Social CRM is a big idea, and different people have different definitions. What really matters, though, is what it can do for your business . Like so many good things, it comes in threes…

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It’s how you listen to the world outside…

The first leg is social media monitoring: automating the way you pick up on Tweets, stories, trends, insightful snippets.. everything your customers and prospects are saying about you and your business area across the Web. There’s an art to setting it up. For example, which keywords really matter to you? (Hint: it’s more than the name of your CEO.) Working out which terms, on which sites, and how to weight sources (some bloggers are more equal than others!) is a skilled task – but with your background you may be surprised at how much of it you can complete yourself. With, of course, the backup of a competent CRM partner.

What you do inside your database…

Listening is one thing; integrating what you hear as part of your business data is another. The second pillar of Social CRM is to make those valuable chunks of data part of your in-house armoury, by bringing outside profiles and data into your CRM system. There are countless benefits to doing so. First off is simple data accuracy – if you’ve taken a job title in your Contacts from someone’s actual LinkedIn profile, it’s highly likely they’ll approve of being described that way! Second is topical. If you know what they’ve been discussing on Twitter or which hashtags are trending in their vertical, it gives you a great reason to take the conversation to the next level (and hopefully to the next stage of the sales funnel.)

Going deeper, the keywords and companies they use on their profile are an excellent source of mailmerge customisations in your email campaigning. Showing each customer that you’ve paid attention to who they are. This last is a reasonably straightforward but little-used aspect of Social CRM, particularly in the B2B sphere – so if you use it, you’ll be ahead of your competitors.

… and how you interact with customers

The third part of our tripartite definition involves the tools and channels a good CRM infrastructure adds to the relationship. On Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it’s called Yammer: a business-focussed social chat that connects to what your Contacts are saying across social media then brings those discussions into your customer relationship in real-time, both with your Marketing people and beyond. Yammer adds that extra dimension to any chat you have with a customer – all their social mentions and the long tail of what they led to are explorable from within your CRM application, with no pesky going-off-site while you’re conducting the conversation. Of course, this means your conversation won’t lose context over time – a big problem if your business has long sales cycles or customer adoption curves.

And that’s my three-part definition of what Social CRM marketing can do for you. A few concepts… but a big idea.

Explore what businesses really think about of their CRM platform for more helpful insight in this report: ‘What People Really Think about CRM’

This article first appeared on the Redspire blog.

Read more: How Social CRM Transforms Businesses