Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CRM - You call this a relationship?

I recently had a discussion with a marketer. They wanted to change the way they marketed from an "advertising" approach to one that centered on maximizing the relationship they had with their customers. That's right - from direct marketing to CRM marketing.

It got me to thinking...is this the right nomenclature for us as marketers to use? What about our interactions with consumers has led us to believe that we've got a relationship with them? Does the fact that they bought something from us launch them into relationship land? Can we even exert any control over the "relationship" using only communications? Couldn't our "relationship" have been a one time thing where everyone gets what they want then never talk again?

Rather than sit and have a talk about semantics for which I was ill-prepared, I decided to do some research. Not about vendors or what the industry thinks about CRM, but the source of all things true, the Internet. I Googled (side note - when you type "googled" into Blogger, it comes up as spelled incorrectly...that's hilarious) "Keys to A Successful Relationship". I looked through the first 10 or so articles.. here's the collective wisdom. I've narrowed it down to 4 because I'm long-winded enough.

(1) Communication - You have to have a strong, two way flow of communication. The problem is, marketing organizations have a distinctly one-way flow. If your organization does not have an active way to get your customers' preferences into your marketing decision matrix, your relationship is going to have communication issues.

(2) Honesty - You ever buy something, then find out there was something that just wasn't disclosed that made a big difference in your perception? Is your organization prepared to give customers all of the facts, both good and bad?

(3) Trust - Again, this is a door that has to swing both ways? For many organizations, this is just not the case. They spend millions of dollars proving their company is trustworty...but then won't let you return an item without a tremendous hassle - they want you to trust them, but they don't trust their own customers. Nordstrom is a great example of trust that has been built with customers. Walmart has built great trust that they will have the lowest prices. Live Nation's ticket guarantee goes a long way towards building trust into what has sometimes been a shady business. If your customers don't trust you, then they're ripe for the picking.

(4) Forgiveness - This is a hard one for many organizations to follow. Customers screw up - they buy a plane ticket for the wrong day, they're late on a payment, they may write a bad review about your company. You don't have to forgive them. But if you don't, you're essentially telling people that you'll have a relationship with them as long as they're playing by your rules...which is a pretty jacked up relationship.

When you look at these four keys, it's pretty clear that most organizations don't have the infrastructure to support true relationships, let alone relationship marketing. You can sit there and call your customer communications group a CRM practice, but it's a bit like putting lipstick on a pig - the lipstick is wasted and the pig ain't no prettier.

To have a true CRM practice takes an enormous amount of organizational commitment. If your organization is new to the idea, then be prepared to spend some money. Not just for the systems you'll need to put in place to drive honesty and communication, but for the additional costs you'll need to start trusting your customers...and maybe even forgive them.


  1. Nice post Bob....about Acceptance... the fact that you should accept the relationship for what it is, not what one side thinks it is.. this is the mishap with most marketers, thinking they can deepend a brand relationship online when the real experience happens offline. the reality of relationships is based on the realization that you accept each other for who you are... :)

  2. Bob -

    I very much enjoyed reading this post - not just because you make some good points, but also because you have a very fun writing style. :)

    Would you say these 4 attributes boil down to what one might call respect?

  3. awesome post, Bob. Every relationship is predicated on the individual rules and expecations of each party involved. Relationships are broken and/or dissolved all the time because one has broken the other's rules of acceptable behavior. All rules are more or less one way and individualistic. One of the keys to any lasting realtionship -- commerical or otherwise -- is to find compatibilty of rules.