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 What do these three letters mean to you?  A quick poll of the people in the room proved the meaning to be quite elusive.  A nine year-old responded, “See are em? I don’t get it, you’re so weird.”  A five year-old pondered the question for all of two seconds and said, “huh…can I play Wii?”

OK, I didn’t have the best polling demographic for my question, but if I asked two business oriented adults I would likely get two very different answers.  Many of us recognize the acronym as Customer Relationship Management, but we could be talking about Cultural Resource Management or Column Radiation Model or even Composite Risk Management.  So in an industry full of acronyms and buzzwords, it gets rather confusing.  I often wonder if what I’m saying is what others are actually hearing.  How many times have you had a conversation with someone so full of acronyms and buzzwords that you walked away wondering what that conversation was really about?

For the purposes of this article, we will stick to CRM as Customer Relationship Management.  So what is CRM and why is it important?  You can find several definitions , but simply put, CRM is a process.  It is a way to form, foster and maintain relationships with the companies and people you do business with.  It can include prospects, customers and even vendors or other associations.

CRM is also something that must be embraced by the organization as a whole as it isn’t just a function of Sales & Marketing.  The purpose is fairly simple; it is a way to keep people happy (if only it was so easy to accomplish.)  Whatever strategy you develop, make sure you include people from all aspects of your business.  The person who answers the phone will have one view which may be completely different from the guy who ships packages out the back door, but both views and inputs should be considered.

To me, CRM has to be about the relationship and it must envelop several layers.  You also have to make it your own and connect on a personal level; meaning you must infuse your personality into whatever system you use.  Your company may have a CRM process in place, but you should make it fit your personality.  Sales reps in the same company use the same CRM software, tools and strategy, but how they manage their relationships may be entirely different.  I recently visited a client for the first time.  He began telling me he liked his old sales rep, but there were also things about him he didn’t care for.  This was great feedback and I made sure to distance myself from the negative.  I’m doing my best to put him at ease and prove that I will be different.

You have to include multiple touch points to make CRM worth while.  Otherwise, it is a (insert frequency/time frame here) phone call that does very little to foster the relationship.  I’m not suggesting you don’t have those periodic calls; just don’t think that they constitute a good CRM strategy.  You should utilize all the tools at your disposal to keep your connections relevant and fresh.

With CRM software, email, phone, internet, printed material, face to face meetings and more, there are enough forums to develop the right CRM strategy for any business.  It doesn’t have to be complex; it just needs to work for you.

Another aspect of CRM is the Analytics side.  With all the different ways of reaching out and gathering information, a whole industry is out there to deal with the analysis of CRM data.  You can study the analytics of web hits and click-throughs, downloads and any other movement on the web.  We can track all sorts of habits and develop predictive analytic models that can (allegedly) predict future action.  Technology has brought this facet of CRM to new heights, but it is all meaningless if you don’t do anything with it.  All the cold hard facts in the world can’t shake someone’s hand and chat about your business.  In fact, the analysis of CRM data is so vast it could be a topic all by itself.

Having a good relationship with your customers is not an option; it is something necessary to your business.  Everyone’s personal style and corporate culture is different.  There is no magic pill or special button on your keyboard that develops and implements your CRM strategy.  The questions of how to go about forming, fostering and maintaining your relationships are up to you.  If you are a member of LinkedIn (if not, join) you can find several CRM groups to join and discuss their experiences and knowledge on this broad topic.

Now, get out there and start Googling, give me a call, or email me; contact me through our website, our Portal, or even stopping by the office and I’ll gladly discuss CRM with you, just not the Column Radiation Model part of it.  If you’re interested in that type of CRM (click here ) and maybe you could explain it to me.

Barry Livsky has been a member of XONITEK’s Sales and Marketing Group since 1990.

Contact him at livskybm@xonitek.com.  

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