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Posted By:  ECT News Network on 02/05/2018 in CRM

The 20 Best CRM Blogs of 2017

The 20 Best CRM Blogs of 2017

By Chris Bucholtz 

Something very interesting is happening in the world of CRM blogs: CRM is becoming less and less of a subject. Oh, it's in there -- it's just being elbowed to the back of the stage by a whole host of other related disciplines and technologies.

Customer experience, customer engagement and content marketing are vying with artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and bots to elbow CRM to the back of the stage. CRM is still back there, though -- and it's CRM that glues these disparate trends and market forces together.

So, instead of creating lists of the five top customer experience blogs or the seven top customer technology blogs, we're going to stick with the top 20 list -- for now, at least.

Some of those at the top have been there for a very long time. Some toward the bottom and middle are on the list for the very first time. They all share a similar commitment to consistency, quality and attitude that keeps readers coming back, and that makes them important voices for anyone working in the CRM field.

The criteria are simple: You may not be a vendor (though there are good vendor blogs out there), and if you work for one your blog must be vendor-agnostic. You must post at least seven times in the last calendar year, and your primary focus must be on CRM, or at least be what CRM analyst Brent Leary describes as "CRM-ish."

With that established, let's take a look at the list, starting at number 20.

20. Lynn Hunsaker

Sometimes, you just need the facts. Lynn Hunsaker, writing for CustomerThink, lays out the facts of customer experience in every post. There's usually an introduction, which may touch on a metaphor for the lesson in the blog -- and you'd better catch your breath now, because when you get into the meat of her posts there's a lot to digest.

Laid out in an organized, almost scholarly manner, Hunsaker's blogs deliver checklists of best practices that go deep and are very complete, perfect for organizations that want to overhaul their customers' experience efforts or build can't-miss systems for measuring their success.

She also brings the numbers: In one post about customer service and customer loyalty, she argues that you must immerse all employees at all levels in the customers' realities, which is easy to assert. Then, she drops the bomb: A company that has done this -- and in the process reduced its time to resolve issues by 89 percent, saw a 288 percent increase in customer lifetime value.

Most of her posts use this tactic: Make an assertion, offer advice based on it, and then use some statistics to show how solid the initial assertion is. Customer experience, marketing operations and understanding how to evaluate success and failure effectively and economically are among the most frequently touched-upon topics.

Posts in 2017: 20

Favorite post: Preventing Customer Experience Process Silos: 4 Prerequisites

19. Kerry Bodine & Co.

Former Forrester analyst Kerry Bodine brings her expertise on managing the business aspects of delivering customer experiences to her Kerry Bodine & Co. blog. While it's clear she enjoys talking about the process of journey mapping, and the science of measuring customer sentiment about their experiences, there are some very human things she and occasional contributor Amelia Sizemore have to keep returning to.

Technology will never keep a promise made to a customer -- only a human can do that. Technology can never think through the odd things that may go awry for a customer, and prepare for those events in advance to ensure the customer's problem turns into a positive experience -- but people can do that.

Bodine describes herself as a designer, but the systems she talks about designing are neither digital nor analog -- they're a synthesis of technology and human activities, reflective of the real world.

Too many people talking about customer experience are so touchy-feely businesses can never put their ideas to work; others become so fixated on the technology that their advice loses its humanity and thus has little impact on the customers it is supposed to influence.

Bodine does a great job of bridging the gap, presenting achievable ways to create better experiences for buyers, outlining smart strategies for evaluating how you're doing, and prioritizing the two.

Blog posts in 2017: 42

Favorite post: Why You Need to Measure Journeys -- Not Just Touchpoints

18. Natalie Petouhoff

Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., may be a Salesforce VP (and program executive in the Innovation and Transformation Center, to be exact), but her blog is completely vendor-agnostic, and she assiduously sticks to a purely educational tone.

Roughly half of the posts are from guest bloggers, but this blog is at its best when Petouhoff puts virtual pen to electronic paper. For instance, her story about a program to boost employee development highlights three things: the value of talking to customers (in this case, the company's employees); the need to cater to the emotional needs of the people you're trying to influence; and the value of establishing an ROI number, especially when trying something new that may seem "warm and fuzzy" to an executive who controls the purse strings.

