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The Small Business Toolkit for the Social Customer

Posted by on January 4, 2011

I originally published this for App Bistro but since I know that I have several small business readers here I thought it would be a good idea to re-publish it.

I run a small business myself at Chess Media Group, and we work on developing social customer strategies for much bigger companies, so I can identify with the challenges that small businesses (and larger companies) are faced with. I decided to put together this little social customer toolkit to help small businesses get started with engaging the social customer.

Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)

You need something that stores all of your customer (and other) data, and e-mail is not going to cut it.  A CRM system will allow you to set up tasks, find all of your account information, follow up with prospects, build a pipeline, and much more. You can even run your e-mail marketing campaigns from a CRM platform. I’d recommend starting with something like Salesforce; packages range from $5-$125/person/month (for the enterprise version).  You can also check out Infusionsoft which is a bit of a marketing automation suite at around $200-$500/month.

Social Channels

This is the mix of the social channels you are going to be using. I can’t speak to exactly what those channels are going to be since I don’t know your business, but more often than not it’s going to involve a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Linkedin (and hopefully a third party community solution like Lithium or perhaps Jive). The information you get from these social channels should all feed into your CRM system. No cost here except for your time unless you decide to go with a fancy community platform, but if you decide to do that then things must be really going well, so no point worrying about it (yet).  I’m also assuming of course that you have a website which you will want to integrate the social channels into.

E-mail Marketing

Again, you can run this directly from your CRM system with some basic integration, but you’re most likely going to have to use something like Vertical Response, Mail Chimp or Exact Target. The cost here will be around $0-$100/month (Mailchimp for example has a freemium version for anything under 500 people in your list).

Monitoring Solution

You’re going to need something that monitors the web for you with relevant conversations and discussions that are taking place online. You can try some of the basic free tools such as Google Alerts, but eventually you want to move to something more advanced (and again something that integrates with your CRM system) such as an Attensity or Radian 6. Costs here can vary quite a bit, but you’re likely looking at around $200-$1k/month.

Technology Integration

Finally, you need someone to connect all of the pieces together for you. The vendors mentioned above should be able to help you out with pretty much everything, but it may be worth hiring a technology person just to help you sync everything up if you’re having trouble. This should really only take a few hours so it just depends on the person’s rate and the complexity of the integration. You can start to do some really creative things on the technology, but you need to understand what you want.

Overall, the total cost annually for a small business should be around $5k-$15k, which isn’t too bad to get started. I’m also assuming that you have thought of some strategy here, otherwise this all falls apart. Of course there are other things you can add to your toolset, but in my opinion these are the essentials for getting started. Most people focus only on the “social media channels” and forget about everything else (along with the integration into a CRM system that lets you track everything!).

If I were you, I’d start planning and researching various vendors and start making the investment. You might have a better mix of things you are using so please feel free to share below!

  • Great advice Jacob. All of these things should be in almost all online marketers tool kits by now.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (

  • Added this to my bookmarked #SM posts, great list. First, I love how you put it together: CRM, social, email marketing… that it's not stand-alone but part of an overall plan. Second is the kicker, the audience: the SOCIAL customer, as in the customer out there playing on Facebook and doing YouTube searches. I like how you include some low-cost ideas for very small business, having it scaled down.

    One nit to pick: “No cost here except for your time…” That's a big “expense” – time. Whether your time or mine (plus talent) blogging, posting to Twitter and Facebook takes time, work. Not to mention the time and skill to put together stuff people want to read and share (aka content). Blog posts or marketing emails, someone has to write it. I just think all small businesses need to look at the time/money equation, be prepared that while the time commitment doesn't have to be overwhelming, it is a significant investment. FWIW.

  • Thanks for the mention on Infusionsoft. We do both CRM and email marketing, so that's a huge asset to boost customer awareness and activity. Appreciate your support! 🙂


  • intelestream

    Great list Jacob and good point, Davina.

    I know you mention assuming that there's a strategy underpinning all of this, but it really is worth emphasizing. Too often, businesses view CRM – and now sCRM – as a software solution rather than a holistic business approach.

    Before companies get ahead of themselves and start spending on the software they need to know why and what they want it for, and if they can realistically integrate it into their business processes.

    That said, this is still a very nice breakdown of some of the products available.

  • There are only a few thousand more other SMB options 🙂 But this is a good start. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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    Great article Jacob. greetings from