There is a very long definition, and then there is the one I’m going to give you: 

Social CRM is the enterprise version of Web 2.0; it enables businesses to share organizational knowledge easily, it gathers information from various sources on the internet, it allows companies to become more social in terms of how information flows back and forth across the organization, and, is specifically designed to help sales teams and developmental teams. 

That was pretty painless, right? 

But, why Social CRM? Don’t businesses already have CRM systems out the wazoo? What’s wrong with those systems? 

Having led some large sales teams, I can answer that question. 

1. Most CRM systems are awkward to use, they’re not user-friendly and they’re not intuitive, meaning they mimic something else in the way they’re set up, so that you can sit down and know how to use most of it pretty quickly. 

Think about when you get in a rental car. You might not know where everything is (where is that fuel filler door release?), but you know where almost everything is, and you can drive the thing out of the parking lot pretty quickly and be on your way. 

That is not the case with CRM systems. You need some training, you need to keep the users manual on your desk, you need to call the service desk, you need to ask someone else why what you’re keying in is not populating the other screens, etc. It’s a pain, it takes up a fair amount of time, and sales people hate doing it because it ends up being an activity trap. So they don’t, except when they’re forced to, and then you’re getting incomplete tracking data. 

2. CRM systems don’t make your salespeople better, the system you use just makes your salespeople report on their activities in a way that suits the system. It doesn’t mold itself to the way the salesperson works more effectively; it molds the salesperson’s activity to what the system requires. 

3. Relationships and knowledge matter when you’re trying to sell something to someone, and if there is an existing relationship or there is existing knowledge about a potential client within the organization, that fact is many times unknown to the salesperson/business development resource. I can tell you from experience in large organizations like Citigroup, AT&T and Wachovia/Wells Fargo that there were many instances where we had a target customer that was a customer of the organization in some other fashion, or, had been a customer of one of our current employees while that employee was previously employed at a competitor or partner. Sometimes we figured that out beforehand, but many times we weren’t aware of it until the customer themselves told us. 

4. Selling something is getting tougher and tougher. Every potential customer has a tremendous amount of choices, they’re all getting inundated with ads on every media platform everywhere, which means costs are going up, closed deals are going down, which of course means customer acquisition costs are increasing on a per-account basis, and salespeople are worked into a frazzle. They feel like they’re in the middle of a hurricane of sales activities every waking hour, but it’s all a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing – most of the time (with apologies to William Shakespeare). 

5. Almost nothing that a salesperson uses up precious time inputting into a traditional CRM system is given any context in terms of the sales department’s overall activities, or, for that matter, the organization’s overall activities. Salespeople do this by email, phone calls and the rare in-person conversation with friends of theirs at the company, but there is no way to extract the organizational entity’s institutional memory, or, the organization’s collective knowledge repository using these methods. 

Social CRM platforms claim to solve/mitigate these problems, and they claim their software can easily integrate with existing CRM and ERP that the companies have already spent good money on, without spending any more money getting the people in IT involved. All you need to do, these companies (Salesforce.com/Radian6, Oracle, etc.) say, is simply plug and play after the people in your company huddle up and figure out how all of this dovetails with your needs for security and scalability. The information-gathering functionalities in these programs don’t require input by the sales staff, the program simply gathers information as the salespeople proceed through the day, as it’s also gathering information off the web and through RSS feeds, blogs, social networks, etc., and more of less acts like the company version of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all rolled into one.

I say, kudos to the people that developed these platforms, but I do see one huge problem looming. The problem is that, once turned on, this could be like drinking from a fire hose in terms of the incredible amount of data coming in through that pipe. It’s very clear to me that that amount of information and inadequate provisions and filters for archiving and segmenting it, analyzing it, and metering it out will have an insalubrious effect on organizations. Too much information, too much raw data tends to produce paralysis in a lot of people and in a lot of decision processes.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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