Why I Was Wrong About CRM and So Were You

Five Basics for Executing an 'In-the-Moment' CRM Strategy

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For quite a while, I've looked at CRM all wrong. And chances are, you have, too.

Credit: Lee Woodgate/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Digital marketers need to stop thinking about CRM as a set of cool tools to favorably influence sales outcomes. If you're seeing only technology, tactics, measurements and tests, you're dancing the dance but not hearing the music.

You're probably not messaging umbrellas right now to the shopper in Topeka deluged by today's rainstorm. Or you're not messaging sun hats to the beachgoer at this very moment boiling in Tampa. You're not using your data to be of the moment, by the moment and in the moment.

Not to worry, neither did I. But I do now. Let me tell you who first opened my eyes.

In the summers when I was young, I'd help my grandparents at their grocery store. At times, busloads of migrant workers would pull up to the store to get supplies, often forming a line running out the door.

My grandmother would walk up to each person with bills in her hand while eyeing what they wanted to buy. When she approached each shopper, she'd say "three dollars," "seven dollars" -- any amount that seemed fair based on their goods.

It wasn't until much later that I figured out my grandparents were messaging their customers not by using CRM as a set of out-of-the-box tools but instead as a customizable and accessible steering wheel for the moment.

This "in-the-moment" principle, which most digital marketers incompletely see as "presenting the right message at the right time," is much more than that. Presenting the right message at the right moment in time now is the key, indispensable ingredient for digital marketing performance.

In my personal experience, CRM projects can range from sales processes for Starwood vacation properties to mobile advertising for Nokia or compliance and regulation of nuclear materials by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Take, for example the service world, where a combination of delivery, schedule and chain of custody are all critical. The most advanced companies have been using CRM systems to track and manage the process of customer preference related to customization of solutions and engagement opportunities for upselling/cross-selling.

Though industry and the type of service may vary for businesses or even departments within a company, the goal should always be to manage the communication between internal parties and external customers in a transparent and guided way.

CRM fundamentals still play a critical part in understanding the behaviors, attitudes and needs of customers. In fact, to ignore vital CRM principles while trying to take advantage of in-the-moment concepts could be viewed by the customer as disingenuous at best, and at worst, self-serving.

In that sense, executing an in-the-moment strategy isn't possible without first adhering to five foundational mechanisms:

1. Delivery: Make it as easy as possible to achieve the core customer experience and simplify the process for your team. There's an internal benefit to being able to move efficiently and the outcomes for customers are significant if there are visible signals that your process also enables your people to deal with issues intelligently and with some flexibility.

2. Communication: Enable a communication flow that feels like it's a dialogue and based on the person by using a smartly integrated customization of existing content. In other words, make it feel like a conversation.

3. Internal guidance: Automatically provide your staff insights and customized content based on data/event triggers. The idea is to be a step ahead of the conversation and focused on providing service that solves beyond the customer's current or basic need, as in that umbrella in the moment in Topeka.

4. Specialization: Embed key characteristics of your business into the CRM implementation -- such as product configuration, equipment location, timing to order completion, and regulatory or compliance requirements. Where there are needs that require high-touch, find ways to integrate that knowledge into the system so that the customer service teams are using messaging that is consistent with the marketing performance.

5. Accessibility: Make your team available to customers at anytime and anywhere. This can be as simple as not hiding your phone number in a message or as complex as providing dynamic links in marketing messages to contact service teams.

In the early days of CRM, it quickly became clear that personalization was critical in driving action. Today, this approach has morphed to drive a depth in the use of technology to present the right message at the right time. As evolved as that sounds, it still isn't all the way there.

The most progressive companies showing the strongest growth and engagement with their customers are migrating to an of-the-moment style of connecting. Indeed, the ability to drive a specific, targeted, and often localized action becomes possible while deepening the relationship with the brand through a feeling that "they know me" and that "they don't bother me with things I don't want to hear about."

Yes, right-in-the-moment is a difference maker.

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