At CRM Evolution, Relevance and Incremental Improvement Are the Keys to Company Growth

NEW YORK — Businesses should strive to craft relevant messages, take small steps toward long-term and growth, and make wise investments in their CRM tools, speakers said on day one of CRM Evolution at the Marriott Marquis.

To kick off the conference, Shane Snow, author of Smartcuts and chief creative officer at Contently, delivered a keynote presentation on the importance of "lateral thinking" in business today. It's possible to divide a cake into eight pieces with just three moves of a knife, for instance; it simply requires a creative approach. Snow stressed that finding elegant solutions by attacking problems "sideways" is what allows organizations to get the ball rolling when they begin to stagnate. "Most businesses stop growing after a few years," Snow said. "Lateral thinking can help all of us to overcome this plateau" and stretch our resources beyond what we thought was possible and consider what is most essential to achieving the goal.

Snow recalled a game from his youth in Idaho in which members of a group set out on a journey to see who could trade a toothpick for the largest and most impressive object. The key to the game is to begin small, going door to door and trading each item for something bigger and better until they eventually end up with a television or a used car. Similarly, companies can take small steps to expand over time, he said. "Small wins are more motivating to team members than really big ones," Snow told the audience, because "human beings like to see progress," as it builds psychological momentum. Teams are more likely to support those who undertake longer journeys because their stories are more likely to gain sympathy from potential supporters.

Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, agreed with the notion that gaining gradual momentum is an effective strategy that keeps employee morale high. In a presentation, he outlined the immediate benefits of predictive analytics, pointing out that there is much to be learned from converting data into actionable insights. Namely, it can enable marketers to understand the most likely customer behaviors and preferences. In Ramirez's experience, "It's [all] about starting with measureable results."

Ramirez profiled several companies that are uncovering surprising findings and using them to their advantage. A well-known newspaper publisher discovered, for instance, that customers who avoided paywalls were, unexpectedly, also the most likely to buy subscriptions later on. With this information, the company could take steps to reimagine its marketing efforts to get appropriate messages to those customers in a timely manner.

The necessity of relevant messaging, especially as it leads to increased revenue, was also the focus of Sailthru's midday luncheon presentation. Neil Capel, founder and chairman of the company, brought attention to a Gartner statistic: 80 percent of any given brand's future earnings will come from a mere 20 percent of existing loyal customers. At the same time, connected and wearable devices will be taking on an increasingly integral role in customers' lives. But as audiences become more connected and inevitably grant companies more information to work with, they'll also be getting more selective about the kind of marketing they'll tolerate. "Consumers have a very short attention span," Capel said. "If you're push-notifying my body, you better make sure it's relevant."  

Relevance was not limited to marketing-related discussions on day one, however; it is also key when it comes to sales strategies, speakers noted.

Bill Wallace, vice president of Revenue Storm, recommended that firms should be more critical of the leads they pursue. "When in doubt, throw it out," Wallace suggested. "If an opportunity comes back to you, fantastic." He pointed out that win rates are on average 20 to 25 percent for most organizations he works with, which means that 75 to 80 percent of those are, inevitably, losses. This happens in part because companies have a hard time letting go of leads that are destined to be duds, and reps will avoid acknowledging failed leads to managers in the hopes that an opportunity materializes. "Salespeople don't like to kill deals. It's anathema to them." Yet at the same time, sales cycles are also getting longer and more drawn out, which leads to wasted time and energy.

Acknowledging such shortcomings is vital if companies are to get to the next level, Joe Galvin, chief research officer at the MHI Research Institute explained. "In sales if you're not [constantly] getting better, you're getting worse, because the game changes every day," Galvin said. He highlighted the fact that small differentiations across a number of categories add up to overall competitive advantages. Small improvements, even if they are hardly noticeable, are crucial to maintaining an edge, he stressed.  

This has certainly been the case for Tata Technologies, whose chief information officer, V. Balaji, presented updates on his company's goal to increase revenues to $1 billion a year by 2017. In the B2B space, he said, "If you're not growing with the market, effectively you perish," since typically large companies look to partner with other large companies to help sustain growth. With his company, Balaji shared, it's been about tapping into the true powers of CRM. "The CRM system is far more powerful than I used to think it was," Balaji said. "I think we're just scratching the surface of what we can do." 

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