What key features do today's leading social CRM tools offer?

Before purchasing social CRM software, learn the important tools and services you should be looking for and which of today's leading vendors offer them.

Now that you've learned what social CRM tools can help you accomplish and how incorporating one into your customer engagement strategy can benefit your business, it's time to decide which platform best meets your needs. You've done the homework, answered the big questions and talked through the decision with the appropriate parties at your organization, but even with the detailed requirements you've identified, it's not an easy choice.

A number of in-house factors will affect your decision when purchasing social CRM software. These include cross-line-of-business use of the platform, the need for integration with other systems, the maturity of the enterprise's existing social media presence, and the available infrastructure and cloud friendliness. The best choice for your business will be found at the intersection of functional deliverables and integration desirables.

The evolution of the social CRM software market is a consequence of its creative potential. Enhanced customer engagement is a new thing in the business universe, largely because the technology that enables it is, itself, still very new.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to exploit these new capabilities; it's still a very creative environment where innovation rules. That creativity is reflected in offerings from the leading vendors, including HubSpot Inc., Jive Software Inc., Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, SugarCRM Inc., Zendesk Inc. and Zoho Corp.

What do today's market leaders bring to the table?

The following is a detailed breakdown of the key features you should look for in social CRM tools. This analysis will provide a better understanding of what each of the leading vendors provides to help you decide which of their products aligns best with your organization's social CRM needs.

The evolution of the social CRM software market is a consequence of its creative potential.

So, to be sure you're making the best decision for your organization, look for social CRM tools with the following features:

Sales and marketing support. Probably the most desired aspect of social CRM functionality, sales and marketing support, includes a range of important features: lead generation, marketing insights by customer and region, identification of potential customers, audience profiling, and sales and marketing-specific customer engagement and feedback.

Social CRM tools offering services for this include HubSpot CRM, Jive-x, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle Social CRM, SAP Anywhere, Salesforce CRM and SugarCRM. Salesforce CRM even makes it possible to identify and cultivate brand ambassadors. The depth and capability of these features vary from vendor to vendor, and it is an area for careful attention during evaluation.

Campaign support. Some social CRM tools go beyond marketing support into full-blown campaign execution. This enables users to plan a marketing campaign in great detail, and then support the creation, publicizing and management of campaign events. This also includes tools for campaign tracking and post-campaign performance metrics. Social CRM tools offering services for this include HubSpot CRM, Oracle Social CRM, Salesforce CRM and SAP Anywhere.

Peer-to-peer interaction. It is often desirable -- particularly with the use of social media -- to augment customer service by empowering customers to help each other. Such an application can be built from scratch fairly easily by organizations that are willing to do so, but Oracle RightNow offers this capability out of the box.

Service center enhancement. Improving the quality of support to customers is always desirable, as is controlling the cost of that support. Improvements in both outcomes and efficiency emerge from a deeper understanding of customer needs, as well as improved turnaround in problem solving and addressing customer satisfaction.

Editor's note

Using extensive research into social CRM software, TechTarget editors focused on vendors that lead in market share and offer products viable for businesses of all sizes -- from SMBs up to large enterprises. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys, as well as reports from other respected research firms, including Forrester and Gartner.

Social CRM platforms achieve this improvement by leveraging social media channels to shorten the distance between customers and problem resolution via real-time engagement and ongoing monitoring of customer satisfaction. Service centers help your business anticipate problems -- and their scope -- before they proliferate. Social CRM tools offering services for this include Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle RightNow, Salesforce CRM and SAP CRM.

Customer experience. Social media monitoring, an area of data acquisition and management in itself, is of unquestionable value in fine-tuning all of the business operations discussed so far. Gathering information about existing and potential customers, former customers and even competitors' customers is pure gold in understanding and improving these operations.

But a large part of this involves creating a seamless customer experience that eliminates hiccups and delays in customer interaction. Some social CRM platforms include the functionality to support this improvement by engaging with the customers themselves, or by monitoring what they tell others about their experience. Social CRM tools offering services for this include HubSpot CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle RightNow and Social CRM, Salesforce CRM, SAP CRM, and Zendesk.

Multichannel social integration. The proliferation of social channels is wide, and it's still expanding. Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube lead a growing array of avenues by which customers can be located, monitored and engaged. Other social networks, like Instagram and Pinterest, for example, continue to grow in popularity, as well, and may be worthwhile places to engage existing and potential customers.

All of today's leading social CRM tools try to include support for as many of the leading social channels as possible. As such, the best way to decide which platform best meets your needs in this area is to determine which channels make their way to the most of your existing and potential customers, and then choose a platform that provides integration with them.

Innovation. Innovation is a hallmark of success in any industry, and social CRM can empower the enterprise in this area. It may be a priority for many organizations to select a social CRM software that accommodates innovation by providing social feedback that helps stimulate product or process improvement insights, or that helps decipher how user needs will evolve both near- and long-term. Social CRM tools offering services for this include Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle Social CRM.

Flexible implementation. Traditional CRM, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other logistics support platforms, are rapidly migrating to the cloud. For most organizations, it is increasingly becoming desirable to implement social CRM tools in the cloud as a matter of both cost and accessibility. Jive-x, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle RightNow and Social CRM, Salesforce CRM, SAP CRM, SugarCRM, Zendesk, and Zoho CRM are all either cloud-based or offer users a cloud option.

But many organizations continue to maintain their traditional CRM and ERP platforms on premises for a variety of reasons, including ease of integration with other systems and processes that remain on premises. It may be to the organization's advantage to select a social CRM platform that offers an on-premises option, such as HubSpot CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle RightNow, SAP CRM, SugarCRM, Zendesk or Zoho CRM.

Integration with external applications and platforms. Social CRM data is invaluable in and of itself, but enterprises or their partners may also find it valuable in peripheral processes they perform. Sales and marketing information enhanced by social CRM data, for instance, may be important to supply chain partners in planning manufacturing and maintaining inventory. The portability of social CRM data, therefore, may be a priority in selecting a platform. Social CRM tools offering services for this include Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Oracle RightNow and Social CRM, SAP CRM, Salesforce CRM, SugarCRM, Zendesk, and Zoho CRM.

Armed with this information on what features and services are most important in social CRM software, as well as which products offer them, you can begin to narrow down which of these social CRM tools best meets the needs of your business. Additional factors, including the size of your company and the cost of the products mentioned, should also be considered before ultimately settling on a choice.

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