying with these great, expensive guitars in non-crush-proof cases? And airlines: be careful with those guitars! Those passengers write songs! And books! And make videos! And start entire new careers as speakers based on your screw-ups!)
This time, however, it seems that people have gotten wise. Delta, after initially giving Schneider a hard time, finally responded after he posted about it on Facebook and Yahoo! News ran an article about the axe-flattening. As shame (and one hopes an inter-airline sense of déjà vu) started to set in, Delta agreed to pay $2000 toward the repair of the $10,000 guitar, and gave Schneider two vouchers for free flights (in case he wanted to have his guitar smashed in the future, one presumes).
The story here isn’t that Delta listened, however. It’s that Gibson Guitars listened.
When Gibson detected the tale via social media, not only did it offer to repair the classic six-string, it also offered Schneider a free 50th Anniversary resissue of a 1963 ES-335.
Do you see what Gibson did there? It’s not the kind of service that they can render for everyone, but it’s the kind of service that earns them a lot of word of mouth (and, I would suspect, a loyal customer in Dave Schneider. I know guitar players, and they love buying guitars, so I’d bet Schneider will add another Gibson to his collection sometime in the future). It also allowed the company to curry goodwill with customers by becoming the good guy in the story (with hapless Delta ending up as the bad guy).
But it also demonstrates how important it is to pay attention to all the important social media discussions that involve your brand or your business. That includes your competitors. For example, if the customer’s beef had been with Fender Guitars (not that Fender is even remotely likely to have service problems like Delta), Gibson could potentially jump into that conversation and again position itself as the good guy, with Fender consigned to the “bad guy” role.
Too often, businesses getting into the social media business spend their efforts on social media “ego surfing” – looking for references to themselves, or to people who have issues only with them, or other entirely obvious types of discussions. In this case, Gibson saw a social media conversation that involved their product in a non-traditional way – not a problem with their product for which they were at fault, nor a sales opportunity. They saw a chance to become the star of this story and were imaginative enough to seize upon it.
This is the other potential of social media and social CRM: it can not only allow you to be in conversations about you and your products but it can allow you to find your way into conversations about your competitors and even totally unrelated businesses. I’m sure Gibson never anticipated becoming involved in a conversation involving Delta Airlines, but it realized that social media gives it opportunities it can’t anticipate and was ready when the opportunity presented itself.
Is your company capable of thinking in a broad way about the opportunities social media presents, or are you just “ego surfing?”
You want to learn about CRM, or you want to refine and expand your understanding, but you don’t know where to start? Well, the blogosphere’s one good place to start learning, but it’s become a crowded, confusing place, clogged with blogs of disparate quality and written by people with motives that are less than mostly pure. How do you navigate that?
Let me be your sextant and sea chart! This is the sixth year that I’ve done this list, and there’s always a bit of change – not wholesale change, as there was in the early days, when blogs came and went, but subtle and incremental change. We judge these blogs first on focus, then on quality of content, then on frequency. To make the list, you need to be at least vendor-agnostic (in other words, a vendor can sponsor the blog, but it can’t dwell primarily on that vendor’s product); you need to have CRM as a principle focus; and you need to have great ideas and a knack for getting them across. In a nutshell: be smart, be focused and be consistent.
Several of the members of this list have been doing that for as long as the list has been in existence. Some are here for the first time. Some have changed positions for the better from last year, some for the worse. But all of them are worthy of your attention.
Read on – and then, start clicking, and read some more!
Last year, Paul seemed to be like a late-career Muhammad Ali – he just did hang on to his title at the top of the list as the competition stepped up its game. It wasn’t because Paul is losing a step; instead, he’s funneling his efforts into the extremely worthy CRM Idol competition, which accounts for the paucity of posts on the PGreenblog site in the latter part of the year. However, he made up for it with the ZDNet blog “Social CRM: the Conversation,” where he wasn’t afraid to name names, literally: his call-out of vendors who are wrapping themselves in the “CEM” acronym was thought provoking, and it elicited posts from three of the vendors he pointed out (update: all the named vendors have responded – more evidence of Paul’s clout). Paul’s ideas were trailblazing and prescient; he’s now eagerly waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, which makes for some very entertaining posts. Add to that some cogent analysis of business trends in the CRM space and you have a successful defense on the top slot – but barely.
