Three New Required Roles for your company (#1): CIA Operative

You might be thinking you landed on the wrong blog or be asking yourself “What does this have to do with CRM? Now this Brian guy is telling me that I need to hire a CIA Operative? I’m moving on. I’ve got real business to tend to. ”

Wait! Yes, you do…have real business to tend to, and this will help. And Yes, you do…need to incorporate not one, but three new roles into your business as soon as possible that you probably haven’t thought of before now. The first one is the CIA Operative role.

Ok. This might be a slight stretch. But hear me out on this.

If I could reduce CRM down into three words (other than customer relationship management), it would be to “Know your customer”, or “Serve your customer”. (Feel free to add your own 3 letter descriptions of CRM in the comments section at the end of this post).

For as long as your company has been in existence, individuals have been talking about your products and services. They’ve been talking at the grocery store, at church, at the water cooler. Word of mouth spread, but you have been unaware of 99% of the conversations that were out there. The CIA has not been so unaware. Now they’re likely not so interested in conversations about your latest volumizing shampoo, meat products, blade servers, or whatever your company happens to produce, but they’ve been listening to other kinds of conversations for quite some time.

Imagine if you could listen to all of those conversations about your products and services. If you are a company of any size, there are conversations happening right now about you. Some of them are happening right here on the internet. Those conversations are being enabled by the social web.

Wouldn’t you like to know what your customers saying about you, your company, your products, your services, your marketing campaigns, your receptionist, your customer service…?

The CIA knows a lot about what people are saying about the USA. In fact, they probably now know about this post. Hi guys – thanks for stopping by! 🙂

What if your organization had its own CIA operative? What if someone is blogging, or tweeting, or making a song or video that mentions your company or brand right now? How would you know?

Check these free tools out to see what people are saying, and then come back for the rest of the post:

Now there are a number of enterprise level tools that exist out there as well. Some primary examples include companies like Radian 6, Scout Labs, and Visible Technologies, which, oh by the way, received an investment from an organization called In-Q-Tel, which, oh by the way is funded by the CIA.

How’s that for tying the loop?

Forward thinking companies are listening, but that’s just the first step. Want a case study? Here’s an interesting one about Avaya, who turned listening not only into more data about what people are say about their brand, but actually closed a $250,000 sale because of their CIA Operative tacticts.

My contribution to the #MonTwit experiment: What I’ve discovered about Twitter

My Introduction to Twitter

I first heard of Twitter back in early to mid 2007. Here’s what it looked like then.

I looked at the homepage and studied it curiously. “What am I doing? I thought to myself…well, surfing the internet. I’m not sure what value sharing that adds to anyone. And who’s looking at this by the way? I’ve got a family I need to protect.”

I concluded: “Nope. No value here. Maybe I’ll check it out again in a few months.”

I had maybe 2 or 3 similar experiences over the next 6 months. I was intrigued, but still felt that I had better things to do. Quite frankly, at the time, it seemed like the domain of dorks and geeks to me. Shel Israel provides fascinating history and anecdotes about the early days of Twitter in his book “Twitterville”

Roped In

I finally gave in and signed up for an account in late 2007. I found a few of my existing friends and followed them. Most of their tweet streams looked like mine. “Trying this thing out…just got home from work…”, things of that nature. I was beginning to see the value potential, though. There just wasn’t quite critical mass there yet, or so I thought. I just hadn’t learned to listen yet.

By that time, guys like Jeremiah Owyang had already figured Twitter out. By November 2007, he had already created his version of this post.

Fast forward to 2008, and I finally had made my first tweet. How’s that for impressive and engaging?

The lightbulb moment

In late 2008, I took a short drive up to Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, their managers, and the kind folks at 19 Entertainment (creators of American Idol) had graciously donated some auction items to International Princess Project for a fall event we had had. I was dropping off some Punjammies and a personal thank you note. A BIG SHOUT OUT to @adamecourt for making that happen!

(By the way, if you need some last minute Christmas presents and/or want to support a great cause making a huge difference in the lives of some of the most marginalized people on the planet, visit

Down the street, also on legendary Sunset Blvd, longtime friend of mine, Elliot Loh, was leading a team of developers at and that same group had also created what would become Yammer. He explained to me why they created it and how it benefited them. Knowing what everyone inside their walls were working on helped them to work more collaboratively as a team. It made sense. I don’t remember the quote, but he said something like this: “It’s kind of like watching TV. It’s on in the background, so I know what everyone is working on. If I have something to add or if I need some help, I’ll interject.”

