Applying the Power of Social Networks to Customer Relationship Management

The era of managing your customer with a traditional customer relationship management (CRM) process is rapidly coming to an end. CRM is undergoing a revolutionary transformation, changing from a customer management model to one of customer engagement, and Web 2.0 technology is at the heart of this change. Social networks, podcasts, blogs, and wikis are enabling customers to become advocates rather than simply targets, giving them the means to express their thoughts and feelings when they go to your store, buy your product, or purchase your service.

At the same time, these new tools and techniques are being applied within the CRM industry itself, allowing CRM practitioners to create and share information within a content-rich, social media environment. Find out what these sweeping changes mean to businesses and CRM professionals alike, as TEC research director Wayne Thompson sits down with Paul Greenberg and Bruce Culbert of BPT Partners, a leading CRM consulting firm.

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This podcast examines the following questions:

  • What is the major direction in CRM right now?
  • How is the trend toward social networks changing the relationship between businesses and their customers?
  • What should businesses be doing to capitalize on this change?
  • What is, and what does it offer CRM professionals?

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to TEC Radio. I'm Wayne Thompson, director of research for Technology Evaluation Centers, and I'll be your host for today's show.

In this episode, we'll be discussing the power of social networking and customer relationship management [CRM], and the launch of, the first social network dedicated to developing the careers of CRM professionals worldwide. To help, Bruce Culbert and Paul Greenberg will be joining me in the discussion.

Bruce Culbert has over 20 years of experience leading groundbreaking IT solutions and launching new business initiatives for companies such as IBM, BearingPoint, KPMG, and He is a founding principal and managing director of BPT Partners.

Paul Greenberg, our other guest, is an internationally renowned expert on customer relationship management. His best-selling book, CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, is available in eight languages and is used as a university textbook in over 60 countries. He regularly writes for publications such as CRM Magazine,, CRMGuru, and The New York Times. Paul is also a founding principal and executive director at BPT Partners.

Wayne Thompson: Paul, perhaps you could kick things off by telling us what's happening in CRM.

Paul Greenberg: Actually, CRM is morphing from what it was when you were actually talking about managing customer relationships, and has changed entirely to a customer engagement model, or is beginning to make that change. And it's a model that is saying, “Not only do you have to get the attention of your customers and engage them, but you have to begin to share the results of those engagements,” meaning the experiences that customers have. What's going on is that you're seeing increasingly intelligent uses of the Web 2.0 technologies, which are these whole sets of communications media and social media that allow the customer to actually do that, and companies are trying to figure out how to provide it. The thing that's so funny is that when you look at social networks, and when you look at blogs and podcasts like this one, and wikis, a lot of them are being done by the so-called customers, but as just social and individual ways of doing it, and the businesses are on the outside looking in at them.

What CRM is becoming is the means to capture that peer-to-peer activity and provide some business value so that the customer becomes an advocate, and the social networks become a major way of actually engaging the customer, because they are designed to do that. Podcasts and blogs are ways of capturing feedback, getting community involvement and commentary, and understanding what the customers are thinking about when they go to your store, buy your product, or purchase your service. CRM has changed from this kind of operational and tactical automating of processes and utilizing internal technologies—which are still part of it—to a much broader collaboration model. And it's utilizing all these new media to actually engage the customers in that collaboration.

WT: I understand that your organization, BPT Partners, is creating its own social media space called Bruce, perhaps you could tell us what the impetus to create this space was.

Bruce Culbert: Sure. is the first Web 2.0-based, industry-specific social network. And it's being brought to market specifically to further the development of the practitioners who are involved in taking care of the customers and organizations. We've talked a little bit about how important the customer strategy is—the most important business strategy. And for those folks involved in sales and marketing, service, general management, and in the IT organization as well, who have customer responsibility, where do they get the training and education and the peer-to-peer networking to help them further their profession? It doesn't exist today. And you can go to some conferences, but they happen once a year. So if you aren't able to go to a conference, you may miss your yearly opportunity to get a refresher within your profession.

[The site] is something that is being put into place so that there is peer-to-peer networking within the industry, so you can reach out to your peers [and] you can find mentors to help you grow in your career. There's expert content from people all around the world—training and education and guidance around methodologies, tools, and techniques so that you can grow in your career profession, [and] opportunities for user-generated content so the industry itself will be helping others in the industry grow by contributing. And then also as a component of myCRMcareer is a job board, addressing the needs of people in their careers at various stages, whether it's for internships, contract work, senior management, [or] entry level people. This becomes a forum or a social network where the CRM professional has the opportunity to grow in their career.

