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Relationships need to have Meaning

Last week, I wrote a post where I was not very nice to an author who focused on data, and not trust as the ‘tie that binds’ regarding relationships. You can agree, or disagree, but the current thinking is that engagement builds trust, trust is the basis for a relationship and a relationship is the basis for…hmmm, for what? Why do I need a relationship? For one, a relationship is valuable if we want to have a drink, play golf, maybe even do some business together. That said, if one side, or the other is not gaining anything of value out of the relationship, then what is it worth? Value itself is an interesting word, as it is a totally perceived concept, meaning, what something is worth is based on the value I assign to it, no more, no less. Back to the relationship, it needs to be mutual, not one sided. OK, what is my point, where am I going and who cares!

Social Relationship Management is PR 2.0

I have read, and reread a series posts that bring up the topic of Social Relationship Management (SRM). The latest was written by Brian Solis, a brilliant strategist and professional, for whom I have a lot of respect:

“At a minimum, SRM focuses beyond the social customer and escalates the promise and potential of sCRM across an entire organization, not just customer service. Equally, SRM zooms in to evaluate the various stages of decision making and the channels and people that influence outcomes.”

I do not see eye-to-eye with Brian, I commented respectfully and he responded (I will get into details in a moment). I want to take a quick moment and highlight the importance of engaging. A willingness to respond and engage is critical to building your own trust. Thanks, Brian, I appreciate it. There were a few other posts which touched on the topic, and I find it frustrating that on such a topic the companies would not engage. There was one written by John Bell a strategist for Ogilvy. They call it Social IRM (Influencer Relationship Management). To write in a blog format about the importance of the way YOU believe relationships should be managed, yet do not respond, is well, NOT very social is it. Sounds rather like advertising, not being social; ‘I will broadcast my message, and it is what it is, no engagement’. How then could someone trust you to engage with their customers and/or influencers?

Back to the concepts of SRM, which at a conceptual level I do not disagree with, but it feels like the direction which Public Relations needs to go, not CRM (remember, Social CRM is an extension of CRM). What I do believe is that if you spend the time to cultivate a relationship, it should be easy to quickly understand how each side gains value from the relationship. Some are customers, some are prospect, influencers, partners, suppliers, etc.,…The focus should remain on understanding what the relationships brings, not simply the relationship itself. Do we need another TLA to define these activities? If an agency needs to help their clients to manage these people differently, then maybe. For the company, I do not think so, for the agency, maybe.

Understanding Jobs to be done is the Critical Element

If you are not focused on what the customers needs to do with your product, or the service you are offering, what is the value of the relationship? In his article, John Bell makes the following statement:

“But until we connect all that great data to the actual sales data for said customers, I don’t think its wise to label it ‘Social CRM.’”

I am not going down the path of the ROI debate, which is an important conversation to have. But it sounds like Ogilvy does not believe in tying the numbers to Sales data, so what exactly should it be tied to? Again, the label game is not the critical point here, the critical point is who are the customers and what are they trying to achieve? You can and should have relationships with recommenders, influencers and the like, but how are they helping you to understand the job the customer is trying to get done. Whether you call it Social CRM, SRM, Sales or Marketing is not the question, the relationship is not the answer either – the value exchange enabled by the relationship is the answer.

The following from Brian’s post is important, but I believe it needs to be extended:

“I believe at the heart of sCRM methodologies, the recognition that customers are only part of the new equation, sets the stage for long-term and advantageous change.”

The heart of Social CRM is the simple recognition that companies are going to focus on the needs of the customer, not their own rules. Customers are not only central to the theme, they are the heart and focus. If companies spend too much time and effort focusing on influencers they will take their ‘eye off the ball’ and lose focus. There are certain parts of the organization which need to focus on the influencers and decision makers, and it would of course be advantageous to have a developed understanding of these people, whether I would call that a relationship is open for interpretation.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Paul May June 3, 2010, 11:35 AM

    What I think is getting missed is that the line between customer and influencer is getting very fuzzy People hear the word “influencer” and think “media,” when in reality the group that most influences the purchase decision process today is customers and prospects (Don Bulmer from SAP summed this up well, in my view, when he talked about “everyday influencers”). So when engaging, the person on the other end of the conversation is potentially both a customer/prospect and an influencer. As such, you can’t treat managing customer/prospect relationships and managing influencer relationships as separate beasts.

    This has huge implications for both the PR industry and internal sales, marketing and customer service organizations. It’ll take a while to develop but, over time, the agencies and internal organizations that recognize this will have a significant competitive advantage. In my view, agencies that continue to think of “influencer relations” as just another form of “media relations” (without incorporating the customer/prospect aspect) are going to get passed by.

    • Mitch Lieberman June 3, 2010, 2:16 PM

      Paul,

      Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by. I agree with your thought process and the line is definitely gray, at best. But, that gray area should not be too hard to manage if we treat everyone like customers, right? What troubles me a bit is when there is too strong a focus on influencers, and that they should be managed separately. I suppose I understand – but think that influencers exist and should be managed along side of customers, they do not exist beyond customers.

