Where does the discipline of CRM begin? We have a good idea where the software fits, but where does its impact end? With a sale? With a customer saying good things about your company to other customers? With a repeat purchase? And does CRM contribute to these events alone, or is there a web of other activities that help drive these relationships — and do we ever consider these things to be CRM?
The world is becoming a much more complicated place for practitioners of CRM, expressly because of considerations like these. CRM itself is well understood; getting the most value from it is not understood nearly as well.
The top 10 CRM bloggers of 2017 didn't spend a lot of time talking about the nuts and bolts of CRM. They talked about the concepts, assumptions, errors, omissions and expectations around CRM. They attacked the "common knowledge." They tried to get to the basics of what customers really want.
The ground rules again: blogs must not be from a vendor, and they must have seven or more posts in a year. Here are the Top 10 of 2017:
10. Bob Thompson, Customer Think
With a hard pivot toward customer experience and loyalty, Bob Thompson has shifted his area of specialization in
Customer Think over the years as the industry has matured and specialized in its view of CRM.
Bob spent much of 2017 hammering on the idea that humans were critical to delivering the experiences customers wanted, pushing back on a technology tide that had people excited about bots, AI, IVR and other innovations.
While integration has been proceeding more smoothly with these technologies than with technologies of previous generations, it still takes a human touch to deliver the best experiences. It's not "either-or," it's both, according to Bob.
Toward that end, he spent the first half of 2017 writing about tools and business practices for building better customer engagement, but anchored that discussion in how they helped customers — and how engaged, empowered and empathetic employees were key to making any of them work most effectively.
His blogs stopped in August — here's hoping that Bob comes back to the blog this year and keeps advocating for a customer experience future that uses technology to keep a human face on customer relationships.
Posts in 2017: 15
9. CRM Switch
Continuing a strong run is
CRM Switch, from a CRM consultancy that recognizes that a blog exists to start conversations, not to close deals.
The content — usually from Steve Chipman, but with important contributions from Daryn Reif as well — addresses all aspects of sales relationship thinking, with some more technology-focused items sprinkled in to ensure that the "how" is covered as well as the "why."
Sometimes, the reporting can get a little lazy, as in "Small Business CRM Vendor Roundup," which rounds up exactly five vendors, but those posts are the exception, not the rule.
More typical is "CRM Selection for Your Business: Seven Proven Steps," which offers a detailed, comprehensive set of advice that anyone planning to buy and deploy CRM should take to heart.
Born of years of practical experience, CRM Switch's blog is a helpful guide for any company pondering a jump to an automated CRM solution.
Total posts in 2017: 21
CRM Lead: How do I Disqualify Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
8: Effective CRM – Mike Boysen
Y'know the old saw about people not wanting to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole? Mike Boysen does. Nearly all of last year's
posts went right at that concept: People want outcomes and they're not that interested in how they get them, so companies need to engage customers about what they really want.
It's an elemental concept in making a company "customer-centric," yet a lot of businesses still don't get it. Mike digs into how you realize what jobs need to be done, how you understand the moments of truth in customer relationships better with jobs theory, and how you can keep a clear focus on jobs that need doing vs. the other elements of a customer relationship that can distract and divert you.
Mike talks about this in blunt terms — I especially liked his quote, "There are no soft-landings for founders who think they are just failing fast. There is only failure."
Mike addresses some tough issues about CRM itself: "Vendors have given us a one-size-fits-all option where we can feel that we're differentiating ourselves with the same tools as our competitors. Let's face it, the vendors out there are doing no better at finding growth — profitable growth — than the rest of us."
If you think CRM needs some tough love — and to get focused on what it should have been focused on all along — Mike's the guy for you.
Total posts in 2017: 8
You Need to Know this New, Pioneering Approach to CRM
7. Forrester Blog – Kate Leggett, John Bruno
Forrester collects all of its analyst blogs into one enormous mega-blog, but if your focus is primarily on CRM and the CRM-like technologies that serve sales, do a search and isolate the blogs from Kate Leggett and John Bruno.
