• November 1, 2014
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Greeting Cards Enter the CRM Space

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It's quite broad, the array of things you can encounter in CRM applications. I thought I'd seen it all, but every once in a while I come across something new and interesting. A tool that will change the way we interact with our customers and drive deeper communication—and sales.

What was the latest game changer I discovered? A content management system that lets salespeople know when relevant marketing content is available? An email open tracker for your mobile CRM client? Maybe something that locates the coffee shop nearest your clients' offices?

Nope. It was greeting cards.

One of my more recent projects was compiling an overview of relationship-focused sales-enablement mobile technologies. I got to take briefings and demos from a bunch of companies, some of which I'd encountered before and others which were totally new to me—and to the industry in some cases. There was some very cool tech on display, including way more relationship analytics power than I expected. I also saw this gimmick that allowed you to use your relationship tracker to send handwritten greeting cards to important people on your list.

It's not that I don't see the value in personal touches like this, especially in businesses where the relationship is a large part of the service. I'm not trying to rag on the vendor that showed me this app in good faith, and I won't name it in case my comments come off as ridicule. Dear vendor, if you recognize yourself here, understand that your product was the springboard for my comments, not the target. Maybe I'll send you a card to make sure there are no hard feelings.

One of the big trends I spotted during my research was the turning of the contact list from a passive repository into an active resource, through use of reminders, social media monitoring, and email tracking, among other things. The "other thing" for this vendor was an extension that let you compose a message that another human being would write, by hand, into a greeting card and send to your contact, with a stamp and everything. This way, you can recognize people's significant life events in a more-than-business way. The rest of the product seemed just about as good as its competitors—nothing bad, nothing outstanding, just a modern, active contact manager with greeting cards.

There are problems with this idea. First, if personal touches are not unusual for you, it's likely your contact will recognize that the handwriting isn't yours and know that this card isn't entirely your doing. That's not such a big deal; after all, isn't it the thought that counts?

That leads me to another concern. The thing that makes a personal card different from a form letter is the fact that you had to put in time and effort to select the card, gather your thoughts, and write them down carefully enough that you didn't screw up the interior and have to buy another. Much of the meaning is lost if you cut out the effort. There's a reason Hallmark's slogan isn't "When you care enough to have a servant send the very best for you." Suddenly, what seems warm and personal becomes calculated and tacky.

One last thing: The app's marketing copy says the first card is free. This implies that the others aren't. It isn't part of the service—it's an in-app purchase. Microtransactions like these aren't a bad thing, unless you have kids (and it is your kids, right?) addicted to playing Candy Crush Saga and unlocking all the levels and things. But in this context, it means that you will be evaluating each event and your relationship to the contact, deciding if it's worth the money to send him a sympathy or congratulatory note. At least if cards were included with the app's price (which, to be fair, is currently free), users would be released from that imaginary constraint. If the app remains free, it isn't a contact manager—it's a greeting card–based revenue model. And that ain't good CRM.

Marshall Lager cares enough to send the very best, so he runs Third Idea Consulting. Drop him a greeting at www.3rd-idea.com. or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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