Winning and Keeping Customers for Life through CRM- <I>Part I: Marketing</I>
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Winning and Keeping Customers for Life through CRM- Part I: Marketing

Long-term success for your company depends on efficient and effective customer relationship management.

By Johnny Duncan

In this four-part series, we will explore the essence of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). In Part I, we will define CRM as well as identify some key elements for attracting prospects (Marketing); Part II will continue with the use of CRM tools for marketing. Part III will address the steps for turning prospects into customers (Sales); and in Part IV, we will learn how to hold onto existing customers and uncover more selling opportunities through up-selling and prospect references.

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  • What is CRM?
    An abundance of information exists regarding CRM. The goal of this series of articles is to provide you with the nuts and bolts of CRM so that you can apply it immediately to your sign business, saving you the headache of research.

    Customer relationship management is all about understanding the customer's needs and leveraging this knowledge to increase sales and improve service. CRM blurs the boundaries between sales and service, and is used to unify a company's activities around the customer. The overarching goal is to increase customer share and customer retention through customer satisfaction. True CRM requires relentless focus on the customer. That is it in a nutshell.

    Just as a roadmap will help you to understand the roads you’ll need to take as well as alternative routes, so CRM helps sign companies make decisions about the best route and objectives for their situation.

    Many businesses use CRM as a management tool for after the prospect has become a customer, but to do this you must first attract the customers. Although CRM is great for managing customer relationship, it can also be utilized for marketing purposes so that you can squeeze out the most of a system that saves valuable time and improves relationships significantly.

    CRM for Marketing
    Akin to CRM is Customer Relationship Marketing. Whether you decide to use some of the latest CRM software on the market or develop your own system, the intelligence that you are building in your database will help you to identify trends for each individual. You’ll be able to track what these customers are buying, what they are likely to buy in the future, and when they are likely to buy. This information can then be used to help compile mailings and arrange telesales using accurate targeting.

    You probably already have a business plan in place that you and your team follow. If not, before beginning a CRM program in your company, be sure to write down the answers to the following questions:

    1. What is the value proposition that my company is offering? (What is it that you do or sell?)
    2. Describe the prospects that you would like to turn into customers. (Who do you serve and what type of customers do you want? National or worldwide sales? Etc.)
    3. What type of customer experience do you want to deliver? (Reputation for quick response? Low prices? Quality products? Etc.)

    These questions can be used to brainstorm even more questions that will assist you in determining who you are, what you do and who you can serve. After firmly establishing these foundational ground rules, you are now able to move to collecting prospect data.

    Just the facts
    Prospect information is crucial to relationship marketing. The information must be acquired, stored, analyzed, distributed and applied throughout the company. This may sound like a lot of hard work, but with the right system in place, it really does not take much time. The profit gained from this step and the cost saved in the long run far outweighs the initial time and financial investment involved.

    Care is needed when acquiring prospect information. You don’t want to just add names and addresses. Keep in mind that any relationship with a prospect is worthless to a company as long as it fails to do something with the opportunity.

    There are companies within our industry that purchase or somehow “acquire” contact lists with no plan to target-market a specific demographic, but to blanket everyone on the list with marketing materials. Frequently, this body counting is a symptom of the larger problem of the company lacking well-defined goals and success metrics and is more annoying than profitable.

    Many businesses today carry on like playground children trying to collect as many marbles as possible, only to find that they do not know what do with success when it finally happens for them. To avoid this pitfall, stick to your business plan and your answers to the questions above. Focus only on collecting the information you know you will use to turn prospects into customers.

    There are many ways to collect prospect data, and each data collection episode requires a bit of consumer trust. It is best to collect data in a way that truly shows how it benefits the prospect, which both makes that prospect more willing to provide data and helps to ensure that the data is right. Remember that the information you are collecting is the lifeblood of understanding for your programs, so work to collect accurate data, not just data.

    A good application of data can prevent the major marketing sin of investing in consumer relationships that will not return gains to your marketing program. The trick here is to be able to tell the good relationships from the bad. With a system in place, you will be able to customize your data, putting customers into groups by location, their purchasing and delivery dates, customized products, etc.

    Data collection
    Collecting data from prospects does not necessarily require spending a fortune on software systems. Although a large corporation may spend tens of millions of dollars on a CRM system supplied by Oracle, Siebel Systems, IBM, or dozens of other companies specializing in components such as telephone call center technology, database software and Internet systems, many off-the-shelf systems are very affordable.

    Because the whole idea is to customize each system to a specific company’s need, there is no universal definition of CRM, which has both business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications. You can begin today by simply creating a plan outlining how you will go about communicating with each and every prospect that walks through your door or contacts you by any other means.

    This plan should include an instrument such as a customer feedback form for first-time customers to allow them to evaluate you and your company. The two-way communication need not consume your productivity time. The time allotted for CRM should be no more than 3% of your day (15 minutes more or less for most people).

    Included on the form should be a place for the prospect to include their name and contact information. Use this information to begin the contact collection. Remember that it is all about building relationships so you will need to act on customer’s requests and needs. You should actually read the feedback or suggestion cards you created and follow-up personally with customers.

    Another good idea is to invest in CRM software to input the valuable information you’ve collected. Many good products exist to help you with CRM such as ACT, Cyrious (which also provides estimating software customized for the sign industry), OnContact, Goldmine, and many more. Once you begin using these systems, you’ll be able to make notes about the prospect’s hours for contact, likes and dislikes, type of products they are interested in, and anything else that will help you to better market your company to them.

    The goal in this marketing stage of CRM is to discover ways to collect the data of prospects and then use that data to make personalized contacts. It may take several contacts, using direct mail pieces, email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings before you can convert them to a customer. Many of the CRM products today offer documentation options to keep track of who contacted the prospect, what transpired, and what was the outcome.

    CRM aims to manage customers effectively and efficiently by automating the process of managing customers. CRM offers a range of possibilities that not only helps the customer achieve a better service, but also allows your business to keep tighter control of your customers. In Part II, we will examine some of the ways you can find prospects and how you can use CRM to convert them to customers.

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