If you’re reading this from behind a desk at one of the 18.5k companies in the US that employ more than 500 people, what do you think of when you hear the acronym ‘CRM’ as it relates to your customers? Chances are good that a poorly organized, slow-to-open spreadsheet comes to mind. Or maybe there’s at least a database keeping everything secure, but it’s one of those things where a single person in the organization holds the access credentials and the only way to find out about customers is to submit a query request form to that single person. And for some reason they seem to always be out of the office. So we go about marketing to the collective ‘consumer,’ assuming homogeneity in needs and wants, and about twice a year (if we’re lucky) we update our view of the ‘consumer’ based on the results from our query request that, by this point, is probably a few months outdated.
Okay. That’s in the open. We’re swimming in so many buzzwords and redundant acronyms that I think they can often lose their original meaning. CRM is no different. In the 80s, consumer-packaged goods companies, like P&G, began exploring the concept of marketing products to people, rather than the all-encompassing ‘consumer.’ I cringe a bit when I catch myself saying ‘consumer,’ which to me sounds more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters than it does a real person. The technology that arose to meet this push was called customer-relationship-management (CRM) software.
An important distinction to make between customer-relationship management and the unintelligible mess of data that our customers have become to us is the word relationship. I would argue that, for most brands, the idea of a relationship with customers is nonexistent… until something in the customer experience goes awry. The historical failing of CRM software and digital media to effectively forge relationships isn’t the result of indifference, it’s just a very complicated problem to solve. And, as technology has progressed faster than marketers ability to make it work on both the individual and macro level, complexity has taken over.
A lot of the barriers that we’ve dealt with for a long time were removed in 2016, though. We currently stand at a tipping point between technological ability and simplicity — the very early realization of an idea toward which our industry has been pushing itself for three decades. 2017 should mark the year in which brands think and act more on behalf of the customer relationship than customer management.
Nobody knows more about your customers and their relevant behavior than you
If we can agree that to derive a competitive advantage from a business practice you must have access to imperfectly imitable resources, I see two key areas where brands can set themselves apart. First, regardless of what data-aggregator vendors may tell you, nobody knows more about your customers and their relevant behavior than you do. That’s the very definition of a rare, valuable, and non-replicable resource. So, those who have been diligent about collecting clean information that can actually be understood by the humans who will use it are well positioned to succeed.
That’s not to say that you’re out of luck if your organization has a long way to go with regard to the data it collects, because, secondarily, there’s still the act of putting that information to work in a customer-centric, relationship-focused marketing framework. Getting these two things right is essential. As people, we’re realizing that we’re viewed as consumers. With that in mind, when I find a brand that acknowledges its customers’ humanity and makes the effort to connect on that plane, it wins every time.
This year, try to stop thinking about managing relationships with customers in favor of just trying to simply have them. And if you’re not sure about how to start, that’s where we can help.