CRM Watchlist 2010 Part IIIB

Summary:6 Okay, this is the final installment of the CRM 2010 Watchlist from me, though you will be seeing one from Brent Leary on the SMB Social CRM companies to watch in 2010 in the next couple of days.  But I'm, "wore out.

6 Okay, this is the final installment of the CRM 2010 Watchlist from me, though you will be seeing one from Brent Leary on the SMB Social CRM companies to watch in 2010 in the next couple of days.  But I'm, "wore out." My fingers don't want to write much at the moment, no matter what my head tells them, which is too bad because I owe several articles to several venues and I have to get them in asap.  Sigh.  It never ends.

Here are the past installments: Part I - The Big 4 - Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, salesforce.com

Part IIA - CRM Companies - NetSuite, Sage, RightNow

Part IIB - CRM Companies - Cognizant, Eloqua, Sword-Ciboodle, SAS, SugarCRM, Helpstream, Aplicor

Part IIIA - Social Companies - Lithium, Jive, INgage Networks, InsideView, Radian6

The Concept - Social CRM and Channels

What I'm attempting to do with this installment is to look at the channels/locations that are promising for 2010. But since this is a Social CRM blog there are actual criteria for the selection here that are not just in the realm of "whoa, dude, they are just so cool."   To get selected there are two things that need to be in the mix. First, that the channel is a location that potentially has the capacity to provide scalable and multiple communities and, second, potentially it could become a platform for Social CRM via integration with existing CRM systems - though it doesn't have to meet the latter standard quite yet if its potential is outstanding.

Just to be clear, I'm trying something here that is by no means certain to be a good idea or a clear category. I don't have this particular concept fully worked out. I'm kind of counting on readers to help me refine it in the interests of nailing down a category that furthers the growth of the customer ecosystem - my master plan - or as Hodgins on Bones would say "part of a vast conspiracy."  (That would be a conspiracy of one).  There is a noticeable growth in the number of community sites who are proceeding to integrate with CRM systems. Thus we have a trend that can't be discounted - due to what is now becoming a rush to life in the cloud.  This is a welcome, new and exciting place because it means live... "FROM NEW YORK ITS SATURDAY NIGHT"...I'm sorry. Got carried away. It means realizing the means for live real time data to be grabbed from the sites and close to real time. This serves to further a more accurate customer insight which not only gauges your customers but allows you to optimize their experience with your business.

I love this idea. Its a rough one. Its a new kind of watchlist. I might crash and burn with it. But I don't think so. A channel, by nature,  is NEVER, on its own, Social CRM, but the development of this kind of channel for a business can become an increasingly important part of the strategy the business crafts for interacting with customers. So I'm trying it.  Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me what I need to do better. Tell me how to refine the thinking and the tools.  Point me in another direction. Do something or I'll probably go crazy. Help me build this concept out.

Let's roll with this bad boy.

Twitter

I doubt that this is particularly surprising. However, I do want to clarify something so that it's clear I'm not changing my tune (or, my toon if you're into graphic novels).  Twitter is not Social CRM. It is a channel that has value to Social CRM strategies and that's what makes it important.

There are two reasons that Twitter is a channel of note when it comes to Social CRM strategies.  First, it is a terrific bi-directional pipeline for customer contact and conversation.  It is also a goldmine for valuable customer data and thus aids insight not just into customer segments and trends, but about individual customers too.  What makes Twitter exceptionally valuable is that it has a really flexible API which has not only led to CRMish (meaning collaborative) client apps like CoTweet and to a lesser extent Hootsuite, but a whole host of integrations with CRM platforms - mostly that want to monitor, capture and analyze the customer Twitter stream.  For example, SAP has integrated Twitter stream monitoring and sentiment analysis using the Business Objects Insight product to handle the traffic.

But integration hardly stops there. Twitter streams are integrated with salesforce.com, RightNow, NetSuite, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and and a nearly infinite group of other players. In fact, the only CRM major CRM vendor that I find doesn't integrate Twitter is Sage.  Why I'm not sure, though I don't doubt they're planning it....right? They are....aren't they?

The Twitter API is strong enough to introduce at least independent client products that look at customer analytics (simple ones), brand and service monitoring of the conversations by customers, collaborative employee/customer capabilities, and even Twitter-specific social network analysis which actually monitor Twitter influence. Most of the latter applications are somewhat misleading because they use rudimetary algorithms to create artificial levels of influence which ultimately get based on the quantity of followers rather than the quality and context.  One that is refreshingly simple and yet somewhat useful is the Hubspot (see below) Twitter Grader, though its not a true Reputation Engine and shouldn't be mistaken for one.

