Salesforce.com’s Chatter and the Conundrum of B2B “Social” CRM

All the talk I’ve heard in the past couple of years around the social revolution and its pertaining to CRM is that all businesses need to become more customer-centric. This means a new level of transparency both inside your organization, and between the company and its customers.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with these tenets of social CRM.

However, a lot of these points apply mostly (if not only) to B2C operations. In the B2C CRM world, the customer is an individual – someone who acts as a complete entity in the social world: easier to track, engage and maintain a relationship. Social does not offer up as many challenges in the B2C world as much as it solves them. Prior to the social revolution it was difficult for consumer products firms, for example, to engage directly with the buyers of their wares. There was wayyyy too much fat in the middle: brokers, distributors – and marketing was done in a broadcast manner. The sell through model made engagement nearly impossible – until the internet shattered these boundaries. Hooray.

But B2B is different. In B2B, while we “sell” to a person or decision-maker – the entity we recognize as the target of our activities is a business (or an “Account” to use B2B CRM terms). Engagement and social engineering for sales, marketing and support is vastly different. Companies themselves do not post on Twitter, the “company” cannot be reached on LinkedIn to get a foot in the door. This “once removed” nature of social CRM for B2B makes things a little sticky.

Or does it?  In some senses, B2B social CRM is easier, in that we as users of B2B social tools can simply consume data from social sites and leverage it for our own benefit. And this data can be pulled internally, without having to be placed back into the social realm. As an example, I can leverage data from many sites like Hoover’s, LinkedIn, Jigsaw, CrunchBase, Twitter etc. and see it neatly in my CRM through tools like InsideView – but have I actually performed any “social CRM” activity form a “customer engagement” standpoint?

It is more “take” than “give” right now – B2B CRM is the vampire of the social economy in a lot of respects. (Not entirely true – as many B2B providers make up for this by tweeting and blogging useful remarkable content – and even if this is done as soft marketing – there is some “giving back” here.)

So, enter Salesforce.com’s Chatter concept. It is simply a tool for internal collaboration – none of the transparency between company and customer as required by B2C social CRM. There are countless tools for doing this type of enterprise 2.0 collaboration – CubeTree, Bantam Live, Jive, Sugar Feeds, etc. – but very few enable a company to transcend the firewall between the “customer” as an individual and the CRM system. Salesforce’s Chatter is guilty of this gap. But so are most other B2B CRM systems.

Why is this? Perhaps our reliance on selling “seats” rather than total business value makes it hard to open the floodgates of customer activity into a CRM system. Maybe we haven’t figured out security concerns.

Or, maybe the nature of B2B selling, and where social CRM is right now in terms of B2B, dictates that we do not need this type of transparency. Is it enough to have all of your employees on the same page, provide a consistent response to any customer inquiry, and consume data from social media rather than engage directly inside the networks where they are created?

It is too early to tell. The success or failure of Chatter as a concept will be a bellwether. Do B2B CRM users want real social CRM?  Or is internal collaboration – while consuming static social media data – enough to enable B2B sales, marketing and support in the dawning age of social?

5 thoughts on “Salesforce.com’s Chatter and the Conundrum of B2B “Social” CRM

  1. Pingback: Weekly Poll: Is Salesforce.com Chatter Really That Unique? Does it Matter? | Tech News Ninja

  2. Pingback: CRM Outsiders » Blog Archive » Five Reasons Why Salesforce.com’s Chatter Will Fail

  3. Pingback: Social Networking: A Major Trend in SaaS CRM | Sramana Mitra

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