2. Beagle Research – Denis Pombriant
Stitching together CRM trends with global trends in economics, technology and society, Denis is a measured voice who cuts through the hype and gets to the core of ideas quickly and with little fanfare. That isn’t to say that the blog is a snooze to read; Denis uses some creative framing devices to put his discussions of CRM and related technologies into context. This year, he’s ranged all over the technology map; the blog has felt like the musings of a very smart person trying to make sense of a very complex industry. That’s a pretty good reflection of where we are right now – most businesses know where they want to go, but most of them are at a lost as to how to get there, or how to afford to get there, or what to do once they’ve arrived. However, it’s a very safe bet that Denis will figure this out well before you do – pay attention as he unravels where we’re going with mobile, social, the cloud and technologies not yet perceived to be on the ascent.
The key writer at this blog is Chuck Schaeffer, a former CRM vendor CEO turned analyst/media entrepreneur, and you can tell two things right away from his posts. One, he has the ability to quickly dissect CRM news, events and corporate strategies the way a great quarterback picks apart defenses. Two, he loves CRM, believes in it and understands just how important it is to make modern businesses successful. That’s a passion for the subject that most executives in the CRM space have a desperate need to acquire. Even when he’s writing about SAP’s benighted Business ByDesign, that enthusiasm comes through, and his posts this year about marketing – especially the post comparing the somewhat conflicting natures of social marketing vs. marketing automation – shed light without getting caught up in the hyperbole. This blog was the big mover from the 2011 list, and the leaders need to listen for the footsteps come this time next year.
4. The CRM Consultant – Richard Boardman
Big theories are nice. Pie-in-the-sky conversations about what’s over the horizon are inspiring. But once in a while, you actually need to do something specific for your business today. When that time comes, make sure you visit Richard Boardman’s blog, with its practical advice on the brutal realities of making a CRM purchase, getting it to work and understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before committing the big bucks. As an independent consultant and a former vendor executive, Richard has seen numerous CRM users take the “ready, fire aim!” approach to putting CRM in place; you can almost hear his teeth grit reading about the repeated, predictable mistakes businesses make. The good news is that he does not dwell on the negative – instead, he offers actionable advice, to-the-point tips and recommendations anchored solidly to reality. He also covers CRM vendors with the critical eye of a knowledgeable user; his critique of Microsoft’s rough second half has been particularly incisive.
5. Thinkjar – the Blog - Esteban Kolsky
What is there to be said about Esteban that he hasn’t already said himself? While he cultivates a persona as brash and arrogant, he’s not, really – he’s just confident and usually correct about the things he’s talking about. This year, there’s been a lot of talk about social media, collaboration, social media monitoring and the implications of these emerging technologies. Esteban is never shy about picking out a trend and pointing out its limitations; he’s less interested in hopping on bandwagons than he is in advising readers when those bandwagons are ready to deliver value to their business. He’s also not shy about pointing out the mistakes of vendors, as was evidenced by a blog headline that proclaimed “Microsoft Baboozled by Yammer in $1.2 Billion Purchase,” which was followed by a logical, well-reasoned takedown of the acquisition. If you want things to be sugar-coated, buy some Frosted Flakes. If you want an unvarnished view of the way things are and the way they ought to be for your business, read Esteban’s blog.
Every day, the team writing this blog delivers content well worth reading focusing on the direct application of ideas to customers – really, where the rubber hits the road for CRM. Tom Hoffman, Mila D’Antonio, Cynthia Clark and Anna Papachristos deliver great commentary on what works and what doesn’t in modern sales, marketing and customer service, and 1 to 1’s stature enables them to bring in fantastic guest bloggers like Forrester Research’s Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning to contribute to the conversation. The daily format also enables the team to revisit themes and add nuance over time, and it also allows them to weave personal stories into their posts. The authors’ photos are on the blog; if you’re in customer service, you should get to know their faces, because if you do something particularly poorly – or particularly well – you may end up as the star of the next day’s blog.
