TECHWISE : Where the Heck are my Customers?

TO: Kim, Murray, Steve, Catherine, Kurt
SUBJECT: Email newsletter
Hi All
We need to start sending that regular client newsletter we discussed at the last management meeting. It should go to existing customers, prospects from our trade-show, and the list we hired of senior execs. Can you coordinate with Kurt and the IT team to make it happen?
TO: Bob, Kim, Murray, Catherine, Kurt
FROM: Steve
SUBJECT: Re: Email newsletter ..
Hi Bob –
We need to make sure people can subscribe or unsubscribe. Do we have page on the website for this? And have these people agreed to receive newsletter? What about the privacy issues…??
TO: Bob
CC: Kim, Murray, Catherine, Steve
FROM: Kurt
SUBJECT: Re: Email newsletter…
Hi Bob, Murray and all
We can send to our customers OK. But we don’t have subscribe/unsubscribe page. The event attendees “list” is box of business cards we collected – but nobody’s done anything with it. We’ll need to get someone to enter the names. The other list should be OK, but we’ll need to cross-check for duplicates!
What sort of newsletter is this? HTML? Catherine – has marketing done design layout? Who’s going to send this?
TO: Bob
CC: Kim, Murray, Steve, Kurt
FROM: Catherine
SUBJECT: Re: Email newsletter ..
Hi Kurt
Can your team send it out? Last time we sent something we got loads of bounce messages. We’ll need to get web-designer to do design, but our guy is away so that will take couple of weeks. I’ll arrange for the business cards to be entered – where should we enter them?

Does this conversation happen every time you need to communicate with customers and prospects? You’re not alone. I’ve lost track of the number of companies I’ve worked with that have customer and prospect lists spread across the company – in the customer relationship management (CRM) system, in personal Outlook contact lists, in spreadsheets and text lists, in website subscriber lists, in business-card holders – you name it.
Each repository of contact data has different owners, different pieces of information about contacts, and no easy way of matching one against another.
Even if these disparate lists can somehow be aggregated, cleansed and de-duplicated to produce master-list, then what? The pain is only just starting. Where do you put the “master” list? Who maintains it – who “owns” it?
Then there’s the question of how people access this information to do what they need to do. Can your marketing or sales-people target lists of customers or prospects, build and send out emails and newsletters and track responses themselves? Or is your IT team the bottleneck because the process is so complex they always have to get involved?
At this point, it would be great to be able to wave magic wand and say “the solution is (cue drumroll) … X”. But unfortunately it’s not that easy – despite plethora of CRM vendors who will tell you otherwise.
So how can you solve the problem?
The first step is to understand:
•what customer and prospect data you need to store;
•where it will be stored;
•who needs to access it, and what they need to do with it;
•what systems need to use this data – eg, is customer data shared between your accounting system and sales contacts?
Start by listing all the sources of contact data in your company – the accounting system, card rolodexes, order management systems, email lists, website lists. List everyone who uses this data, what they use it for, and, importantly what they’d ideally use it for but can’t at the moment.
Once you understand that, you can look at what systems – CRM, email-marketing services or what have you – will accomplish what you need. It may be that one system won’t solve all your problems. Getting some good independent advice is good idea. System vendors often attempt to change your business processes to fit their systems rather than supporting the business processes you need.
Getting handle on the systems that support your customer relationships isn’t easy. It’s painful, time-consuming and often expensive. But it’s not as expensive as not doing it right. If customers are the lifeblood of your business, then the systems you use to support your relationships with them are the skeletal system.
Think of the lost opportunity costs of not being able to manage your relationships with customers and prospects efficiently. Look at how much time it’s taking now, and how much more productive your staff could be with good systems in place.

Mark Evans runs Techtelligence, and is director of Sway.Tech, marketing, communications and strategy consultancy for hi-tech companies. [email protected]

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