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The New Sales Force: CRM Wants to be Social

by Ian Huckabee on February 12, 2011

The CloudI arrive at my desk early with a cup of my favorite coffee, open a browser and log in. My cloud-based CRM has collected for me a list of new sales opportunities and has sorted them based on criteria I’ve created, mostly keywords, some of them geo-tagged.

I see in the list of new opportunities a company that happens to be a regular customer, a company we’re in touch with almost daily. But the contact name is different. Curious how this new contact popped up on the list, I see that the opportunity is from a different department, and it’s an opportunity for a new service that our company just added within the last week or so, one we’ve been promoting like crazy through our usual channels – AdWords, Vocus, email, and on our website and blog. We even built an engaging Facebook app, and we’re tweeting about it.

My CRM seems to have identified something relevant in the social Web belonging to this new contact, something in a blog post she wrote, or a press release, or a tweet, or an update on LinkedIn or Facebook, or most likely a combination of these, something that indicated a strong match for our new service.

However it happened, my social CRM has identified a potential sales opportunity for my company, and now I simply need to call or email or tweet this new contact. I’ll drink Obsidian Dark Roast to that.

What? No Social CRM?

Wishful thinking. My cloud-based CRM doesn’t do that yet. In fact, no CRM does. CRM systems have not yet done for businesses what social platforms have done for individuals, which is to say they have not yet facilitated the personalization of connections, interests, recommendations and discovery.

With Facebook, I’m able to find relevant information based on my likes and interests on thousands of websites simply by signing in using my Facebook login username and password. My friends’ activity on these sites informs me and, in many cases, steers me directly to the content I’ve come to that site to find, content that makes up those shared interests I have with my friends who also visit that site.

As businesses, we monitor relevant activity in social media, we go where the conversation is, engage, manage our brand, and we analyze our company’s performance. But the fluidity of our connections and our ability to nurture them continues to be interrupted by the walled-off environment of our CRMs.

Houston Neal, director of marketing for Software Advice, recognizes companies’ rapidly growing need for “a scalable way to engage customers in the social sphere,” but he points out that software vendors and analysts alike appear confused over the very definition of social CRM.

“In reality, social CRM is a misnomer,” he writes. “This catch-all nomenclature implies a category far more straightforward than the diverse set of specialized systems currently targeting the social media opportunity.” (You can read Neal’s post on social CRM here.)

Given the need for social CRM and the ability of current technology to provide a solution for inbound relationship management, it’s beginning to feel as if we have to squint to see the customer in Customer Relationship Management.

Community Within

Salesforce’s introduction of Chatter, a system that enables team collaboration and community around individual leads and accounts, is so much like Facebook it’s, well, comforting. In fact, there’s not much about Chatter that’s not like Facebook.

Steve Bobrowski, senior developer evangelist at Salesforce, points out a healthy side effect of the tool.

“The key insight for me about Chatter is how it flattens the traditional organization from the typical hierarchical reporting structure,” he says. “If your company uses Chatter and you’re a go-getter, no matter where you are in the organization, you’ll get noticed.”

As Bobrowski described it to me, Chatter revises our notion of the ladder to success within an organization. But while Chatter is a collaboration platform that boosts the business process layer within Salesforce, it’s not connected to other places on the Web where business opportunities lie.


Social CRM is inevitable, and we may be close to a definition, if not a solution, with Salesforce taking the lead.

Recently, ReadWriteWeb reported that Salesforce has launched its Facebook Toolkit to facilitate integration between the two platforms. At the same time, Facebook announced it is looking for a developer to create and integrate Force.com applications for Facebook’s internal and external use.

A few system architecture differences notwithstanding, Salesforce users could be on their way to seeing the level of community in their business graphs that they enjoy in their social graphs. Hopefully, other CRMs will follow. Social objects within the business world could give a new meaning to the word “opportunity.”

Do you use a CRM? Would it help if it were more social?

Please share your comments.

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