We live in a business world that is increasingly focused on improving customer experiences, but some companies lack the expertise and tools to make this happen. One of the best ways to create a better experience is to leverage what you know about your customers – and to do that, companies are moving towards an integration of social data with CRM systems. That’s why I was thrilled to join marketing and analytics superstars Leslie Poston, author of Social Media Metrics for Dummies and founder of Magnitude Media, Paul Gillin, B2B marketing expert, and Taulbee Jackson, CEO of Raidious, for CRM and Marketing webinar hosted by Social Media Today. I encourage you to check out the full presentation, moderated by CRM expert Brent Leary, titled “Next Generation CRM: Social Media Management and Marketing”. To get you started, I’ve highlighted key takeaways from our discussion on integrating social media and CRM strategies.

Over the last five years, a shift has occurred in customer relationship management. Paul Gillin informs us that at one time, CRMs were used as a sales force automation tool. As the technology and social landscape have evolved, so too did the role of CRM systems, which now collect behavioral data surrounding a customer or prospect’s social presence.

Since the birth of Facebook and other digital communities, social has been deemed a territory of the marketing and communication departments. As the landscape matures, companies are beginning to realize, and embrace, the medium’s wider potential. Social can play a vital role in customer service, customer feedback, and even product development. It’s critical for businesses to get social data out of a silo and into the hands of business leaders.

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One of the challenges that arise with this explosion of newly available data is in determining how to best leverage it. For me, this reflects a process change. As the rise of social expands the conversation across many channels, it’s important to remain steadfastly focused on who and where your customers are. Leslie agrees, noting many companies will face process challenges as they look to integrate. She recommends working with a productivity expert to smooth the transition.

We all agreed that most companies are just at the beginning of social and CRM integration. Often when we hear about social CRM successes, it’s in reference to large brands like Target, who has created sophisticated segmentation strategies based on purchase behavior and lifestyle cues, or Amazon, the king of personalized recommendations. But for many other companies, a full integration is down the line; they are still perfecting the social listening. Paul referenced an eMarketer survey from December 2011, the results of which show 91% of companies having a one-way communication page on Facebook with 56% failing to respond to posts. Paul emphasizes the importance of fostering agility and nimbleness, while empowering employees to respond.

For Leslie, properly measuring the effects of the strategic integration of CRM and social data is a vital component in measuring success. She notes there’s no quick fix, but rather requires marketers to “massage” the data manually and by using various tools. She stresses the key metrics for your company will depend on what you are trying to drive. Taulbee echoes this sentiment. Raidious supported the Super Bowl Command Center in February 2012, relying on a cross-functional committee of over 70 people. In fact, Raidious worked in conjunction with the NFL, the CIA, and the FBI to quickly escalate any potential issues. By developing goals ahead of time, Raidious and the NFL defined what they hoped to impact and developed specific metrics that measured their success.

While there are certainly challenges ahead in the quest to integrate social media channels with CRM systems, it’s a really exciting time for our industry. Paul Gillin believes the race will go to the swift and encourages brands to start thinking about how to develop a system for listening to customers and for leveraging that data to drive organizational decisions. For access to our full discussion, listen in at Next Generation CRM: Social Media Management and Monitoring. Whether you’re part of a company leading the charge or one that could use a few tips, we would love for you to join this evolving conversation. As always, we encourage you to share your favorite takeaways from the webinar on Twitter at @AwarenessInc.