Building a Social Business

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The biggest cultural issue inside any business is the wall that exists between the sales, marketing and customer service departments. The end result is frequently a disjointed approach to the way customers are managed, which invariably results in a sub-optimal customer experience.

Obviously, social networks are the next great force for change in terms of resolving this long-standing issue once and for all. The problem is that there hasn't really been a way to effectively marshal social networking data into something that is truly actionable information. The customer service department can "listen" on a social network for signs of trouble. Sales people are trying to "hear" opportunities. And the marketing department is hoping just to be heard. The problem is that the signal-to-noise ratio on social networks is incredibly high, which ultimately makes it hard to justify the return on investment. What's required is a centralized approach to managing interactions across social networks and corporate email that is tightly coupled to the system a company uses to keep track of its customer data.

That issue, says Nimble Inc. CEO Jon Ferrara, is what's driving so much of the interest in social CRM software these days. The problem is that while every provider of CRM software now throws around the term "social," none of them have really integrated their CRM software with social networks in a way that allows the entire business to monitor events in real time and respond accordingly. Ferrara says that what ultimately will differentiate Nimble is that its CRM software has been built from the ground up with the collaboration requirements associated with building a social business in mind, which is one reason that Ferrara says Nimble was recently able to pick up another $1 million in seed funding from Google Ventures and entrepreneurs such as Mark Cuban.


Ferrara says rival CRM systems are based on "dead database" platforms that are expensive approaches to keeping track of customer records. As a result, no one in the company actually "lives" in the CRM application; they only update it once or maybe twice a day. That also means that everyone in the business is pretty much on their own in terms of making any sense of all the social networking noise. The real issue, of course, is that the marketing, sales and customer service departments are usually working off of a slightly different agenda. Obviously, they all want the company to succeed, but each department collects data for its own purposes. Unfortunately, a lot of that data is not readily shared, which results in multiple departments never having the same holistic view of the customer.

The good news is the whole customer management experience is changing. The technologies involved in that process include everything from analytics applications to content management systems. But one thing that is for certain is that without a CRM system that is tuned to social networking dynamics, the return on investment on social networking will always prove elusive.