How to get the most out of social CRM software

Social CRM software requires a commitment of time and money. Consider the pros and cons and ask these important questions before choosing a social CRM platform.

Traditional customer relationship management tools aggregate information about current and potential customers to improve, retain and expand the customer base.

Social CRM goes a step further, bringing those same people into dialog with the business to engage customers. The advantages of this extra step are obvious in the cases of sales and marketing. But social CRM can be tremendously helpful in other areas of business, as well.

What's the advantage of social CRM?

A midsize software company has a niche mobile app that has generated great enthusiasm among early adopters, but the company doesn't have the resources to market it properly. The company solves that problem by identifying enthusiastic early adopters and turning them into evangelists who further promote the app.

A Fortune 500 investment company is being outperformed by a small upstart, losing customers to the company at an alarming rate. By tapping into customers' social media discussions of both companies, it learns that the problem is not in its products, but in its customer service. It makes the necessary improvements to reclaim its market share.

A small automaker needs a breakthrough design for a new model of sports car. It lacks the resources to undertake the research needed to determine which features will win in the marketplace. It puts the design challenge to potential buyers directly, crowdsourcing the research via social media.

All of these are examples of situations where social CRM software offers its greatest benefits -- customer relationship management achieved through digital social channels to enhance understanding and insight. Each solution opens new lines of communication between the enterprise and the customer, harvests meaningful data that was previously inaccessible and yields a strong competitive edge.

There are many uses for social CRM in the enterprise; not only in sales and marketing, but also in service and support, innovation, collaboration and customer experience.

In addition to the examples above, an oft-referenced report from the Altimeter Group, "18 Use Cases of Social CRM," suggests that social CRM can enable proactive lead generation, campaign monitoring, peer-to-peer support, collaboration, insight into operational improvements and many other opportunities.

Can social CRM work for us?

Given the ubiquity of social media today, it would seem that social CRM is at everyone's fingertips. While there's truth in that, social CRM software requires a commitment of time and money. Before investing in one, ask some questions upfront.

Which areas of the enterprise could benefit from direct customer input? It is increasingly common to measure ROI on any investment in new tech for lateral applicability. Social CRM software is no exception, and it is prudent to survey every in-house division to determine the possible uses and level of interest.

Moreover, that conversation might be useful between partner companies, such as supply chain providers, as well.

Can existing/potential customers be easily accessed via established social media channels? The boon of social CRM for the enterprise is that it leverages infrastructure that already exists and is free (or very cheap): Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms have literally billions of daily participants. Obviously, this is infrastructure that should be exploited if it's likely that your customer base (or the customers you want to attract) can be found there.

Is there realistic potential to establish two-way communication? Many of the social media applications listed above require a company to send information out to customers and to capture information about the customer. But some require both.

Depending on where and how social CRM software is to be applied, it's important to evaluate how realistic it is that both modes of communication can be implemented.

Will the data be trustworthy? Insights or process enhancements based on social CRM results will only be useful if the incoming data can be trusted. This is obviously very important in applications involving social media monitoring -- where companies eavesdrop on what customers say about products and services -- and campaign tracking -- where it's important to know whether or not customers talking about your brand are actually buying.

Can the results be easily integrated into existing processes? In every application of social CRM across the business, it's essential for organizations to realize that its inclusion represents change to some existing process.

The downside of gathering data from social media is that there must be some integration, making the well-informed selection of the right social CRM platform a crucial consideration.

Answers to these questions can determine the suitability of social CRM, identify its most effective applications and achieve buy-in. It's also important to make certain these questions are asked for each potential implementation of a social CRM process because the answers can vary.

Making the case for social CRM

If it becomes clear that adopting a social CRM platform is the right way to go, building the case for it will differ, somewhat, from justifying more conventional and specific platform purchases. Here are a few important steps in making an effective case:

Demonstrate its enterprise-wide applicability. The kill many birds with one stone nature of social CRM makes it attractive as a global investment for the enterprise, rather than a departmental initiative.

The process outlined above for determining where and how it is best applied may generate a considerable list of applications and process enhancements, and that's good news for everyone. Sharing the cost of a social CRM platform across many departments makes the decision easier, and sharing resources for implementation after the purchase can also be considered.

Be specific about the ROI. Social CRM software will generate return on investment across multiple channels. For marketing, it may open up new customer targeting; for support, it might yield cost-saving efficiencies; for sales, it might increase leads significantly.

There may be potential for increased revenue, as well as numerous opportunities for process improvement and lowering costs. And with multiple uses of the technology, these may take different forms. Listing them will help justify the investment.

Present the options. The options available for implementing social CRM are considerable. The platforms range from expansive to lean and mean, and the variety of social media channels for which they are optimized cover a considerable spectrum.

It's also important to realize that some social CRM software is very operationally specific (a number of offerings are marketing-oriented, for example), and may be unsuitable for a company planning to implement social CRM across a number of departments and diverse applications.

When a business plans to use multiple applications, a social CRM platform must be selected that will provide the best results not for any one application, but for all. This makes careful platform evaluation and selection all the more critical.

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