This piece expands on the preceding cuttlefish analogy loosely taken from a PBS NOVA show “Kings of Camouflage”. Just as cuttlefish were driven to develop intelligence to deal with a challenging ocean environment, so will CRM need to evolve to managing the total consumer relationship to keep the corporation alive in a real-time social web environment. To oversimplify (and irritate all of the product vendors out there), CRM now essentially manages the sales pipeline (i.e. the food supply of the corporation). Of course there are second and third derivative benefits, such as managing sales force statistics and marketing effectiveness, but the prime directive is essentially feeding the primal corporate beast.
This matches the analogy to any cuttlefish, food first (skip reproduction, not something I want to envision for corporations). Second is defense within the ecosystem, as it is best not to be eaten it you want to be successful. Before we can dive into the evolutionary changes that will occur to CRM we need to look at the environmental drivers of natural selection. I will break the topic into three pieces; a loose description of the ecosystem, how typically corporations handle the external ecosystem, and why it matters.
The ecosystem has become much more complex with the advent of the Social Internet, with the resultant time compression of impression dissemination throughout the total consumer population. Combine the increasing number of competitors, regulators, and special interest groups (predators), with an increasingly informed consumer (food); life for a corporation looks as difficult and precarious as in any primeval cuttlefish sea. A plethora of content starved, advertising fed Web sites are an archival repository of free and unedited consumer opinion, comparison, recalls, pictures, demonstrations, and any combination(s) of products and services (real and imagined). Social media provide the neural synapses of communication for all of this (dis)information to consumers, special interest groups, media, and regulators. Time and thoughtful editing have been successfully disintermediated from the environment.
Like a cuttlefish, most corporations swimming in the Web, have a marketing group who may (or may not) perform market research, target customers, and report market direction. Legal, finance, and engineering/development groups usually track regulation and compliance. Public relations will handle corporate communications. Naturally, all of this will be done independently in the organization, essentially in a vacuum. Some efforts will not even have a persistent data repository or memory, and likely none of it will be correlated and indexed for learning and re-use. In fact, the supporting corporate “senses” are rudimentary and essentially manual (endangered species material to say the least).
Why does it matter now, if it has not to date? Because the Web ecosystem itself has changed with the integration of social media. A Twitter or Facebook reference on any SmartPhone can direct customers to a YouTube video of your company’s semi-transparent exercise pants, its signature product. Even better, an ambitious DA has decided to round-up your customers for indecent exposure after “Mothers for Decency” (an advocacy group) cite your product for contributing to the corruption of minors (cash contributions abound for the DA and “Mothers for Decency” from concerned citizens). Federal and State regulators contact your warehouse in LA regarding your violation of garment content labeling laws with respect to importation and distribution. Your successful corporation is now on full display in the Web ecosystem for predators and number one on the endangered species list (cuttlefish extinction event).
As ridiculously contrived as the example is, the potential is obvious and needs to be addressed. Natural selection in the market will force corporations to evolve and the most successful will prosper. I contend the current corporate IT system most apropos to evolve to act as a repository to consolidate and index is CRM. CRM systems are by their nature flexible to extension and for the most part the latest and most up-to-date addition to corporate IT. Ultimately, this environmental information pertains to all levels of customers; past, current, and potential, a true universe of consumers.
Next we will look at some natural extensions and architectures to evolve.