Something very interesting is happening in the world of CRM blogs: CRM is becoming less and less of a subject. Oh, it's in there — it's just being elbowed to the back of the stage by a whole host of other related disciplines and technologies.
Customer experience, customer engagement and content marketing are vying with artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and bots to elbow CRM to the back of the stage. CRM is still back there, though — and it's CRM that glues these disparate trends and market forces together.
So, instead of creating lists of the five top customer experience blogs or the seven top customer technology blogs, we're going to stick with the top 20 list — for now, at least.
Some of those at the top have been there for a very long time. Some toward the bottom and middle are on the list for the very first time. They all share a similar commitment to consistency, quality and attitude that keeps readers coming back, and that makes them important voices for anyone working in the CRM field.
The criteria are simple: You may not be a vendor (though there are good vendor blogs out there), and if you work for one your blog must be vendor-agnostic. You must post at least seven times in the last calendar year, and your primary focus must be on CRM, or at least be what CRM analyst Brent Leary describes as "CRM-ish."
With that established, let's take a look at the list, starting at number 20.
20. Lynn Hunsaker
Sometimes, you just need the facts. Lynn Hunsaker, writing for
CustomerThink, lays out the facts of customer experience in every post. There's usually an introduction, which may touch on a metaphor for the lesson in the blog — and you'd better catch your breath now, because when you get into the meat of her posts there's a lot to digest.
Laid out in an organized, almost scholarly manner, Hunsaker's blogs deliver checklists of best practices that go deep and are very complete, perfect for organizations that want to overhaul their customers' experience efforts or build can't-miss systems for measuring their success.
She also brings the numbers: In one post about customer service and customer loyalty, she argues that you must immerse all employees at all levels in the customers' realities, which is easy to assert. Then, she drops the bomb: A company that has done this — and in the process reduced its time to resolve issues by 89 percent, saw a 288 percent increase in customer lifetime value.
Most of her posts use this tactic: Make an assertion, offer advice based on it, and then use some statistics to show how solid the initial assertion is. Customer experience, marketing operations and understanding how to evaluate success and failure effectively and economically are among the most frequently touched-upon topics.
Posts in 2017: 20
19. Kerry Bodine & Co.
Former Forrester analyst Kerry Bodine brings her expertise on managing the business aspects of delivering customer experiences to her
Kerry Bodine & Co. blog. While it's clear she enjoys talking about the process of journey mapping, and the science of measuring customer sentiment about their experiences, there are some very human things she and occasional contributor Amelia Sizemore have to keep returning to.
Technology will never keep a promise made to a customer — only a human can do that. Technology can never think through the odd things that may go awry for a customer, and prepare for those events in advance to ensure the customer's problem turns into a positive experience — but people can do that.
Bodine describes herself as a designer, but the systems she talks about designing are neither digital nor analog — they're a synthesis of technology and human activities, reflective of the real world.
Too many people talking about customer experience are so touchy-feely businesses can never put their ideas to work; others become so fixated on the technology that their advice loses its humanity and thus has little impact on the customers it is supposed to influence.
Bodine does a great job of bridging the gap, presenting achievable ways to create better experiences for buyers, outlining smart strategies for evaluating how you're doing, and prioritizing the two.
Blog posts in 2017: 42
Why You Need to Measure Journeys — Not Just Touchpoints
18. Natalie Petouhoff
Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., may be a Salesforce VP (and program executive in the Innovation and Transformation Center, to be exact), but
her blog is completely vendor-agnostic, and she assiduously sticks to a purely educational tone.
Roughly half of the posts are from guest bloggers, but this blog is at its best when Petouhoff puts virtual pen to electronic paper. For instance, her story about a program to boost employee development highlights three things: the value of talking to customers (in this case, the company's employees); the need to cater to the emotional needs of the people you're trying to influence; and the value of establishing an ROI number, especially when trying something new that may seem "warm and fuzzy" to an executive who controls the purse strings.
The blog is sprinkled with these sorts of articles — which, in a small number of words, touch upon a collection of interconnected larger points.
You'll need to read with your brain turned to 11 to pick up on all the little lessons mixed into the larger customer experience, business and CRM discussions — what was that? a paragraph on the hazards of group-think in a piece about digital transformation? — but it's worth it. Petouhoff's blogs are fun to read, packed with ideas, and backed up with data.
Posts in 2017: 25
17. Toolbox Tech CRM Blog
Toolbox Tech, the former InsideCRM blog, has been streamlined and cleaned up, resulting in a nifty product that delivered a post for every business day in 2017.
The quality of the posts is still fairly varied, but it's a lot steadier, thanks to writers like Rick Cook, Henry Kaiser and Lewis Robinson — people who have been around the block enough to watch technology history repeat itself.
Until recently, the byline was almost always a cryptic "CRM Desk," as if a piece of furniture were churning out this prolific blog, but the writers are getting the credit now — as they deserve to.
There's none of the rewritten press release posts of last year, either — this is all fresh stuff, and it's written at a level that will be beneficial to all but the most battle-worn CRM practitioners. Your humble reporter started this blog, but he's not being sentimental — the crew at work on it today elevated it to a new level in 2017.
Total posts in 2017: about 270
Winning the Clean Data Battle
16. Customer Experience Matrix
David Raab's somewhat cryptically named
Customer Experience Matrix (its moniker is taken from a tool he developed to visualize marketing and operational interactions) is the smart person's guide to marketing automation, the changing approaches to marketing, and the various other technology tools that are being pulled into marketing's orbit.