Something clicked at that point for me. I began spending a little more time on Twitter, mostly listening. Separately, I began seriously considering the impact that Social Media would have on business. Specifically, I saw it having direct implications on one of my personal areas of interest and expertise: CRM – Customer Relationship Management. I saw a collision course coming, but didn’t quite know how it would play out.

The Accidental Community is formed

I turned to Twitter (and other sources), and found a small group of like minded individuals from around the globe exploring the same thoughts and ideas. A hashtag had been created by early Social CRM pioneer, Brent Leary. A guy named Prem Kumar Aparanji seemed to never sleep, relentlessly stoking the #scrm fire. An accidental community was formed. An incomplete and growing list of some of these great folks can be found here.

2009 has been a fun ride.

Here are a few things that I’ve discovered about Twitter along the way:

Twitter is the world’s greatest networking environment
I’ve “met” an incredible amount of people through Twitter. Many of these interactions have transitioned to other channels of communication: phone, email, face to face.

Without Twitter, I likely only would have met these people by chance. Twitter gave me the chance to listen to the whole world at one time, filtering global chatter by keywords I was interested in. It is never closed, and anyone can come and go as they please.

Twitter is the world’s best learning environment
If you want to learn, there is no better place. There are people offering valuable information on an infinite amount of topics. Yes, you have to learn how to filter, but once you do, there is a ton out there. The difference between just learning on the web as we have known it previously is that now in many cases, you have direct and immediate access to the creators of the content you learned from. Which leads me into my next point;

– Twitter is a “people sampler”
You can learn a little bit about a lot of people. You can see how they interact. This means that you get a small glimpse of a person through their Twitter interactions. Some you’ll desire to engage with more. Some you’ll pass on. This can be both good and bad.

– Can negatively affect your mature relationships
The ironic thing is that too much time spent on Twitter can negatively affect your mature, existing relationships. The more time one spends on Twitter is time not spent face to face with someone else. Has Twitter helped my marriage? Likely not. Be warned and be wise.

– Can become addicting if you don’t guard your time
The allure of the first two points are pretty attractive for those who are out to conquer the world. The world has never been so accessible. Many of my Twitter friends speak about increased levels of ADD, regretfully pushing high priority items to the back burner, and having to pull themselves away to “go get real work done”. Of course I never struggle with any of these things. (I’m just writing this while my task list is a mile long and Christmas is a few days away).

“Yes, honey, just a couple more minutes…” Sorry friends, but with that, I’ve got to go.

The New (Social) Customer Advocate

Over the past few months, the #scrm Accidental Community has had several conversations about who should “own” social media and Social CRM within an organization. Though we’ve had a lot of productive conversation, I believe we’ve collectively come to the conclusion that there is no definitive answer other than “it depends”. You can find some links to some of these conversations at the end of this blog post.

But don’t fear, dear readers. The dialogue has not been in vain. There have been a number of insightful takeaways, and the journey of those conversations has arguably been more valuable than the originally mapped destination.

In the end, some corporate Social Media initiatives will be unmistakeably intertwined with corporate DNA, being touted and driven throughout the organization from the top. Zappos is the first company to come to mind.

In other organizations, a groundswell will rise from within, starting slowly with one or two internal advocates who see real opportunity, and then spreading as small “wins” are accomplished and shared. The most likely areas from which this groundswell will emerge today are marketing and/or customer service.

At Comcast, just a few people have ultimately changed the corporate culture of a company 100,000+ strong. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, one of Social Media for Business’s poster children recalls Comcast’s journey with Twitter. From Frank Reed’s Story over on Marketing Pilgrim:

“It has changed the culture of our company,” Roberts said.

Comcast has for a while now been using Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers. The idea was not his, but rather rose organically when someone in the company realized that a lot of public complaints were being sent over Twitter.

Well, since we are talking about Twitter, let me share a little slice of my life from yesterday. Mitch Lieberman, John Moore, Josh Weinberger, Kathy Herrmann, Mike Muhney, Valeria Montoni , Russ Hatfield, Glenn Ross and I had the privilege of participating in another “accidental” conversation that was a slightly different iteration of this “Who should now own Social Media?” question. Wim Rampen showed up a little late, so he’ll just have to weigh in below (along with all the others where they’re not limited by 140 characters.) 🙂

The topic being discussed by was essentially “Who should carry the front line conversation?” At first blush, this seems like a very similar question. However, I view it as significantly different. It’s different because it changes the conversation from “Who decides what the organization will do with Social Media?” to “Who actually does it?”. The conversation is moving from ideation to implementation, and that, my dear friends, is exciting.

