This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in April 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
A seriously valuable marketing tool – and it is free
Good customer information held in a structured system will tell you whether customers are growing with you or reducing purchases. It will have a record of every meeting, sales order, complaint, compliment, reference given, products purchased, payment history, budget cycle, nature of their business, basic credit information and key contacts. All of these are stored somewhere in your company records anyway, but are they accessible in an effective customer information system?
If you have a good system you can research target markets, make individualised tempting offers to customers, cross sell products and plan campaigns in target market niches with a high likelihood of success. What a great marketing tool, and its free.
Using the information
One way of using this information would be to list of all customers in a particular line of business, and list which products all or most of them are buying. Now you could do a survey among them to find out how they are using the products, their degree of satisfaction with those products, and any needs which are not being fully satisfied by the products. With this information you can:
Those are all turnover boosting opportunities, and they all stem from the free information which is in your company right now. It is a small step to extend the customer information into keeping information about new business prospects and sales enquiries. This information provides a rich field for future prospecting and marketing campaigns.
Customer information is very useful in dealing with individual customers. For example a customer regularly bought products A and B, but has stopped buying A and is buying less of product B. These trends are all clear from the records. Has a competitor taken our product A business away and is busy eroding the Product B sales? This calls for a management meeting with the customer, equipped with the full sales history, record of any complaints and details of the great results other customers like him are getting. With this information you may be able to turn the situation around, without it there is a chance of losing the customer.
In many companies the information is not available in one place. It is in archived e-mails, sales order files, call reports, credit applications, telephone messages and diaries. If this is the case in your company then make a start now. Gather together as much information as you can and find an acceptable format. There are many CRM systems, some of them at low cost or free on the Internet. Make customer information a priority, delegate the responsibility and make sure everyone understands what must be done and why. A cool idea is to hire an intern to do the capturing and filtering.
An even more common problem is that the CRM exists, but it is incomplete and out of date. The sales manager uses it as a stick to beat the salespeople but everyone else treats it as a time consuming nuisance. If this is your organisation I suggest you start by planning what you could do if you had good information and work your way back from there, putting in a project to fix the information. You may want to get a better sales manager at the same time.
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