Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Star Wars and Social CRM

The other day I was trying to explain to a client what social CRM was all about and what the difference was to the first generation of CRM. Knowing the client was a film-fanatic, I used a Star Wars analogy.

Despite the best of intentions first generation CRM systems were about technology-enabled command and control. Think of the Original Star Wars film, Darth Vader and the Death Star. As Supreme Commander of the Galactic Empire, Vader built the original Death Star to defeat rebel forces in the Galactic civil war. The Death Star was a monumental technological feat designed to control the Empire and attack the Rebels. Relating this to the first generation of CRM (the boom before the bust)

  • First generation CRM systems were technology-centric monoliths
  • They aimed to own and control all customer data and customer facing processes
  • Marketers used this data to segment and bombard customers with spam
  • Sales managers used this data to control sales reps
  • Customer service managers used CRM to standardise and micro-manage agents

The first generation of CRM put powerful tools into dangerous hands resulting in many failed CRM initiatives and the CRM market going into the doldrums for several years (I likened this period to the start of "The Empire Strikes Back", when Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire had driven the Rebel Alliance into hiding on the remote ice planet Hoth.)

During the early years CRM had a fairly high failure rate (some analysts estimated 60-70%). Those projects that did succeed were small, agile and focussed on outcomes (like the x-Wing Falcons that attacked the first Death Star at the end of "Star Wars"… I realise I'm jumping around the Star Wars trilogy a little but bear with me!). The successful projects paid a great deal of attention to the customer experience, front line staff, incentives and culture. Typically they broke down the CRM vision into small digestible chunks and built incrementally.

Over time CRM bounced back. The industry made a mental shift from "Inside-Out" to "Outside-In", putting the customer back at the rightful heart of CRM programs and learning from previous failures (big-bang approaches, poorly aligned culture and incentives, lack of exec commitment etc). The industry woke up and started to get CRM right and companies started to reap tangible rewards for their investments. In "The Empire Strikes Back", Luke Skywalker's awakening began at Dagobah where Yoda introduced him to The Force an "omnipresent form of energy which can be harnessed by those with that ability…an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together". The Force allows users to perform a variety of supernatural feats and can amplify certain physical traits.

Relating this to Social CRM, the Force is the sum of all customer comments, feedback, blogs, tweets, yelps, diggs and sentiment. Some organisations are able to tap into this using direct customer feedback to improve products and processes, drive customer word of mouth for marketing and customer collaboration for service. Those who do this well are able to achieve amazing feats - see my post on outsourcing your Marketing, Sales and Service to your customers. Social CRM is therefore a natural extension of CRM. It further energises the return of CRM by placing the customer not just in the centre but now in control of the conversation.

So when we get to "The Return of the Jedi", the final film in the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker is now a fully fledged Jedi Knight, the Ewoks lead the rebel fight and Lando Calrissian launches a final assault on the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. In an ideal world, that would be the death of technology-centric, command and control CRM (the Rebel alliance would celebrate the fall of the Empire) , but I suspect things aren't quite that simple. The battle is far from won. The Force can be used for both good (Jedis) and evil (Siths). It amplifies the things that an organisation does well along with the things they do badly (see my post on 10 angry customer created sites and campaigns).

Some people think visually so here's a Prezi describing the above story. Enjoy and please let me know any feedback!


  1. An excellent analogy Laurence and one that I think people will be tempted to extend. Perhaps we can think of the key characters from an organisational standpoint, with Han, Leia and Luke representing Sales, Service and Marketing? From the outset we know that there's a relationship between them, but its ill defined. Han is motivated my money and seems to want nothing to do with Luke and Leia's wider purpose. Leia is focussed on fire fighting and we know that Luke does something mystical and crucial but its a bit intangible.

  2. Laurence,

    Wow fails to convey it.

    Well done, I think that the first part (comparing to the death star, command and control, destroying the death star) works very, very well to explain the past.

    I think that same as Star Wars, CRM kinda falls apart after the first trilogy (SFA, CSS, and MKT) being to figure out where they need to go, what they need to do. This is (same as in the movies) a problem with the technology getting ahead (was Jar Jar Binks really necessary to develop the story? is Twitter? don't want to start the Star Wars war here, but you probably get the idea).

    I like the concept, very well done... very interesting... and for the record, I hold no grudge to any character in Star Wars past or future (rumor).

    One more thing, if you can come up with a good comparison for the Force, then you can actually explain the need for SCRM to management... just a thought.

    Thanks for this, very well done...

  3. Many thanks for the kind words and the constructive and insightful builds!

    I love the idea of Han, Leia and Luke representing Sales, Service and Marketing! Brilliant!

    I think explaining the need to management is a key challenge... look how the first generation of CRM was killed by management apathy.

    Many managers view youtube as a tool for skateboard videos and Facebook for holiday photos! That's a world away from serious business tools!

  4. Inpsired me you have with this blog. I have just spent the last two hours in the loft looking out my AT-AT walker and Tauntauns for me and my son to play with tomorrow although I am clearly and unashamedly using my son as cover because I actually want to play with it all again myself.

    To develop the theme I would say that the entire Star Wars story may even be an appropriate analogy for the Enterprise Software applications landscape. There is the Evil Trade Federation of self-interested, self absorbed vendors (you know the ones) who eventually merge or are taken over by the irredeemably evil Empire (IBM/Oracle anyone?!?) who limit freedom and choice across the enterprise apps galaxy but who are ultimately (and hopefully) out-manouevred and out-thought by the more agile, tactical plays of the smaller, disruptive Rebel groups.

    And with that thought I'm off to speak to my wife about my, as of yet, unfulfilled Princess Leia fantasy.

  5. Superb - glad I've rekindled a few Star Wars memories! I can think of a few disruptive SaaS vendors that would love your build! Interesting to see the giants you mention are also trying to be more agile and use social media to listen and engage e.g. SAP have a thriving BPX community. They have a lot to protect though and the same media can also used against them e.g. SAP and maintenance fees


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