Tuesday, 10 April 2012

CRM redefined - it's way more than software

Customer Relationship Management.  That's what CRM stands for.  There are several approaches to CRM.  Most CRM is driven by software that ties together records of all your interactions with customers.  With records all in one place, your team is able to deliver a consistent message and experience to your customers.

It's a good concept - and to be fair to the business people of yesteryear - it isn't a new idea.  Keeping track of your customers and their own particular needs has always been a basic requirement for business people.  Software has allowed businesses to adopt a more formal, systematic approach to tracking customer data and using it to optimize the revenue potential from each customer.

These days there are countless software solutions on the market for CRM.  In a bid to stand out, several of the CRM providers are introducing features to "leverage the social web".  At first glance, these features make sense.  If you have customers talking about you (good or bad) on Twitter or Facebook - you want to know about it and be able to respond if appropriate.  

But it gets creepy.  Several CRM packages now take your customer data and actively fetch their data from social networks for you.  The idea is that you can better connect with a customer if you know that they are fans of a certain sports team, or that they are politically active, or whatever.  The thing is, people are very perceptive and they respect authenticity.  You shouldn't fake a connection or a common interest.  Be genuine.

Building genuine relationships is intuitive for some people - not so much for others.  Here are a few basic tips :

  • Connections have two ends.  You need to identify a MUTUAL interest.  Asking a Canadian about their favourite NHL hockey team (they'll have one) is pointless if you don't follow the sport.  This is why most initial connections are superficial, but real.  We all care about the weather.  So talk about the weather.  It's a good start.
  • The more specific the connection, the more valuable it is.  Weather is super general, so it simply won't do the trick.  But chasing storms is a weird thrill hobby.  If you both chase storms - that's a strong connection.
  • Don't ask questions.  Volunteer information.  Let your contact make the connection.  There's a natural 3-step structure to most in-person or phone business conversations (it's different by email).  Typically you start with the basic greetings, then you have some casual conversation, then you deal with the meat of the issue, and you're done.  It's the casual conversation step that presents your opportunity to volunteer information.  Say something about what you did with your kids over the weekend.  Give them a tour of your facility and show them some stuff you're working on.  You're planting connection seeds.  
  • Be honest with yourself about your objectives.  You can pick and choose people with whom to connect.  It's okay to keep some people at the "talk about the weather" stage.

The cool thing is, genuine connections gain you influence in any relationship.  So approaching CRM strictly as "Customer Relationship Management" is narrow-minded.  Why restrict the approach to customers?   Imagine CRM as Contact Relationship Management - or ditch the C altogether.  Let's just approach the process as Relationship Management.  Having true, genuine, connections with staff and suppliers is at least as important as the connections you build with customers.  

What do you think?  Post a comment to let me know.

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