CRM - Customer Relationship Management
CRM: Taking One-to-One Marketing to the Next Level (Part 2)
For many years, salespeople have referred to the “sales cycle” as the period
of time from when a salesperson begins working with a prospect until the sale is
closed and the order received.
The problems with this thinking in today’s marketplace include:
- It assumes that the selling process begins with the salesperson, which ignores the work of the marketing team to raise awareness and generate the lead.
- It assumes that marketing and salespeople don’t care about a customer after the order is closed, which ignores the value of maintaining the relationship and encouraging reorders and buying additional products and services.
In today’s new customer-oriented view, it’s more appropriate to look at the
“customer life cycle” — a view that starts when a potential prospect becomes
aware of a need or problem and starts to look for a solution.
Once they become aware and indicate an interest, they should show up on your
radar screen — and remain there until you have successfully guided them to using
Teamwork is a critical part of a flawless customer experience. A unified
database and real-time access is needed for the team to guide potential
customers through the awareness raising, interest building, evaluating, and
purchasing aspects of the customer life cycle. This ensures that each
customer has the best possible experience throughout the life of the
The customer life cycle starts well before the salesperson starts talking to
a prospect, and it continues well past receiving the order and shipping the
When you understand your target market’s customer life cycle you have the
information needed to understand how to answer questions such as:
- What attracts them to your advertisements, direct mail, and other marketing activities?
- What product benefits are they seeking to obtain?
- Which product features give them confidence that your product can deliver those benefits?
- Which marketing activities are most efficient in attracting inquiries from people who later make purchases?
- Does customer size vary with the type of marketing tool that attracted them to your company?
- How long are the stages of the life cycle stages of awareness, education, evaluation, purchase, and reorder?
- Does the cost to provide customer service vary according to which salesperson sold the account?
- What is the customer acquisition cost of each marketing tool, sales territory, customer type, and product type?
This requires understanding the needs and motivations not just for buying a
product, but for the entire customer/vendor experience.
Today, a significant part of the product evaluation and purchase experience
occurs when a prospect visits a potential vendor’s Web site. Prospects may
go to a Web site while searching for products to meet a need, or they may be
drawn to the lead capture portion of a Web site by advertising or direct mail
No matter how they find a Web site, it’s important that they find information
appropriate for them.
The idea of personalizing Web content is becoming well accepted because most
of us already personalize the telephone and e-mail communications with friends
and associates every day. Until recently, using personalization in a Web
site had proven to be more of a challenge than many marketers had imagined.
However, advances in personalization software have almost eliminated the
large, programming projects of early personalization and made the technology a
simple point-and-click approach.
Now that the software is easy to use, it’s time to deal with the next
challenge — deciding how to use personalization.
Early in the planning process it’s important to establish clear goals to
guide what is personalized.
For instance, if the goal of personalization is to increase loyalty, then
adding features to increase return visits would be desirable. On the other
hand, if a company’s customers usually make large purchases that involve a
significant amount of research and evaluation then the use of
personalization should focus on improving the prospect’s decision making
No matter how you generate interest in your product, and no matter how good
your Web site is at telling your product’s story, it’s a fact of marketing life
that the average person spends only a few minutes reading a Web site. And,
unless they are pulled back to the site effectively and repeatedly, you
have lost a sale before you even get a chance to talk to them.
If every visitor to your Web site picked up the phone and called your sales
team, you’d have more revenue than you could handle. What actually
happens, of course, is that customers who finally make a purchase have probably
seen your printed marketing materials and visited your Web site several times
over a period of weeks or months. Only a few prospects are dedicated
enough to make the effort to return to a Web site on their own. So, it becomes
important for the marketing team to pull visitors back to your Web site over and
over again until they are ready to talk to take the next step — talking to a
E-mail marketing is proving its power to support both online and offline
sales and marketing campaigns.
Forrester Research recently interviewed companies about their results in
using e-mail marketing techniques. They found that e-mail marketing is both
effective and efficient. Their study reported that sending e-mail to in-house
lists cost about $5 per thousand messages sent, which is much lower than
advertising and other marketing communications activities. They also found
that clickthrough response rates average 10 percent, which is also higher than
most other marketing activities.
Most marketing and sales executives know it’s important to contact
prospects and customers frequently to create “top of mind” awareness.
