Customer relationship management (CRM) is crucial to any organisation – whether you are the biggest and best brand in the world or the smallest start up. You always need to work on your relationships. They will help you sell more, be more reactive to criticism, improve your product/service and ultimately could help you improve your profitability.
Alternatively, failing to work on your CRM strategy could lead your company down a dark path where you have no idea what your customers think, no idea if they are bad mouthing you, miss meetings, fail to uncover sales opportunities – and perhaps the biggest of all – fail to spot disgruntled customers ready to leave.
There are many facets to developing your CRM strategy, but why not start with my four basic principles:
1. The sooner you start building relationships with a customer, the better.
It’s never too early to start. The very first time you have the chance to connect do it with a personal approach. Empathise with them, listen to what they have to say and try to understand what they are looking for (or what problem they have). By listening and showing that you listen you will be able to meet their needs (or not in some cases) and gain a little bit of trust and respect.
2. It's inevitable to lose some prospects, but it's important to try to solicit feedback in a personal conversation.
If you find that your prospect is not suited to your product and it won’t solve their needs, don’t try to crow bar a sale by fitting a square peg in a round hole. You should, by now, have an understanding of how it isn’t a good match, and if you know your stuff, why not suggest an alternative which you believe is useful? It shows you are knowledgeable in the subject and genuinely want to help.
3. Don't be afraid to receive criticism or negative feedback.
When a prospect or customer says ‘no’ or wants to criticise your product or service, let them. There is no shame in not being perfect. By listening to what they don’t like you can look at what you are providing and see if it makes sense to modify or change the offering slightly. You can bet your bottom dollar this person won’t be alone in their thoughts. At Glasscubes we try to take every bit of feedback and build it into our product roadmap (and we generally prioritise these developments over our own).
4. Don't try to make a goodbye message into another attempt to sell.
I’m sure we’ve all done it, but I believe it’s crucial not to. Don’t try and push more marketing or sales messages to someone who is already leaving. Certainly be polite and courteous, but sales messages are so obvious. You’re likely to leave a better taste in the mouth by once again understanding their needs and accepting their decision to leave. This may help you keep the relationship going so that if circumstances change, a reunion may not be out of the question.
Interesting story of artistic rebellion on the BBC today - in this case, not against the machinery of the state, but against people who are against the machinery of the state and insist on sharing music - for free - via the Internet.
Our poor, destitute pop stars have stamped their collective feet and said, “Enough! No more depriving us of another few quid for our swollen coffers by sharing our music with your mates.” Poor loves.
Does anyone really care whether Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Lily Allen or whoever, misses out on a few grand here and there? How bad can file-sharing really be? Well, plenty of lesser-known artists are living on the breadline and depend on every penny they can earn to maintain their career - and they’re the ones who are hit the hardest. So this isn’t really about the big names at all.
I’m not even sure it’s a simple point of legal principle either. Technically, the musicians are right, of course. Intellectual property (IP) law is clear about these things - artists have an established right to be paid for the sale and distribution of the works they have created.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the performers or writers actually own the IP (in the case of musicians, often it’s the label or distributors), but, through custom, practice and performance contracts, they have a right to benefit from it. For people who already have millions, the impact of file-sharing is probably relatively marginal - certainly less than the impact of the contracts the labels impose on them, if Prince and George Michael are to be believed.
For up-and-coming artists, however, it could make the difference between being able to continue an artistic career or giving it up to work full-time in Sainsbury’s. Worst case scenario: our culture is deprived of great works that would have thrilled or inspired millions, because no-one’s prepared to pay for them.
The issue of ownership of artistic works is not one that can be easily defined by law, in my opinion. Who owns Penny Lane, for example? The Beatles, who wrote it? The estate of Michael Jackson, who bought the publishing rights? The old-timers’ band in Frinton who bash out a cover on the Hammond organ? The millions of people who have bought it, listened to it, been inspired to explore more of the Beatles’ work and from there delve into the music of other artists influenced by them - in other words, people whose lives have been culturally enriched by the song?
So, who owns the cultural artefacts that help shape our sensibilities and our feelings about the world? And who benefits from them the most? There’s a strong argument to say that we, the public, do. It’s a liberal, idealistic vision of art and its place in society. Many people think that art should be free. But if we subscribe entirely to this view, how does the artist live?
Until the 19th century, since when the commercial model of art has really taken hold, artists were often dependent on family wealth or a rich patron in order to live and write, paint or play. This model just doesn’t exist as much nowadays - and neither should it. Art is at least as much commerce as it is creativity these days - and we have, to some extent, our own collusion with the artists to thank for this. Think of the rapacious commercialism of Andy Warhol, for example: sure, he was making an interesting comment about the mass production methods of modern society; he was also absolutely raking it in. And we’ve lapped it up.
