How well do you know your customers? Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

Customer relationship management, or CRM, has become one of the hottest topics and fastest growing segments of the Internet industry.

CRM is about gathering data on your customers' buying habits and building unique customer profiles to provide increased value and exceptional customer experience. Building strong customer relations is a requirement for any successful business, but it's even more critical in the digital marketplace.

The Internet has drastically transformed the way business is conducted, and online customers expect shortened sales cycles, less costly transactions and immediate purchasing information. To maintain positive customer experiences, your business must meet and exceed those growing expectations.

The most successful CRM strategies provide integrated solutions that automate and enhance your customers' overall experience. While sales, marketing and customer service may be different departments offline, that's not the case online, where a symbiotic relationship must exist to facilitate a seamless, positive customer experience.

Leveraging the Internet to develop, maintain and manage successful relationships with customers, partners and suppliers is the new mantra for business. The components listed below provide a framework for developing a solid CRM strategy that will lead to long-term relationships, repeat sales, increased efficiency and greater profitability.

Know and understand your customers

Once you know your customer, you can begin to understand and anticipate their needs to deliver the information they desire in a timely and effective manner. Create a relationship management database and establish an account for each customer and prospect.

Use it to build and collect data on demographics, affinities, competitive usage, product preferences and account history and profitability.

Target your most profitable customers

Identify your most profitable customers and create specific marketing campaigns to target them. This is the 20/80 Rule, in which 20 percent of your customers represent 80 percent of your total profits. Concentrate your efforts on your most profitable customers and create customized marketing information and product offers that target specific customer segments.

Most marketing activities are quickly evolving from traditional, conventional methods to include digital marketing, site banners and e-mail campaigns.

Optimize your sales process

Most companies utilize a specific sales and contact management system for sales forecasting, contact and quote management, proposal generation and win/loss analysis. This information is vital not only to the sales force but to the entire organization.

Turning a prospect into a customer, then maintaining a loyal relationship is a core business concern and should be handled from a marketing and customer service stance. Share and combine customer and prospect data with marketing and customer service to provide a seamless customer experience.

If you can analyze your customers' sales history and understand their life cycles, you can work in conjunction with marketing and customer service to create specific product and service offerings that address your customers' changing needs.

Exceptional customer service

Servicing customers in the best ways is key to gaining and retaining customer loyalty. Self-service is a fast-growing requirement as more customers are using the Internet. Organizations must provide customers with online account information, etc. to improve organizational efficiency, increase productivity and enhance customers' overall experience by empowering them to get the information they need.

The ultimate goal of CRM is to deepen customer relationships by adding convenience, efficiency and cost savings while promoting your customized services. Companies that strive to provide effective CRM will benefit from more profitable and loyal customers.

Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic e-business technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburgh's North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or by e-mail at info@elliance.com.