Masters integrate e-mail with CRM

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It's time for e-mail to become a standard part of your marketing repertoire.

That means it's time for e-mail lists and other data you collect on the Web to go into your customer relationship management system to be used seamlessly with other data.

This is easier said than done, or it wouldn't be worth doing. For one thing, there's a lot of noise on those Web logs, because not everyone who comes to your site is a customer.

Employees often use the site to get data they need for presentations. Many students use your site for term papers in business, in Web design or in whatever area your products or services relate to. Competitors use your site to see how they stack up. Reporters use your site not just to get press releases, but to conduct other research.

All this is good for you. Your phone lines are no longer clogged. You have more time for business. The word of what you do is getting out without your lifting a finger. But it does mean there's a lot of garbage on your Web logs, and not all of it can be easily filtered out.

The same is true, and in spades, for those e-mail lists you've been building. It's not just customers who take your e-mail. Some people forget to drop off your list and some delete your e-mail without telling you. Competitors, students and even employees' relatives may be on your lists, as well as total strangers.

Determine who's who

Filtering prospects is yet another problem. Where do they stand on the "sales funnel?" Are they raw contacts, have they been qualified or are they ready to be closed? These are data your CRM system has regarding its other contacts, but no one has it on their e-mail lists.

You need to know where your customers stand in relation to you, and you have to know how your sales offer relates to your customers. Before sending any offer, you need to know if this is a regular or occasional customer, a qualified customer or just a Web visitor.

It would also help to know where they are, and how they pay. You may sell nationwide, but why send an offer on space heaters to Florida? Your best customers deserve your best offer, but you don't want them clicking over to a page that collects credit card numbers if they pay on account, do you?

These are just some of the challenges facing you as you try to integrate your e-mail lists with your CRM system. But even integration won't give you all the answers you need to use e-mail most effectively.

After you filter the qualified wheat from the prospect chaff, you still won't know in most cases how the customers on those lists prefer to reach you.

Find right tools

You can see the problem clearly by looking at your own life. You have desks at home and at work, a cell phone for the road, a laptop, a fax machine for hard copy, and you still have a mailbox.

It's likely you prefer each mode at different times and for different reasons. Contracts need to come by mail to the office, although they may be faxed to your home office. Catalogs may come by mail to your home or to your purchasing manager's office.

CRM vendors have to offer not just e-mail fields in their databases, but ways and means with which to qualify those addresses and the offers sent through the databases.

E-mail vendors have to offer a full range of products--not just mass e-mail software that supports text or HTML, but new broadband software for your best prospects, the kind that can replace a mailed brochure.

You, of course, have the biggest challenge in front of you. Acquiring, integrating and using the right tools can make you an e-mail master. Using the wrong ones can make you a spammer.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues and is publisher of the Web site

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