I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
In a company where customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are important tools for feeding ongoing sales growth, a full-featured CRM is a must-have. Not only are repeat and additional sales a result of well-organized customer follow-up, but the development of new references and case studies come from regular checks with existing customers. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> At Boston Software Systems, we use our CRM to provide all employees with a complete view of our customers. Not only are sales interactions recorded in the CRM, but all customer support calls and training notes are also housed there. When any employee accesses either a customer or a prospect file, he or she will see interactions with all departments, and have a more complete understanding of the customer needs and of any outstanding issues that might be lurking.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Automation Equals Productivity</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> As product manager, I'm regularly using our CRM to contact customers and speak with them about their experience with our software products. Typically, I will pull a spreadsheet that contains contact information and work off that, adding my notes to it, sharing results with our product development department or marketing department as I complete the calls. Occasionally, I encounter a gap in the CRM's capabilities that forces me to spend time performing manual tasks, such as rekeying information into the appropriate field. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In these cases, I use our software, Boston WorkStation, which is an automation development tool. Using Boston WorkStation I'm able to move all the information from my spreadsheet back into the CRM without keying it in manually. This includes notes from my conversation with the contact, as well as any changes to the contact name, title or department—any information normally captured in the CRM. I'm not spending time retyping the information I've jotted into the spreadsheet, enabling me to move on to more productive projects.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>It's Not Just for Sales</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Other departments are automating their interaction with the CRM, as well. Like most companies, our marketing department gets a list of attendees to trade shows or conferences where we have exhibited. A mass upload of those potential prospects into the CRM can result in duplicate entries. When we automate the upload, however, we can have it look for duplicates. And if it finds the contact information, we can add a note that the individual attended that particular conference. It can look for discrepancies in contact information—such as changed phone numbers, e-mail, or street address—and make the appropriate change or send a notification to the administrator to check on the contact file. In addition, the sales rep can be automatically notified of the attendees in his or her territory as the information is uploaded to the CRM.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Our customer retention program hinges on understanding the customer experience. When there have been no support calls logged over a six-month period, we start asking questions. We check to see if the customer is satisfied, if they are successfully using the software and have had no issues. In this case, we probe to learn what sort of projects the customer is working on and will notify the sales department if additional licenses might be needed; the training department if users need a refresher course or advanced training classes; or the marketing department if the customer proves to be a good reference or case study subject. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Occasionally, however, that long silence does not bode well. The customer may have had a change of personnel and new staff members are not using the software, or there was an issue with the project they were working on and they gave up without taking advantage of technical support. In these instances, we can notify the sales rep for that customer, and we can flag the contact to schedule a technical review and get them back on track.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Make New Friends, but Keep the Old</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> To manage our customer retention, we typically pull a report of customers we have not heard from in six months out of the CRM and use that report to capture responses. Since the responses may vary significantly, several fields within the CRM may be affected. Uploading the data back into the CRM would normally involve hours of cut and paste and would likely result in numerous inaccuracies. By developing an automated process for feeding information back into the CRM, we can be sure that accurate information is going into the correct fields, and we can set up notification to the appropriate person for follow-up.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In a lean economy, we want to be sure our staff members are spending their time in the most productive ways. A full-featured CRM enables them to work effectively and eases interaction between departments. It provides executive management with a broad overview of the business and the general status of customers. If you find you are spending more time maintaining your CRM rather than acting on the information it offers, consider using an automation tool to fill the gaps and improve usability.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Thom C. Blackwell is product manager at Boston Software Systems (<a href="mailto:bostonworkstation.com">bostonworkstation.com</a>).</i>