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In 1995, the term customer relationship management (CRM) finally made its way into the general technology market. Now, these solutions are ubiquitous among enterprise, midsize and even small businesses eager to connect with customers and forge closer relationships - but how close is too close?

The Problem With People

For midsize business IT, the problem is that consumers (and employees) generate too much data. Customer relationship solutions store and analyze this data, but as the amount of data generated increases, many solutions fall behind. The result is a confusing warren of conflicted and duplicated data often making the work of IT admins and sales professionals more difficult. According to a recent Destination CRM article, this data is one of the "Big Three" problems facing customer relationship software: the other two are knowledge and purpose.

Knowledge, according to Esteban Kolsky, is a combination of data, how that data gets automated, and how it's presented to users, with the end result being "all the details" a user needs made easily accessible. Purpose, meanwhile, is tougher to pin down. It's easy for users to say they want a "better relationship" with customers, but that isn't enough to justify the money spent on a CRM solution; Kolsky advises companies to ask what specific tasks they want done and how their current solution handles those tasks.

The Social Solution

An article at Forbes talks about the social trend of customer relationships and the efforts of provider Nimble in particular to tackle the Big Three. Nimble, founded by CRM pioneer Jon Ferrara, offers a social relationship management solution designed to take on Kolsky's challenges. "The power of social is that your customers are telling you about themselves and their needs [allowing sales people to] spend more time engaging customers," says Ferrara,

Nimble does this in part by associating social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with a contact account, giving users an integrated messaging history instead of multiple screens to click through. In combination with Rapportive, a LinkenIn-owned Gmail widget that lets users look in on a contact's social activity, Ferrera's software solution gives almost unprecedented access to activity feeds and customer preferences, but is all this access just too much?

The Forbes article compares it to being able to "effortlessly listen in on your prospects' conversations when they are at the workplace, on the road or at the local pub." While virtual eavesdropping certainly makes a first impression easier and a relationship easier to manage, the fact that it doesn't go both ways is a little worrisome. Presumably, contacts know they're being surreptitiously spied on, but this kind of real-time interaction certainly has its share of pitfalls.

For midsize IT admins, finding a CRM solution that effectively deals with the Big Three and offers real social connections is no easy task. More intimate, consumer-focused options like Nimble are starting to emerge, but this is dangerous ground. While real-time connections with potential customers and a bird's-eye view of their social interaction may make initial contact easier, there's also a greater burden on IT pros to make sure customer data gets used properly and solutions live up to problem-solving mandates.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us onFacebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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Vijay Nachimuthu

By Vijay Nachimuthu

Vijay Nachimuthu is a Managing Principal of AltaFlux. His blogs mainly focuses on latest cloud technology trends and its impact on enterprises.