(Speaking of implementation, after you are done reading this post, head over to Esteban Kolsky’s blog to read an excellent ongoing blogpost series titled “The Roadmap to SCRM”)

Valeria Montoni wrote a great article titled Twitter, Customer Service, and good Brand Management which speaks to the value of monitoring Twitter to hear what people are saying about your brand. Valeria shares both explicitly and implicitly that the traditional worlds of customer service, brand management, and marketing as a whole must be intertwined in the context of the Social dialogue.

If Social CRM is “…designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment…the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”, then I submit that it makes perfect sense that the team or individual responsible for interacting with customers and prospects be FULLY EQUIPPED AND EMPOWERED to engage with the customer in whichever direction they’d like to take the conversation.

*** Let me restate that ***

The team or individual responsible for interacting with customers and prospects must be FULLY EQUIPPED AND EMPOWERED to engage with the customer in whichever direction they’d like to take the conversation.

Take a step back and consider the implications of that statement for a moment.

– How many different reasons are there for your organization have a conversation with your prospects and customers today? and subsequently…

– How many people within your organization can effectively lead or participate in each of those conversations in a manner which aligns with your organizational goals, vision, and strategy?

I am assuming your mind didn’t jump to a picture of your latest intern, or an entry level customer service rep. Most likely, your mind jumped to Director level and above type personnel. Every company has a couple of them – someone who just “gets it”. Someone who carries “juice” across departments, teams, org structure, and one of the few that is the living lifeblood of the organization.

Meet your new “Social Customer Advocate”; a big picture thinker, enthusiastic about the company’s vision and mission, in tune with marketing/branding strategy, with a genuinely caring and transparent attitude, a leader and manager, who is, oh by the way, savvy enough to look for opportunities to sell your company’s new product and service offerings.

They are customer service, marketing, and sales. They are the face of the organization, and their face and their written word are going to be well known across the interactive landscape of your customer and prospect base(s).

Here’s the Understatement of the Day: This type of thinking is a MAJOR SHIFT for many organizations.

For smaller companies, this actually may not be that difficult to imagine. Entrepreneurs across the country have lived in this multi-faceted role for decades. But for the Fortune 1000, is this possible? Can this scale?

I know what your thinking…

Companies have just spent the last couple of decades trying to minimize customer service costs. IVRs, offshoring, outsourcing, and entry level workers have become the first line of defense for corporations across the globe, and important/critical issues get escalated up the chain to the high paid knowledge workers only when necessary.

Yes. However, unfortunately for companies for who have spent gazillions building a corporate culture and infrastructure around minimizing the cost of each customer interaction, the customer now can not only yell about how unhappy they are with their poor experience to the gals at the salon, or the fellas at the local watering hole, but their disdain can be spread and amplified across the globe in days, if not hours.

I submit that as culture and society becomes more technologically social, organizations will need to change the way they interact.

Enter the Social Customer Advocate.
They will act as the funnel for corporate interactions through social channels. They will choose to engage directly, or distribute the customer or prospect requests to an appropriate resource within the organization. They are the brand’s representative to the world for anything that a prospect or customer may desire to dialogue about.

Today, they may be Directors, VPs, or even C-Level Execs. Ultimately, they will lead and quarterback the team to success, and the makeup of these folks will be darn hard to find, and even harder to duplicate.

Someday down the road, this role may be automated and replaced by technology like so many other key roles from yesteryear. But we are just journeying into this new frontier, and we are a long way from being able to successfully automate genuine conversations with customers..

So then, my questions for you:

1. Is it feasible for mid sized or large organizations to find and leverage the Social Customer Advocate?
2. What are the keys to finding, duplicating, and leveraging Social Customer Advocates?
3. What primary cultural challenges await this shift in customer engagement?
4. Who do you know that have already used a Social Customer Advocate or Advocate(s) in their organization?
5. What are your top arguments against using a Social Customer Advocate?

More Social CRM Reading:

Who Owns Social Media? by Brian Solis
Q: Who Should Own Social CRM – A: Not who you think by Graham Hill
Unleashing the Value of Social CRM: Where to find the biggest return
Social CRM: Overhyped Fad or Transformational Solution

Social CRM – CRM 2.0 – CRM using Social – The Integration of Social Media with Customer Relationship Management Systems?

Honestly guys, can we please get back to important issues beyond semantics?

In case you missed it, a heated debate sprung up this week in the Twitter and Blogospheres, respectively. Read the following to get caught up to speed.

