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!