Never turn your back on your public

An Irish musician said this to me once.  It was in the context of Irish folk music performance, but it applies equally to business.

So why is it that business so often fails to foster active engagement with their customers?  I typically get asked to work with clients who want to deploy a CRM system to manage customer relationships.  But so often all this means is they want to a tool to throw to the sales and marketing people to help them keep track of who is talking to who.  Problematical already given most direct and indirect sales teams who are incentivised through commission don't want to share any information. 

Business processes are not purely internal within commercial organisations; they are tightly coupled to the ebb and flow of customer interactions.  Deploying CRM without any attempt to actively engage with customers usually fails to deliver truly valuable business objectives.   The goal should be to deliver a tool to foster a healthy active life cycle that includes the customer as the most important element.  Social CRM helps, but that can just be a tool for a traditional sales team to listen and not to engage.

The musician equivalent of businesses that face inwards and neither listens or engages with their customers is like a pianist who never looks up and never listens.  And whilst listening might help you hear the cheers or the boos, it won't by itself make start a conversation or establish a community.  Before the cheers or boos become audible there is so much to learn through engagement.  Is your audience actively listening and watching?  Have they turned their backs on you and are pretending you are not there?  Arms cross looking dissatisfied?  Or worse, walking out? 

That is why "Salesforce" is such a poor brand for the platform.  It positions the platform as a tool to help the sales team.  Which I guess is where it all started, but the world has moved on.  Certainly customers have.  I prefer to rebrand any CRM installation I work on as a platform for engagement.  Sure there are components to increase demand and better process qualified leads.  Sure there are components to more efficiently process customer service requests.  But you can do all that with your back to your audience and never actively engage eyeball to eyeball.

Allowing customers to directly engage has to more than an initiative to improve efficiency.  I see organisations moving in their understanding of engagement from sales and service support, to the point of "allowing" customers to directly enter data.  The platform is seen as a tool to benefit "us", the busy performers facing the inside.  However the next step is the key one, moving to the point of recognising the need to engage activity in conversation and community.  That is where Salesforce functionality like Ideas and Answers becomes powerful, allowing customers to engage with each other and with the business.  Through online portals that allow users to collaborate together and with the business, CRM moves from relationship management to a tool to foster community.

The good news for organisations that just give CRM to the sales and marketing team for internal use, without listening and without engaging, is the best is yet to come.  The real reward will come when like a musician the organisation faces the audience and engages, and then tailors their offering to what you see and hear!

The Department of Innovation, Industry, Research and Development in the State of Victoria (Australia, see is doing just this.  They are deploying the platform, but the Salesforce brand was fortunately abandoned early.  They refer to the system as GEMS, the Global Engagement Management System, and it is designed to deliver better engagement not just better internal efficiency.  FuseIT Australia ( is pleased to be helping this forward looking government agency move into the world of cloud computing and stakeholder engagement.

Does your organisation need help to face the audience and engage?

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