7. A Title Would Limit My Thoughts - Mitch Lieberman
Mitch has worked with a lot of people and a lot of companies – 2012 started with him at Sword Ciboodle and closed with him as the top dog at CRM integrator DRI’s new North American operation. From his years of experience, and from his own good sense, he’s developed a distinct outlook on CRM that allows him to boil down technology and examine it from the point of view of the user and the customer. His metaphor for the discipline of CRM – that it’s really about capturing the good things present in every face-to-face buyer-seller interaction, then scaling that up – is a terrific underpinning he returns to even as he takes stock of trends like big data and social media. Even when he leads the reader far afield, he always returns too that foundational idea – that buying and selling is a person-to-person exercise. That’s why Mitch has consistently made this list: he’s in love with the relationship, while others are in love with the technology. He’s also great at calling BS when he sees it, be it a customer care process that cares more about the process than about the customer, or an analyst firm report that confuses readers about social CRM. If you love something, you defend it – a service that Mitch renders quite admirably.
8. Michael Maoz
Gartner analyst Michael Maoz’ blog is written in a voice that is exactly like talking to him. First off, he’s incredibly smart and is prone to dropping references that range from literature to history to punk rock (and bring your big-boy vocabulary, because Michael has his on his person at all times). Second, he knows the way it is and they way it should be in the world of CRM and customer service, and he’s a little incredulous that the businesses that could make money by getting this stuff right – user companies and vendors alike – are so out to lunch so often. With an ostensible focus on the CIO, Michael provides a vision that’s digestible in bites – like the idea that you should get your customer processes right before you get hung up on going social or mobile or fall in love with new IT efforts. But he also wants you to get social and mobile and give technology the love it deserves. And that is how this blog parallels CRM itself: the human factors trump all else, but you can’t handle the human factors without bringing technology to bear in just the right ways.
9. Value Creator – Brian Vellmure
The volume of Brian’s posts fell off this year, but the quality remained at its usual standard, attacking an assortment of CRM-related trends with insight and an impressive ability to put them in the context of a wider world. Several of his posts this year were done for the IBM to Midsize Business program or for the CIO Collaboration Network, freeing Brian up to explore issues around collaboration, workflow, human decision making and other aspects of seller-and-buyer relationships. Broadening his writing away from the CRM basics doesn’t mean that Brian dwells upon the usual social/mobile topics; instead he delves into more fundamental aspects of how people and businesses interact and how those interactions are changing. Don’t let the infographics and charts fool you – trust, confidence, availability and other basic aspects of relationship are at the core of Brian’s writing.
10. Wim Rampen’s Blog – Wim Rampen
While 2013 is lining up to be the year in which “customer experience” is the most abused business catch phrase, Wim Rampen has a pass. He can use the term all he wants, because he actually understands what it’s supposed to be – not a substitute for “CRM” to be used in discussions with people who have had bad experiences with CRM, but as the point in the relationship where a business’s investments in technology and people pay off in interactions that make a difference and build loyalty, word-of-mouth and ultimately greater revenues. To demonstrate this, he deftly slips into the shoes of the customer and can look at interactions and processes from that point of view, then pivot to explain how businesses can adjust or abandon those practices to make them work for both parties. He’s polite, but he locked horns with Esteban Kolsky earlier this year around the topic of multi-channel service. Both had valid views; Esteban argued that nailing down one channel of service was more important than getting a multi-channel strategy in place first, but Wim was right in saying that multi-channel support is being offered effectively – so there’s no excuse for a long learning curve around service. With his first e-book Co-Creating Customer Relationships under his belt in 2012 (and available through his blog), Wim looks poised to be a big mover in next year’s list.
