It's Time to Say Thanks, and Good-bye, to Social CRM

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Brent Leary, CRM Essentials
Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

Why should direct marketers care—or not—about social CRM?

It was five years ago this month that I began using the #SCRM tag on Twitter to keep track of interactions I was having on the subject of social CRM. These nascent conversations were taking place before tools like Radian6, Lithium, and HubSpot went mainstream, Gartner created Magic Quadrants to categorize social CRM vendors, and startups like Nimble and SproutSocial were born; before everyone had a smartphone, and well before the iPad ushered in the post-PC Era. It was a time when conversations about defining social CRM were just starting to heat up. And the heat was heavily focused on what it should be, and its relationship to traditional CRM.

The #SCRM tag helped bring together a community of CRM enthusiasts, thought leaders, practitioners, established vendors, and startups from around the world anxious to collaboratively explore the potential impact on customer engagement of combining the emerging power of social with the recognized benefits of CRM applications. Today, with every major vendor having integrated social tools into their offerings, and new vendors creating cutting-edge services helping companies to generate better interaction opportunities with customers and prospects, we're starting to fully realize the promise social CRM has in helping us build lasting relationships with today's customer. And it's not a stretch to say that the community that grew out of a Twitter hashtag five years ago was a catalyst in moving social CRM forward to where it is today—which is why, in reflecting on how far we've come with social CRM, it's become clear that it's time to say good-bye to it. Here's why we're ready to drop the “social,” and go back to the future.

CRM needed a rebranding

Before social tools and strategies breathed much needed new life into traditional CRM, its reputation was at a low point. In fact “C-R-M” was pretty much treated like a four-letter word, due to the complexity and cost of implementing the technology. Ironically, by adding the “S” and making it SCRM, the actual four-letter acronym distanced itself just enough from the figurative four-letter word that CRM had become to give it a chance to develop conceptually without the negativity hanging around the neck of CRM. This was crucial, as it allowed for a new definition of customer engagement that took into account the need to address consumers empowered by social networks and mobile technology.

So, to build relationships with these tech-savvy social customers, marketers had to not only integrate new communication channels into their strategy, they also had to change that strategy and culture to meet these customers' terms of engagement. And to take advantage of the growing consumer interest in all things social, the industry needed a new term to bring back interest from those who had been turned off by CRM, but were curious about tools that could help them leverage “social” to get closer to customers and prospects. Social CRM provided a reason for vendors to be excited about creating new apps and platforms infused with social and mobile interfaces. And by using cloud technology they were also able to build easy to use tools at an affordable price point that made them appealing even to small businesses.

It's really the CRM we wanted after all

The term social CRM served in an essential role over the past few years. It provided enough of an abstraction away from the less-than-popular term CRM to allow for the CRM community to reinvigorate itself. That reinvigoration has led to products and services that are closer to what organizations needed and wanted from their CRM applications from the very beginning. Not just a place to store customer information, but a tool to help businesses build long-lasting relationships proactively. And while customer relationship management isn't the best name—what customer wants be managed by a company?—it's a part of the business lexicon. With social being a natural part of interacting with customers today, any customer engagement tools going forward will have social components at their core. So do we really need to keep saying social CRM at this point? No.

SCRM served a valuable role in the evolution of CRM. We're ready to move on. Customers never referred to themselves as social customers. They just lovingly adopted technology into their lives, and then adapted their lives to take full advantage of what was available. Businesses had to play catch up, and they needed a transitional term to get up to speed. And while it will be an ongoing task to stay connected to this new breed of consumer, the tools coming from vendors with social baked in should make it easier to do so.

Thanks to social CRM. Job well done. We will always remember you, and be grateful.

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Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

Recognized by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker, and award winning blogger. He is cofounder and partner of CRM Essentials LLC, a CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Clients include IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP and other major technology companies. In 2009 he coauthored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Business. He is in the process of writing his next book, The Amazon Effect: How a New Customer Culture is Creating Crazy New Business Opportunities and Killing Companies That Won't Adapt, due out in 2014. Leary writes regularly for America Express OPEN, CRM magazine, and Inc.com, and serves on the advisory board for Social Media Today.

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