Have you really planned your Customer Relationship Management? close

Mark McDermott
Mark McDermott
In Musings, Online Innovation
8th December 2009
Have you really planned your Customer Relationship Management?

It seemed like 2009 was a Social Media land grab of contacts and connections. Hopefully you are all building your brand presence and conversing regularly and honestly with your new found audiences. (If not please give us a shout!)

I think that one danger with embarking on an extensive Social Media strategy is that, due to its immediate and noisy nature, it can accidentally replace a solid Customer Relationship Management (CRM) plan. In my opinion 2010 will be a time to pull our heads above water, take a deep breath and think how we are going to work these new channels and manage these relationships in an appropriate manner.

Firstly, what is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management references the symbiotic relationship between an IT System and a Contact Strategy. It is as much about the technology and integration methods you adopt as it is about actual message content and frequency of interaction. Sounds complicated? Not necessarily.

Imagine a small company of four people each using Outlook. Invariably that creates four different address lists all living separate lives under the control of individuals. There will be duplication, out of date information and a lot of value living in the heads of single employees rather than in a company-wide system. What if, on the company file server, there was a simple Excel spreadsheet that each person kept up to date? So when your good client Rachel mentions in a meeting that she is changing companies and gives you her new details you give your own colleagues back in the office (and future colleagues) a fighting chance of keeping in touch.

Sounds better already but what about the scenario where Rachel is already talking about a new opportunity with you and another person in the company sends her a cold sales email asking if there was anything in the pipeline? You're going to look stupid and disorganised. Or what if Rachel says give her three months to settle in then get in touch. How is that hot lead going to be recorded and actioned at the appropriate time?

At this point it's clear that Excel is going get a little stretched and someone internally needs to decide the appropriate times to contact your customers and for the message and delivery to be consistent so you don't look foolish. Nothing annoys me more than three recruitment consultants from the same firm phoning me on the same day. It happens quite a lot.

Let's bring this back to the web because the game just got tougher. Your contacts don't just live in Outlook, your mobile SIM and your business card box anymore. They are also your twitter followers, facebook fans, LinkedIn connections, newsletter subscribers, RSS readers and the list goes on. How are we going to manage all of this then?

It's clear we need to consolidate our knowledge, organise what we can into one repository and get our story straight!

'Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die'

So many briefs we get simply list out the contact functionality and platform presence that the client believes they need without much thought as to why they should be there and what they want to do when they court their potentially brand new audience.

With so many platforms to work on you must decide on where your presence is relevant and then communicate to the user your plan on how you will use them. One real life example of where we did this was with a high-end events client of ours. We decided on the most appropriate channels and then on the best use of each. We let our audience decide which suited them the best.

  • Email Subscribers - I want to be marketed to about upcoming events and offers directly and in detail but in a consistent, timely manner via email.
  • Facebook fans - I want to hear about new events, share and tag photos from when I go to them as well as RSVPing my attendance. NB We gave event staff a basic digital camera and told them to snap away to encourage the viral effect of tagging photos on this powerful platform.
  • Flickr - I want to see the professional photography you have taken at each event and possibly use it in our press articles or for PR.
  • Subscribe to the blog feed via RSS or Email - I am interested in your news and what you have to say as a company. I prefer my information more passively and I am looking for an industry focus.
  • Twitter - I want to hear about your events and insights but not necessarily enough to be emailed direct. I might go to an event in the future if one catches my eye or take you up on a last minute special offer. Conversely I might be a very keen member eager to hear all the news immediately.

With these profiles in mind we developed a content and contact strategy based on frequency, date/time and weighting of message. Look at all these channels (and more!), experience them for yourself if they are not familiar and ask whether your audience is really here. If so, what would they want and expect from you?

The basics of CRM - what should you do?

  • Get organised early in your campaign or company life-cycle and save yourself the pain and confusion of consolidation later.
  • Try and store as much of your data centrally by integrating your systems - especially your website and your CRM or office management software. Software like Salesforce and all credible CRM packages have an API. Duplication of information is the ultimate enemy!
  • Don't over complicate things. There is no need to become Big Brother and collect every morsel of information going. Concentrate on what matters to your business and make sure those priorities are communicated internally as well.
  • Train your staff to use and believe in your IT systems. CRM solutions don't work if people do not use them consistently and regularly.
  • Track now, analyse tomorrow - you may not have the budgets or resource to fully analyse your contacts and clients behaviour right now but one day you will. You can't work with what doesn't exist so insist on logging crucial data early. Just think of the critical touch points and store it in a database for future reporting when you have built up enough data to make the resulting information worthwhile.
  • You can look smart with personalisation and segmentation but you can also look really stupid! When you begin to understand your audience better you can increase your effectiveness hugely by tailoring your message more to their needs. But assume too much and get it wrong and you are basically communicating the message, "We don't understand you."
  • No dead ends - Great news, they converted and clicked on a link, signed up to your list or purchased something. Big tick in a big box. But what next? Never leave a contact with nowhere to go next. They will decide when the story ends.
  • Be respectful - Let the contact opt out at any time or change their preferred method of communication and make sure all systems are updated to reflect that. For everything you can get right with CRM I would honestly say it's better to do nothing at all than rush in and get it wrong. Simply think to yourself, "If I were you, would I want to hear this?"
  • Don't over complicate your strategy - I have seen clients get very excited about the possibilities of effective CRM. However they often make the mistake of taking on too much. My mantra is to keep it simple, understand it fully, give it time and then incrementally build. This is a continual conversation with your contacts so there is no need to throw everything at them all at once. The chances are they will be as overwhelmed by it as you are.

I hope this has been useful. I have kept this blog pretty simple and of course there is much more to CRM than what I have written here. However, before committing wholly to digital marketing I was a CRM Integration Consultant working in the mobile sector for clients such as Vodafone and Three. Even when we worked on massive systems and implementations the principles I have outlined above were still at the forefront of our thinking.