Social media’s phenomenal reach and influence has had a galvanising impact on the marketing industry, across both B2B and B2C – it has encouraged businesses to be more responsive and helped them to form closer relationships with their customers, breaking down the traditional barriers between the two groups.

This trend has been analysed to exhaustion across the trade press, with  experts encouraging marketers to tap into the potential of a well-formed social strategy. Conversely, there have been plenty of examples of how such an approach can turn sour if not well-managed; brands can often find themselves beleaguered with negative tweets and struggle to deal with them effectively.

Social media certainly has the potential to improve engagement levels, if used correctly – we believe that CRM can play an important guiding role in shaping a positive strategy.

Optimising CRM to work with a social plan

It might surprise a few people to learn that CRM can cleave so closely with social – after all, the first CRM platforms were in place long before the boom in usage of mediums like Twitter and Facebook.

However, all the top CRM providers have taken steps to update their offering over the last few years, with one of the main areas of focus improving their social performance.

Fundamentally, CRM is about building up a picture of your customer or potential customer base, then using that image to generate insights that will allow salespeople, marketers and other decision-makers to carry out their role more effectively.

This is where it ties in with social – with more and more people using the web to express complaints, engage with businesses and voice their opinion on products, there is a potential goldmine of information out there for companies that can hook into it.

A recent report from Accent Marketing emphasised how much consumers are demanding from companies when it comes to social media responses. Some 82 per cent of respondents had used Facebook to access customer service, while two-thirds had searched the social web to find good offers or value-adding deals.

Interestingly, 75 per cent of millennials find it helpful when other customers respond to a question or comment posted on a brand’s social media channel, compared to just 55 per cent of older people. David Norton, chairman at Accent Marketing, said businesses need to be alert to what’s going on across their social media presence.

“To be a part of the conversation, chief marketing officers need to have a social strategy in place to build a trusted relationship with their consumers and within their social community, ultimately creating a lifetime of engagement on social channels and in person,” he explained.

“The survey findings prove that brands need to pay attention, anticipate consumer’s needs and create natural conversations across all channels, especially social media,” added Accent director Roger Huff.

Enrich your data collection

Building up profiles of regular customers can be a major driver of success for B2B sales teams, who can use all kinds of information to better tailor their approach and ensure that they enjoy fruitful interactions with prospective buyers.

By listening to consumer conversations over Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, businesses can put themselves in a proactive position when it comes to solving problems or offering advice.

They can also centralise their own social response, making it easy to communicate via these mediums without leaving the CRM interface.

Social can prove to be a minefield for businesses that do not approach it in the right way, potentially damaging their brand. A major reason for failure in this arena is a lack of inter-team communication, which can lead to mixed messages emerging online and mean customers are not given a seamless cross-platform experience.

By making it easy to check any previous social communications, CRM software reduces the risk of these occurrences.

Humanise your brand

Of course, CRM can only go so far when it comes to accentuating the benefits of a well-put-together social strategy. Bringing in the right staff is crucial – communication via platforms such as Twitter shouldn’t be seen as an optional extra, especially with a growing number of consumers considering this to be their first point of contact with a company.

Research, taking the views of 2,000 customers from eBay Advertising UK recently highlighted how improving different touchpoints on the sales journey can drive up brand loyalty, especially as consumers make less of a distinction between online and offline worlds.

The initial stage of purchase is the most important, said the Director of the organisation, Phuong Nguyen.

“It will vary by product type so each brand must identify and consider which channels to focus on during this ‘consideration’ phase,” he added.

Things that influence buying decisions “include, being available to your customers when it matters to them, not you; creating targeted and tailored ads showing they can access your products quickly and easily when they want to; and understanding what your competitors are doing”, concluded Mr Nguyen.

Social can help with the first of these two issues, as well as ensuring that B2B firms can present a human face to their customers. In conjunction with CRM, it offers insight as well as exposure, hopefully leading to higher levels of engagement across the board.

Click here to read Redspire’s latest whitepaper on CRM and engagement.

Customer engagement white paper