Now for some reason my wife and I decided to celebrate our anniversary at a different restaurant this year and without going into the painful details, I would tell you that it was nothing short of a disaster, with bad food, terrible service and the most uncaring manager it has ever been my displeasure to come across.
Our big lesson was that you can go anywhere to get lousy service but it is always worth going out of your way to get great service. And this is as applicable to buying a burger or a box of nails at a hardware store, as it is to buying office equipment or an armored personnel carrier. Great service begets great sales and happy customers. Or is that; happy customers begetting great sales?
CRM, customer relationship management, in its many forms, is a tool and a process designed to assure that great service over and over and over again. Like any tool or process it depends on us the users to deploy it in ways that enhance our interactions with customers and potential customers and in ways that allow us to be proactive in these efforts.
In this, CRM is there to enhance both our internal and our external communications, keeping our existing lines of communications intact but allowing us to modify and adjust these to our changing needs. If sending smoke signals or beating on drums has been an effective form of communication between us and an existing customer, we are going to keep communicating like this but if this customer suddenly comes into the twentieth century and buys a smart phone or joins a social network, we are going to be there with a ‘friend request’ or to send an appropriate e-mail.
More than anything else, CRM is about intel, or to put it another way, it is about our knowing our customers or would be customers and our managing that knowledge effectively. The tool is the management system and the process that allows us to develop customer profiles that grow out of planned and unplanned interactions with customers and potential customers and our storing this information in such a way that it is available and easily referenced at need. It is incredibly rare in the sales world to walk blindly in on a cold call, making a brief sales presentation and actually making the sale. They don’t know us. Why would they buy? The far more common road to selling success involves our making a broad commitment toward selling a particular customer or group of customers and doing all that is necessary to educate, position and present ourselves as a solution to a buying need. This most typically involves an in depth study of the potential customer and his needs. Selling is a process. CRM is nothing more than our measuring and managing that process, armed with an intimate knowledge of our customer.
Now when I hear measure and manage, I instantly get nervous because after I have counted all of my fingers and toes, things can get a little confusing. Fortunately there are any number of CRM systems out there that allow us to store, update, collate and manipulate all of the data that goes into this relationship management effort and, in this process, allow us to be productive, competitive and proactive in identifying and selling customers. If I know a potential customers birthday or that he is a golfer, I stand a much better chance of making the sale than if I am unaware of the customer or his acquisition needs. People buy from other people, not companies or organizations and if I can make a connection, if I can appropriately manage that relationship, I have a very good chance of making that sale, either today or over time. CRM promotes customer intimacy through our customer knowledge and structured communications.
I would caution anyone looking to enter the world of customer relationship management by stating that CRM is not magic and we should not overestimate its capabilities. It will certainly assist us in being efficient and timely in our interactions with our customers or would be customers, and it will help us manage our leads and our opportunities. It will even assist us in qualifying our opportunities and in tracking their buying habits but it is nothing more or less than a tool. A hammer is only as good and reliable as the person wielding it. If we can’t strike the nail or strike it consistently, it doesn’t matter if we have the best hammer ever forged. It is worthless unless we can drive the nail. CRM, just like driving that nail, is a process and a process that anticipates a very specific and measurable result.
CRM is not a status symbol and buying the biggest most expensive system without consideration of what our short and long term needs and goals are, is a big mistake. It is important to invest in a tool that furthers our organizational strategy and goals and that we assess our needs as measured against the needs of our customers and would be customers. If the system and process does not enhance our internal and external communications and if the system and process does not enhance our ability to retain and attract new customers, than we need to tuck our egos away, find the right hammer to match your CRM need and choose that vendor accordingly. Entering the unknown and anticipating success, an ability toward customization and flexibility are great places to start.
I would warn you up front, particularly with the tough market conditions out there, that there will be a temptation to take on CRM using existing internal resources. This is not typically cost effective, with expense nearly always outweighing the results and Excel and post-it-notes only being able to take us so far. CRM is something we need to embrace, budget and schedule time toward every day, every week and every month. We need to be trained and dedicate ourselves to the process and hold ourselves accountable to the results.
Price is what you pay, value is what you get. CRM brings value to our customer relationships by allowing us to manage the details of personal information, buying need, points of contact, current preferences or buying history and making us appear just as good as we think we are and maybe much better than our customers would expect.
Good customer service will allow you to say yes to most of what our customers would ask us for, most of the time. Great customer service establishes the relationship, anticipates the need even before the customer has thought of it, providing follow-up service after the sale. CRM is all about extraordinary customer service and our striving to say yes all of the time.
What customer relationships have you managed lately? How is that working for you?