The blog is sprinkled with these sorts of articles -- which, in a small number of words, touch upon a collection of interconnected larger points.

You'll need to read with your brain turned to 11 to pick up on all the little lessons mixed into the larger customer experience, business and CRM discussions -- what was that? a paragraph on the hazards of group-think in a piece about digital transformation? -- but it's worth it. Petouhoff's blogs are fun to read, packed with ideas, and backed up with data.

Posts in 2017: 25

Favorite post: What's the Number One Thing Today's CEOs Must Do? Do the OODA Loop Faster and More Innovatively

17. Toolbox Tech CRM Blog

Toolbox Tech, the former InsideCRM blog, has been streamlined and cleaned up, resulting in a nifty product that delivered a post for every business day in 2017.

The quality of the posts is still fairly varied, but it's a lot steadier, thanks to writers like Rick Cook, Henry Kaiser and Lewis Robinson -- people who have been around the block enough to watch technology history repeat itself.

Until recently, the byline was almost always a cryptic "CRM Desk," as if a piece of furniture were churning out this prolific blog, but the writers are getting the credit now -- as they deserve to.

There's none of the rewritten press release posts of last year, either -- this is all fresh stuff, and it's written at a level that will be beneficial to all but the most battle-worn CRM practitioners. Your humble reporter started this blog, but he's not being sentimental -- the crew at work on it today elevated it to a new level in 2017.

Total posts in 2017: about 270

Favorite post: Winning the Clean Data Battle

16. Customer Experience Matrix

David Raab's somewhat cryptically named Customer Experience Matrix (its moniker is taken from a tool he developed to visualize marketing and operational interactions) is the smart person's guide to marketing automation, the changing approaches to marketing, and the various other technology tools that are being pulled into marketing's orbit.

That's a pretty broad swath of stuff, and Raab negotiates it with a seemingly bemused attitude -- he may be a serious authority on this stuff, but he does not take himself seriously.

Evidence of that came in a post called "2017 Retrospective: Things I did Not Predict," sort of the opposite of a predictions article, in which he describes eight trends that surprised him.

At times deep in the technical details and at other times up at the level where strategy is discussed, this blog is becoming more readable over time, while also growing more indispensable as a guide to the confusing world of MarTech.

Total posts in 2017: 45

Favorite post: Amazon Buys Whole Foods. It's Not About Groceries

15. B2B Lead Blog

In the age of customer experience, the pendulum has swung hard toward the customer. The advice is always about being "customer centric," or putting "the customer in the center of everything you do." But your business is still a business, and it needs to do things in order to survive and thrive. How do you achieve a balance?

The B2B Lead Blog, written by Brian Carroll and others, does a great job of explaining how to address conflicting business and customer needs without seeing them as a zero-sum game.

Yes, you should be hugely empathetic, deliver great value, and build your processes around customers -- but only after you've been rigorous about marketing activities, like deciding which customers are going to pay off best for you and focusing on them. This realistic advice is complemented by long-form interviews with marketing leaders with similar outlooks.

Total posts in 2017: 16

Favorite Post: How to Attract B2B Customers with Amazing Content

14. The Epokonic Blog

Stumped about the possible ramifications of an acquisition in the CRM space? Hit the Epikonic blog, written by Thomas Wieberneit. He's probably already thought about it, applied his experience as a consultant to the subject, and turned around a 1,000-word post on this blog that provides multiple takes on the subject.

That's not the real strength of this blog, however. Perhaps the most eager-to-learn thought leader I've ever met, Wieberneit also delivers treatises on topics like ambient computing, artificial intelligence and customer service (his comparison of a modern call center to a soccer team -- with position players, assignments from a "coach," and scoring the goal of customer satisfaction, for example) demonstrates storytelling ability with an objective in mind.

What frustrates him? Disconnected and fragmented systems that make it impossible to deliver a consistently high-quality experience to customers. The answer: stepping back and understanding that trust, human connection and empowered people are required on both sides of the buying and selling interaction.

