Taking a Cautious Approach to CRM

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Ernst & Young built itself into one of the nation's largest professional services firms by building personal relationships with clients. It's a business that doesn't lend itself well to CRM technology, says David Shadick, associate director of marketing information systems. "Our clients tell us when they want to engage us," Shadick explains. "We had never implemented a [CRM] tool, because we have a very expensive sales force to interface with our clients for their audit, accounting, and other needs." Ernst & Young wouldn't do anything to chance hurting those relationships. Most of its customers are Fortune 1,000 companies, with a lifetime value of millions of dollars. That personal interface has been so important to the company that Ernst & Young has never even employed a call center. Yet the firm discovered that the sales force couldn't keep up with the growing demand for information, and that some customers wanted at least part of their relationship via electronic means. "We needed to know how the way we were touching the customers was affecting their buying decisions," Shadick says. "We needed to build a client database." So Ernst & Young installed enterprise marketing suite Aprimo Marketing. The suite enables marketing managers to assign tasks, distribute information on sales leads to the sales force, receive instant updates on those assignments, and provide access to digital assets in real-time through extended-access portals. It gives an unlimited number of users a central location where they can share data in real time. Ernst & Young uses the suite to offer e-newsletters and Web seminars, to fulfill customer requests for these communications, and to follow up on customers' areas of interest. An additional advantage is that the system provides an enterprisewide view of these communications. Before Aprimo, someone in the accounting division might know that a client had been requesting information on foreign trade issues, but the marketing department may not have known. The software suite isn't replacing the traditional face-to-face customer relationships, but instead is enhancing them, according to Shadick. For example, when the customer registers for a Webcast, the system notifies client services, which follows up with an email to see if the customer wants to know more about the topic of discussion. Aprimo also reminds the registrant the day of the Webcast and notifies him about the archival of the presentation. The Webcasts can only handle a limited number of "attendees," but Aprimo software alerts Ernst & Young managers when a session is getting close to its limits, permits them to add more Webcasts on the same topic, and automatically emails alternate session information to interested parties. Similarly, Ernst & Young uses the system to track customer requests for e-newsletters and other communiques on different areas of interest to help determine topics for future newsletters, bulletins, etc. "We are finding out that people have specific issues, particularly with finance and accounting," Shadick says. "We follow up as appropriate. Aprimo is in the front, middle, and back of our electronic marketing efforts. It's been a tremendous success."
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