So Twitter functionally provides what is a large and maturing channel for Social CRM strategies - not indispensable for all sectors by any means as a bidirectional pipeline but increasingly important and one that highly emotional industries like retail or sports or telecommunications can't ignore.

The problem? Its whether or not they are going to survive, despite their popularity. Twitter still hasn't figured out how to monetize itself.  They have no business model. They remain afloat on their promise and their popularity. But, if they figure it out, watch out. It will continue to be an indispensable channel to  involve for those working on their Social CRM strategies.

Facebook

Facebook as a social channel - a gathering place for customers (in business terms, that is) is indisputably valuable.  Every retailer, every CPG company, every team, every...everybody has a fan page on Facebook. Coca Cola for example, the paradigm Facebook success has as of this writing some 4,137,430 fans on a very sophisticated page.  When pages are successful they take on the characteristics of subcommunities really - a community of interest typically.Facebook is not only marketing manna, but it is also used for traditional CRM efforts - customer service, though not as effectively as Twitter and even sales can be somewhat driven by Facebook- meaning you can use a fan page to access ecommerce or get ads to targeted audiences.

One reason for the proliferation of some 350,000,000 Facebook users and as a "must-have" site for customer engagement communities is a brilliantly robust API and a smart move by founder Zuckerberg to open the API to independent developers a couple of years ago. Its made Facebook perhaps the most influential social channel in the world.

Perhaps.

As far as CRM related technology integration, its very similar to Twitter but not as widespread. While the entire universe is once again moving toward integrating Facebook profiles into CRM data stores and customer records, the conversations on Facebook are being captured primarily through the social media monitoring tools such as Radian6 who are integrated with CRM customer records and data stores.  One degree of separation from Mark Zuckerberg. But even that is being remedied.

The first integration with CRM that had any real value was done by Clara Shih, formerly at salesforce.com and now the CEO of Hearsay Labs as well as the author of best seller "The Facebook Era," when she created Faceforce (now Faceconnector) in 2007. That triggered a huge amount of interest in the technical integration of CRM and Facebook. The idea of Facebook as a strategic location had existed for quite awhile by that time. After all, it was an obvious place where customers hung out, though pretty much in a bit of an undifferentiated way.

Clara's pioneering efforts led to other vendors doing that kind of integration. One interesting and notable current integration is in  Sage's ACT! 2010 Premium - where you have embedded access to a Facebook (among other social networks) social profile for your customers in accounts, right at your fingertips.

The potential for the social network as part of an engagement strategy is immense, obvious and tricky.  There is no question as to Facebook's value there.

Its potential as a location/pipeline/channel for both engagement and information in a technical sense is great - because the API is robust (even provides potential for location services) and flexible.

Its potential to integrate beyond the social profile and into the news feeds is also great though nascent at this point. Its potential as a CRM platform unto itself remains to be seen because as of now there are no players in that market, though I don't doubt that something will happen there sometime.

But what is in doubt with Facebook is twofold and troubling.

First, what is harped on constantly - their business model - how will they make money? Their vehicle to revenue seems to be highly targeted and personalized advertising.  They are already doing that with a expected final revenue number of $550 million for 2009. But honestly, that's not very much, given their popularity. And how they've handled their desperation for revenue leads to my biggest concern of all - how they've butchered the handling of privacy.

I'm not going to dwell on it here. I've written on it a lot. If you want details, go here, here and here, among many others. But no more than 2 or 3 days ago, Mark Zuckerberg, once again, made a statement which is, oddly true and yet also, once again, clueless when he justified Facebook's insane behavior in multiple places by declaring the new social norm for everyone as the willingness of people to exposure personal information.

Perversely, he's right. People clearly are willing to expose more personal information than ever before. But what he constantly misses in his desperate effort to make money is that, when it comes to entities like Facebook, those same people trust that the information will be used in a prudent way - and those same people think "while I am willing to expose the information, I still own that information. Its not public property."  Mr. Z. doesn't get the distinction.

That's why on the one hand as a social channel, I see Facebook not only as viable, but as one of the most important channels for integration into a Social CRM strategy, and as a potential goldmine for customer data - with permission of the customer of course.  However, the incredible repetition of errors based on a desperation to meet the market value of the company squarely with revenues that support it -makes me wonder too. 2010 isn't necessary the determinant year. There's too much going on in the world and they are too big to really see things resolved by the end of the year. They are well worth watching though - either for their immense possible value or as a "wow, I see the train wreck coming ahead and they don't."

