Closing the Loop: A New Beginning

Mitch Lieberman, a SCRM thought leader, pointed out to me that I should release this post on July 6, 2010 because it would be one year to the day from my release of “The Stake in the Ground.” What a cool idea. Thank you Mitch.

The headline is far more dramatic than the subject matter, sorry to say. But starting this month, now that the Gartner Customer 360 Summit is done, I’m going to be moving further in the direction I already had been planning to which will expand the scope of what I’m doing. I’ve been intending to make these moves since I finished the 4th edition of CRM at the Speed of Light. So I figured I’d tie up a few loose ends here, make a couple of incomplete announcements and then publicly set the bar to where I’d like to be, which I hope will make me publicly accountable too. If you don’t care, don’t read. If you do, read on.

Tying Up Loose Ends

Let me, if you don’t mind, do some things in public that are G-rated, but important to me and, I would hope, important to the ongoing discussion around social CRM or Social CRM if it matters one way or the other to you.

The Social CRM Definition

Back in 2006 I created the CRM 2.0 wiki and recruited about 170 industry leaders and interested parties to help define what CRM 2.0 was. I thought at the time, naively as it seems to have turned out, that if the industry defined CRM 2.0 now Social CRM, then we wouldn’t fall into the trap that we fell into with CRM when it came to self-aggrandizing definitions.

After about 3 years, I took all the extant material I could find, which incorporated all the research I did for the 4th edition of CRM at the Speed of Light, and all the materials from the wiki and I put together what I thought was a relatively democratic definition. I figured I had two years of research materials that were constantly being updated and ended up being an 800 page book. With the book materials, I had the benefit of 60 plus superstar experts in the industry who I respected giving their view on what Social CRM was in the context of their areas of expertise. I had the benefit of the participants who contributed to the wiki who were in the book in some cases and weren’t in others. But, I thought, I had a fairly solid foundation for laying out a broad definition of what Social CRM was.

Based on that foundation, I presented the following definition that I published in its first iteration in my post last July “A Stake in the Ground on Social CRM”, which, for good or bad, was accepted as a groundbreaking and seminal post – and the definition seemed to achieve some widespread acceptance.

Here it is:

“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It is the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

I thought and said frequently that I thought it was awkward, it introduced a couple of new concepts – such as social characteristics – one that I’ll be writing on more frequently in the coming period – but that all in all it was a decent enough job for a first draft. Kind of, in my mind, a release to manufacturing level draft.

Jokingly – yes, jokingly – I identified the final sentence “its the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation” as the “tweetable definition.” In retrospect that was a big mistake. But I’ll get into that in a minute.

Over time, that tweetable definition evolved from …the customer’s ownership of the conversation”, to “the customer’s control of the conversation.”

What has been utterly staggering, eye popping, mind blowing and any other expressive statement that fits the bill, is that the “I was just calling it tweetable as a joke” part of the definition led to a series of sometimes direct and other times thinly veiled attacks. Some of which are no problem – they are disagreements. Others which are clearly personal. But the focus is always on the tweetable definition, not the definition as a whole – which contains the tweetable sentence, folks. The tweetable “its the customer’s control of the conversation, while meeting the 140 character brainpower limit requirement, is not the definition. Just thought I’d say it again for the 4th or 5th time in this piece.

Some examples:

  • There was big to do about the notion of the customer’s “control” of the conversation. WTF…? What that means, in the context of the definition as a whole is truly simple. The customer has ability to affect business of a company in a way that is outside company’s control via channels the company doesn’t own. Period. This is not some statement about a neo-fascist control of the entire business of a company by the customer. It doesn’t mean that the customer has a dog collar around the business, pulling it around while saying “Hey business, you’re my bitch now.” How stupid would I be to think that? No business that I’ve spoken to thinks that “customer control” means that. As I’ve stated countless times, businesses still have their own operational requirements and corporate objectives to meet. Customer behavior has changed over the past 6 or 7 years as has customer expectations. The idea of the “social” customer is just recognition of that change. Businesses have to respond to the change or they will suffer. I wrote 800 pages on it with the 4th edition of CRM at the Speed of Light and I defy any of those who disagree with me to come up with anything I’ve said in those 800 pages or outside them that talks about some absolutist control by the customer over the business. Its simply recognition of a power shift toward the customer in who can affect who more.BTW, Mike Boysen’s recent great post on the issue of customer control really is what is sparking me to deal with this.
  • The veiled attacks are the worst but then again – for example someone using the sequence that went something like this (This is a paraphrase) “Seeing SCRM as a philosophy or a strategy is esoteric.” This was one of those veiled attacks, since I’m the ONLY person who uses philosophy and strategy in a sequence at all. So that’s a bit low. But what is really the key here is how ANYONE can possibly think that strategy is esoteric? That is a dangerously wrongheaded view. SCRM is a strategy for customer engagement – which no one but apparently one person I think would disagree is a key component of corporate strategy in the 21st century. Don’t call it Social CRM if you don’t want. Who cares? But recognize that outlooks, frameworks, programs, and strategies for engaging customers are necessary components of business thinking and operations for contemporary success.

