Rationalizing the E2.0, SCRM, social business discussion

Long and dense post warningIn my continuing angst over Enterprise 2.0, I drifted into some of the Social CRM material in an effort to try rationalize how these major themes come together in ways that make business sense.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Long and dense post warning

In my continuing angst over Enterprise 2.0, I drifted into some of the Social CRM material in an effort to try rationalize how these major themes come together in ways that make business sense. I also looked at other themes I find troubling in a broader context.

Social Media: my starting point

At a tactical level, it is clear that however you wish to measure, interpret or discuss, organizations at many points on the SMB to Large Enterprise continuum are at least putting their toe in the waters of using social media. The extent to which that is happening and the levels of success achieved is another matter and will be subject to debate for years to come.

Declarations of victory abound and while I have no doubt that some consultants see results, the blog world is not exactly known for rigor in its assessment of these things. Independent analyst assessment is often sketchy and restricted to a handful of use case examples. (And no, I'm not going to reference predictions.) That's one reason why I make what many see as the unreasonable demand for that annoying thing called ROI. It is refreshing to see that ROI, once the leper demand of critical thinkers, is being revisited. In a piece to which I will return for other reasons, it is good to see Brian Solis for instance declaring that:

While many experts argue that there is no need to measure social engagement (much the way that some companies don’t explicitly define the ROI of Superbowl ads or billboards), make no mistake: Social is measurable, and the process of mining data tied to our activity is extremely empowering.

Moving on. The recorded conversation between Euan Semple and Abi Signorelli replicated above acts as a preface to an upcoming social media conference. Euan does a solid job of starting the conversation around dispelling myths and unraveling hyperbole. Euan, while an advocate for change, recognizes that terms such as 'social' and 'revolution' are loaded. It is a conversation he and I have had in the past. I suspect he also realizes that rather than being beacons around which senior management can gather, they are terms that serve as impediments.

It seems to me that those who use these terms with gay abandon do so with the best intentions but without realizing the unintended consequences of what they say. Very often they seem to be carving out positions designed to make them appear as experts/gurus/mavens - and often with good reasons - but coming at the business issues from a lop-sided perspective. It's the full-employment mandate for wannabe marketers with nothing new to say but everything to re-Tweet. In thinking about this, it struck me that what I might be seeing is a cultural phenomenon that needs recognizing as part of the broader conversation.

The cultural question and marketing imbalance

This is going to sound like a left field wacko observation so stick with me. In Jon Reed's discussion about the Sapience conference there was a particularly astute observation:

There’s another issue raised by the press release Strategy Partners put out. Going forward, I believe they have some marketing decisions to make, at least in the United States, in terms of the tone they are setting to attract SAP customers to future events. In Europe, the SAP user groups have much more of an activist mentality than ASUG, which was made vividly clear during the initial Enterprise Support push back.

I just don’t see SAP customers in the states flocking to an SAP event that has the presence of vendors who would love to see SAP go down, via "rip and replace" or what have you. There’s a huge difference in conference positioning (and tone) between "we help you get the most out of your SAP investment" and "we help you determine the alternatives to SAP." While the latter might attract more blogger controversy and buzz, I don’t believe most SAP customers in the U.S. are in a "rip and replace" mentality right now.

What makes this astute is not the detailed context but the implicit observations around differences of perception within a large ecosystem that spans the globe. There's a Global 2000 of those organizations and ecosystems. Those same perceptual differences are heavily influenced by cultural norms. It got me to thinking about my own experience working for a US organization in the 70's. Getting used to the idea of 'payables' rather than 'suppliers,' 'receivables' rather than 'debtors' and different accounting formats was a wrench with which I struggled for months. Understanding the differences in language use was (and sometimes remains) equally problematic. For many I meet, it is a continuing source of confusion.

How much harder for those of us who are not US born and bred to accept the relentless and often uncritical marketing of ideas? Marketing, along with its PR sibling is, after all, a US driven discipline. The question for me is just how seriously do the targets of all the social media, SCRM, E2.0 'stuff' take what they see coming out of the US? Or for that matter within the US? It is the nut of internal competition to which Oliver Marks alludes on many an occasion and which can so readily derail attempts at collaboration and community building. Think simply about scale as Oliver has done and it is easy to see that we cannot realistically homogenize approaches to business.

This is a topic worthy of a much richer discussion because its potential impact is so huge. Re-read Jon's observations in the context of 92,000 customers and a battle around one topic and it starts to make sense as a case study. It plays directly to the likely outcomes of social computing across regional and geographic boundaries as well as internally to the way organizations operate. Simply asserting that 'I don't get it' when raising questions around this topic represents a failure to appreciate that we don't all see the world through the same eyes.

SocialCRM and Social Business: the bug bears

In a provocative attempt to separate the issues, Estaban Kolsky recently asserted:

Social Media is about tools and tactics, you can never set a strategy for it, and it has very short term life and results.

Social CRM is about strategically setting long-term goals for working better with your clients, and improving your organization in the process.

Social Business is the long-term, strategic process of reinventing your organization to collaborate with employees, partners, and customers.

Crucially, he argues that:

Social CRM is a strategy, but specific to a particular area (working with customers)It forgets the rest of the organization – but more importantly also the role of the customer beyond the front-office functions. It does serve a mid-term purpose – but is the equivalent of putting some gauze and pressure to the arterial bleed — you can stop the bleeding, but the artery still needs repair.

