You want to learn about CRM, or you want to refine and expand your understanding, but you don’t know where to start? Well, the blogosphere’s one good place to start learning, but it’s become a crowded, confusing place, clogged with blogs of disparate quality and written by people with motives that are less than mostly pure. How do you navigate that?
Let me be your sextant and sea chart! This is the sixth year that I’ve done this list, and there’s always a bit of change – not wholesale change, as there was in the early days, when blogs came and went, but subtle and incremental change. We judge these blogs first on focus, then on quality of content, then on frequency. To make the list, you need to be at least vendor-agnostic (in other words, a vendor can sponsor the blog, but it can’t dwell primarily on that vendor’s product); you need to have CRM as a principle focus; and you need to have great ideas and a knack for getting them across. In a nutshell: be smart, be focused and be consistent.
Several of the members of this list have been doing that for as long as the list has been in existence. Some are here for the first time. Some have changed positions for the better from last year, some for the worse. But all of them are worthy of your attention.
Read on – and then, start clicking, and read some more!
Last year, Paul seemed to be like a late-career Muhammad Ali – he just did hang on to his title at the top of the list as the competition stepped up its game. It wasn’t because Paul is losing a step; instead, he’s funneling his efforts into the extremely worthy CRM Idol competition, which accounts for the paucity of posts on the PGreenblog site in the latter part of the year. However, he made up for it with the ZDNet blog “Social CRM: the Conversation,” where he wasn’t afraid to name names, literally: his call-out of vendors who are wrapping themselves in the “CEM” acronym was thought provoking, and it elicited posts from three of the vendors he pointed out (update: all the named vendors have responded – more evidence of Paul’s clout). Paul’s ideas were trailblazing and prescient; he’s now eagerly waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, which makes for some very entertaining posts. Add to that some cogent analysis of business trends in the CRM space and you have a successful defense on the top slot – but barely.
2. Beagle Research – Denis Pombriant
Stitching together CRM trends with global trends in economics, technology and society, Denis is a measured voice who cuts through the hype and gets to the core of ideas quickly and with little fanfare. That isn’t to say that the blog is a snooze to read; Denis uses some creative framing devices to put his discussions of CRM and related technologies into context. This year, he’s ranged all over the technology map; the blog has felt like the musings of a very smart person trying to make sense of a very complex industry. That’s a pretty good reflection of where we are right now – most businesses know where they want to go, but most of them are at a lost as to how to get there, or how to afford to get there, or what to do once they’ve arrived. However, it’s a very safe bet that Denis will figure this out well before you do – pay attention as he unravels where we’re going with mobile, social, the cloud and technologies not yet perceived to be on the ascent.
The key writer at this blog is Chuck Schaeffer, a former CRM vendor CEO turned analyst/media entrepreneur, and you can tell two things right away from his posts. One, he has the ability to quickly dissect CRM news, events and corporate strategies the way a great quarterback picks apart defenses. Two, he loves CRM, believes in it and understands just how important it is to make modern businesses successful. That’s a passion for the subject that most executives in the CRM space have a desperate need to acquire. Even when he’s writing about SAP’s benighted Business ByDesign, that enthusiasm comes through, and his posts this year about marketing – especially the post comparing the somewhat conflicting natures of social marketing vs. marketing automation – shed light without getting caught up in the hyperbole. This blog was the big mover from the 2011 list, and the leaders need to listen for the footsteps come this time next year.
4. The CRM Consultant – Richard Boardman
Big theories are nice. Pie-in-the-sky conversations about what’s over the horizon are inspiring. But once in a while, you actually need to do something specific for your business today. When that time comes, make sure you visit Richard Boardman’s blog, with its practical advice on the brutal realities of making a CRM purchase, getting it to work and understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before committing the big bucks. As an independent consultant and a former vendor executive, Richard has seen numerous CRM users take the “ready, fire aim!” approach to putting CRM in place; you can almost hear his teeth grit reading about the repeated, predictable mistakes businesses make. The good news is that he does not dwell on the negative – instead, he offers actionable advice, to-the-point tips and recommendations anchored solidly to reality. He also covers CRM vendors with the critical eye of a knowledgeable user; his critique of Microsoft’s rough second half has been particularly incisive.
