Continuing on the series of Master Interviews I conducted the past few weeks, I am now very pleased to introduce one with Marshall Lager. If you don’t know Marshall, he wrote for Destination CRM for what seems like forever, and has recently opened his own consulting firm, 3rd Idea Consulting, to help customers strategize and plan their SCRM initiatives. He was at the closing panel during the CRM Evolutions conference that finished last week in NYC.
Here are his insights:
1. Marshall, you recently opened your own consulting practice after many years of being a stalwart in the CRM Trade Publications – what made you make that change?
As with any life change, the answer to that is complex. As social CRM became more and more central to the business/consumer discussion over the past few years, I found myself becoming increasingly passionate about it, working it into a lot of my writing. Some friends in the industry (Paul Greenberg especially) suggested that I might do better on my own. I was afraid of making the change, whether because of lack of confidence or just simple fear of not having a steady paycheck in tough times. I couldn’t stop thinking about independence, though. Then in June, the steady paycheck ceased to be steady; CRM magazine’s parent company was forced to make some budget cuts, and I was among them. I realized that this was my best opportunity to build my own brand, and at the same time do my part to help businesses survive the economic crisis by better serving the customers they have. That’s why I launched Third Idea Consulting.
2. What do you think of Social CRM? Is it here to stay?
Customers have always talked about the companies they deal with, but it’s only fairly recently that it became so easy to reach so many others at once. This means that customers are unionized, in a sense; they share opinions and experiences, help one another in ways that a business can’t, and can hold businesses accountable for poor service and reward them for good service—and do so en masse rather than as relatively powerless individuals. That’s a power that nobody would willingly give up, so we must assume that social media will continue to have a large effect on businesses. If we accept that as true, then we must conclude that it’s in companies’ best interest to get as much benefit from the situation as possible. Combining the social tools that customers use with technologies to monitor and analyze the conversations—social CRM—is a matter of survival.
3. You have seen the evolution of CRM from multi-million dollar projects to “let’s make this work” projects, what is your best memory from that time?
I could answer that a number of ways, but many of them would seem self-serving if not outright narcissistic. The most encouraging memory is a period of a few months, about two years ago, when suddenly it seemed like every other meeting I took with vendors or analysts was about tools and ideas for truly small businesses (25 employees or fewer, serving a market that meant this was the right size). Somehow, everybody had gotten the idea all at once that CRM wasn’t just about full software suites and ultra-custom applications for massive enterprises—that small retailers, private practices, and cottage industries deserved some attention in their own right. It was a “wow” moment because previously, all the love was reserved for huge vendors serving large customers, or smaller customers who intended to become much larger.
4. You mentioned at the closing panel for the CRM Evolutions 2009 conference that people must fix their problems before creating new ones. Would you recommend people wait to adopt SCRM then, or try to do both at the same time?
I’m really glad you asked this—after the panel session ended, I realized that what I said might have seemed self-contradictory, and that would be bad for business (especially my own). I won’t say that social CRM doesn’t have the pitfalls, learning curve, or resource hunger of any other business initiative, but it is unique in that a good SCRM effort, even a small one, can go a long way toward fixing the problems that already exist in a business. SCRM business practices open direct, unmoderated lines of communication with customers, prospects, partners, competitors, and even your own employees—what better way to discover what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong? If you only treat social as a new channel for distributing corporate-speak to the masses, you are adding to your existing problems; if you treat it as something you listen to first, as a source of advice or an early warning system, then you are saving yourself time, money, and heartache.
5. Any predictions for the future of SCRM or CRM you want to share with us?
My colleagues and I talk about SCRM a lot, obviously, but I’m starting to think the acronym has a limited lifespan. Don’t get me wrong—the issues and the technologies associated with SCRM are here to stay and evolve. The four letters, though, aren’t so important. SCRM is CRM—it touches (or will touch) behavioral, transactional, historical, and attitudinal aspects of the customer, all at once if done right. I think SCRM is so important a development that it will become a basic part of every CRM package. Once that happens, you don’t really need the S anymore.