Spoiling customers rotten is the new black, the new mantra, or for you laggards (you know who you are, dahling), the new grail quest. Worst case: it seems out of reach, and you are toast.
We see it everywhere. We have come to expect each next interaction with our product and service providers to feel like progress, not another blind date. Is that too much to ask? It certainly has become a new watershed basis for satisfaction. Ask any Amazon customer. Examine your banking relationships.
As William Gibson famously said: “The future has arrived – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. It seems that every day we are yanked between extremes. At one moment we are marveling at modern convenience, and the next moment we are musing about its glitches and unmet expectations, as if somehow entitled. Maybe we are. Maybe your customers think so.
Some organizations are equipped, focused and successful at doting on their audiences and customers. Are you? If so, great. If not, why not; what’s keeping you from getting started? The answer: a lot less than you think. Of course you could cite the usual hindrances like people, time and resources, and yet today competing at selling, serving and pleasing customers is not an option or a choice, or even a competitive advantage; it’s a baseline expectation.
Right now, as you read this, your business is either delivering value before, during and after each transaction, or you risk being replaced by a phone app. You can prevent ending up in that scrap heap by making up your mind to compete – affordably, and at scale. The tools are becoming easier to use and more sophisticated. You just have to be motivated to change.
Our inflated expectations
Before even getting into a discussion on Sales CRM software, or Marketing Automation – or, as I like to call it, Marketing ARM (for Audience Relationship Management), let’s look at one simple example of how tech tools have changed our behavior: our appointment calendars.
Today, you can easily set your calendar software to remind you ahead of each appointment and keep you punctual, reliable and prepared. In business, we use it to update meeting schedules, locations and agendas, synchronize participants, and keep progress on track. Without it, we risk gridlock, confusion, wasted time and missed opportunity.
Getting and staying in calendar-sync, in some organizations, is a baseline expectation – not a choice. Indeed, for some, being on time is a core part of the business model. From Fedex to Comcast to Delta, we can now know precisely when the next step will occur, often within a time window measured in mere minutes.
Likewise, you can program your Sales CRM software and your Marketing ARM software to notify you when a potential buyer or customer is visiting your website, asking a question, mentioning your brand name in an online forum, or complaining. If you’re not listening and participating, that’s the same as ignoring. Is that the reputation you want? Wouldn’t you rather be as aware as everyone else when your customers praise or complain? Are you making it difficult for people to buy? Are you even listening? Isn’t ignoring a customer complaint posted on a social media channel the same as ignoring their emails and phone calls?
Expand your capacity
This seemingly new competitive edge – marketing and sales automation – has actually been going on for years in leading organizations. If you are not using CRM or ARM solutions, admit it: you are limited by human scale and fallibility. You have limited visibility, difficulty forecasting, an over-reliance on intuition and guesswork, and are probably making costly but avoidable mistakes. What’s worse: you don’t even know the extent of your self-inflicted damage because you aren’t equipped to pay attention.
Conversations today are rife with examples of fumbled relationships and millions of dollars in lost deals that could have been prevented, if only the right hand had known what the left hand was doing. Has this ever happened to you? If you answered no, how can you be sure? Do I smell burning toast?
Imagine what’s possible
With a tuned, integrated “software layer” embedded in your business, you can:
- create self-guided online experiences, complete with landing pages, call/response email exchanges, up-sell and cross-sell processes, social media engagement incentives, and other valuable interactions;
- detect the faint signals of purchase intent or dissatisfaction, and intervene to guide decisions;
- enable your customers, prospects and suspects to research solutions, evaluate yours, and even whimsically waltz among various decision stages and feedback loops toward eventually deciding whether to inquire, pay, receive and use your offerings, all with minimal human intervention; of course you can program it to notify you at key junctures, so you can intervene and assist.
You might think this online commerce model only works in selling familiar physical goods like books, clothing and productivity software, or servicing a previous purchase, but that it does not necessarily work with more complex products and services. On the contrary; the more complex your sales and service model, the more likely it is a candidate for marketing and sales automation to help you scale up to manage and optimize that complexity – and perhaps even use its data to discover ways to simplify, improve service, and get better results.
Put simply: there are 7 billion humans, and not enough time or resources to do each task by hand. It’s time to automate. Put differently: we are now all technology companies. From Amazon and Nordstrom to state and federal government services, we expect technology to facilitate everything from transactions to relationships. Right?
So, how big is it?
Virtually all the major business analyst firms, from Gleanster and Aberdeen Group to Gartner Group and Altimeter Group, report that top performing organizations are performing better partly as a result of adopting marketing and sales process automation solutions. Personally, having spent over 15 years programming these customer decision journeys for companies large and small, using a broad palette of tools (see right sidebar), I have seen the transformation firsthand: clients scaling up to cost effectively satisfy more people, to more cost-effectively and efficiently manage buyer, customer and user interactions, discover customer and buyer behaviors that indicate satisfaction or need, and more.
CRM and ARM software can make you more productive and competitive, freeing you to focus on the creative, intuitive and intellectual aspects of improving your business, and support you in making better-informed decisions. Marketing, sales and service organizations are doubling down on tech; indeed, analysts and industry forecasters expect Marketing and Sales organizations’ tech budget growth to outpace Information Technology departments in coming years. This isn’t necessarily a replacement of the IT organization; rather, IT can be your closest ally when evaluating tech options. Knowing one another’s agendas can help you transition more effectively to a premises / cloud blend of agile business resources.
So, if you’re feeling bogged down in drudgery, overwhelmed by the escalating demands and expectations of your customers, outpaced by better performing competitors, working harder yet not gaining ground, or possibly even mystified about flattening or declining business, please know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can enhance your chances of growth and success by having the right systems in place. Consider investing in Marketing ARM and sales CRM tools. Or not. The choice is yours. There’s that burned toast smell again.
Take this quick quiz to size up your growth opportunity.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.
- 7 Ways CRM Can Increase Your Sales (blogs.salesforce.com)
- Social Customer Service, the next battleground (Bluewolf)
- Forget B2B and B2C; Hello, U2E (Users to Everyone) (Fan Foundry)
- How CRM Software Can Increase Productivity and Profits (bizlaunchblog.com)
- The New Consumer Demand: I Want My MDV (Massive Data Visualization) (Fan Foundry)