Another day, another announcement of social media M&A. Today, Alterian announced its acquistion of Intrepid, a social media consultancy. With this move Alterian adds further professional services strength to its existing listening platform, SM2. Congratulations to Intrepid and Alterian.

I reviewed Alterian's SM2 product in our recent Forrester Wave: Listening Platforms 2010, highlighting many strengths, but observed an area that most needed improvement: the level of services offerings and overall consulting. Combining Intrepid's existing consulting team with the SM2 product will address this gap well, improving Alterian's product line. I spoke to the Alterian team and learned that this move mainly comes as a result of increased client requests for professional services related to social media analytics.

Here at Forrester, we've seen the same growing demand for professional services around listening initiatives. Many clients ask about building, or improving, their programs but lack the internal resources — social media knowledge, listening expertise, measurement skills, and, most importantly, time — to go from passively collecting social media data to improving their marketing or business goals from insights within the data. As a result of the growing client interest, we recently published a report on the topic: "How Listening Services Support Social Intelligence." This report outlines the many ways consulting teams assist in the listening process — from training and support to customized reports and strategic planning — and tells Customer Intelligence professionals what kind of help they'll benefit from the most.

What it means for Customer Intelligence professionals: Social Intelligence isn't easy and most companies aren't yet ready to go it alone. Don't be afraid to call on your vendors for help. As vendors continue to improve their services offerings, leaning on their teams for custom reports and strategic guidance becomes an easier and more valuable idea.

What it means for listening platform vendors: Alterian's announcement comes just a few months after Nielsen's partnership with McKinsey, supporting the idea that many brands are starting to build Social Intelligence strategies but most need help getting there. Your customers already know the value of the technology you provide — ensure that they understand your services offerings. If you're only building a technology component, look to agency partners for increased consulting options — if you can't provide your customers with this, they'll find it somewhere else. Vendors with consulting teams must continue to evolve and build to stay competitive in today's market.