      If the value back to the company is something which helps them understand the customer jobs to be done, then that is different from just someone who can influence buyers…hmmm, this is more complex than I thought. More research needed.

      Mitch

  • briansolis June 3, 2010, 12:00 PM

    Mitch, well said and well done. I’m sharing a comment from my post that I felt would expand the context, the inspiration behind the post, as well elaborating on my early experiences with the socialization of CRM over time…

    “SRM may at first blush, seemingly appear to introduce yet another acronym or perhaps challenge the promise of sCRM However, its only intention is to spur thinking beyond the literal frameworks of traditional customer relationship management…”

    The operational side of most businesses I work with actually works against a culture that supports change. There’s a lot of good lessons in Charlene Li’s new book Open Leadership that help fuel the migration of a more open enterprise. In fact, much of the chapter that was cut from my book, focus on how to rebuild teams, processes, and infrastructure around this.

    In my endeavors, one of the greatest challenges I face is how do we move something beyond the literal interpretation when the infrastructure (technology, process, and methodologies) stands in the way of what we’re attempting to implement? The concepts of “SRM” was inspired by the consistent challenges I’ve faced over the years – only to invest in a more accurate and meaningful infrastructure for sCRM. Essentially, it was driven by the documentation of the initial impressions and perceptions, the challenges, the roadblocks, the notions that broke through at every level, and how it affected outbound activity.

    So, when I say influence, I am not using it as a descriptor for passing along information as one might associate with traditional PR.

    For example, it’s this sentence that inspires discussion and collaboration beyond the “C”in any variety of CRM…”relationships with and about customers, past, present and future will never trump relationships with influencers and advocates.” Who can argue with that? I only recognize that many influencers and advocates are in fact customers. And, I would also add, that in my work, I have observed that many systems miss or downplay the distinct role of the person who impacts decisions, some of which, are not “our” customers at all.

    I believe that we’re all right…My efforts around sCRM are motivated by learning from the same challenges, questions, ah ha’s and uh oh’s I encounter. In short, I’ve learned that change is not embraced holistically, but instead incrementally.

  • Mitch Lieberman June 3, 2010, 2:31 PM

    Brian,

    The comment is much appreciated. I have a better understanding of where you are going, so the dialogue is helpful to me, and hopefully others as well. The missing element for me, and possibly others is the identification of these people and how to understand their impact in the process. I agree that current processes and maybe even systems do miss these people. It will take change at both the culture level and the system/process level to include SRM type thinking into any organization – (but you know that, the comment was more for me :-)

    I also agree that change is a tough sell, and a recent conversation I had helped me to understand that better. Everyone looks forward to the future, but is fearful of change. Though, when asked, people expect the future to be different, why are they not afraid? The reason is similar to your answer, because it is incremental, small enough that it is not noticed. But, systems (technology etc.,…) require larger changes, there is one of the challenges.

    Great discussion, and I hear you on the SRM is not the same as PR 2.0 – I need to learn more.

    Cheers – Mitch

  • gpach10 June 3, 2010, 2:49 PM

    Mitch, Great post… read my blog in wordpress. Hug!

  • TheMaria June 3, 2010, 6:17 PM

    I definitely agree that customers ARE influencers (taking the stance that a customer is not only your current customer, but every potential customer – future customer). So it follows that all customers need to be served via the SocialCRM process, which as we all know is not a tool but rather a set of processes to enhance the collaboration (with customer as well as internal)- all for the purpose of meeting the customer where she is and adding value to that relationship. And this is not just response and customer service. This is

    However, there are some things that you do with “influencers” that you don’t do with everyone else. Take seeding the product, for example. If you have a new smartphone, you want to give gadget “influencers” (btw, I hate that word) the product for free (whether you ask for it back or not is your prerogative) to review and “be seen” with it. You can’t and shouldn’t do that with everyone. That’s the PR part of the equation. You will then invite these early users to collaborate with you to make the product better. After the product goes “mass” you are still collaborating with people who use it, but that’s a different process than the one you have with early users. In cases like these, you treat influencers differently.

    But from the standpoint of support, it shouldn’t matter. I know we discussed this on this blog, Mitch, and actually I just wrote about it on my blog http://socialsilk.com/2010/06/03/customer-service/customer-service-influence/. Even if a “non-influencer” has a bad experience, their less than positive review can be picked up by an “influencer” – then what? Of course, SCRM is not just service. Influencers and non-influencers alike should also be a part of the co-creation process – help them get value from your product.

  • Mitch Lieberman June 3, 2010, 7:36 PM

    Maria,

    Great thoughts and I agree with them too (that is not very exciting is it). But kidding aside, that is part of what I am struggling with, with Brian. SRM is important but it seems like many of the functions are ‘PR’ type functions. Not, ‘same ole PR’ but a new way of doing it. I am not going to push it, as I need to learn more from Brian on the thinking.

    As soon as it is all clear, we will be worrying about the next thing :-) Now off to your blog to see what havoc I can cause there.

    Cheers – Mitch