Kate covers the more traditional CRM space and customer service, while John examines sales and marketing technologies. Together, they create a set of posts that are concise and correlate strongly to their current research, with a few "bigger picture" posts that explore broader topics, especially the current pressing issues like AI and digital transformation.
Last year, the blogs' coverage seemed to pull back a little. At analyst firms, there's a constant pressure between feeding the blog and keeping some information back for the customers, and the 2017 posts felt a bit like the pendulum had swung away from the blog.
That said, there was still a lot of value in what Kate and John wrote in 2017, and Kate was especially effective in connecting the dots between the technology and the need for engaged employees to use that technology to achieve customer engagement. That's advice that companies get constantly, but coming from an authoritative voice like Kate's can make it stick.
Posts in 2017: 16
6. Destination CRM Blog
Destination CRM is a classic "reporter's notebook"-style blog, and having been a reporter, I find it very entertaining. Today's journalists are on the job constantly, and that usually means coming across more interesting ideas and stories than you can fit into your many regularly scheduled articles.
Thus, Oren Smilansky and San Del Rowe provide a home for items about research studies, standalone Q&As, and interesting (if not front-page) company news, ranging in tone from analysis of hard data to the whimsical (as in the post above about the perils of being a customer service agent).
The posts are short, the pace is regular, and the writers follow the practice of including links to their sources — something I wish more bloggers would do.
Don't let the "Department of the Obvious" headlines ("Customer-Initiated Phone Calls are Valuable to Marketers, Study Says," "Companies Need to Address Customers in their Native Tongue") put you off. The writing is good even when the headlines are meh.
At the blog's best, the writers report on some new findings, and then riff off those results based on their own reporting experience, showing that journalists have some CRM expertise to offer, too.
Posts in 2017: 59
Customer Cursing Habits, Broken Down by Region and Industry
5. Think Customers: the 1-to-1 Media Blog
Late last year,
Think Customers: the 1-to-1 Media Blog announced that it was going to cease publishing regularly, as its ad-supported model was phased out.
Although the frequency of posts dropped, the guest posts from notable experts dried up, and the staff of writers dwindled to two — veteran Judith Aquino and newcomer Dylan Haviland — the quality remained.
The blog featured some good interviews with genuine thought leaders like Charlene Li, along with other posts that read much more like news stories than like opinion pieces.
A typical approach was to use something discussed at a conference or some recently-released research as a springboard, then add to it with the opinions of analysts, experts and practitioners.
The bloggers' voices may not always be front and center, but the posts themselves have an air of authority and a completeness of ideas that set them apart.
The blog's focus on customer experience permits lots of latitude in what's discussed: concepts like employee engagement in retail, the role of AI in contact centers, and the importance of trust are front and center.
The blog's takes on these topics are never the same twice, an accomplishment that owes a lot to the hard work the two writers put into the blog.
Posts in 2017: 11
Emotion Powers Technology Adoption
4. ThinkJar! The Blog – Esteban Kolsky
Always an iconoclast, Esteban Kolsky spent a lot of time in 2017 shutting down the hype about artificial intelligence — and then explaining how it could be really useful. If that sounds like two ideas running headlong into each other, you have an idea of Esteban's usual take on any subject.
ThinkJar! The Blog, he tears ideas down and then rebuilds them in an Esteban-esque image, infusing the discussion with new points of view and better ways of thinking about the concepts.
As for AI, Esteban pointed out that the notion that AI will be smarter than humans is nonsensical, because "computers would have to dumb down their behavior and operations to work like us."
Even if they did manage to replicate us, we humans have the ability to adapt our behaviors, something that AI can't do, enabling us to find meaning and practical utility regardless of what AI does — a bit of a lesson to people who think that all sales and marketing activities can be supplanted by sufficiently smart machines.
Esteban also maintains his role as analyst — witness his incisive, ruthless but ultimately hopeful examination of the Jive-Lithium merger, chock-full of his not-so-humble advice. Smart and snarky, Esteban is the inventor of the concept of self-deprecating arrogance, and his blog is as fun to read as it is important.