There are many other definitions of Social CRM out there that are every bit as good or better than mine. Mike Fauscette’s for example. Take the one that you want or the pieces from the ones that you want. Create your own if that’s the way you roll. But I need to do two things so I can, one year after I said I was going to move on, move on for good to where I need to be. So let me say the following:

  1. Forget focusing on the “tweetable definition” as if its the whole definition. I said that it was tweetable as a joke. That last sentence is a. intimately tied to the entire definition and b. is not a literal statement but one that is a concentrated metaphor, explained by the entire previous part of the definition. PLEASE do me the honor of thinking of it that way. Otherwise, I feel cheap (Sniff. Sniff…)
  2. So, given that, and now that I have to get past the “tweetable definition” thingee, I’ve made a couple of small tweaks to the definition that a. serves it well, given what I now realize I should have said and b. Puts the tweetable definition to rest. Here ’tis.

    “Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It is the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

    Note the small tweaks. First, control now “officially” replaces “ownership in the last sentence. Plus I’ve added the word “programmatic” to that same final sentence. The reason for that is I realized that what was missing in the definition was the idea of a defining yet dynamic framework for that engagement. A strategy is not enough. You have to institutionalize the strategy and create a framework to execute the plan – i.e. a program. That’s not an unimportant change. Plus, as far as ownership v. control – the latter is simply a more accurate term. Hopefully that gives you more to chew on. Enough from me on that.

    What I Need to Say One More Time

    I said it a year ago and I’ll say it again. We have a job to do. SCRM is now at least a mainstream discussion. It doesn’t mean that its suitable for all companies; it doesn’t replace CRM; it doesn’t mean that if a company doesn’t have a holistic SCRM program that encompasses every aspect of it, it’s doing something wrong. Piecemeal or partial programs are perfectly appropriate for many companies – as long as the implications are understood. If you read CRM at the Speed of Light’s most recent edition, you’ll note that each chapter can be an entity unto itself. While the book is designed to be a holistic continuum that stitches all the pieces of an SCRM strategy into place, you can draw on the engagement strategy that would affect sales or marketing or customer service or the enterprise value chain, or the cultural effect and, I hope still get some benefit from that. I worked hard to make the book work that way. Realistically, just as in traditional CRM, few companies ever adopted an overall program that encompassed a complete picture. They tended to focus – and tend to focus – in one area be it sales or customer service. How you go about crafting the strategy for that one area – with a recognition of its impact on other areas of the company – is still part of SCRM planning. But there is nothing wrong with implementing “pure” traditional CRM or even “pure” social media. What you think you need to do, you should do. The best that folks like me and others of our ilk can do is show you the big picture, the use cases, the frameworks, the potential pitfalls, etc. and give you some guidance. As much as we have a whole group of folks out there in the CRM/SCRM world on a self-aggrandizing mission, the reality is that its your business and your decision on how you want to support your current and future customers.

    That has a whole lot to do with at least my next phase, the one that I thought I would head into after I finished CRM at the Speed of Light, 4e. Took me a lot longer but I’m ready now. Much of what you see here will launch in August, some a little later.

    The Next Phase

    This is an expansion that has a purpose. I think its time to move the discussion to the level of “how do you do that?” Or, “how did you do that? But then again, I’ve thought that before too. A lot of good it did (that’s kind of a Yiddish sarcasm).

