How to Choose a Social CRM to Manage Data

By: Guest | July 12, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Adria Saracino.

The traditional sales pipeline is dead.

Customers no longer move down a linear corridor from marketing and PR to sales.

Rather, the customer is constantly connected – and expects the same of his or her favorite brands.

The customer now wants (and feels entitled to) a true relationship.

Easy peasy, except this constant connectivity creates a mass of data through which businesses must sort and respond. This is no easy endeavor and can quickly turn into information overload.

That’s why now, more than ever, it’s crucial for businesses to have a system in place for wrangling, redirecting, and nurturing this flood of customer data coming in from all directions.

A good CRM platform will help you funnel the noise (aka customer data) into a digestible and collaborative system. It will help you more effectively manage your customer relationships, boost conversions, and definitively measure ROI.

Implementing a CRM System

What’s out there? 

Traditionally, CRM systems were available only to big corporations with the IT staff to develop, implement, and manage a company-wide system. But not everyone had that luxury.

Fortunately, this has changed with the advent of the cloud, which enables tech companies to develop and manage platforms from afar, creating “template” programs with a variety of features.

Here are just a few that have emerged as leaders in enabling social CRM.

  1. Salesforce: Probably the biggest social CRM platform out there, Salesforce enables businesses to develop in-depth profiles of its customers, collaborate internally over a private social media network called Chatter, deliver customer service, find and track leads, and publish fresh content.
  2. Buzzstream: Buzzstream enables businesses to track and nurture leads with influencers, improve their outreach efforts, and collaborate internally.
  3. Shoutlet: Shoutlet is great for monitoring social feedback through keyword alerts, as well as streamlining the internal workflow and creating social profiles.
  4. Sproutsocial: This is another great system for straddling many different social sites and measuring outcomes through in-depth analytics.

All of these systems are web-based, allowing users to access these systems wherever they are through the cloud.

Choosing a Social CRM

Awesome, you have a gist of what is out there. Now what?

Decision time.

When choosing a CRM, it’s important to determine just what types of tasks are most crucial for your particular business and industry. In this mass of data, you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • What can you ignore, and what do you need help tracking and evaluating?
  • What do you need in a dashboard and user interface?
  • How mobile do you want to be?
  • How secure do you need to keep your data, and would you sacrifice any of that security for ease of access?

Sometimes, there just won’t be a readily available CRM to fit all of these needs, especially for a very niche business or industry. This tends to be the problem with ready-made CRM platforms as the ones described above.

If that is this case, it’s time to get the dev team involved.

To many developers, customizing a social CRM means starting with nothing and developing something entirely new. This option will work for some but it’s not always ideal. You don’t want to jump down a bunny hole when you don’t know how deep it goes.

Let me be frank: Your developers can be working for months before you even see a prototype, which may need to be thrown out if any new needs arise in that time. This often makes customization cost-prohibitive for small businesses and startups.

However, it is fully feasible if your company needs something highly specialized and you have the time and resources to do it.

 If you don’t have the means to devote your devs to this, but decide you’d like to develop your own social CRM, there are middle men out there that can help you out.

In other words, there are development platforms available that allow you to create custom systems through the use of modeling platforms. These systems eliminate the need for hand coding, and let you define your application with a “drag and drop” approach. This speeds up development and reduces risk, making the custom development of a CRM a viable alternative to the off-the-shelf packages described above.

How it Works

Here is an example of how this works. OutSystems is a rapid application development platform that follows an agile development mentality.

Essentially, agile developers work in what’s called “iterations,” getting in touch every few days to demonstrate apps still in development so they can adjust to any changes in real time. OutSystems created this case study about a highly specialized company called Ortho Kinematics, which is a good example of how a platform like this could be used to create a highly customized CRM.

I won’t rehash the whole case study here, but the cliff notes version is that Ortho Kinematics was able to use OutSystems’ Agile Platform to create a fully customized CRM system in less time than trying to customize the packaged CRM they were using.

Final Thoughts

Whether you build your own or use a packaged one, having a CRM is crucial for your social efforts. The B2C world is only going to get more social, and we should be at the forefront of these changes. When we master this data, we humanize the businesses we work for and increase sales along the way. It’s a new, social world.

Let’s lead it.

