Social CRM: Not Your Father’s Customer Relationship Management

Brent Leary on CRMFive years ago this month my friend Michael Thomas and I started a company that included the word “CRM” in it.

Thinking back on it now, I don’t know what the heck we were thinking. Most small business folks back then didn’t even know what CRM was. The ones that did, well, let’s just say they didn’t have a positive word to say about it … in fact the words they did use are on that list George Carlin put together back in the day. And based on the looks on some people’s faces after saying our company name, I even feared for my own safety.

But now, in 2008, I’m not afraid to say my company name out loud. In fact I can say it and know that a growing number of my small business peers understand its importance to growth of their own companies. Because 2008 is shaping up to be the year small businesses begin fully embracing customer relationship management as a business strategy.

That’s because CRM is going social.

Small Businesses Know CRM means more than CRM

Traditionally CRM is usually broken into three main components:

  • marketing automation,
  • sales automation, and
  • customer service.

But a great deal of the focus has been on things like contact management, opportunity management and activity management. And many of the CRM applications concentrated on meeting the challenges that were inherent with these areas.

As small business people, we understand the operational productivity gains that come out of having a centralized database for tracking activities, opportunities and customer information. This also can help us be more responsive to customer inquiries, close more deals (more efficiently), and more accurately predict when opportunities turn into cash. This is truly good stuff that can make our lives easier.

But what we understand more than anything is a need to leverage the web to find more leads, and to let the web help us quickly determine good leads from dead ends. More importantly we need to create a Web presence that makes it as easy as possible for those who could use our services to find us.

This means creating a customer profile that helps us identify key pieces of information, helping to determine good customers from bad ones. Then reaching out to those customers to find out what’s on their minds, what social networks (if any) they frequent, what topics are important to them, and how they like getting information.

Chances are, if a good number of our customers spend a decent amount of time on Facebook, we can increase our opportunities to engage others like them by building a Facebook presence. Or if we find many of our customers are on Twitter, it might help us increase opportunities to touch base with them by following their tweets. Maybe just knowing their favorite blogs or podcasts will give us insight that could lead to more opportunities to reach more like them.

Social CRM adds a whole new dimension to the traditional view of customer relationship management. The focus is undoubtedly on people and not technology. It’s about joining the ongoing conversations our customers and prospects are already engaged in — not trying to control them. It’s about using any tool available that will allow us to meaningfully engage with more people like them. It’s realizing people like doing business with people they like — and understanding we love doing business with people we trust.

My small business brethren know this better than anyone, and have literally put the “social” into CRM. Which is why I’m not ashamed to say my company name anymore.

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Brent Leary explains CRMAbout the Author: Brent Leary is a Partner of CRM Essentials. Brent also hosts Technology For Business $ake, a radio show in the Altanta, Georgia, USA area about using technology in business.


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

28 Reactions
  1. Absolutely, Brent. No need to be ashamed of the CRM moniker. The strategies and processes for cultivating great customer relationships are vital to small businesses. And even though you and I have had lively debate recently about whether small businesses need CRM Software or Marketing Automation Software (yeah!), we both agree that CRM strategy and process are necessary for small businesses that want to thrive.

  2. As someone who first dabbled in Facebook and Twitter, and just recently really began to leverage them, this post is one of those where I find myself nodding “yes” at the screen.

    I was in sales for years, and one of the lessons I remember well is that people do business with people they like. Pretty simple. But that fits social networking so well it’s almost unbelievable.

  3. “Social CRM” I like it–another new buzzword! Actually, I haven’t thought about social marketing being a part of CRM, but the more I think about it, you’re absolutely right. It’s just another way to manage those relationships with prospects and customers. And, the listening aspect of social marketing really fits well into the CRM model.

    Thanks for making me think this morning!

  4. You’re exactly right Brent. With people spending more & more time online, you would be really missing the boat if you neglected to take advantage of that. I myself would be more inclined to do business with someone that I thought I had more personal experience with instead of a complete stranger.

  5. You brought up a very important point about how CRM’s are having a major impact on corporate America. With the help of the internet we are able to reach numerous prospects in a very small amount of time. Web analytics give us the ability to track peoples browsing habits. Sales Reps. are then able to talk specifically about what the prospect is intrested in. The CRM then gives the company the ability to organize and classify there leads,prospects, and customers in an orderly way. With the expansion of technology the future growth of the business world is endless.

