The pundits in the CRM world love to point out that, at some point, the term “Social CRM” will go away and we'll just describe those social media-enabled capabilities and operations as “CRM” with no prefix. 

They will be no more or no less fully integrated than the standard CRM capabilities we've known for the last 20 years, and only make sense seeing as how social media is the way our customers communicate with us and each other these days.

Those pundits are right. But getting to the point where “social” becomes a redundant modifier to CRM is not going to be an overnight occurrence. There are several reasons for that -- all of which can be overcome by an attitude change more effectively than with the application of more technology.

1. Start using social media and CRM together

A painful number of businesses have still not harnessed the information in social media to feed data into CRM. As one vendor I spoke to put it, “buyers are using social CRM as an item on the buying checklist, but then they don't put it into use once they've bought the CRM application.”

Why is that? Part of it is the classic reluctance of sales to change when things are working, which could be seen in the hesitancy of many sales pros to adopt CRM in the first place. But a bigger part is organizational; in many businesses marketing "owns" social media, and it is still viewed as a broadcasting medium and not as an intelligence tool. In this situation, the flow of information is from the company out to the customer.

Social CRM only lives up to its potential when the structure has been created to receive information from the customer into the company. Further, that information then needs to be directed in the right way -- in other words, to sales and to support so they can act on it.

While it seems to make sense to start social media efforts with marketing, the danger is that without a plan to collect information from customers and get it to the people who need it in the company, the effect is to create a new information silo.

2. Stop treating social media as an experiment

shutterstock_112554212.jpg

I've frequently written that social CRM has no best practices -- the best practices for one company will be wholly dependent on the unique attributes and behaviors of your customers and your company, so practices are not particularly portable from company to company. A bit of trial and error and learning makes sense. But many business leaders shunt social into a series of pilot projects, experiments, tests and trials.

Some experimentation is good. Endless experimentation is dumb. It suggests that you don't know what you're trying to learn, and it's an excuse to chronically under-fund and downplay your social media efforts. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you treat your social media efforts as if they're half-baked, you'll get results that are half-baked.

If you're in a cycle of pilots, exploratory projects and stop-start efforts, it's time to snap out of it. Your competitors have become serious about this stuff, made the investments and are using the information they're generating to beat you even as you read this.

3. Stop putting social media in the hands of the least experienced person in the company

When I hear a business talk about bringing in a "social media intern," I always respond thusly: "Oh! So that intern is learning from the social media professional in your company, right?" More often than not, the answer is no; there is no other person working on social media, and the intern (or entry-level employee) is reporting to someone in marketing; while they may be directed in what subject matter to broadcast, often they're operating somewhat independently because their supervisors don't really know how to use social media properly.

I don't want to hurt the feelings of the PR people out there, but the story of your business no longer reaches your customers through press releases or even through the media. It reaches customers via social channels. So why do you entrust this, the most effective channel for customer communication and the one that reaches more customers and potential customers, to the lowest paid and least experienced person in your company?

Furthermore, are you expecting a person who's learning how to function in a business setting to be the one who develops the plan for taking social media feedback and getting it where it needs to go in your organization? If you do, you have either the world's most gifted social media intern or a self-destructive capacity for self-delusion.

I'm not arguing against the idea of young workers being involved in social media. I’m arguing that your social media thinking can't start and stop with those workers if you plan on harnessing social information to drive sales and boost satisfaction with service.

4. Start looking for ways to amplify the effectiveness of CRM and social in tandem

I've already mentioned the peril of putting your social media information into a fresh new silo within marketing. But putting this data in with “traditional” CRM data and getting it into the hands of sales and support isn't a one plus one equation. Social media data used in conjunction with traditional sales and marketing data has a multiplicative effect -- social information and traditional CRM information is far more powerful in tandem than they are on their own.

Here's an example: Your CRM system probably allows you to include data on closed service tickets, contacts with service during a certain period of time, and can correlate that information with sales data like renewals and upsells. If you're paying attention in social media, you may find your customers talking about their experiences with your service organization -- good or bad. That gives you a more complete picture of the customer's experience and allows you to make changes based not on your best guesses but on real customers' wants and desires.

Flip this over to the marketing side. If you're paying attention in social media to your competitors' discussions of their service experiences, and you're correlating that information with existing lead scoring efforts, you may find that a reasonably high-scoring lead is complaining on social media about a service issue with their current vendor. That indicates it's time to get sales involved, and it could lead to a new opportunity to grab that customer away from the competition.

These correlations are not difficult to make, but they do require you to think about them in advance. That requires a new flexibility of thought -- there are a new set of data that indicates customer sentiment, but you need to identify them yourself if you want to get a competitive advantage from them. Social and “traditional” CRM are there to work in tandem, not to function independently.

We have a ways to go before “social” is completely absorbed by CRM -- it'll take work from vendors to more closely integrate social media in their products, and it'll take an evolution of thought from business leaders -- but a few tweaks to your attitude about social CRM and social media today will move you along the evolutionary timeline faster than your competitors.

Image courtesy of motorolka (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Chris, see his Bad, Very Bad, Awful Ideas -- The Canned Social Media Response