Social Business is the vascular surgery that will repair the arterial walls, ensure that circulation is working properly, and there is no loss of function.  This is your goal: to stop and repair the arterial bleed – rather the profuse loss of customers and do it in way that there is not further loss.

Estaban's thinking appears to be aligned to a very specific view on the topics but one that doesn't obviously embrace the 'inside and outside' coming together via social media or through processes that play to real world service delivery as a customer satisfaction component. That's a broad statement I know and I should clarify by saying that I see this more from the perspective of manufacturing led businesses than those that fall within the service sector. I could be wrong but that's my interpretation based on the referenced post and comments made. That despite he says in comments:

To me Social Business, Enterprise 2.0 (which I would prefer to call Social Enterprise) and Social CRM are so inter-connected as to be effectively different views of the elephant (to borrow the old business metaphor of describing an elephant by different people in the same room).

Effectively all we are doing is growing the ability to collaborate across the organization, and in between them.

Paul Greenberg's thinking seems aligned to this idea though in his 2010 predictions he picks off pieces of the puzzle as illustrative of the direction he believes industry is going. Despite the incremental step changes Paul sees, I view the general tenor of the discussion as lacking:

In nearly all the discussions around SCRM/E2.0, I see very little attention to the interaction between the post sales processes and how they get articulated further downstream. If anything, there seems to be an unresolved tension between the step change approach and an as yet unspoken discussion about how the 'revolution' occurs without destroying the organization and its business processes. Neither does it link back to the essential processes that turn all these great social interactions into getting things done inside the value chain. Do they get blown up as well when we've hardly managed to fix any of the constraint based supply chain problems that tie up trillions of dollars? I don't know but in trawling Jason Busch's Spend Matter's procurement blog, I see little mention of social anything. What does that tells you? Bigger fish to fry or an irrelevance such that Estaban's singular view is in fact reality?

In Estaban's social business definition I'm far from clear what happens in the real world though I can see where he is going. Does this for instance mean that once we step beyond customer<>organizational engagement that we include the business partner ecosystem? If so then what next and how does it work? It is a genuine problem. Take the SAP ecosystem. It is one with which I am familiar and serves as a good example.

While the company has unquestionably been successful at reaching out to and embracing the developer community, it is way off the mark in extending that to business partners and customers. Partners feel disadvantaged and customers feel they have little share of voice. It is not something that gets fixed by replicating what went before although there are lessons to be learned. Each community is different and I'd like to see more recognition of that fact rather than broad assumptions. It is something SAP is addressing. Back to Brian Solis who talks about Social Darwinism:

Adaptation: In order to truly compete for the future, artful listening, community building, and advocacy must align with an organization’s ability to adapt and improve its products, services, and policies. In order for any team to collaborate well externally, it must first foster collaboration within. It is this interdepartmental cooperative exchange that provides a means for which to pursue sincere engagement over time.

Brian gets plenty of kudos among social media aficionados but despite what should be a good starting point, I fear he is confused and idealistic in this thinking. Like many others, and I count myself among them, the goodness of collaboration should be self evident. To describe it in the context of Social Darwinism is bound to generate much criticism because the topic is fraught with unpleasant connotations. I would be much happier in seeing Brian's ideas rephrased to simply talk about 'social change.' It then opens up the door to discussing the 'how' in terms that allow for the diversity of organizational makeup. But even then I am left with a hollow feeling as I read how Brian continues:

Social CRM (sCRM): Scalability, resources, and efficiencies will require support, resulting in a modified or completely new infrastructure that either augments or resembles a CRM-like workflow. Combining technology, principles, philosophies and processes, sCRM establishes a value chain that fosters relationships within traditional business dynamics. As an organization evolves through engagement, sCRM will transform into SRM — the recognition that all people, not just customers, are equal. It represents a wider scope of active listening and participation across the full spectrum of influence.

It reads like an amalgum of Estaban's SCRM and social business and may yet prove to be worthy as indicative of direction. But once you get past the flowery language what are you left with? More confused thinking. Are all people equal? Not at all. If Brian truly believes that then any connections with Darwinian thinking go out the window. What's more I felt like I was dangling in mid air silently screaming: 'How do I get there?'

A constructive next step?

It's always easy to throw brickbats but on this occasion I'd prefer to add something I hope is fresh into the conversation while representing a challenge. In doing so, I am asking people to think beyond their silos of expertise in an effort to articulate the strategic intent that seems implied but is never quite said.

Doc Searls has long talked about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) as a socially constructed way of looking at the vendor-customer relationship. It's kind of the inverse of CRM but with the same philosophical grounding.

The last time we discussed this, more than a year ago, he acknowledged that making VRM work in anything other than relatively simple supply chain situations was likely to prove tough. Yet real customer service means having some reach into the supply chain. Even now Doc acknowledges that many of the tools don't exist to make the VRM dream a reality. But maybe there's a way where E2.0/SCRM thinkers can see where their ideas start to disintegrate and use the conversation Doc has going to make this more relevant to the real world. At the same time, maybe think also about how Sig's BRP impacts the broad sweep of E2.0/SCRM.

Finally, when thinking about E2.0/SCRM, pay attention to the way in which organizational change occurs in the context of nuanced cultures. Don't be constrained by one or other theory simply because it makes for an attractive sounding buzz phrase. Without that, much of what passes for this new way of thinking will be lost.

It's early days. I'm sure it is happening. Somewhere. I'd just like to see it.

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