    What has been incredibly exciting to me is that there is a significant body of knowledge out there waiting to be harvested that reflects the success of “SCRM thinking’. There are jobs that didn’t exist in any significant way several years ago (e.g. community manager) that are now proliferating. There are books out on aspects of how to do pieces of SCRM from social marketing to traditional implementation to business strategy and SCRM is entering the curriculum as the foundation for some CRM courses. There are case studies that are examples of colossal success and monumental failure. These are companies that have attempted social solutions to customer service, sales, and marketing to one degree or the other.

    what I’m going to do is harvest that vast as yet untapped – or at least unorganized – knowledgebase and bring you the stories of success and failure from the perspective of the practitioner and/or the vendor and/or the strategist. In other words, I’m going to look at the real world attempts that are going on out there and then bring them into focus for those of you who are interested in learning from those who do – and those who teach.

    So my strategy for your engagement (and I hope enjoyment – nothing says I can’t do this with a sense of humor) involves a program of expansion with a myriad of parts. Here’s the plan.

    Two New Podcasts

    Thing is, I love podcasts and I think that we’re spending an incredible amount of time blogging and little doing shows in this great medium. Aside from CRM Playaz, what do you listen to that reflects the CRM or SCRM industries? Name one. Well, my plan is to have two regular shows – one a revival of what I did a couple of years ago – Experience on the Edge and the other a new show called “The Real Deal.”  Here’s the plan:

    Experience on the Edge

    This show, replete with music and riffs will be my solo with a guest host occasionally. The idea will be similar to what it was when I last did it – in 2008 – which is an edgy take on the CRM industry including vendors – with their successes but also no holds barred razor barbs at them if need be. It will be in segments (still a little loose when it comes to what they will be but…) which will roughly break down to the

    1. The intro including music
    2. an opening commentary and what’s upcoming on the show
    3. a discussion on news of the week
    4. Some thematic editorial
    5. Lists of Top 5 good or bad – hopefully listener submitted and finally
    6. a closing

    . This doesn’t mean I won’t completely deviate from the format and do a special show on something like attendance at a vendor show or something of topical interest. I will. I’ll also have a guest host occasionally chosen by me from friends, interesting people or listeners.

    The Real Deal

    This one is a little more nebulous as far as the format goes. Rest assured, music will play a part in this one. No doubt. The big idea is that I will deal with how it is being done via case studies and who is doing it via interviews of people well known or not, who are doing the actual jobs or on the receiving end of the SCRM/CRM particulates. Will this show be segments – meaning say, a case study and then an interview associated with it? Maybe. Will it be a case study and an interview of some SCRM related person doing an SCRM related job? Maybe. Or something in between. Maybe. I haven’t decided. Preferences out there can be put up as comments or sent to my email at

    One thing of big general importance. These two podcasts are going to be carried exclusively (for now) on one or more of Robin Carey’s Social Media Today properties. Why? Because I think they are terrific and not overwhelmed by the self-promotional efforts of some of the folks on the other properties. The SMT properties are compelling, get excellent traffic and are thematically clear. And Robin is just a great person, which has bearing on my decision. I’m thrilled and honored that they’ve agreed to do it.

    A New Blog – “Science of Business, Art of Life”

    I’ve made the statement many times that the only reason that CRM is interesting to me is that its the only science of business that attempts to reproduce an art of life. That would be the art that’s involved in crafting good human relationships. CRM itself attempts to figure out an approach, a methodology and a program that will recreate how humans interact in good ways – but in what is a constrained business environment. This led me to thinking about the expansive nature of that statement “science of business, art of life” really is. It could be product reviews, business methodology, the underlying geometry of natural design, a discussion of psychology that extends beyond the usual Abraham Maslow “hierarchy of needs” that is out there once in awhile in a business environment. It could be how surrealism represented not only an artistic genre but a political movement. Etc. Hell, it could be about whatever it is feel like talking about – as long as the human psyche, human emotions, personal interactions and business consequences are somewhat involved. That gives me something of a wide range now, doesn’t it?

    The idea is simply to write on big picture or smallest of the small issues in a lot less constrained way than, say, ZDNet or PGreenblog requires me. Katy Perry, anyone? No one? Okay, Woody Allen anyone?

