The New CRM: Community Relationship Management

Earlier this year we reviewed the state of CRM in the minority business community (Viewpoints, March 2004) and offered some thoughts on our findings. A lack of awareness and understanding of CRM appeared to be the leading factor in the low adoption rates uncovered. The scarcity of CRM-related content and vendor presence in minority business publications were identified as main contributors to this condition. In the article we coined the phrase Community Relationship Management as the other side of CRM. CRM2 has become more than a catchy phrase.

How CRM2 is bridging the divide
Since the article we are happy to report some promising developments. We were hard-pressed to identify any national or regional minority business publications providing CRM-related content. Many of the better-known magazines weren't familiar enough with CRM to understand its importance to their readership, or its potential to attract new advertising dollars. One publication understands the relevance of this subject matter to its readership. The Atlanta Tribune, a leading minority business magazine in the Southeast, has added a CRM-focused business solutions column. In addition to a very positive response from subscribers, it has led to new business relationships with application vendors.

Minority professional organizations are important networking mechanisms to many executives and entrepreneurs. Richard Campbell, CEO of integrated network security developer Securiant, recently implemented a CRM strategy for the company. He became aware of CRM through his participation as chair of the Technology Association of Georgia's Minority Technology Council. "Simply put, CRM will allow us to take a step back and plan the critical processes dramatically affecting the success of the company," Campbell says. "Today's CRM is an easy and affordable way for minority entrepreneurs to gain efficiencies in their business while directly affecting the bottom line in a positive way."

Another important development took place in September with the Moving Your Business Forward Conference, held in Atlanta. The conference, which was sanctioned by the U.S. Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and organized by the state of Georgia's Small Business Development Center, included a CRM session. "CRM is a field that has to be recognized for its critical importance to the survival of minority businesses," says Robert Henderson, Atlanta Regional Director of the MBDA.

A need for discourse
As detailed above, initial focus in analyzing the issue of low adoption rates for minority businesses centered on their lack of CRM awareness. Our conversations with many major vendors uncovered an equally important observation: a lack of awareness on the part of the vendor community in understanding minority business and its potential market value. Most vendor business models are not built on targeting minority business. Several enterprise vendors have spent the last few years pursuing the hot SMB space. Leading SMB players have concentrated their efforts on creating vertical offerings to differentiate themselves. Add to this a lack of in-house expertise on the minority business market and it becomes apparent much can be gained by building effective bi-directional channels of communication between vendor and minority business communities. Although the current state of affairs is pervasive, there are a few companies genuinely interested in understanding the potential benefits of targeting this segment. One study performed by the Urban Institute found a potential $200 billion in added economic growth could be realized if minority- and women-owned firms increased their use of technology.

The ties that bind
We've come full circle in understanding the state of CRM in minority business. Fundamentally we saw vendors and business separated by a large chasm making it impossible for each to understand the value of the other. It was clear minority business' lack of CRM awareness was a primary cause. It took further analysis to recognize the vendor community's need to learn more about the growing effect minority business is having on the U.S. economy. Organizations like Microsoft, The Atlanta Tribune, and the MBDA are seeing the benefits of participating in a dialogue enabling minority businesses to grow and remain competitive. As these companies become a larger part of the overall economy, they will look to buy products and services from vendors that invest in understanding their business needs. A mutual understanding between the vendor and minority business communities will create ties that bind, and both will profit from it--sounds like a job for CRM2.

Brent Leary and Michael Thomas are partners and cofounders of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM consultancy. CRM Essentials focuses on helping small and mid-size companies formulate and implement effective customer-facing strategies and processes. You can reach them at www.crm-essentials.com or bleary@crm-essentials.com.

Related articles:

The State of CRM in the Minority Business Community

A New Survey Shows Distinct Ways To Reach Minorities

The 2004 Influential Leaders: Michael Thomas and Brent Leary

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