5. Thinkjar – the Blog - Esteban Kolsky
What is there to be said about Esteban that he hasn’t already said himself? While he cultivates a persona as brash and arrogant, he’s not, really – he’s just confident and usually correct about the things he’s talking about. This year, there’s been a lot of talk about social media, collaboration, social media monitoring and the implications of these emerging technologies. Esteban is never shy about picking out a trend and pointing out its limitations; he’s less interested in hopping on bandwagons than he is in advising readers when those bandwagons are ready to deliver value to their business. He’s also not shy about pointing out the mistakes of vendors, as was evidenced by a blog headline that proclaimed “Microsoft Baboozled by Yammer in $1.2 Billion Purchase,” which was followed by a logical, well-reasoned takedown of the acquisition. If you want things to be sugar-coated, buy some Frosted Flakes. If you want an unvarnished view of the way things are and the way they ought to be for your business, read Esteban’s blog.
Every day, the team writing this blog delivers content well worth reading focusing on the direct application of ideas to customers – really, where the rubber hits the road for CRM. Tom Hoffman, Mila D’Antonio, Cynthia Clark and Anna Papachristos deliver great commentary on what works and what doesn’t in modern sales, marketing and customer service, and 1 to 1’s stature enables them to bring in fantastic guest bloggers like Forrester Research’s Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning to contribute to the conversation. The daily format also enables the team to revisit themes and add nuance over time, and it also allows them to weave personal stories into their posts. The authors’ photos are on the blog; if you’re in customer service, you should get to know their faces, because if you do something particularly poorly – or particularly well – you may end up as the star of the next day’s blog.
7. A Title Would Limit My Thoughts - Mitch Lieberman
Mitch has worked with a lot of people and a lot of companies – 2012 started with him at Sword Ciboodle and closed with him as the top dog at CRM integrator DRI’s new North American operation. From his years of experience, and from his own good sense, he’s developed a distinct outlook on CRM that allows him to boil down technology and examine it from the point of view of the user and the customer. His metaphor for the discipline of CRM – that it’s really about capturing the good things present in every face-to-face buyer-seller interaction, then scaling that up – is a terrific underpinning he returns to even as he takes stock of trends like big data and social media. Even when he leads the reader far afield, he always returns too that foundational idea – that buying and selling is a person-to-person exercise. That’s why Mitch has consistently made this list: he’s in love with the relationship, while others are in love with the technology. He’s also great at calling BS when he sees it, be it a customer care process that cares more about the process than about the customer, or an analyst firm report that confuses readers about social CRM. If you love something, you defend it – a service that Mitch renders quite admirably.
8. Michael Maoz
Gartner analyst Michael Maoz’ blog is written in a voice that is exactly like talking to him. First off, he’s incredibly smart and is prone to dropping references that range from literature to history to punk rock (and bring your big-boy vocabulary, because Michael has his on his person at all times). Second, he knows the way it is and they way it should be in the world of CRM and customer service, and he’s a little incredulous that the businesses that could make money by getting this stuff right – user companies and vendors alike – are so out to lunch so often. With an ostensible focus on the CIO, Michael provides a vision that’s digestible in bites – like the idea that you should get your customer processes right before you get hung up on going social or mobile or fall in love with new IT efforts. But he also wants you to get social and mobile and give technology the love it deserves. And that is how this blog parallels CRM itself: the human factors trump all else, but you can’t handle the human factors without bringing technology to bear in just the right ways.
9. Value Creator – Brian Vellmure
The volume of Brian’s posts fell off this year, but the quality remained at its usual standard, attacking an assortment of CRM-related trends with insight and an impressive ability to put them in the context of a wider world. Several of his posts this year were done for the IBM to Midsize Business program or for the CIO Collaboration Network, freeing Brian up to explore issues around collaboration, workflow, human decision making and other aspects of seller-and-buyer relationships. Broadening his writing away from the CRM basics doesn’t mean that Brian dwells upon the usual social/mobile topics; instead he delves into more fundamental aspects of how people and businesses interact and how those interactions are changing. Don’t let the infographics and charts fool you – trust, confidence, availability and other basic aspects of relationship are at the core of Brian’s writing.