What’s not always clear is exactly why this is true and how to accomplish
In general, exposure to a message is cumulative, and each exposure to a
message helps a person move above a “threshold of acceptance” where they will
take action. However, impressions have a certain “decay rate,” which means that
if not reinforced with additional exposures, awareness will fade away over
This means that it’s not just the number of exposures — it’s the number of
times a person is exposed to a message during a certain time period.
Today, e-mail marketing can deliver a company’s marketing message more
quickly and less expensively than many other methods. In addition, a combination
of e-mail and Web behavior tracking can accurately pinpoint when prospects are
ready to hear from a salesperson.
It’s clear that until a prospect is ready to talk with a salesperson, these
automated marketing activities can target appropriate marketing messages more
efficiently than sales resources can.
Salespeople are always looking for tools and techniques that will help them
tell their story to more prospects and close more sales. Software for
salespeople has evolved from simple contact managers to full-fledged
applications that are typically called sales force automation (SFA) systems.
Sales automation systems provide several key functions, plus a wide variety
of extra features that are used by a small portion of a sales force. The main
functions of a sales automation system include:
- Contact management
- Opportunity management
- Action Items
- Appointment scheduling
- Messaging (e-mail, letter, & fax)
One important side benefit of providing a sales force with a sales automation
system is that sales management is able to generate reports, such as:
- Sales activity reports
- Sales forecasts
Sales automation products have helped individual sales representatives keep
track of prospects, customers, and opportunities. However, they have presented
significant challenges that have limited the ability of sales managers to track
sales activity and manage their team.
The problem occurs when sales representatives control the sales database on
their individual computers. This makes it difficult for sales teams — and sales
management — to work together as a team because the entire sales team does not
have up-to-date information.
Many sales automation products provide a technique called “synchronization.”
This is a process of passing changes around to all other copies of the sales
automation software, which is usually done via specially formatted e-mail
messages or direct program-to-program connections over the Internet.
Problems with synchronization occur when a company has:
- Multiple offices that need to work together
- Field salespeople who are frequently on the road
- Channel partners who work directly with the company’s sales representatives
For many small companies, synchronization is not a problem because the entire
sales force works from offices at headquarters where computers are connected via
a local area network. However, once remote sales offices are opened,
synchronization problems begin.
In addition to the technical challenge of making synchronization work
consistently and reliably is the workforce management issue. Managers
at companies that depend on synchronization to obtain data from individual sales
representatives frequently find that salespeople just don’t synchronize
their laptops to the central server.
With employee turnover and changing territory assignments, field
salespeople controlling access to the data about the company’s customer
relationships can become a critical problem.
For companies with remote locations or field salespeople, the solution is to
use a sales automation service hosted by a company specializing in this
type of service. Companies that provide application hosting for companies are
called application service providers (ASPs). These companies maintain a
central server, database, and Web application software that can be accessed
through a Web browser from anywhere there is an Internet connection.
There are a number of other benefits to using a unified sales automation
system, especially one that is part of an integrated CRM system. Some of
the intelligence that salespeople can have available with an integrated CRM
- List the Web pages viewed by a contact
- List the e-mail newsletter links clicked on by a contact
- View self-reported interest profile data
- List product catalog pages viewed
- Track online purchases made by contacts and entire accounts
- Integrate with legacy and offline database systems
In addition to viewing data about a contact, an integrated CRM system can
allow the salesperson to supply data back to the server for use in
personalizing the Web and e-mail newsletter experience for their
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep in mind how these principles and
technologies fit into a company’s overall philosophy.
For companies that depend on customers making repeat purchases, or where
purchases represent a major decision for a customer, two concepts come into
- One-to-one relationship marketing and selling principles motivate customers to want to do business with you.
- Customer relationship management tools and techniques make it easy for customers to do business with you.
While CRM embodies all marketing and sales functions, that doesn’t mean that
you must convert all of those functions to a new CRM computer solution
simultaneously. With most CRM products you can start with one module and
add others to your system as you are ready to absorb another set of
Implementing CRM techniques usually requires using a computer-based solution
that helps track and manage communications with prospects and customers.
The secret to CRM technology is to use a unified database, and not disjointed
individual databases that don’t share data. A unified database eliminates
the synchronization problem caused by having multiple databases spread
throughout departments and field operations.