  6. Michael W Thomas

    Brent…..funny you should say that and we had many laughs about people asking us, “now what is CRM?”

    We have watched it grow up and out but the fundamentals and reasons for having a sound CRM strategy are still in need.

    your friend….Michael

  7. Hey Brent, this is DEAD ON. And I would take it even further and say that the customer not only is having a peer level conversation but controls the conversation he wants to have with business. Thing is, they can go lots of places to get whatever it is the business, small or large, provides. The Web operates on the one hand as the great leveler for the customer – because a small business can provide competitive products, services and prices for that customer – regardless of the size of the competition. But what makes Social CRM more important than its traditional operational parent is that it provides the access to the customer that the customer wants. In fact, I’m working on a definition of Social CRM or CRM 2.0 right now that goes something like this: “CRM 2.0 is a philosophy & 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 & transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

    Pretty awkward so far, but a start.

  8. Whoops. I mean it provides access to the COMPANY that the customer wants. Not the customer. My bad.

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    thanks for article

  10. One of the most interesting aspects for me about your post, Brent, is the strategic aspect of it. In the past too many people thought of CRM as a technology you plug in and suddenly have better customer relationships and more profits. CRM must first be a customer strategy that is supported by technology. You noted that executives need to better understand their customers—creating a customer profile and using it to connect with customers online. That profile can also help make connections in person and by phone and can help build out our customer strategies. And, can potentially lead us to even more information, as you suggested, about our customers to make the connection that much stronger. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., call this a learning relationship. The more you know about your customers, the bigger your competitive advantage, because you can offer support, products, and services for your customers that your competitors can’t because they lack the information that you have that will allow you to speak to customers in a way that is more relevant to them and offer them products and services that are more relevant to them as well.

  11. Chris Bucholtz

    Brent, I think you are accurately assessing how the social CRM environment is evolving. CRM has been a two-headed monster to a lot of people: one head has all the sales and marketing tools, the other has all the classic consumer relationship aspects. And, of course, the two heads never bothered to speak to each other. What is really exciting is the idea that the sales tools become more effective AND the relationship with the customer becomes increasingly personalized when social networking tools can provide the link between the two sides of the equation. I’ve seen CRM users effectively doing this, and the result is more effective selling and a better experience for the customer at the same time.

  12. I’m late to the game of telling you that you’ve nailed it, but yeah — social media may be the final set of components that CRM needed. Whether we call it social, 2.0, or Aloysius (I don’t know why we’d call it that, but whatever), there can finally be a real two-way connection between the vendor who supplies the product and the customers who demand it. When you combine true customer dialogue with the analytics, the workflow, and (most important) the will to support the results of the dialogue, you’ve got something good.

    The more smart people like you there are to hold companies’ feet to the fire, the better off we are. Congrats on your first five years.

  13. Thanks for all the great observations and insight in everyone’s comments. It’s cool when the comments section has better information than the original post!

    Thanks again.

  14. Excellent post!

    I think you are touching on the biggest opportunity for small businesses today.

    The two biggest opportunities for software companies today are (as you say) “Social CRM” and “Community-Driven Software” where the people using the software actively drive innovation in functionality.

    We’re working on these two concepts, and blogging about the whole process.

    Check it out at

  15. Hey, you might want to take a look at our site: we’re putting together the best of social networking for business people and CRM / contact management. It’s free at

  16. Brent, Thanks for the post! Validates what I am doing. I have developed a portal where mainstreet businesses can engage customers in forum discussions, Q&A, blogs, surveys and use video and photos to market to customers in their profiles. I am getting these are you crazy looks when I talk to some businesses about what I am doing. Since you’ve been there, how about mentoring me? check out my 3-minute demo at and let me know if you’s like to share your experience with me.

  17. For me, it doesn’t make sense for people to be so hostile about CRM – the benefits it gives in terms of targeting the right people make for the perfect equilibrium between companies and customers. , which my company uses, has been super-reliable – no more wasting my time and others’, just arranging leads and following them.

  18. Great article. No doubt social networking is redefining CRM. For further reading, Intelestream has recently published a whitepaper about the subject. The whitepaper defines the concept of Social CRM, offers strategies that can help organizations better leverage social networking as part of their overall customer management strategy, and outlines steps that businesses can take to develop a tangible integration between social networking and traditional Customer Relationship Management. The paper can be read at