Esteban Kolsky’s Post
Prem Kumar Aparanji’s Post
Rob Schneider’s Post

In my humble opinion, those of us who regularly interact on the #scrm channel seem to have a pretty good understanding about the framework of what we are talking about. The healthy and spirited debate is great, and hopefully not only enriches our individual and collective understanding, but also that of the customers we serve.

What it is, and how we use it today and in the future, at the most basic level is still up for debate. Regardless of anybody’s claims, the reality is that we are very early on in integrating the world of social media with traditional CRM solutions. Those that have pioneered the space are just beginning to be able to quantify returns and metrics, and are discovering “unintended consequences”, both good and bad.

There is plenty of hype. I agree. But I believe there is also tremendous opportunity to harness the Groundswell (thanks Forrester, Charlene Li, and Josh Bernoff) that is taking place in the world around us for the tremendous benefit of CUSTOMERS through new and innovative Sales, Marketing, and Support interactions.

The question we are all attempting to answer is “How do companies leverage the emergence of Social Media to increase customer experience, customer acquisition, and customer retention?”

From my perspective, call it what you want – Social CRM, CRM 2.0, CRM using Social, or any other term. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. CRM is about a lot more than CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT, but it provides a common term for discussion and innovation. SOCIAL CRM should be the same.

Let’s get back to meaningful conversation, and regardless of your view(s), I’ll be hanging out on the #scrm channel for more interesting interaction.

A primer on Social Media: Listen, Build, Engage, Share

If you are just familiarizing yourself with social media and how to leverage it in your organization, Becky Carroll on the 1to1 media blog does a nice job of summarizing the benefits of Social Media, and how companies can leverage tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  She does a nice job of separating the “cool factor” and hype from tangible benefits that can be reaped.

Has your company leveraged Social Media to deepen customer relationships?Do you have plans to? What question or concerns to you have?  Soundoff.

Guest Blogger Becky Carroll: Social Media Builds Customer Relationships

One of the most common questions being asked right now is this: “What should my company do about social media?” As more and more businesses are jumping in and creating corporate profiles on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and flickr, marketers are feeling the pressure to jump on the bandwagon. Some of these marketers plan to use social media as a cool set of tools to build awareness about their company. However, it is much more than that. Social media can be an integral part of a strategy to build customer relationships.

Let’s look at how social media can be used to deepen customer interaction and increase customer loyalty.

Social media builds trust.
It allows companies to be perceived as more human. You aren’t just talking to Comcast; Frank Eliason is there for you. You want to know more about Zappos; Tony Hsieh tells it like it is. Customers don’t want relationships with faceless companies; they want relationships with other people. The use of social media hastens the trust-building process by putting people instantly in touch with other people–critical in these days of corporate bail-outs and public uneasiness. Trust is the main component of a strong customer strategy.

Social media builds community.
Customers can’t easily rally around a website, as there is little interaction there; but they can rally around a brand’s presence on social media. What makes these communities so powerful is that many of them have been built and sustained by a brand’s fans. Fiskars, which makes scissors, encouraged the formation of a scrapbooking community. However, it is their customer ambassadors, or Fiskateers, who are responsible for driving the conversation and inviting others to join in. National Instruments uses its community, powered by social media, to bring together business customers to share technical information with each other, which is then used in National Instruments marketing materials. These communities are examples of likeminded people coming together and interacting around a common purpose; in this case, a company’s products and services. Ongoing customer interaction and engagement such as these increase loyalty and ultimately rate of purchase.

Social media increases word of mouth.
It allows information to be shared peer-to-peer at light-speed around the globe. As a result, customers are turning to social media ratings and reviews to research an organization’s offerings before making a buying decision. This is especially true in the B2B environment, where a large number of B2B buyers are participating actively in social media for business–reading blogs, writing reviews, watching user-generated videos, and joining social networks (source: Forrester). All of this enables the rapid spread of company news and information, as well as the sharing of customer success stories. Organizations that enlist their customers to help evangelize their products and services via social media find those customers to be fiercely loyal and willing to share their experiences with others who are like them. This in turn builds trust, as well as the customer base.

Social media enables two-way conversations.
This is the gold in the equation. Where companies used to have to rely on one-way email blasts, advertisements, and direct mail pieces, they can now interact directly with customers via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a myriad of other social media tools. More is required than simply hanging out a corporate shingle on these sites, however. Companies need to fit these conversations into their overall customer strategy and marketing communications plan. In so doing, they will be able to gain deep customer insight from these new online interactions, including an understanding of customer behaviors and needs, as well as online reach and influence.

