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How to get the most out of social CRM this year

It's time to re-adjust your entire IT strategy, including CRM

Though social CRM’s a field in its infancy, it has the capacity to dramatically transform the way we engage customers, do business and understand markets. But how do you separate the substance from the hype and develop a social CRM system that’ll grow your company?

The days of IT being a back-office department comprising hardware, support services and systems of records are totally over. Thanks to social engagement, technology is now at the core of customer engagement, and it’s time to re-adjust your entire IT strategy, including CRM, to reflect and pursue this.

For businesses, social media customer engagement is not about hype, buzz or making noise. These strategies are short-sighted and their results, if any, are short-lived. Yes, you need to develop a conversation and draw customers into a relationship with you, but you need to do so with specific business goals in mind.

Realise that social CRM is in its infancy, and that it’s an area whose importance is going to grow exponentially as the emphasis in marketing more broadly shifts its focus from content to community. For now, it can add a vital edge to your sales strategy, but its use must be targeted, purposeful and strategically aligned with the rest of the sales agenda.

Integrate social with your sales process

Peers, friends and colleagues are the number one trusted source of information for business customers seeking suppliers or service providers, and buyers are often at least part of the way through their purchase decision before they even make contact with your sales team. They’re not looking for a pitch or ready-made solution – they want to be part of a conversation about your business area.

If you’re using social relationships with customers and business figures to drive and shape the conversation about your product, it’ll mean a greater number of better-quality leads for your sales team.

Don’t go fishing

Assess your business, the possibilities for social engagement, the data this might yield, and how social CRM can be used to further your current business goals and develop future ones. Plan your next two years of social development closely, while leaving room for contingencies, unforeseen circumstances and technology developments.

It’s important to have this solid understanding of where social CRM fits in your overall business development strategy. There’s no point wasting precious time and resources processing data or experimenting with individual tactics or initiatives in the hope they yield either golden insights or hundreds of sales leads. Have a strategy, execute it, review it and modify it.

Work your data (with help from the experts)

Social media engagement creates incredible amounts of data. It’s analysis goes beyond simply reading metrics. The amount, variety and velocity of customer information that social interaction makes available can be mined for priceless strategic insights that can shape the way you do business.

Unless data analysis and customer insights are your core expertise, the three factors mentioned above – the amount, variety and speed of data – will work against you. While there’s more data, and hence more insights available, there’s also far more noise, and the data is accumulating in real time. It’s also vastly more costly to spend your own resources on a data analysis project than it is to outsource.

Consider who you’ll partner with to extrapolate customer insights from your social-generated data that can be integrated into your future business strategy.

Keep up to date

Social CRM and social media are newer technologies, and they’re rapidly evolving – both in themselves and in what they can offer businesses. 2013 will see a range of developments. Social CRM itself will evolve. There will be new, more powerful, complex and specific social data analytics tools. Social networks will launch initiatives that aim to further engage businesses.

Make sure you and your social CRM/consumer insights partners are across the latest in the field, and actively assessing new technology.

Ian Whiting if CEO of Markinson Business Solutions, an ERP software provider.

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