Adria Saracino is a marketer and blogger. When not consulting businesses on marketing strategy, you can find her writing about style on her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet or on Twitter @adriasaracino.

* Disclaimer: Adria works with OutSystems, but all thoughts and opinions in this article are her own. 

Note from Gini: Another social CRM is Jugnoo, which is a client of ours. This is a guest blog post, so we didn’t feel comfortable adding it to Adria’s list. But definitely check them out, too!

  • I like the idea of being able to see the in-depth profile of your customers that Salesforce provides. 
    I’m a big fan of the Harvey Mackay 66 questions to know about your perfect prospects and questions and this tool could very well answer a lot of these questions for you which helps you not only segment your list in your separate customer and prospect CRM but also to spark conversations of rapport with them on and offline.
    Thank you Adria for this intro to these tools!

  • KevinVandever

    Thanks Adria. 
    We just went with Salesforce for CRM. We are using an implementation partner as well as training internal development and admin staff. Haven’t heard much about the other cloud technologies you mention because we’ve been a salesforce customer so long that when we decided to kick CRM up many notches (It’s still hip to reference Emeril’s catch phrase, isn’t it?) we decided to continue on with Salesforce. It met all biz requirements and our technical folks have been quick to pick it up. Salesforce is, as you define, a modeling platform. Customization can be done without writing a single line of APEX (salesforce’s programming language) code. However, if you need to go beyond the drag and drop, workflow, and business rule creation tools that exist, you are able to do so using a very robust development environment. I really like this approach.  
    I am a supporter of Agile. We use it in our Web/mobile/portal development team, but employ traditional waterfall approach on the ERP side. Each approach works well with each team. We weren’t completely successful in running the Salesforce implementation using the Agile approach. I’d call it a hybrid of Agile and Waterfall. We had a large upfront blueprint session, where we defined requirements, etc. but have tried to use more of an iterative approach with development and testing. It’s gone pretty well so far. When we take over salesforce responsibility post implementation, we will move to more of a pure Agile approach. 

    • adriasaracino

       @KevinVandever I loved learning more about how you use Salesforce. I think Salesforce offers one of the most robust functionality portfolios that I’ve seen, aside from customization. Some of those social CRMs above won’t be good for everyone because they don’t all offer the same services. For examples, Buzzstream is best for PR teams looking to manage their relationships, it’d do absolutely nothing for a sales team. So hearing how you use a social CRM to its full potential is really great. 
      Same with the agile approach, it might not work with every team and for every business. Agile often is difficult for larger brands unless they move in distinct teams – coordinating a lot of people is difficult! I’ve actually moved to agile PM for my marketing team, so its quite interesting seeing what types of applications it works for above and beyond the traditional dev sense. 

      • KevinVandever

         @adriasaracino Funny. I’d never heard of OutSystems before yesterday. Today I open my email up and I see an invitation to a webinar put on by your VP. (Twilight Zone music playing in my head)

        • adriasaracino

           @KevinVandever Ha! Small world! Would love to connect you with OutSystems personally if you have any questions.

  •  @adriasaracino Nice list. Another Social CRM platform that’s making waves is nimble, co-founded by jon_ferrara . It’s backed by some big names in tech: googleventures , mcuban , jason , dondodge  and dharmesh .

    • adriasaracino

       @PhilipNowak  nimble  jon_ferrara  googleventures  mcuban  jason  dondodge  dharmesh Thanks for the recommendation, going to look into this now!

      •  @adriasaracino  Whoops, just realized how ridiculous all those Livefyre tags look. Sorry about that @ginidietrich . Was just trying to spread the word about your post, but that was overkill.

        • adriasaracino

           @PhilipNowak Ha I was a bit confused by the tags and was like “should I delete them” and almost did but then thought maybe I shouldn’t…so sorry @ginidietrich for the confusion!

  • Another one, as Gini noted above, is jugnoome  And yes, they are a client of ours, but their platform, still in beta, brings social monitoring, content creation, engagement and analysis under one roof. They’ll be adding lead generation, visual data and other cool features over the next couple months. What’s particularly cool about it, is It makes social CRM easier because they provide tasks along the way. It breaks it down – do this, now do this….  🙂
    thanks, as always, Adria!

