It's a tough line to walk—negotiating the tricky middle ground between the sky-high possibilities of new social technologies and the hard reality of business. Esteban Kolsky's made a name for himself by navigating along that fluid continuum.
An independent analyst, Kolsky came to his pragmatic view of what works and what doesn't the hard way. After working as a programmer, call center agent and help desk system administrator and seeing how the sausage was made, he was named director of CRM for a start-up company and had to implement a solution over a two-year period. That gave him a sparkling resume just as CRM was on the ascendency—and, after a try with his own start-up, when Gartner came calling, he moved into the analyst's role.
"What Gartner taught me more than anything is that I was going to be exposed to many, many different perspectives and points of view," Kolsky said. "They, by definition, were all wrong. Seriously. That was what I was told coming in. Everybody is wrong, including the analyst."
That take on things helps him avoid getting caught up in the hype and excitement surrounding new technologies and ideas. "It always helps to be able to go back to your core knowledge and ignore what could've, would've been."
Then, says Kolsky, the next step is to "mix that with business realities. When you get past the sound bites and management consultants, business is quite simple. You can really, really boil it down to doing two things: either making money or saving money."
Kolsky spend eight years at Gartner before striking out on his own. Being an analyst "is all about conversations and getting information," he says. "You can read a lot, but that is not the entire world. The face-to-face and person-to-person conversations are what make the difference. I had over 1,200 conversations last year, more than I used to have at my peak times in Gartner—and that all led to one discovery: I don't know enough about anything. I am hoping to top that number this year, and get more clarity from practitioners and consultants what is going on."
Kolsky sees the evolution of CRM as something more than just the maturation of customer-facing processes. The CRM of 10 years ago, he says, was all about cradle-to-grave processes; that period allowed vendors to get better at verticalizing their applications and allowed consultants to dig deeper into the organizations they worked with. "Little was accomplished, but the meme (idea) was planted," Kolsky says. The next evolution "was all about making that work, focusing more on how BPO (business process outsourcing) and processes were related to CRM—much more than the technology itself."
We now stand on the precipice of the Social CRM era, says Kolsky. "Two things remain true: you cannot be social outside without being social inside, and the only purpose of social CRM and social business is to get the organization to adopt and understand collaboration. Without embracing internal-external-and-hybrid collaboration, there is no value to doing any of what we call Social CRM today."
That evolution suggests that, paradoxically, the biggest impact of CRM may not be on how the business deals with the customers but how it modifies internal relationships as well as externally. "It is the results of those collaboration groups, and their outcomes, that are fueling the moves to the collaborative enterprise," says Kolsky. "That should be the basis for the next interview, since it will take twice as much space to cover that!"
About Esteban Kolsky
Esteban has over 20 years experience in customer strategy and CRM solutions. Prior to founding consultancy ThinkJar, Esteban spent eight years as a Gartner analyst. Denis Pombriant, managing principle at Beagle Research, has referred to Esteban as the "analyst's analyst" and commented that Esteban "thinks a good deal about not just what he says but the reasons behind his findings, which are often insightful." Esteban is an industry speaker that has presented in more than 15 countries, and has engaged in literally thousands of customer conversations that give him a solid perspective to align research with real world position. Most recently, Esteban was named by CRM Magazine as an Influential Leader for 2011.
Esteban on CRMsearch.com
Esteban is first and foremost a customer strategist. Notwithstanding his modesty, he has the background, experience and vision to systemically approach customer initiatives and deliver predicted success. His research and creative thinking in the areas of CRM, and increasingly in social CRM, make him a unique talent to his consulting clients and all who subscribe to published works.