Posts in 2017: 16
Knowledge Summary: the Next Decade in Digital Transformation
3. CRM Search
So, if you're a medium-sized company looking for CRM advice, you could call in a high-priced consultant, engage with one of the large analyst firms, or find multiple other methods by which you could expend a lot of money in search of wisdom.
Before you start writing checks, however, you should check out the blog at
CRM Search, written by the widely-admired Chuck Schaeffer.
His posts are as detailed and thorough as many of the analyst's reports you'd pay big money for, and they come from a genuine place of expertise.
Don't expect a bunch of quick takes — it's not uncommon for a post to go on for 1,100 words, and then jump to the next page for more. Replete with charts, graphics and plenty of linked citations, these are not pieces jotted off the top of Chuck's head during airplane flights — they're extremely thoughtful and well-planned posts.
Whether he's reviewing the latest edition of Microsoft Dynamics 365, or defining and explaining the ramifications of cognitive computing, it's Chuck's deep dives into some heavy-duty subjects that make his blog essential.
The topics can seem a bit all over the place, and they are; it seems that Chuck writes about the things that most interest him in the moment. That ensures the posts are thorough, complete and energetic even when they examine deep, technical topics.
Posts in 2017: 8
How to Design Your 360-Degree Customer View
2. Beagle Research Blog – Denis Pombriant
What were you concerned about in 2017? So concerned that you sat down and wrote about it? If you said the ASC 606 Accounting Rule, Richard Branson, AI and CRM, Oracle OpenWorld and Salesforce's DreamForce, cryptocurrency, how Elon Musk is a Luddite and the best way to assemble a sales team based on the data, you must be Denis Pombriant.
Who else has such an eclectic view of the influences on customer relationships, sales and marketing, and digital transformation? No one who's currently writing a blog!
Author of the
Beagle Research Blog and regular contributor to CRM Buyer, Denis has the ability to stitch these various stories together in a way that's unmatched. While they may seem far afield from the topic of customer relationship management at times, they're really not — Denis has for years avoided the trap of thinking that all there was to CRM was CRM software and vendors.
Everything in the economic system that affects the customer needs to be considered, whether it's the coming impact of blockchain, the value of configure price quote (CPQ) tools to the buying experience, or how the availability of micropayment tools will change the equation for selling.
Denis does this in an exceptionally literate style and folds in plenty of metaphors and analogies to keep things from becoming stale or staid. On top of that, his analyses of major industry events goes beyond insightful. Several journalists I know say they check the blog to make sense of the events they've just attended.
Posts in 2017: 49
Getting Loyalty Right
1. Social CRM: The Conversation – Paul Greenberg
I know the busy, busy Paul Greenberg would like to slow down. Don't tell his brain that, though.
In 2017, he worked very hard to complete a new book (which will be out this summer), and you could see very clearly how Paul's intent thinking about his latest long-form work impacted his shorter-form writing in
Social CRM: The Conversation. Ideas were sharper, metaphors were clearer, and Paul's writing was even more energetic (if that's possible).
It seems the more Paul works and the more he thinks, the more interesting things spill out into his writing. Last year, his investigations into the discipline of CRM focused much more on using the data than the process of collecting data, which has become an established practice and thus is less interesting.
"Doing CRM" is no longer about getting people to record the data; it's focused on using the data to become the company you should be. Witness our favorite post of the year: Paul talks about how a company renowned for its abysmal treatment of customers was forced by a business downturn to engage with customers and seemingly was shocked by how well that tactic worked.
Paul's point in this piece is not just that engaged customer relationships are good for business, but that businesses need to pursue them because they and the people they hire desire — no, need — to pursue them.
A corporate initiative to be more engaged because it will help sales is nice — but it can't hold a candle to engagement that's driven by culture and the genuine desire of employees to be engaged.
Paul also used guest posts to buy time for finishing his book, and he's able to call in heavy hitters like Sameer Patel, David Raab and Brent Leary to fill in. But it's Paul's own unique voice that allowed his blog to reclaim the top of this list . His is one of the few blogs that can advise you of the things you should be doing differently and leave you genuinely excited about trying them.
Posts in 2017:14
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.