Mention the phrase “Customer Relationship Management” in a corporate meeting, or perform a search for it on the Internet, and what you will get is mentions of an overwhelming choice of programs that will supposedly make you run your business in a much more efficient manner. Now that computers have become almost ubiquitous, CRM seems to have been reduced to a mere piece of software.

As it turns out, true, effective CRM is much more than a piece of software, it’s not a bunch of forms that you fill out either. In fact, CRM is not even something you can buy. The real concept behind good customer relationship management came about way before computers even existed. It’s all about how you run your business and interact with your customers.

Good CRM, like we said, is not all about the software. Sure, the software helps, but as they say, garbage in, garbage out. So you have to understand that true CRM involves two things: 1) running your company with the customer as the central focus point, and 2) storing and using knowledge about your customer in your data bank.

The first thing you need to know is who is your customer. Well, in the spirit of good CRM, the answer is simple, but loaded with implications: a customer is anyone, anywhere, who uses your company’s product or service. Yes, that sounds very far-reaching, but that’s the truth. Focusing on the current customers is very limiting, you have to also consider your prospective customers.

Now that you’ve defined who is your customer, and grasp your market as a whole, you need to separate them into two categories: who’s already doing business with you, and who isn’t (yet). This distinction is important as each group will, of course, require a different approach: you want to increase the business you get from your current customers, and get the business of those that are not yet your customers.

Your current customers are the ones you should know the most about: who they are, how they feel about your product or service and your company, when was the last time you got in touch with them? do they bring in additional business through their acquaintances? if yes, who are those additional customers they’ve brought in? do they buy from you to cover all their needs or do they also buy from your competitors? This is the type of information you need to have at hand about your current customers so that anyone within your business who needs to know can find out.

When it comes to your prospective customers, you first need to know why they’re not doing business with you. Do you know who, among your competition, is getting their business? Are their needs being adequately met by that (those) companies? Is there someone in your company who’s working that client? If yes, what have they been doing? Calls? In-person visits? What has resulted from those actions? What is the recommended next step? All this data also needs to be stored somewhere for interested parties to easily access.

Why all of this? Because it’s critically important to have a record of everything you’ve been doing, both for your current customers and your prospects. It will prove important in the future, if only because your personnel is bound to change. A new person coming in will see this information, and it might prove to be the difference between keeping an important customer and losing that customer. Also, you might hire a new sales rep who has new ideas, concepts, and contacts, but having all this information at his disposal, he can do a much better job at finally landing you that customer that you’ve been trying to get for years now.

So as you can see, effective customer relation management is not all about the tools, but rather all about what you feed into those tools. We repeat it: garbage in, garbage out. You need to properly document what actions have been taken with your customers. Once that very basic step is understood and implemented, then the tools (such as the software) will become that much more valuable.

Harvey Anderson has been consulting with firms and advising them about CRM software for decades now. Learn more about customer relationship management on his business blog, Affordable CRM.

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