WT: What's the value of user-generated content?

PG: The thing that's interesting about user-generated content is that it doesn't operate in a vacuum. The thought about it is that everyone wants to be a movie producer, which to a degree [is] true. User-generated content, because the tools are so easily available to actually produce some fairly high-quality and certainly interesting stuff, is there. But the key value to user-generated content is its ability to be shared, which is something that obviously myCRMcareer can do. What that means is this: Every single person who has something valuable to say, wants to say it to someone else. By having the ability to share that in a much more democratic fashion than they historically have had, it gives them the ability to really feel that they have a little more control over what they do, a little more sense of importance of who they are, and another way of saying, “I'm providing value to more than just myself.”

And we can't forget the friendly, narcissistic part of this either, which is that it also says that, “If people like what they see, then maybe I've got a better chance of getting a job, or maybe someone will want to hire me to do this, or maybe someone will ask me to speak here.” From the standpoint of the context we're speaking in, [it] gives somebody a career opportunity that gets enhanced because they are able to share the content, and that's where the value lies—in the sharing, not just the production.

WT: Bruce, why are you using social media to build this community, and not just a static web site?

BC: First and foremost, we're coming to the market with specifically for the practitioners in the industry to be able to foster a community amongst themselves, so [that means] peer-to-peer communication, networking, dynamic content—user generated, expert generated—external sources of content, and to build competencies, to have access to training and education and, again, the interaction with their peers to help them grow in their competencies, all to further their career. When you think about competency, content, community, and the career, it's a social experience by definition, and using Web 2.0 technologies and social media is a natural for this type of application.

WT: Bruce, you mentioned competencies. How can community members develop, enhance, or upgrade their skill sets?

BC: Well, several ways. We all know that experience is the best teacher, and by peer-to-peer networking and getting in touch with mentors, and gurus, and authorities, and industry leaders gives you that opportunity to have—both through the forum itself and even off-line—the opportunity to work with and collaborate with people who have expertise that maybe you don't, and again, that will help the practitioners grow in their expertise. You have access to world-class training and education as an important part of developing competencies. Whether it's independently provided by outside sources, around topics, around methodologies or competencies—even [if] provided by the vendor community on how to work with certain technologies and certain approaches—whatever that a practitioner might need to further their ability to be successful, we want to be able to try to provide a forum for that. You have the peer-to-peer networking, the opportunity to have mentoring, training, and education, and then, as we've already talked about, the user-generated content, both by expert groups and by the members themselves, provides an additional set of experiences to help you be available to the latest that's going on in terms of approaches, what's been successful, [and] how things have been handled before. So there's lots of opportunity to grow your competency around your profession.

WT: How do you see your site,, impacting the larger CRM community?

BC: We like to think that this will be a place where the industry practitioners can really hang out. What do I mean by that? Well, we've already talked about that—what's there for them in terms of a community experience within their peer group, within their expert group. So you have a place to reach and be reached, by the peers and influencers in the industry, that's available to you all year long. And it's something for everyone at all levels; there's something that's available for everyone in terms of the content. And then you have this personalized experience that allows you to control that. We like to think that this will become a destination where the industry and the practitioners within the industry share their ideas, working within the industry to network, for business, [and for] social and education [purposes]. Only time will tell, but we're off to a good start.

Ultimately, this is phase one of a long-term proposition, where it will grow and be enriched by the members that participate in it. It will become what we, as the industry, want it to become. And that's also very exciting. And it's also a platform for practitioners to gain exposure and experience to Web 2.0 and CRM 2.0 techniques. We talked a little earlier about the business usage, but yet the traditional practitioners—those who have been practicing for five-plus years—are generally not that well exposed to the use of social media and CRM 2.0. So here's another opportunity for a practitioner to be amongst their peers, amongst a set of trusted resources, to have that experience [and] to begin to understand how they might apply that in business because, as we've already discussed, more and more businesses will be utilizing social media and Web 2.0 techniques to reach and influence their customers, and be influenced by their customers. This will give them a kind of a practice place, if you will, to have that experience and begin to generate the thinking around, “How might I apply these types of experiences, these types of technologies, to my business?”

WT: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today. And I appreciate your insights.

PG: It was our pleasure.

BC: Wayne, thanks for having us.

Thank you for listening to TEC Radio. Hope you enjoyed our show. If you'd like to learn more about customer relationship management or social networking, please check out

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