That's a pretty broad swath of stuff, and Raab negotiates it with a seemingly bemused attitude — he may be a serious authority on this stuff, but he does not take himself seriously.
Evidence of that came in a post called "2017 Retrospective: Things I did Not Predict," sort of the opposite of a predictions article, in which he describes eight trends that surprised him.
At times deep in the technical details and at other times up at the level where strategy is discussed, this blog is becoming more readable over time, while also growing more indispensable as a guide to the confusing world of MarTech.
Total posts in 2017: 45
Amazon Buys Whole Foods. It's Not About Groceries
15. B2B Lead Blog
In the age of customer experience, the pendulum has swung hard toward the customer. The advice is always about being "customer centric," or putting "the customer in the center of everything you do." But your business is still a business, and it needs to do things in order to survive and thrive. How do you achieve a balance?
B2B Lead Blog, written by Brian Carroll and others, does a great job of explaining how to address conflicting business and customer needs without seeing them as a zero-sum game.
Yes, you should be hugely empathetic, deliver great value, and build your processes around customers — but only after you've been rigorous about marketing activities, like deciding which customers are going to pay off best for you and focusing on them. This realistic advice is complemented by long-form interviews with marketing leaders with similar outlooks.
Total posts in 2017: 16
How to Attract B2B Customers with Amazing Content
14. The Epokonic Blog
Stumped about the possible ramifications of an acquisition in the CRM space? Hit the
Epikonic blog, written by Thomas Wieberneit. He's probably already thought about it, applied his experience as a consultant to the subject, and turned around a 1,000-word post on this blog that provides multiple takes on the subject.
That's not the real strength of this blog, however. Perhaps the most eager-to-learn thought leader I've ever met, Wieberneit also delivers treatises on topics like ambient computing, artificial intelligence and customer service (his comparison of a modern call center to a soccer team — with position players, assignments from a "coach," and scoring the goal of customer satisfaction, for example) demonstrates storytelling ability with an objective in mind.
What frustrates him? Disconnected and fragmented systems that make it impossible to deliver a consistently high-quality experience to customers. The answer: stepping back and understanding that trust, human connection and empowered people are required on both sides of the buying and selling interaction.
Those things, Wieberneit notes, don't require any technology to deliver, and that is part of the point of the blog. Great customer experience is the goal; all the technology that delivers it is merely a tool set for achieving the real goal.
Posts in 2017: (54)
13. CX Journey
In 2017, Annette Franz went from being a thought leader working for someone else to the CEO of her own CX consulting firm. You might think the extra time required to run the show would have sapped her energy for the
CX Journey blog — and if so, you'd be wrong.
Yes, she included some guest posts here and there, but they weren't there to buy her time. Instead, they added to the conversations she already had started. Since CRM (the discipline, not the software) starts with engaged employees, her frequent advice on how to engage, educate and enthuse workers is especially helpful.
Franz's efforts to shed new light on subjects like company culture, change management, and leadership reinforce her view that engaged customers are a result of the efforts of engaged employees.
Lest you think all the advice here is focused inward, there's plenty of push for activities aimed at making the organization more customer-centric: better customer journey mapping, more effective voice-of-the-customer programs and customer communities, for example.
Instead of offering a lot of little point solutions ("collect data about THAT!") as some blogs do, this one takes aim on creating a healthier organization that leads to healthier customer relationships.
Total Posts in 2017: 68
How to Engage Employees in Your Customer Experience Strategy
12. Duct Tape Marketing Blog
Not everyone's an ideal target for John Jantsch's long-running and prolific
Duct Tape Marketing blog: It's aimed squarely at the small business. That means you don't get a lot of CRM technology content, or discussions of departmental relationships and organization. Instead, you get plenty of posts about actually doing things — something that small business people need to do to survive, but also something the rest of us can relate to.
There are a lot of podcasts mixed in here (and even some articles about how small businesses can create their own podcasts!) and John has a lot of help from guest writers and interview subjects with some great perspectives.
I particularly like Jay Baer's advice to seek out negative reviews online, because they're an ideal way to discover ways to make your business better.
There's a lot of focus on the customer experience, but also on other things that impact customer relationships — content, public relations, website experience and so on. There's also a healthy dose of advice about back-to-basics sales processes like lead generation, funnel management, and techniques for driving return sales.
There's a lot to digest here — so the blog has a 15-category menu at the bottom, which can help you binge on posts germane to the business issues weighing most heavily on you today. The basics are important — and this blog continues to cover them very well.
Blog posts in 2017: many (format makes an exact count impossible)
Why Customer Experience is the Key to an Amazing Business
11. Nick Baggott's CRM and Digital Marketing Blog
Writing short is hard. Writing short about complex topics like SEO, content marketing and customer loyalty is really hard. Thus, a tip of the hat to Baggott for managing to get so much valuable advice into his posts, which are to the point and leave you plenty of time to think about how to apply his ideas.
Some are fairly common sense — content marketing and SEO go hand in hand! — but need reinforcement. Others, like his post about dealing with negative social media comments, are much more in depth and tackle topics that worry many small businesses, but for which there's little practical and actionable advice available.
He also mixes in essays about things like marketing in developing countries, which gives him a chance to go back to the basics — even without a ton of technology, the ideas are the same. Baggott is a helpful voice who provides a useful foundation for professionals toiling away on the marketing side of the CRM equation.
Posts in 2017: 17
How to Improve Your Influencer Marketing
Chris Bucholtz has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on CRM, sales and marketing software, and the interface between people and technology. A noted speaker and author, Chris has covered the CRM space for 10 years.