Those things, Wieberneit notes, don't require any technology to deliver, and that is part of the point of the blog. Great customer experience is the goal; all the technology that delivers it is merely a tool set for achieving the real goal.

Posts in 2017: (54)

Favorite Post: Customer Service -- How to Turn a Poor Experience into a Positive One

13. CX Journey

In 2017, Annette Franz went from being a thought leader working for someone else to the CEO of her own CX consulting firm. You might think the extra time required to run the show would have sapped her energy for the CX Journey blog -- and if so, you'd be wrong.

Yes, she included some guest posts here and there, but they weren't there to buy her time. Instead, they added to the conversations she already had started. Since CRM (the discipline, not the software) starts with engaged employees, her frequent advice on how to engage, educate and enthuse workers is especially helpful.

Franz's efforts to shed new light on subjects like company culture, change management, and leadership reinforce her view that engaged customers are a result of the efforts of engaged employees.

Lest you think all the advice here is focused inward, there's plenty of push for activities aimed at making the organization more customer-centric: better customer journey mapping, more effective voice-of-the-customer programs and customer communities, for example.

Instead of offering a lot of little point solutions ("collect data about THAT!") as some blogs do, this one takes aim on creating a healthier organization that leads to healthier customer relationships.

Total Posts in 2017: 68

Favorite Post: How to Engage Employees in Your Customer Experience Strategy

12. Duct Tape Marketing Blog

Not everyone's an ideal target for John Jantsch's long-running and prolific Duct Tape Marketing blog: It's aimed squarely at the small business. That means you don't get a lot of CRM technology content, or discussions of departmental relationships and organization. Instead, you get plenty of posts about actually doing things -- something that small business people need to do to survive, but also something the rest of us can relate to.

There are a lot of podcasts mixed in here (and even some articles about how small businesses can create their own podcasts!) and John has a lot of help from guest writers and interview subjects with some great perspectives.

I particularly like Jay Baer's advice to seek out negative reviews online, because they're an ideal way to discover ways to make your business better.

There's a lot of focus on the customer experience, but also on other things that impact customer relationships -- content, public relations, website experience and so on. There's also a healthy dose of advice about back-to-basics sales processes like lead generation, funnel management, and techniques for driving return sales.

There's a lot to digest here -- so the blog has a 15-category menu at the bottom, which can help you binge on posts germane to the business issues weighing most heavily on you today. The basics are important -- and this blog continues to cover them very well.

Blog posts in 2017: many (format makes an exact count impossible)

Favorite post: Why Customer Experience is the Key to an Amazing Business

11. Nick Baggott's CRM and Digital Marketing Blog

Writing short is hard. Writing short about complex topics like SEO, content marketing and customer loyalty is really hard. Thus, a tip of the hat to Baggott for managing to get so much valuable advice into his posts, which are to the point and leave you plenty of time to think about how to apply his ideas.

Some are fairly common sense -- content marketing and SEO go hand in hand! -- but need reinforcement. Others, like his post about dealing with negative social media comments, are much more in depth and tackle topics that worry many small businesses, but for which there's little practical and actionable advice available.

He also mixes in essays about things like marketing in developing countries, which gives him a chance to go back to the basics -- even without a ton of technology, the ideas are the same. Baggott is a helpful voice who provides a useful foundation for professionals toiling away on the marketing side of the CRM equation.

Posts in 2017: 17

Favorite post: How to Improve Your Influencer Marketing

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. 

Here are the Top 10 CRM Blogs 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

Favorite post: Here's Proof from Forrester that CX Drives Revenue. And 3 Cautions That It May Not

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

Favorite post: 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 Effective CRM 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

Favorite post: 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

Favorite post: Intelligence Makes Customer Service Operations Smarter, More Strategic

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

Favorite post: 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

Favorite post: 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.

In 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

Favorite post: 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

Favorite post: 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

Favorite post: 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

Favorite post: A Company Like Me: Beyond Customer-Centric to Customer-Engaged

Chris Bucholtz

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 more than 10 years. Email Chris.

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