[From iSource Business, July 2001] When it comes to personal relationships, management might indeed be an unattainable goal. But that's not the case when the relationships are with your customers. There is a whole segment of the software industry devoted to managing these highly important relationships. Customer relationship management (CRM) is a buzzword that is gaining ever-increasing currency in the business world, particularly as the business world has shaken off the dot-com fog and rediscovered the importance of the bottom line. It makes more business sense to keep the customers you have rather than go on an expensive lead hunt for new ones.
David Rubin is a principal at DAA Technologies, a technology solutions provider focused on sales and marketing solutions, and he has some strong opinions on CRM: CRM can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line, if it's incorporated as part of a company's sales, marketing and customer relationship management strategy. But the key, according to Rubin, is to move those concepts from buzzword status into practical applications. CRM should be viewed as one of the tools in a company's revenue arsenal, not as a piece of stand-alone technology that will have some magical sales producing powers, he says.
The Other IBM
Rubin gives an example of the practical application of CRM, beginning with another hot buzzword: information-based marketing. The premise of information-based marketing is to promote a company by providing people with information that's of value to them, such as white papers and promotions. The Internet's semi-ubiquitous reach allows companies to better manage the information on which they base their marketing. In other words, companies are able to do things that they wouldn't normally be able to do using the traditional paper and pen methodologies.
Such utility isn't produced at the snap of a digital finger, however. Rubin says, It's not just plain plug-and-play. It's a commitment to a new type of marketing, a commitment to a new way of managing the customer relationship, that must be part of a company's strategy.
Who Moved My Information?
As information continues to become the common currency of the business world, the ownership of information also increases in importance. Rubin points out that CRM allows a company to own customer information, and own more in-depth information, instead of having it reside on a salesperson's mental hard drive. In the event of a salesperson leaving, the company now at least owns the history of who that customer is and what the customer does. This information can then be given to the next salesperson or to management, whereas in the past the salesperson literally owned the relationship in many companies. And, when the salesman left, there was always the danger of Who really knew who that customer was and what their needs were?'
But given the dehumanizing nature of computers, is CRM an affront to a sales force's perceived utility? Does the introduction of a CRM system mean that salespeople are commoditized, as easily replaced as a pack of sticky notes? Not necessarily. Rubin says that salespeople like CRM initiatives, provided they're done correctly and no one is overwhelmed with a quagmire of new technology. The problem is the training and the rollout. If you roll out too many features all at once, the danger is that you will overwhelm people and ask for too much information. Our general approach is to roll critical features out to salespeople first, and then slowly add more and more functionality to the system for the salespeople to use. If you do that, you generally have buy-in.