We'll see.

Skype

This one is probably the biggest surprise on the list and the one that I'm least certain about - given their corporate demeanor, apparent strategy and sometimes buggy stable releases.  Yet, I'm totally excited about their possibilities despite all that.

But to get to why, let's look at the why not. Skype begins with one big disadvantage and a second smaller one.  The big disadvantage is while they have an API, it doesn't seem to be as flexible or easily available as say, Twitter's. Second CRM vendors notably are not integrated into the Skype community - I would imagine because of some architectural issues but also because Skype is seen (rightly, given its origins) as a VOIP peer-to-peer technology and not particularly a community platform.

Yet, Skype has a lot of surprises.  For example, did you know they did $175 million in revenue in the 3rd quarter of 2009.  Wow. But not that critical to the watchlist criteria for CRM.  Second, and really, really, really important, Skype has 521 million users making it 50% bigger than Facebook.  That would be roughly one twelfth of the entire world. That staggering number alone gets it inclusion as a social (CRM) channel to watch because of the infiinite possibilities.

I think that what is not all that apparent but should be considered in all discussions around Skype is that Skype has morphed from a VOIP ground-breaking technology, to a platform for communities based on a unified communications platform. Please note the caveat that technically, Skype is not a robust unified communications platform - in the the strictest sense of the word. They approximate that. But they have the possibility of being a lynchpin in a full blown UC effort with a community of active users available that has always been a hallmark of the product. Their community building tools (not called that) are enough to generate these ad hoc social nets that Skype natively supports - whether consciously or not.

What do I mean? Glad you asked, brothers and sisters. Between native Skype functionality and such collaboration focused vendors as Inner Pass, Skype has the capacity to create on the fly outcome based social networks that have privacy and conferencing capabilities. There are tens of thousands of these ad hoc social networks on Skype as of now and the possibility exists for millions of them.

That said, Skype has major drawbacks as least as far as this Social CRM watchlist goes. First, they don't have a strategy for native integration with CRM at the community level. Even at the VOIP product level, aside from Skype being made available as a general channel, I only see Infusionsoft make an effort to truly integrate Skype.  It is not of that much interest as a customer channel to CRM vendors. That will hurt.

Additionally, I'm not sure that Skype management cares to integrate. The tools are not that great (according to those I trust who have tried to use them) and it is not a channel in the "excited state" that Twitter or Facebook are. However, there are hundreds of thousands of people, creating tens of thousands (estimated of course) ad hoc social networks, with a potential 521 million able to do that easily. That alone is worth watching.

Get Satisfaction

Get Satisfaction, currently run by the dynamic and incredibly smart Wendy Lea, started out with a unique model.  If you were a legitimate employee of a legitimate company,  you could officially or unofficially start a customer service community to serve the customers of the specific company you represented.  The idea was to then drive customer traffic for a specific company to the company's community on the site to discuss issues or resolve problems that the customers were having with the company. The concept was that the customers had the opportunity to solve the problem amongst themselves (crowdsourcing) and that the company was providing a deeper level of engagement.

To that end Get Satisfaction provided the tools to build the community including knowledgebases (i.e. FAQs), forums, ranking, rating and comments engines, community moderation tools, and some analytics. A smart move.

They also provided a wide and flexible pricing scheme based on profiles of certain types of companies. The pricing went from a free version to an $899 per month version. The free version was for "Companies just getting started, pet projects, and people without any money." The $899 version was for " Companies and organizations that need to manage and extend their brand." (Whatever that means exactly)

What made this both unique and controversial was the crowdsourcing aspects of producing and policing a support community.  ANYONE from a company had the right to set up a community.  In fact, a customer could set up a community to discuss a brand if they wanted.  Which of course, twisted several corporations in knots.  A customer service community that rested outside the firewall that was set up by an unsanctioned employee was a scary thought for a company - with some good reason for that .

The controversy occasionally exploded such as one incident with 37Signals in early 2009. But those were few and far between frankly. Get Satisfaction takes a great deal of care with making sure that the companies whose employees respond are secure in their comfort with this model. In fact, they encourage companies to "own" their own brand's customer service site. After all, they attract over 2 million unique visitors per month which is a serious traffic flow of customers who have something to say.  As a result, they have hundreds of companies who maintain an official site for customer service with them.  A unique model to say the list and producing enough revenue and interest to land them a new $2.3 million round of funding this month.

But that wouldn't be enough to get them onto my watchlist frankly.  However, Wendy and company realize the value of the information that the customers are providing about the brand and began to think about ways to capture and track that data as it accumulated.  Their solution was integration with CRM.

