As social media’s proliferation added new dimensions to standard customer relations practices, companies began responding accordingly, even going so far as to appoint “Community Managers,” people whose sole (a deceptively understated descriptor, given the complexity of the job) responsibility was managing these online conversations. By 2010, the number of companies with Community Managers titles was high enough to officially make this a mainstream corporate position (as evidenced by this list, compiled by the Altimeter Group’s own Jeremiah Owyang).
The Community Manager role’s formalization is a step towards bridging communications, marketing and even sales, as the conversations these executives moderate have implications on each business function. Likewise, the increasingly robust analytics they can access through an array of online tools are capable of advancing each of the threes’ strategic direction. In essence, Community Managers embody the new generation of customer relationship management: social CRM.
Customer relationship management, or CRM, became popular in the 1990s following the emergence of database marketing in the previous decade. Borne out of the need for a scientific approach to automating sales activities, CRM matured over time to encompass other consumer-facing business departments, including marketing and customer service, but sales data remained its primary engine.
As we all know now, social media and digital technologies would ultimately upend such standardized processes by shifting the balance of power from organizations to their consumer audiences. At the same time, the elements that defined its three core pillars-customers, relationships and management-changed drastically:
- Customer: from people to communities
- Relationship: from processes to conversations
- Management: from data to content
Suffice it to say, CRM underwent major recalibrating to transition from analog to digital, which brings us to its present, “social” iteration. However, with newly adjusted organizational structures (hence the normalization of Community Manager roles) and digitized CRM to match, who owns the ever-growing pool of data? And, perhaps more important, what needs to be done with it to maximize the new opportunities it can create, and the bottom-line results it can deliver?
The short answer, unfortunately, isn’t so short. From an outside-in perspective, who owns it-sales, marketing or communications-doesn’t really matter because, as Owyang put it, “Customers do not care what department you are in.” However, from an inside-out perspective, we know that unaligned, out of sync or feuding departments don’t translate to positive results in the modern business environment.
More than that, though, is the realization that, for the first time, CRM data actually stands to close the proverbial loop and ensure the sales, marketing and communications functions are all working within the same pipeline. Indeed, as consumer data collected on the marketing side becomes more sophisticated and, in turn, can analyze characteristics like influence and intent to buy, there will be a major push to actually sync up with the sales pipeline to identify, monitor, prioritize, triage, engage and report on individuals’ brand interactions. Likewise, the communications activities taking place in social media generate robust metrics that can assess consumers’ preferences and consumption habits, and inform engagement strategies at their moment of interest.
As far as HOW social CRM will bridge communications, sales and marketing, the complete answer remains to be seen. However, communications management vendors are taking steps in the right direction with real-time monitoring services and workflow synchronization capabilities. At the same time, sales solutions are integrating collaboration tools directing into their CRM systems, as evidenced by Salesforce’s recent roll out of Chatter. The key will be finding a meeting point where both data sets can be merged and applied to holistic solutions-surely the new “Holy Grail” of the modern communications era.