    • @Lisa Gerber @jugnoome We had to make it easy enough for Gini to follow… 😉

    • adriasaracino

       @Lisa Gerber  My pleasure! Out of curiosity, what tracking and monitoring features does  jugnoome have? I’d be interested in learning more. I always find that to be the most difficult tool to find, something that can really provide solid analytics and can take the manual process out of monitoring. Ideally I’d like to find something that integrates both social and web – such as bringing in a better version of Google Alerts + social tracking FTW. 🙂 

      •  @adriasaracino  @Lisa Gerber  jugnoome Hi Adrias,
        I’m actually the VP, Partner Strategy at Jugnoo (hence my biased comment earlier). 😉
        If you have some free time next week, would love to give you an overview of what we have in our summer release schedule – it’s been quietly impressing people on each demo. 🙂

        • adriasaracino

           @Danny Brown   Awesome, let’s set up a time! 

        •  @Danny Brown  Danny, count me in too. Had no idea you were doing that now. I guess I have to visit your blog more often! Would love to learn more about Jugnoo , so we can feature it on Firmology.

        •  @Danny Brown  Danny, count me in too. Had no idea you were doing that now. I guess I have to visit your blog more often! Would love to learn more about Jugnoo, so we can feature it on Firmology.

        •  @PhilipNowak @adriasaracino Will do – can you both ping me an email at dbrown (at) jugnoo (dot) come and we’ll get it arranged. Cheers, guys, have a great weekend!

  • Great overview Adria, and well laid out.

    What’s interesting to watch is how many of these platforms are bigger guys buying externally to try and meet a need/demand. How these will (eventually) compare to platforms built for the very reason these guys are in acquisition mode will be intetesting to see play out.

    I know who and what my money’s on – but then again, I’m biased. 😉

    • adriasaracino

       @Danny Brown That’s a really interesting point, Danny. I think it will be interesting to see how this Game of Thrones plays out (sorry, couldn’t resist :).

      •  @adriasaracino You can use Game of Thrones anytime. 🙂

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  • millsmarianna

    Adria, Thanks. I like reviews
    I think that should be more emphasis on the needs of CRM platform your organization, it helps to see all the gaps and complete platform modules before display it on the market, well in the future to try every solution for your company, as it has successfully done in now we use them and see that the developers hone their platform under him, and we liked it too, we ourselves often in favor of proposals that would like to see in the system, what tools we are lacking, but it was an alliance with the developers and makes the system better.

    • adriasaracino

       @millsmarianna Completely agree. CRM platforms aren’t usually the first thing startups and small businesses go after, but I think they should from the get go. It’s a huge headache having all these accumulated data in, say, Excel sheets only to have to transfer to a CRM down the road. If you start from the beginning and collect data right away, you’re really setting yourself up for success. And I think getting your devs involved with the process asap will really help define the direction your team goes in and help make sure you are running your business with metrics in mind from the start.

      • millsmarianna

        Thank you 🙂

  • jennimacdonald

    Adria great article, and great outline of what people need to look for before purchasing. I’d like to add Engage121 to the list. Engage121 is a social CRM, which allows you to monitor, publish, and engage across 22 social networks and 42 review sites.
    I work at Engage121 and I think that one of our biggest selling points is that we customize our application to our client’s needs. We have diferent levels and versions of our software;  corporate, enterprise, and now outlet. 
    I loved the point of if you build your own you’ll be waiting months even for a prototype! : )

    • adriasaracino

       @jennimacdonald Awesome! Thanks for letting me know about Engage121, I’ll have to check this out.

      • jennimacdonald

         @adriasaracino You’re welcome, thanks for taking the time to do so! Have a great weekend.

  • ChrisQueso

    Researching an affordable social CRM for a client prospect right now… This post was right on time.

    • adriasaracino

       @ChrisQueso  Awesome! Glad it’s been helpful. Good luck!

  • Great Article. I haven’t any idea about this also thanks to all for sharing great sites.

  • Kara Lee

    Great post Adria, so important to really research before making CRM decisions. Full disclosure, I work for Social Media Management system called Sprinklr that specializes in a system for the Enterprise platform. We recently crafted an article about 6 Must Haves for the Social RFP which can hopefully also help inform decisions when researching your CRM solution:

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