11. Brent’s Social CRM Blog – Brent Leary
The champion of social CRM in small business, Brent had a great first half of 2012, blasting out blog posts covering a wide assortment of topics. Brent’s focus has broadened as his reputation spreads; there was less focus on small business and more on CRM across the board. With his participation in CRM Idol and his organization of Social Business Atlanta, Brent was a busy guy this year, but he had time to pen posts about change management, technology’s impact on customer behavior and data analysis. He didn’t come out and say that’s what he was writing about, however; Brent is skilled in telling stories that are interesting and just happen to shed light on important CRM concepts.
12. Laurence Buchanan, the Customer Revolution
With a day job at Ernst & Young that deals with social CRM and digital transformation, Laurence is exposed to the challenges those two emerging ideas present on a regular basis, and he reflects thoughtfully on them in his blog – although he’s enough of a realist that he had a post this summer on the evergreen topic of ways to win CRM adoption from your sales staff. This mix of the forward-looking and the basics is what a CRM consultant’s life consists of, and Laurence reflects that in his engaging, well-written posts. But he’s not soft-spoken; his most pointed post of the year focused on the idea of moving from what he called “tactical social media experiments” to social business transformation, and included a list of things that characterized the “age of social media experimentation,” including “an obsession with vanity buzz monitoring with far too little attention given to data accuracy, data integration, insights, and most importantly, action.” Does that sound like a business you know? If so, read Laurence’s blog, do what he suggests, and get it right.
13. Barry Dalton, Customer Service Stories.. And Other Thoughts
Everybody talks about the business and its attempts to service customers. Oh, it’s so hard to anticipate what they need! Woe is me, I have to actually listen! My employees won’t enter the data into my CRM system and my lack of ROI is making me weepy! Luckily for all of us, Barry’s around to write about the really important people that businesses tend to forget when wringing their hands about managing customer data: the customers. Barry is great at talking about the human elements that have been present in customers since the dawn of time and yet are often forgotten in the drive to automate and implement technology. Customer experiences are not something delivered by software or which occur in analysis – they happen because businesses do real things and interact with their customers. That interaction depends on access to data – technology is not totally irrelevant in Barry’s blog, not by a long shot – but the interaction is much more than just recalling and re-using data. He also dropped this nugget this year: “When it comes to customer service and the customer experience, could we maybe use a little less talk and a whole boat-load more do?” Amen, Barry! Words to live by in 2013!
14. Forrester Blogs
Lumping Forrestal’s arsenal of experts together is probably unfair; several of the participants in this group effort could probably score well on their own. Together, though, they provide a nicely-compartmentalized group of specific subject matter experts (at a large analyst firm – imagine that!). Bill Band provides the nuts and bolts of CRM coverage (along with some useful implementation and adoption advice), Kate Leggett handles the often-complex area of customer service and support, and Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning double-team customer experience, injecting a nice dose of common sense into an area that can often go adrift in a sea of technology. Analyst-bloggers are always under the gun to limit the amount of material they divulge for free; Forrester’s team seems to have either ignored this or has been set free to do what’s best for their readers.
15. CRM in Latinoamerica – Jesus Hoyos
Jesus is THE voice of CRM in Latin America, and while he blogs in Spanish, his site provides a handy translation into English. Another incredibly busy CRM influencer whose rugged schedule cut down on his blogging, Jesus made good use of guest bloggers like Filberto Forests and Mauricio Carrera to add additional voices to the mix and making it an even richer source of information. It’s not just about CRM for the Spanish-speaking world; Jesus spelled out in one post “10 Roles you Need for Your Team for Social CRM/Social Media,” a list of tasks that applies to any business in any part of the world. Another great post lists 20 examples of integrations that illustrate what social CRM looks like in practice. Those are just two examples of how universal Jesus’ analysis is. The translation software can result in some clunky verbiage, but the thinking remains sharp and clear, and seeing the CRM market through the eyes of someone who is not a North America-only analyst is extremely useful, even if you’re not trying to build a CRM program in a different geography.
