CRM: a moving target

CRM: a moving target

Digital innovation means customer relationship management (CRM) is more advanced than ever, and more effective strategies are becoming available all the time. Businesses that don’t take advantage of the opportunities risk being left behind.

Citroën was fighting to get onto the consideration list of fleet managers in the UK. It believed they had an outdated view of the brand, which had recently launched new models and innovations and had received good reviews. The French car marque needed to find a way to cut through the crowded fleet car market and ask managers to reappraise their view of Citroën.

The brand’s agency, Stack, hit on the idea of using LinkedIn to find out what each of the fleet managers’ first jobs had been. Each manager was a sent an expensive bottle of wine in an ornate box, congratulating them on their first job – several years too late. An accompanying letter asked them if they felt they had changed, grown and improved since their first job, and if so, couldn’t Citroën have done the same?

Stack chief executive Ben Stephens says this was a good example of using data about B2B customers – gleaned from LinkedIn – as the basis for a highly creative and engaging marketing campaign. It combined data on prospects with information about their career histories to forge a stronger link between the brand and its customers, while encouraging the customers to reappraise their views of the brand.

But he thinks there are all-too-few examples of customer relationship management being used well by B2B marketers.

“There is still a lot of fear and apprehension attached to CRM because it involves data, and many marketers don’t want to touch data,” he says. He believes a lot of B2B organisations have been slow to adopt CRM, as any relationship with a customer is usually taken over by a client services manager and there can be competition for ‘ownership’ of the client relationship.

But he senses that B2B companies are becoming more intelligent in their use of CRM. “Some of the smarter B2B organisations are thinking: ‘How do we use CRM to differentiate, so the relationship is based on more than simply being the lowest cost provider? How can we show we are adding value in this relationship?’”

In truth, any company that fails to develop an effective CRM strategy could get left behind; the vast quantity of data that is becoming available about customers needs to be carefully managed and used to build relationships. There are new and emerging social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, new devices – from smartwatches to drones – and new payment methods such as Apple Pay.

Customers know that brands are collecting huge amounts of data about them from all these sources and they expect them to use that data to improve their service and engagement.

According to Sarah Hooper, director of planning and CRM communications at agency Amaze One, brands risk being outpaced by their rivals if they fail to improve their customer relationships.

“Companies collect all this data but don’t use it. Now more than ever, there is no room to hide – and companies that are not using data well will get left behind,” she says.

When CRM software was first introduced two decades ago, some companies found that after spending heavily on implementing the software, the returns were small and accessing the information was difficult. Some businesses were lumbered with ‘zombie’ CRM systems, since they lacked the resources, infrastructure and skills to operate them.

Meanwhile, B2B marketers questioned the worth of splashing out on CRM systems, as they prided themselves on already having strong relationships with their customers.

However, as technology evolves, CRM is being transformed. Over the past five years, CRM systems have leapt ahead and become essential tools for both B2B and B2C marketers.

“The technology has finally caught up with the vision,” says Jonathan Goodman, managing director at agency LIDA. “We are entering a golden age of customer engagement and one-to-one personalisation.”

Cloud computing and mobile connectivity have revolutionised CRM in recent years, with providers such as Salesforce and Oracle building these into their systems. No longer do marketers need cumbersome and expensive software on their computers to track the activities of customers – the information is available online, making it portable and easy to read. Being able to access customer data on a smartphone is putting CRM in the hands of all staff and enabling them to access and update information. This means it can be used out in the field, so for instance, utilities can allow their engineers to access and enter real-time information about customers at the time of visits.

“Cloud computing and mobile have made CRM much more real-time and more relevant for people who are out and about,” says Drew Nicholson, chief executive of B2B marketing agency OgilvyOne dnx. He says that social media has further fuelled the growth of CRM, offering a real-time view of what customers think and feel about a brand and its products.

Meanwhile, marketing automation from the likes of Marketo and Oracle, which purchased Eloqua, works alongside CRM systems to help marketers act on data-driven insights about customers. This can include, for instance, sending emails to different groups of customers at the most appropriate times, or engaging with them on social media.

Nicholson believes that the next big development in CRM will come from the Internet of Things, where everyday objects such as cars, fridges and washing machines have internet-connected sensors to relay data about how they are used. This will give marketers huge amounts of new information about their customers and the way they interact with products.

CRM is a moving target, facing constant transformation as technological change speeds up. In the face of such change, marketers need to stay true to their mission, attempting to forge stronger, more relevant relationships with prospects and customers, whatever technology they use.

Thomas Brown CIM Former Director, Strategy and Marketing
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