People like doing business with people they like, and love doing business with people they trust.  But how do you get people to like and trust you enough to do business with you in a Web 2.0 world?  That’s the dilemma many small business folks find themselves in.  They’re great in “face to face” situations with customers and those they’ve identified as great prospects.  But that doesn’t help them connect with the vast majority of businesses using the Web to discover products, services, and companies that can help them solve issues. 

While many have turned to deploying customer relationship management (CRM) applications to centralize customer information, track activities, and manage opportunities,  small and mid-sized businesses need an extra dimension to help them meet the challenge of “winning friends and influencing people” in a Web 2.0 world.  Social CRM adds the missing dimension to the traditional, operational areas of CRM. The focus is undoubtedly on people and not technology. It’s about joining the ongoing conversations our customers and prospects are already engaged in -- not trying to control them.  It’s knowing where the kind of people you want to do business with hang out on the Web, and what they do there.  And although it is important to incorporate social tools to get your word out, it’s equally important to listen to the words of others -- especially those with whom you wish to build relationships.

Here are a few tenants that can bring a little Web “socialization” to your CRM efforts.

Automation

I know automation doesn’t sound all that new, especially when the word can be found in two of the main tenants of traditional CRM -- sales force automation and marketing automation.  But in many cases, small and mid-sized businesses have overlooked the impact that automating routine processes can have on their efforts to create and strengthen ties to prospects and customers.  It takes time and effort to transform good customers into long-term partners and cheerleading fans.  But this is hard to accomplish if we’re spending too much time “looking for leads in all the wrong places,” and trying to ferret out good prospects from a long list of the usual suspects.  A recent study by InfusionSoft, a provider of small-business marketing automation tools, found that 65 percent of small-business owners surveyed cite an inability to consistently and efficiently follow up with leads as one of their top concerns. While most business people know how important it is to respond to inquiries, it is often a challenge for growing businesses to provide timely answers.  

Automating lead qualification and response management processes are important to small businesses looking to spend more time building high quality business relationships.  But finding ways to automate the content creation/distribution process may be just as critical.  Quality content drives interest and provides people with a reason to reach out to you.  So anything that will make it easy for you to push out good content on a regular basis will save precious time while increasing your “Google Quotient.”  Using a service like Utterz makes it easy to turn a phone call into blog post complete with pictures and other types of content.  And you can easily create a marketing widget with a free service like Clearspring’s Launchpad, which makes it easy for to take your content to popular social networks to increase your chances of “going viral.” Or use Twitterfeed to automatically create Twitter updates every time you publish a new blog post.  You can even stream live video right to the web with a free Qik.com account along with your iPhone.

Automation is a key component to putting an effective social CRM strategy in place.

Analysis

What’s great about the era we’re in is that we can try out lots of different things without it costing us a great deal of money.  This makes it easy for us to experiment with things like search engine marketing,  website optimization, social networking, and other methods to drive targeted traffic to our sites.  This is great, but all this experimentation needs to lead to a better understanding of what kind of activities and content helps us create meaningful conversations leading to good business relationships.  So it’s important to measure the impact of landing pages to see how they convert clicks into cash or signups.  Or using services like Feedburner and Tweeterburner to measure how many people are reading our blogs and tweets.   Additionally, analyzing how people are consuming our content can lead to great insight. Sending the same message in a tweet may be more effective than in e-mail, but maybe less impactful than a Facebook page.  You can even analyze your press releases before sending them out by running it through the free Press Release Grader service from HubSpot. 

Continually analyzing your messages and delivery channels is incredibly important to social CRM success.  The options are many, but the tools make it easy, so it’s critical to jump in and begin determining what will help you hit the target.

Audacity

It’s easy to make a case for automation and analysis, but audacity?  Absolutely!  Automation and analysis lay the groundwork for being audacious -- for bringing your creativity and originality to this whole process.  By identifying routine tasks and activities and putting processes in place to handle them, you give yourselves a chance to really think about your customers and what they need from you.  Being able to quickly analyze how effective your content is in helping build conversations with those you’re trying to engage allows you to spend time understanding how you can best reach them. 

So automation and analysis frees you up to be audacious.  It allows you time to bring your personality into the process of building relationships with those you don’t know, but may want to if they knew about you.  And you’re able to “think outside of the box” to come up with captivating ways to grab their attention and make them reach out to you. 

So use every tool in the book that will allow you to really connect with people.  Go beyond the traditional whitepaper or slide deck if it will help you capture the attention of the people you want to talk with.  Hold your own webcast or webinar.  Set up a channel on YouTube and make a few “how to” movies -- better yet set up your own media platform like .  Create your own radio show on BlogTalkRadio, or possibly start your own Tnternet television show on the ProfitabilityChannel.com.

Audacity doesn’t necessarily mean being crazy, it means having the courage to do things you might not have done in the past.  But now is the time to do things differently, because we’re living in a different era.  It's an era in which we can reach millions of people half way across the world who just might be reaching out to us, without knowing who we are -- but learning just enough to give us a chance to join their conversation.  And hopefully we can prove ourselves to be someone they like and trust enough to build a good business relationship with.  That is what social CRM is really all about.

Brent Leary is a small-business technology analyst, adviser and award-winning blogger. Leary is also host of a weekly radio program heard on Business Technology Radio. His blog can be found at www.brentleary.com.