A Potential Evolution Curve From CRM 1.0 to 2.0?

There has been a lot of healthy debate over the past week about the importance, or even the need, for CRM 2.0 capabilities in the grand scheme of things. As evidenced here, the debate ranges in perspectives – from those emphatically denying the value of CRM 2.0, to those that see it less of an issue for vendors to solve than it is for organizations to discover the right method for themselves.

Now, a forward-thinking analyst type (of which I can include myself) can see the inherent value of highly interactive, multi-channel conversations with consumers and the benefit this brings to both B2C and B2B sales models. However, the practical me – the one that actively markets CRM systems to today’s buyers, understands that the CRM 2.0 scenario is a bit amorphous right now. For smaller B2B firms, CRM 2.0 is a dream, while CRM 1.0 is a pressing need.

So, what is the endgame for CRM 2.0 for those that are just getting the hang of CRM 1.0? Just as the big companies of the world jumped into huge, far-reaching global CRM deployments, and failed miserably, I don’t think anyone can leverage technology to just “jump in” to CRM 2.0.

Instead, I see an evolutionary curve or sorts.

To simplify things, I’ll put it in three buckets. First, you deploy a traditional CRM initiative. This can be driven by a technology purchase. An integrated approach to sales, marketing and service gets all of your employees on the same page – putting a unified front forward to customers. It’s a nice start and of course there are multiple benefits apart from customer-centricity that we needn’t delve into here.

So the second stage, after a CRM system is up and running in a healthy manner, is to start to test the waters of feedback culture. Now, this will need some technology, and organizations can choose to go deep into feedback management initiatives or simply run a few surveys on line.

The initial feedback garnered from random surveys, coupled with some research by your firm into how much talk there is “out there” about your brand, should dictate the next phase. This is the first “2.0” toe in the water. Technology enables this phase, but does not necessarily control this phase – the customer does. Depending on the size of your organization, a number of approaches can be effective here – blogs, wikis and twittering can be first starts. Later, creating more robust online communities for your customers to interact with each other, but more importantly your organization can unearth a wellstream of information, customer attitudes and advocates. But, important to note – be ready to take the good with the bad. You can experiment with online communities tied to your brand through free sites like Ning.

Ultimately, the level of activity around your brand or services that is “out there” should dictate your actions. Forcing the matter could backfire. And refusing to listen to the noise your customers are making out in the blogosphere and on forums etc. can be a disaster as well. But a sensible engagement strategy which turns outspoken online personas into advocates, all tracked nicely in a CRM system, can present huge returns.