This sets the stage for a number of very important benefits:
- Complete Customer View - Real-time updating of a centralized database allows customer interaction data to be instantly available across all channels. Information entered at the Web site is available to call center personnel, sales representatives, service teams, and authorized business partners.
- Real-Time Customizations - Changing customization settings by a system manager can be done in real-time when the system uses consistent software and one unified database.
- Feature Enhancements - Adding new features, either by your software vendor or your IT department, is much easier to implement with a unified system.
A few years ago large software companies focused on selling large,
complex CRM software to large, complex companies. Unfortunately, many
of those projects experienced longer than expected implementation times — with
resulting cost overruns — because so many business functions were being
automated at the same time.
An additional problem faced by early CRM implementations was the overly high
expectations for benefits such as quick cost savings and additional
revenue. It was only with the expectation for quick, high returns that
senior management justified those early expensive projects.
In reality, much of the benefit of a CRM approach comes from a company’s
employees and channel partners adopting a new attitude toward customers, which
occurs over time and produces long-term benefits.
And, it means that the CRM solution must be both modular and
In other words, the selected CRM solution must integrate Web and e-mail
marketing, offline marketing, lead management, e-commerce and order entry, and
sales automation. At the same time, it must be modular so that any one of
the major functions can be adopted by each department or division of the company
on a schedule appropriate for that unit.
Until recently, CRM software systems consisted of software installed on
desktop PCs that communicated with software installed on database server
computers. However, this approach presented a company’s IT department with a
number of challenges in updating data and software throughout the company.
Practically all of a company’s core computing functions are already handled
by centralized servers — not on individual PCs throughout the headquarters
and remote offices — so this is not a new approach to most companies.
For example, most companies depend on e-mail processed by a central server
for communicating with remote offices and a mobile sales force. It makes
sense to also use a centralized sales force automation system that is integrated
with the rest of the CRM system and doesn’t depend on synchronization.
CRM systems are now becoming available that use a standard Web browser to
connect to a centralized database on a Web server.
Companies such as Siebel and PeopleSoft have created browser-based versions
of their older software-based CRM software. At the same time, newer (and
usually less expensive) CRM systems from companies such as Coravue,
Salesforce.com, and Upstart.com (now owned by Siebel) began as browser-based
The use of a hosted CRM solution reduces the implementation time and costs,
and reduces (or eliminates) the IT resources needed to maintain a system. A
hosted CRM solution is especially good for a mid-sized company that doesn’t have
the IT resources of a large enterprise.
However, a hosted CRM solution may not be appropriate for a large company
that has very complex product and channel marketing needs. In these situations
the best approach is to purchase browser-based software and hire the additional
IT staff needed to maintain the system in-house.
There are many CRM products on the market today, as well as a growing number
of application service providers offering hosted CRM solutions. To make the
evaluation process a little easier, consider using a matrix to group solutions
by these main attributes.
Representative CRM Vendors
Size of Company
Lead Capture & Campaign Management
E-Commerce & Order Entry
Whether you use licensed software or a Web-based system, you can control
costs and minimize disruptions to the organization by gradually introducing
CRM functions. This approach allows you to grow into a comprehensive
solution and avoid the lengthy analysis period where no improvements are made
during the analysis phase.
Customers can now have a complete picture of a potential vendor and its
products. So, it’s essential for companies to have a complete picture of
prospects and customers. This requires presenting a customized and coordinated
message based on each prospect’s interests, needs, and plans. And, it
requires tracking all interactions that prospects and customers have with a
company’s people — and doing it instantly in real-time.
This type of one-to-one interaction starts with the online and offline
marketing activities, and continues through the sales, and service
The only way this type of totally integrated, real-time communications,
tracking, and management can be accomplished is with a unified system that
empowers everyone in a company to maximize the understanding of each customer
and maximize the value delivered to each customer.
In addition to the challenge of pulling a company’s diverse organizations
into a cohesive team, companies are faced with a technology challenge.
The challenge of creating a unified system can be more easily
accomplished by using a Web hosted CRM system that can be customized
quickly and deployed using existing Web browser software.
In this way, companies facing increased market challenges can meet those
challenges by delivering exceptional customer value and, in return, generating
exceptional growth and profits.
Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.