The acronym CRM has come to mean different things to different people. It is typically considered a business strategy that allows companies to gain insight and an understanding of their customers so that they can provide the products and services that customers want, upsell and cross-sell more effectively, win new business, leverage customer data to enhance relationships, and insulate existing customers against competitive erosion.
Most CRM strategies and solutions store and track contact information, sales and service logs, purchasing history, and customer communication records, all in the name of customer relationship management. How do we define the word relationship? Let me preface this by saying that just because I track your purchasing history, communication interactions, and so on doesn't mean we have a relationship. From my experience, a relationship is defined by our understanding of our customers and what matters most to them. Once we have a thorough understanding, we can build real relationships, and our CRM solution is the enabler that helps us leverage that information.
Steven Covey writes, "Seek first to understand, then seek to be understood." Before we can recommend a solution to our customers, we need to understand them. Purchasing history and communication records are important, but it's the answers to some well-thought-out questions that will really give you the insights necessary to influence your customers.
The answers to these questions may come from many sources—assistants, receptionists, suppliers, newspapers, trade publications, and the customers themselves. Learn all you can about your customers and you will capture the right kind of information to build a true relationship with them. Don't try to uncover all this information on the first visit, but over time, you should have an understanding of the following.
Education: Where did they go to high school? Where did they go to college? What year did they graduate? What honors did they receive? What sports did they participate in? What extracurricular activities were they involved with? Were they in the military? Do they plan to continue their education?
Family Information: What is their spouse's name and occupation? What is their education? What are their spouse's interests and hobbies? Do they have children? If so, how many? What sports or activities are their children involved with?
Business Insights: What was the last company they worked for? For how long? Why did they leave? What professional or trade designations do they have? What are their biggest accomplishments? How is their relationship with others in the company? What are their short-term business objectives? What are their long-term business objectives? What are their greatest concerns at this time (personally and professionally)? Are they long-term thinkers and planners or are they reactionary?
Special Interests: What clubs, associations, or service clubs do they belong to (Rotary, etc.)? Are they politically active? What's important to them? Are they active in their community? What is their faith/religion? What are sensitive issues for them?
Lifestyle: How is their current health? Are they heavy drinkers/smokers? Are they offended by others drinking or smoking? What are their favorite places for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? What are their hobbies and recreational interests? Where do they like to vacation? What professional sports do they follow? Who is their favorite team? What kind of car do they drive? What is their proudest achievement? What are their long-term objectives?
Your Relationship: Are there any moral or ethical issues that must be considered when working with your customers? Are they obligated to work with you, your company, or your competition? If so, what are the obligations? Will the proposal or solution you present require your customers to develop new habits or deviate from existing cultures or processes? Are they concerned about the opinions of their peers? Are they ethical? Are they self-absorbed or concerned about the welfare of their team and company? What are management's priorities?
Starting to get the picture? The bottom line is if you really want to build a relationship of trust with your customer, you are going to need a lot more information than the typical CRM strategies require. Over time, find out as much as you can in these categories and you will have greater insights to attract new customers and insulate your existing ones than your competition will.
Michael Vickers is the executive director of Summit Learning Systems and the author of Becoming Preferred: How to Outsell Your Competition.