By Chris Bucholtz
There’s a term that has been stuck to me at times that makes me cringe, although it probably also helps me get paid better. The term is “thought leader.” That sounds as if people reading my stuff have thoughts that can be led, like I’m some kind of intellectual and metaphorical dog walker and y’all’s brains are on the leashes. “Thought leader” makes me think of something out of “Village of the Damned.” I assure you that I am not, in fact, a small telepathic British child with glow-in-the-dark eyeballs.
And yet the term is prevalent in technology. Ick. I prefer “influencer,” because I like to think that people sharing ideas can and do influence others. There are a mess of CRM influencers out there (often branded as “thought leaders”) who have contributed a lot over the last decade toward making CRM more successful, more universal and more accepted as they way businesses manage customer relationships. (I’ll call some of them out in our year-end list of the top 20 CRM blogs of 2012, which is coming soon.)
Today, Michael Brito wrote a blog post called “New Thought Leadership is Needed for Social CRM.” Not only does it perpetuate “thought leaders” as a phrase, it makes a serious error in its urgent pleas for the next wave of ideas about social CRM (SCRM).
To make it short, Michael says that the “thought leaders” (ugh!) of the last few years have stopped offering new ideas. They’re cheerleading for their past ideas rather than contributing innovative thinking, and thus it’s time for a new group of innovative thinkers to come on the scene.
The world can always use more innovative thinkers. But to say that the influencers in SCRM need to be replaced is a bit silly. Here’s why.
SCRM is not a wholly-new discipline. It’s built on the foundation of CRM, which took almost two decades to turn into what it is today – a reliable and in many cases undeniable necessity for maximizing the productivity of the sales, marketing and customer support force. SCRM takes advantage of the social media revolution and provides a new series of channels of communication between the business and the customer – but data still has to go somewhere to be stored, sorted and distributed, and that somewhere is the CRM system. Suggesting that you can have SCRM without the CRM foundation is like saying you’re going to have a hybrid car without the drive train and chassis – in both cases, you aren’t going to get far. To bridge the CRM-to-SCRM chasm, you’d better know CRM.
Those pundits who aren’t vaulting far enough into the future for Michael’s tastes know that. SCRM is an enormous jump for businesses – especially those whose CRM operations weren’t up to snuff before the social media revolution was upon them. The percentage of actual customers using CRM as a share of the number of potential users is amazing – internal noodling here suggests only about 15 percent worldwide – meaning that there are a lot of people who need to learn a lot, starting with the basics. “The basics” have changed with social media’s arrival, but there are still basics that need to be learned.
What we face is a phenomena I dubbed “the slow revolution” back in April of this year. That’s a situation where social media is causing thinking to race ahead, and technology is almost keeping pace – but the organizational ability to absorb, understand and react to these changes is significantly slower. Thus, when there are revolutionary breakthroughs in thinking, the pundit class can sprint ahead, but the people charged with implementing these new ideas trudge through the task at a much slower speed simply because it takes longer to “do” change than it does to talk about it.
What Michael really expresses in his blog post is a desire for more “how to” from the influencer class and less “what to do” – but he’s never going to get that. The people who are figuring out how to do things in SCRM are not pundits but business people. They are figuring out very specific things about their businesses and how SCRM fits into their unique customer audiences and internal practices. These are real and genuine competitive advantages, and as you’d expect, many people who are succeeding with SCRM are not eager to share that with their competitors.
There are case studies out there, however, that point at the ways SCRM succeeds. Again, they aren’t written by the pundits, who speak to broad cross-sections of business, but by the businesses themselves (or, in a case like this one, by the vendor and the implementation partner). The thinkers think (and blog), while the doers do (and use what they’ve done to run their business). It’s all about what you get paid to do.
Those businesses who are choosing to be “doers” in SCRM have a lot of work ahead of them. So do the latecomers to “traditional” CRM – and the distance between the beginners and the cutting-edge practitioners gets greater every day. That’s why I have no problem with influencers looking perhaps not five years out for the next revolution but maybe one year out to see how the revolution we’re in plays out, or even looking over their shoulders to help slower businesses catch up.
Suggesting the current crop of thinkers should step aside for a new generation of thinkers assumes that there’s a new generation ready to take over. A new generation will assert itself – individually, over time, and as business, customers and technology evolve. In the meantime, pay attention to the people whose advice has gotten you this far, and realize that putting ideas into action takes much longer and demands more patience than explaining those ideas in the first place.