Getting Started
The best way to begin using social media is to stay quiet. Yes, social media enables great customer interactions, but first it is important to do some listening. Once a company has spent time monitoring conversations–about the company, competitors, the industry–only then is it truly equipped to begin participating in conversation. This is the best way to be relevant when stepping forward and inviting customers into your virtual lounge to get to know them, their likes and dislikes, as well as their personal side. The foundation will be laid, and rich customer relationships have every opportunity to blossom from these online engagements.

via Guest Blogger Becky Carroll: Social Media Builds Customer Relationships – Think customers: The 1to1 Blog.

More on Social CRM: The evolution continues

Lots of conversation flying around about what Social CRM is, and what it isn’t. If you use Twitter and/or friend feed, I encourage you to join the conversation at #scrm.

Business and Sales have always been about relationships. People buy from people they like and from people who provide compelling value propositions for their problems.

These principles are timeless, well documented, and well proven.

Technology over the recent course of history, has provided the tools to enable this process to happen more quickly in a more efficient manner. Traditional CRM enables organizations to understand their customer bases better, and provides the backend framework to capture, organize, analyze customer data, and also provides the tools necessary for customer facing individuals to do their job more efficiently and effectively so that the customer experience is exceptional.

Social Media has birthed a new medium for traditional conversations to take place. The fundamentals are still the same. Customers will still buy from people they like and from people who provide compelling value propositions for their problems.

What is different is that an individual in Madrid can have a question pop into their head, and 2 minutes later can have an answer or be engaged with a total stranger in San Diego via the medium of Social Media.

Social Media is simply the next evolution of global internet communications. User Groups, Message Boards, Email have all been the precursors. Social media has just extended the reach and the increased the speed by which these communications happen.

Social CRM is the method of organizing, managing, and analyzing these conversations and interactions executed across the social networking landscape.  In my experience, these interactions are many times a precursor or a sample of what has previously been managed and tracked in traditional CRM systems. My Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook interactions sometimes morph into a conversation that justifies an entry into my traditional CRM system, whereby phone calls, activities, meetings, and opportunities are tracked. Social Media Interactions are “Real Interactions Lite”

They are not mutually exclusive, and Social CRM is not the answer for failed Traditional CRM. They are both blends of process, strategy, and supporting technology that enable us to collectively understand and meet the needs of our customers.  Social Media and Social CRM simply provide another component by which to understand, engage, and interact with our customers, partners, and prospects better.

The Twitter Debate Continued – Is it Social CRM or Not?

Social Media Influentials Jeremiah Owyang , Brian Solis, and Paul Greenberg weighed in today on what the future might hold for Twitter.

I agree most with Paul’s viewpoint. Conversations that happen across social media (including Twitter) could all be mapped into the defined intersections within what has become traditional CRM.

At the front end; for lead generation purposes, during post sale service activities; which feed into customer service and support efforts. Some are figuring out how to include the cloud sourcing activities into product and service development. I am sure there are many other examples.

A good example is the new release by Toucan for SalesForce, reportedly enables tracking of twitter posts for contacts contained within your CRM system.

I agree, that for Twitter and other social media platforms, the greatest opportunity as it relates to Social CRM, CRM 2.0, or whatever you want to call it, is to collaborate with the traditional CRM vendors to capture, analyze, and leverage the conversations happening in the cloud to deepen insight and therefore relationships with customers, prospects, vendors, partners, competitors, etc.

Jeremiah Owyang’s Article
Brian Solis’s Article
Paul Greenberg’s Article

Your thoughts? The Tweet Is Mightier than the Sword

Still wrestling with how you can utilize Twitter to foster relationships with your customers? Check out the following article by Brent Leary:

Posted Mar 1, 2009

Can you imagine Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s reaction to Twitter? Credited with the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839, he might have chosen a different metaphor if he’d lived long enough to see what you could do in Twitter’s microblogging microverse with 140 characters. And who those characters can reach. And how far they can travel.

This isn’t Ed’s world. In fact, it’s not even the one we had just a few years ago. And if your CRM strategy was developed before Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube came to town, it’s time to upgrade: We’re living in the age of social CRM.

Social CRM is not a substitute for traditional CRM. Instead, what emerges is a new, outward-facing dimension that extends the operational areas of CRM. That new dimension is inevitably more successful if you’re building off a strong foundation in traditional CRM.

Social CRM is about joining conversations between customers and prospects while resisting the urge to control those conversations. Customers today have more power over who they do business with, and how that business is conducted. And the Web is totally entrenched in their buying process. So if you’re not on the Web in ways to capture their attention, you won’t be able to compete.

via The Tweet Is Mightier than the Sword .