10. Wim Rampen’s Blog – Wim Rampen
While 2013 is lining up to be the year in which “customer experience” is the most abused business catch phrase, Wim Rampen has a pass. He can use the term all he wants, because he actually understands what it’s supposed to be – not a substitute for “CRM” to be used in discussions with people who have had bad experiences with CRM, but as the point in the relationship where a business’s investments in technology and people pay off in interactions that make a difference and build loyalty, word-of-mouth and ultimately greater revenues. To demonstrate this, he deftly slips into the shoes of the customer and can look at interactions and processes from that point of view, then pivot to explain how businesses can adjust or abandon those practices to make them work for both parties. He’s polite, but he locked horns with Esteban Kolsky earlier this year around the topic of multi-channel service. Both had valid views; Esteban argued that nailing down one channel of service was more important than getting a multi-channel strategy in place first, but Wim was right in saying that multi-channel support is being offered effectively – so there’s no excuse for a long learning curve around service. With his first e-book Co-Creating Customer Relationships under his belt in 2012 (and available through his blog), Wim looks poised to be a big mover in next year’s list.
11. Brent’s Social CRM Blog – Brent Leary
The champion of social CRM in small business, Brent had a great first half of 2012, blasting out blog posts covering a wide assortment of topics. Brent’s focus has broadened as his reputation spreads; there was less focus on small business and more on CRM across the board. With his participation in CRM Idol and his organization of Social Business Atlanta, Brent was a busy guy this year, but he had time to pen posts about change management, technology’s impact on customer behavior and data analysis. He didn’t come out and say that’s what he was writing about, however; Brent is skilled in telling stories that are interesting and just happen to shed light on important CRM concepts.
12. Laurence Buchanan, the Customer Revolution
With a day job at Ernst & Young that deals with social CRM and digital transformation, Laurence is exposed to the challenges those two emerging ideas present on a regular basis, and he reflects thoughtfully on them in his blog – although he’s enough of a realist that he had a post this summer on the evergreen topic of ways to win CRM adoption from your sales staff. This mix of the forward-looking and the basics is what a CRM consultant’s life consists of, and Laurence reflects that in his engaging, well-written posts. But he’s not soft-spoken; his most pointed post of the year focused on the idea of moving from what he called “tactical social media experiments” to social business transformation, and included a list of things that characterized the “age of social media experimentation,” including “an obsession with vanity buzz monitoring with far too little attention given to data accuracy, data integration, insights, and most importantly, action.” Does that sound like a business you know? If so, read Laurence’s blog, do what he suggests, and get it right.
13. Barry Dalton, Customer Service Stories.. And Other Thoughts
Everybody talks about the business and its attempts to service customers. Oh, it’s so hard to anticipate what they need! Woe is me, I have to actually listen! My employees won’t enter the data into my CRM system and my lack of ROI is making me weepy! Luckily for all of us, Barry’s around to write about the really important people that businesses tend to forget when wringing their hands about managing customer data: the customers. Barry is great at talking about the human elements that have been present in customers since the dawn of time and yet are often forgotten in the drive to automate and implement technology. Customer experiences are not something delivered by software or which occur in analysis – they happen because businesses do real things and interact with their customers. That interaction depends on access to data – technology is not totally irrelevant in Barry’s blog, not by a long shot – but the interaction is much more than just recalling and re-using data. He also dropped this nugget this year: “When it comes to customer service and the customer experience, could we maybe use a little less talk and a whole boat-load more do?” Amen, Barry! Words to live by in 2013!
14. Forrester Blogs
Lumping Forrestal’s arsenal of experts together is probably unfair; several of the participants in this group effort could probably score well on their own. Together, though, they provide a nicely-compartmentalized group of specific subject matter experts (at a large analyst firm – imagine that!). Bill Band provides the nuts and bolts of CRM coverage (along with some useful implementation and adoption advice), Kate Leggett handles the often-complex area of customer service and support, and Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning double-team customer experience, injecting a nice dose of common sense into an area that can often go adrift in a sea of technology. Analyst-bloggers are always under the gun to limit the amount of material they divulge for free; Forrester’s team seems to have either ignored this or has been set free to do what’s best for their readers.
15. CRM in Latinoamerica – Jesus Hoyos
Jesus is THE voice of CRM in Latin America, and while he blogs in Spanish, his site provides a handy translation into English. Another incredibly busy CRM influencer whose rugged schedule cut down on his blogging, Jesus made good use of guest bloggers like Filberto Forests and Mauricio Carrera to add additional voices to the mix and making it an even richer source of information. It’s not just about CRM for the Spanish-speaking world; Jesus spelled out in one post “10 Roles you Need for Your Team for Social CRM/Social Media,” a list of tasks that applies to any business in any part of the world. Another great post lists 20 examples of integrations that illustrate what social CRM looks like in practice. Those are just two examples of how universal Jesus’ analysis is. The translation software can result in some clunky verbiage, but the thinking remains sharp and clear, and seeing the CRM market through the eyes of someone who is not a North America-only analyst is extremely useful, even if you’re not trying to build a CRM program in a different geography.