Brian Carroll leads a small army of bloggers in this sales and marketing-focused blog, which frequently touches on CRM itself and always deals with topics surrounding the data you should be capturing in our CRM system. In a perfect world, CRM should help you understand which leads are worth spending time on and which ones are not; lead quality has a set of cheerleaders here who could prove a helpful counter to the guys in marketing who are all about numbers. Have an issue with getting from content marketing to lead generation? Have someone too enamored with social media who needs a moderating voice of reason to return to earth? It’s all here and more in the form of practical advice delivered by people who have done the research and spoken to the experts. Plus, it’s written from a B2B perspective and is often backed with numbers. Authoritative and readable, the B2B Lead Roundtable’s 10 writers earn a well-deserved 16th spot on the list.
Enterprise software evolves, over time, and the real difference is visible only to those who care to keep an eye on it over time. That’s what Mike Fauscette does: with a measured approach, he carefully assesses what’s going on in CRM and other customer-facing application areas, and puts them in context. That means he’s fairly hype-free, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get excited by trends – when they present themselves, he energetically points out their value and why your business should move on them now. This year saw a lot of merger & acquisition activity, and so a reasonable percentage of his frequent posts explained the value (or lack thereof) of these important business moves. In the meantime, he targeted some major skills that companies are still wrestling with – change management, building collaboration, scaling customer support – instead of the over-the-top hyping of a new technology or trend that some analysts indulge in. Until businesses grasp the disciplines Michael explains so well, the hot new things can’t deliver value. He’s a blogger who understands the timeline that underlies business’s slow transformation to social perhaps better than any other.
18. High Impact CRM
The product of a CRM consultancy in India, this blog is the clear result of a good understanding of content marketing: lots of content, well-presented and free of sales pitch, is a great way to start building relationships with customers by answering their questions even before they have to approach you with them. The subject matter is all over the place, from the call center to the use of CRM data in cross-selling to the use of social media in customer support. The writers are an assortment of folks from India and elsewhere, but there’s the clear, guiding hand of a good editor at work here – the tone is consistent, engaging and affable, even if the authors are not name brands in CRM. That’s actually a good sign – we need more people who can explain CRM in plain language to the market, and High Impact CRM is providing some of these people with a place to hone their CRM storytelling skills.
19. A Passion for Research – Louis Columbus
Fortunately for all of us, Louis’ passion is for research into enterprise software – and especially CRM – and the cloud. The results are great summaries of research firms’ predictions and forecasts coupled with Louis’ own cogent commentary on what’s going in and what it means. The tag line of this blog says it focuses on “the intersection of technology and trust,” which outlines a rather large but tremendously important area of discussion. Trust can be between customer and seller, manager and user, IT department and vendor, and an increasingly complex web of other relationships, and it would be great to see more of Louis’ thinking on the “R” in CRM and how it must extend from start to finish. As it is, however, he’s great at pulling out the important data from the avalanche of reports from major research firms and spelling it out, and he has an inclusive view that includes ERP, sales, cloud computing and other areas that are critical to modern CRM.
This blog dropped off the list last year, but found its footing again this year with a stable crew of bloggers who do a great job not only of drawing on their access to great sources (and guest contributors) but in relating their own ideas about CRM. Leonard Kile, Kelly Liyakasa and Judith Aquino take this blog well beyond the typical “reporter’s notebook” style of blogs written by reporters, even though the frequency of posting means that this is real work for the writers, not just something they do when they get some free time. The blog may be at its best when the bloggers get their teeth into a real-world example of CRM being done right and can tell those stories in detail; they illustrate CRM success more effectively and more memorably than most CRM vendors can do it themselves. The appearance of guest bloggers (many of whom appear on the list above) enhance the content and provide this blog with momentum that suggests that it will be moving up this list next year.
Know any blogs that are worthy of mention – or which might be challengers to the throne in 2013? Let me know in the comments section!