This story was originally published on Aug. 25, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
I feel like social CRM has become a burger joint. “You want fries with that?” is the traditional up-sell question made famous in skits and jokes, but now I feel like we need to ask something akin in social CRM. The revised question: “You got any data to go with that?”
To date, the lion’s share of information about the wonders of social CRM has been anecdotal, short stories about a customer here or there that succeeded or pieces by noted writers on the subject stating what ought to be true.
Now, I am not out to criticize anyone or any method of research; in fact, taking a broader view of this or any trend the first phase often runs this way. There are claims and counterclaims and eventually no one really knows much, and the old phrase “let’s get down to brass tacks” makes its reemergence yet again.
Anecdotal or Hard Evidence?
There’s an irony here that I can’t help but observe, though. Not long ago I noted that a quick Google search on the words “social CRM” returned about 7 million hits. I did it again as I write this and got over 14 million hits just now. Of course, Google could just be messing around with its algorithms again. The same search for “social CRM expert” brought back about 1.5 million hits back then, and just now the number was holding steady.
The irony to me is that underlying the practical CRM use of social media is the notion of crowd wisdom or crowd sourcing, but this is substituting for real research. Too many people have the same or very similar opinions about the efficacy of social CRM. We debate definitions and let that stand for wisdom, and in the process the debate takes on a theological cast.
We need quantitative research. This idea requires a certain amount of detachment — independence, decentralization and diversity, as Jim Surowiecki might advise. But in the echo chamber that has become front office computing, all we get is someone’s opinion bolstered by the re-tweets of those who agree. It’s time we cut to the chase and did the hard work of counting noses.
Already there are reports in the popular press about the failure of social media in business. As I have written in this space before, many of those failures come about from operator error — misunderstanding what is possible with the technology or poor application of existing ideas. Hey, it happens.
It happened with CRM in the way-back, and it’s happening again. Back in the day, I surveyed the Siebel customer base to try to understand why so many CRM projects were failing. The principle finding was that half of the organizations that bought CRM had no idea of why they bought it or what they would do with it. These customers were remarkably consistent — they had no plan and no pre-implementation self-analysis that said, in effect, this is what we need to fix and we’ll know it’s fixed when we can achieve these results. Nothing, zilch.
Real Research, Please
Of course, it’s impossible to do the kind of research I am suggesting early on, simply because we need some hardy souls to take on the products and use them. In effect, we need to analyze use, and with that use comes a certain percentage of success and failure. But that time is over; there are enough examples and we need to analyze them.
Analysis means taking a statistical look at a large population. It’s nice to have customer stories and case studies, but they only tell a story in a single instance, and a single instance can be wrong — or it even can be right but for the wrong reasons. We need to prove statistically what works.
Luckily, a movement has started to do the kind of analysis that will yield the results that encourage later adopters to jump in. Paul Greenberg has begun agitating for us to roll up our sleeves to produce the kind of gold standard research that’s needed to guide the industry in the adoption of this very important technology. I think that’s great, and it’s long over due. Sign me up!
If you are a user of social CRM, it would be great to hear form you, and if you have ideas for what to analyze and which pitfalls to stay away from, I’d welcome your input too. To paraphrase Shakespeare, enough of the anecdotes told by a vendor about its own products and customers. They signify nothing.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].