Brian Carroll leads a small army of bloggers in this sales and marketing-focused blog, which frequently touches on CRM itself and always deals with topics surrounding the data you should be capturing in our CRM system. In a perfect world, CRM should help you understand which leads are worth spending time on and which ones are not; lead quality has a set of cheerleaders here who could prove a helpful counter to the guys in marketing who are all about numbers. Have an issue with getting from content marketing to lead generation? Have someone too enamored with social media who needs a moderating voice of reason to return to earth? It’s all here and more in the form of practical advice delivered by people who have done the research and spoken to the experts. Plus, it’s written from a B2B perspective and is often backed with numbers. Authoritative and readable, the B2B Lead Roundtable’s 10 writers earn a well-deserved 16th spot on the list.
Enterprise software evolves, over time, and the real difference is visible only to those who care to keep an eye on it over time. That’s what Mike Fauscette does: with a measured approach, he carefully assesses what’s going on in CRM and other customer-facing application areas, and puts them in context. That means he’s fairly hype-free, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get excited by trends – when they present themselves, he energetically points out their value and why your business should move on them now. This year saw a lot of merger & acquisition activity, and so a reasonable percentage of his frequent posts explained the value (or lack thereof) of these important business moves. In the meantime, he targeted some major skills that companies are still wrestling with – change management, building collaboration, scaling customer support – instead of the over-the-top hyping of a new technology or trend that some analysts indulge in. Until businesses grasp the disciplines Michael explains so well, the hot new things can’t deliver value. He’s a blogger who understands the timeline that underlies business’s slow transformation to social perhaps better than any other.
18. High Impact CRM
The product of a CRM consultancy in India, this blog is the clear result of a good understanding of content marketing: lots of content, well-presented and free of sales pitch, is a great way to start building relationships with customers by answering their questions even before they have to approach you with them. The subject matter is all over the place, from the call center to the use of CRM data in cross-selling to the use of social media in customer support. The writers are an assortment of folks from India and elsewhere, but there’s the clear, guiding hand of a good editor at work here – the tone is consistent, engaging and affable, even if the authors are not name brands in CRM. That’s actually a good sign – we need more people who can explain CRM in plain language to the market, and High Impact CRM is providing some of these people with a place to hone their CRM storytelling skills.
19. A Passion for Research – Louis Columbus
Fortunately for all of us, Louis’ passion is for research into enterprise software – and especially CRM – and the cloud. The results are great summaries of research firms’ predictions and forecasts coupled with Louis’ own cogent commentary on what’s going in and what it means. The tag line of this blog says it focuses on “the intersection of technology and trust,” which outlines a rather large but tremendously important area of discussion. Trust can be between customer and seller, manager and user, IT department and vendor, and an increasingly complex web of other relationships, and it would be great to see more of Louis’ thinking on the “R” in CRM and how it must extend from start to finish. As it is, however, he’s great at pulling out the important data from the avalanche of reports from major research firms and spelling it out, and he has an inclusive view that includes ERP, sales, cloud computing and other areas that are critical to modern CRM.
This blog dropped off the list last year, but found its footing again this year with a stable crew of bloggers who do a great job not only of drawing on their access to great sources (and guest contributors) but in relating their own ideas about CRM. Leonard Kile, Kelly Liyakasa and Judith Aquino take this blog well beyond the typical “reporter’s notebook” style of blogs written by reporters, even though the frequency of posting means that this is real work for the writers, not just something they do when they get some free time. The blog may be at its best when the bloggers get their teeth into a real-world example of CRM being done right and can tell those stories in detail; they illustrate CRM success more effectively and more memorably than most CRM vendors can do it themselves. The appearance of guest bloggers (many of whom appear on the list above) enhance the content and provide this blog with momentum that suggests that it will be moving up this list next year.
Know any blogs that are worthy of mention – or which might be challengers to the throne in 2013? Let me know in the comments section!