The emergence of the social customer, business, and partner value chain, alongside the rapid growth of social media channels to enable businesses to extend their customer engagement operations in ways never available before has also caused as many problems as it has generated significant new benefits.

The market has witnessed multiple vendors with various Social CRM solutions without a deep focus on current enterprise CRM investments from prior waves. New social analytics tightly woven to the vendor offering to determine sentiment, influence external to business intelligence enterprise tools, the rise of new social work flows gaps inside the business to link community and content search optimization, category aggregation, tablets, mobility, technology connectors, propriety lock-in platforms for businesses strategically navigate in their customer IT strategy, and so on.

Ironically, all the above new complexity and noise (and there is more) can be boiled down to two simple trends we have witnessed in the last decade:

1. Enterprise CRM operations from earlier waves have remained fairly static or have become fragmented organizationally by channel or unit, leading to the growth of technology, business, and data silos internally and a decrease in enterprise coordination around the end customer needs and channels.

2. The networked customer increasingly influences a larger portion of the business relationship across sales, service, and marketing outside of the current enterprise customer operations and expects the business, in turn, to interact in a unified fashion, without regard to channel or business touch point.

These two mega trends have ignited a firestorm of activity across the vendor landscape, be it in software (legacy and start up), platform exchanges, tablets and smart phones, developer partner communities and collaboration, new SI and vendor alliances, and more.

Unlike the CMO driven Social Media initiatives that are in various stages of deployment, the market for Social CRM and associated enterprise CRM intersections between social and operational is still in its nascent stages. Identification of the most suitable solutions, best-in-class practices, silo avoidance, private and public cloud architectural implications, and the appropriate enterprise hybrid technology mix for organizations remains greenfield (while Gartner pegs this sub-sector in CRM to be 1B in 2011, data on the ground appears to indicate otherwise).

This hesitancy has a solid rationale. Unlike the current initiatives creating Social Media COE’s and such, Social CRM has much higher implications for enterprise front office operations, involving thousands resources, organizational constraints, business and legal implications. Its what happens once an enterprise acts on the social insight.

There are a few pioneering vendors that have been able to prove their capabilities and are pursuing a ‘suite’ position in this market. Yet there is a lot of duplication (and major gaps) in the functionality, and, more important, none can claim to replace existing enterprise CRM with new social CRM solutions for the existing enterprise CRM market (that is without creating yet another Social CRM silo). Rather, an integration, hub-spoke, division based, or combination of the above is the sales model approach witnessed, with low risk POC or assessment types of engagements occurring alongside.

Moreover, there is no one vendor that ‘does it all’, unlike prior ‘feature wars’ from the earlier CRM era. As a result the entire evaluation process is fundamentally different, involving stakeholders from Finance (CAPEX vs. OPEX), Technology (Multi-Tenancy, Off Premise vs. On Premise, and SOA implications), Business (Field Adoption, Mobility, and Time to Benefits Realization), and other units, such as PR, reviewing against a completely new set of parameters.

The above considerations are critical in the Business and IT investment decision (or lack thereof, with often today a preference to postpone given the state of the market). Yet, business leaders navigating their future customer strategies, full due diligence is required now more than ever before to be positioned now for rapid execution. Businesses are completing due diligence efforts as the recognition of the need for change, even with the highest ‘noise to signal’ ratio seen in the CRM sector for years, will not abate in the coming years and competitive attrition is around the corner. Rather, indicators on ‘noise to signal’ are that it will only increase.

Without new customer engagement models envisioned that can be operationalized in the enterprise front office, and a plan to harness the benefits of change, sitting on the sidelines, ‘waiting for the dust to settle’, is not an option.

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