    The CRM Playaz

    Needless to say, CRM Playaz remains near and near to my (and Brent’s) heart. We’re working on the best ways to take this full time to video. For example, we’re thinking of doing a show using iPhone 4s Facetime video phone capability. Once. Otherwise, be prepared for a kick ass new “season” of our usual cogent but irreverent conversation including CEO Smackdown. More announcements later.

    Business Model Changes? Market Research/White Papers, Reviews etc.

    I’ve wanted to bring products to the market that were not the usual thought leader fare but more along the lines of market research. I’ve done it though I can’t say, candidly, that I have a proscribed methodology that has a hyphenated name associated with it. What I do have is market knowledge and an extensive network and I know how to construct a valuable survey. That said, I’m going to partner with various people like Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant and perhaps the Altimeter Group folks (none of them know this BTW, but I can dream can’t I?), to do joint market research projects – if, of course, they’ll have me. And with others who might be interested – let me know this year folks if you can. I’ll also “donate” my URL “” to the endeavor so there will be site that can handle the content made available non-exclusively too. Things like case studies, or interesting (free) market trends analysis, or even potentially “for sale” information. This isn’t a fully formulated idea but one that you can be assured I’ll be involved with by 2011.

    SCRM and Government 2.0

    As the fall begins to hit and leaves begin to turn, you will be hearing more from me and my brother, who just did a star turn at the Gartner Customer 360 conference in his discussion on Virtual USA and SCRM in the Public Sector. We are going to put together an important venture to bridge the gap between Social CRM and the Government 2.0 crowds – and thinking.  Got you curious?  Stay tuned.  More pretty soon. Work is underway on the construction of our gameplan.

    The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence/Institute for the Future of Business and the Customer

    This one is a big one to me. I’ve been asked to help spearhead the University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence which will launch officially in the fall. I am on the Board of Advisors and am honored and excited to be a part of this. For those of you I’ve actually spoken to, this is a dream for me. Several years ago, I came up with the idea of creating what I was calling the Institute for the Future of Business and the Customer (IFBC). But I didn’t really move ahead with it because I was so busy, I slated 2011 to make a serious attempt, though I did make several smaller and ultimately abortive attempts at it.

    Then along comes Frank Falcone, the Canadian CRM lead for Microsoft and boom, there is a permutation of what I’ve been wanting to get involved with for years! He convinced the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, to their incredible credit, to create a CRM Center of Excellence that would not only provide the curriculum of the future for CRM and SCRM, but also do the research to establish the frameworks, etc. in a neutral, agnostic environment. Wow. I will be heavily involved in this. More coming very very soon on this one.

    NOTE: While writing this I am watching Paul McCartney do a free live streaming AIDS prevention concert in Hyde Park in London. What amazes me is the power of music, McCartney and the Beatles. He sang “All My Lovin'” and then as he was, the cameras were panning over the audience and all these kids who could be his (and my) children or even with a stretch – grandchildren – are sitting there singing it word for word and CRYING – and I mean there were a lot of them crying, tears streaming down their face that weren’t any older than maybe 25. They aren’t old enough to remember the Beatles but such is the beautiful amalgam of music, history and emotions that it gets to the deepest part of the soul of any one of us as a human being, not as a member of a generation.

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Founder, Managing Principal, The 56 Group, LLC, author of several best-selling books, including CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers, but most importantly known as the Grandfather of CRM.

2 responses to “Closing the Loop: A New Beginning”

  1. Closing the Loop: A New Beginning – Enterprise Irregulars (blog) | Internet Marketing Workshop

    […] Closing the Loop: A New BeginningEnterprise Irregulars (blog)There are books out on aspects of how to do pieces of SCRM from social marketing to traditional implementation to business strategy and SCRM is entering the … […]

  2. Roger Horn at Intelestream

    Interesting to see how the original definition of social CRM some time ago has not changed. Social CRM certainly does have everything to do with the customer and social media. However, perhaps it would be wise to include context about social CRM internal tools and sales force automation. Much of today’s sCRM solutions are equally focused on obtaining and leveraging additional customer intelligence via social media and on strengthening the internal processes and communication of gathering that data. The internal processes will allow for a much richer and more sophisticated process to work directly with colleagues, creating a more efficient and transparent workforce.