The first was salesforce.com announced as part of the AppExchange this month.  Click on the link and you can read about it. What makes it more interesting is that they've moved forward with two other CRM vendors - not the typical choices - but really good choices nonetheless. They are small business helpdesk provider, Zendesk and contact center up and comer Parature.  Unusual integration choices but pretty damned good ones.   Parenthetically, they are integrating with Google Apps and Facebook - not CRM, but wise choices also.

All in all, this is a good company with a very good approach to customer service in a time when the value of good customer service is being recognized universally as the ne plus ultra of corporate customer engagement.

This is a very interesting company in a market that is changing.  What was a network of branded customer service communities is transforming into another community platform with the communities built in. Remarkable and worth watching to see if this savvy moves works as advertised.

Hubspot

Hubspot is the best known unknown I've ever known.  They do what they do fabulously.  If I ask you right now (no peeking ahead!) what Hubspot does, I'll bet that most of you can't tell me.  Yet, they are spectacularly good at it. And have the audiences to prove it.

They are a cloud based platform (or, you can call it a system, if you want) that is dedicated to inbound marketing. They are masters of getting the customer to come to you. They have an online location at Hubspot.com that "rents space" (i.e. provides services and subscriptions so that you can create a customized presence based on luring (in a good way) customers to you.  For example, they are Brent Leary's and my sponsor for CRM Playaz.

They have two books out, one on inbound marketing and another on using social media - both smart, well written, and loaded with practical easy to read (and do) advice.

They have a business office with an extraordinary and very contemporary corporate culture that encourages both team behavior and individual creativity and a relaxed but focused work environment. They only have one big flaw - all their teams are named after Boston sports teams - so I want all their teams but the Revolution (soccer) to do badly or to change their names to the more appropriate New York sports teams.

Kidding.

Really.

They have the muscle to back up what they do also. For example, CRM guru and SMB star Brent Leary did a webinar on Using Social Media for the SMB.  It had 6500 registrants and 2800 attendees! That's a breath taking number but what really makes this a great story is that this was only the 5th largest of their webinars in 2009!

But what cements this channel to platform is that they are integrated with salesforce.com to both identify leads that come from the inbound marketing campaigns and to track those leads to deal closure.  In March 2009, they announced the release of their Hubspot Salesforce Professional Connector which ties the systems together pretty easily.

What I'm concerned with is what might be obvious. With the increase in interest in social marketing by the heavy hitting marketing automation vendors like Unica, SAS, and the CRM suite owners - like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft etc., they are going to start pressing Hubspot, which for all their originality and remarkable capabilities don't have the budgets to get out there and fight with the competition.  Luckily for them, they usually take their own advice and thus can do a lot more than most with the dollars they have - and the incredibly competent management team that runs their show.  But they are squarely in the middle of what will be a white hot battle in 2010.

Let the games begin.

On the revisit lists - a couple of notes this time.

3 Months Revisit List

  1. Amazon
  2. Amazon worlds' best cloud platform, but how it plays into CRM except as a host provider, remains to be seen.  I'm guessing that, as potent as their cloud platform is - and as popular - they will end up doing nothing but hosting CRM - not integrating or building it. So their success will remove them from this list.
  3. Google
  4. As a growing cloud apps provider and even platform to some extent, Google has the benefit of world recognition and great programmers and tons of advocates. But where's CRM? They'll have to have that in order to succeed in the enterprise. Take a look at Lawrence Buchanan's "What Would Google CRM Look Like" for a good portrait of what Google needs. There is a Google CRM product called iFreeTools, which I know nothing about except that its built on the Google Apps engine, covers the three CRM pillars and looks to be simple.

6 Months Revisit List

  1. Slideshare.net
  2. They've been revamping their approach and done what they have to do to ramp up specific types of communities that appeal to specific roles e.g business, professional speaker, etc. They've also added business services so that they can make money. They are a very interesting play due to their successful crowdsourcing with business appeal, but it remains to be seen how successful this "YouTube for Old People" (my name) does.
  3. Linkedin
  4. They'd be on the watchlist due to their robust API, and solid community approach. But they are still unidirectional -you send a message, the recipient responds with a step in between. Let's just say that while theres' a conversation, its one with awkward silences.

Topics: Software, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Social Enterprise

About

In addition to being the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers Paul Greenberg is President of The 56 Group, LLC, a customer strategy consulting firm, focused on cutting edge CRM strategic services and a founding partner of the CRM training company, BP... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.