The point is that artists need money as much as the rest of us (let’s not get into the issue of greed). Whether we like it or not, art is commerce and probably always has been, because people have to live and eat - and we’ve all bought into this idea. This means artists are entitled to the same protection as any other producer. You wouldn’t steal a chair, would you? You may think your emotional response to a piece of art is unique and special and it probably is; but does that give you the right to steal a song?
Small Business Week is coming up – a week of events, talks, seminars, advice clinics and the like intended to help small-business owners, throw the spotlight on the issues that are affecting them and maybe even influence people to get something done about them.
This year, the organisers, to their credit, are taking an ‘inclusive’ approach to the week-long campaign. They’re conducting a survey of small firms which aims to “measure the current health, drivers and inhibitors to successful business in the UK and create a better understanding of what's needed to enable the UK to recover faster”. I think they mean they want to know what helps or prevents you from thriving at the moment.
I’m urging you, shamelessly, to fill out the survey, which closes on Monday, 28 September. Do it now. It’ll take five minutes and someone (though, in all honesty, probably not you) will win a holiday to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics.
Now I’m going to declare an interest: we’re going to be reporting on Small Business Week and maybe even taking part in seminars, advice clinics and the like. We’d love to build up some sort of picture of what marketing issues matter to small firms at the moment so we can introduce these to discussions or behave like proper journalists and ask pointed questions about them.
So please tell us (using the comment box below):
We CAN’T give you a holiday in Vancouver. We CAN give you our heartfelt thanks and a virtual bag of Donuts. Cheers!
There's a lot of talk about the power of social networking for business. Take a look at some of the most eye-watering stats in this video. What's clear is that social networking is no longer becoming mainstream, it is mainstream.
But are people getting the results they want and need? Well, research we've just conducted would suggest a resounding NO. This is not necessarily bad news. In fact, it means that there is plenty of opportunity to resolve problems and stop making mistakes. Clearly, social media is still in its infancy. But with 50M+ people registered on Twitter and five times that number on Facebook, it's a force which should be reckoned with today (not tomorrow). How are you finding it? What do you think? Feel free to grab this video off YouTube and embed it. Let's get more businesses interacting and getting results on social platforms. Ultimately, that will be better for all of us.
I have to admit I find Yahoo one of the most frustrating online companies I have ever encountered. However, I also consider it the biggest innovator, and that’s the frustration. The labs division of the company produces many fantastic products and services, yet only a small percentage of these ever get air time.
The latest product to come from the Silicon Valley beast is Yahoo Neighbors, a mashup between local search and social networking. Currently only available in the States, Neighbors is in effect a message board for local communities. If implemented correctly, this will provide a fantastic real time view of “the word on the street” to Yahoo searchers. I think a good description for this is “the conversation layer”.
Having spent some time playing with Neighbors I have to say it’s brilliant. Its contents are categorised into sections that really matter locally, such as business recommendations, education and even restaurant reviews. While we may discuss how social networks and presence management are essential for business (and they are), often the same thinking doesn’t translate for local businesses. This is where Neighbors could potentially help. Small businesses could exploit the service in numerous ways, from basic exposure, to the creation of a “linked-in” style authority status, but at a local level.
Yahoo Neighbors is pretty awesome, and the concept of the conversation layer doesn’t just apply to the larger and more web savvy businesses. This is a service that seems to bridge that gap between large and small extremely well.
I just hope it’s not another bright idea that gets stifled due to lack of business support from the big Purple. Oh, and I also hope that it eventually finds its way over the pond to us!
In the old days a quibble over a product or service not being up to scratch would be resolved through an exchange of letters with a customer service department. A swift resolution ensuing, the customer would be happy and the business might have gone beyond just saving face and reinforced its brand values, too. Today, this model is not quite so strong.
According to Webuser.co.uk, a holidaymaker has secured £600 in compensation for a disastrous holiday as a result of the prominent Google search ranking he achieved for the angry blog he fired off when a complaint letter to the holiday firm yielded no result.
The holidaymaker had originally penned a letter of complaint (ten pages of letter, in fact) detailing a depressing series of problems he encountered during a less than satisfactory Tunisian holiday. After six weeks, having only received an acknowledgment for his rant, the increasingly angry traveller went public and recorded his troubles on his personal blog.
In no time, he was getting lots of traffic – much of it from people who had simply typed search terms relating to holidays in Tunisia. In fact, the critical blog entry’s Google ranking was creeping ever closer to the summit on all the key search terms the travel company would rather see taking you to the holiday package they were trying to flog.
Once the holiday company became aware of the growing popularity of the blog post, blogs about the blog post and probably even blogs blogging about the impact of blog posts about the original blog post - such is the way the Internet feeds off itself - it became apparent that an “elevated” level of response was required. Compensation was paid to the blogger and an apology posted on his blog, to boot.
However, it may be too late for damage limitation – the rant, of course, has been widely seen and still exists in the public domain. The digital footprint of a blog post that would never have seen the light of day had the travel company responded sooner is now leaving the most indelible – and embarrassing – of stains on its reputation.