Saturday, October 27, 2007

6 Steps to Effective Customer Relationship Management

Nurture Your Customer Relationships

Simply put, customer relationship management is a way of tracking and nurturing your customer relationships throughout the customer's life-cycle, as they move from prospect to customer, to repeat-buyer. Once a customer buys from you, it is much more profitable to make efforts to keep that customer, than it is to acquire a new one, because there is now trust between you. If your customer is happy with your product, then that customer is much more likely to buy from you again in the future, much more likely than a new prospect would be. That’s why customer relationship management is so crucial.

Don’t badger your customers to death with every product and affiliate offer you come across, especially if the products are unrelated to the product the customer originally purchased. Email your customers ONLY when you have something good to give them, some really helpful information, or when you have a really good, high-quality offer that would interest that particular customer. For instance, don’t email your Internet Marketing customer a “Free Gift Certificate” to your gift store.

Automate Your Customer Relationship Management

Well, how do you automate customer relationship management in your e-business? You use email, and a dynamic database. You use auto-responders to stay in touch. I’m not talking about your regular auto-responders that deliver a vacation or “out of office” messages while you’re away, either. I’m talking about sequential auto-responders.

Use Sequential Auto-Responders In Your e-Business

Sequential auto-responders allow you to pre-format and load a series of pre-typed messages to your prospects and customers. You benefit by not having to follow-up with these customers manually each time. Instead, your auto-responder delivers your messages on a timed interval set by you. To your customer, it looks as if you sent out each message yourself. This way, you stay in touch with your customer and not let them forget about you. When they have a need for one your products or services, your business will hopefully come to mind first and they will re-visit your site directly or by clicking a link in one of your emails, as a loyal repeat customer.

Personalize Your Messages for a Warm Feel! (Mail Merge)

Most decent auto-responders have mail-merge capabilities. This is the ability to merge personal information into your emails, like your customer’s first and/or last name or their email address, etc. This personalizes your email messages even further and gives your customer some “warm and fuzzies”. What’s more you set all this up just one time, and any new prospects or customers will get the same message series without you having to lift a finger.

If the sequential auto-responder you’re using has mail-merge capabilities, then it will automatically take that customers name and incorporate it into the email series you have set up. Usually the auto-responder service you’re using will have some sort of tokens set up for this purpose. Look at the example below. Let’s say your customer or prospect’s name is Bob.

Hello, $firstname, - That translates into: Hello, Bob.

You could also do this with a customers email address too, like “$email”. The token would be replaced with the customer’s email: bob@bob.tld Do you see the power of mail-merge?

Use Lead Capture and Subscription Boxes

For instance, you could set up a simple box on your sales or download page that asks the customer for his/her name and email address in return for some free product, or simply just to subscribe to your newsletter. If you set up a page specifically for this purpose this is called a “lead capture page”. The information entered by the customer into your subscription box can be mail merged into the follow-up messages sent by your auto-responder.

Stay In Touch

Keep in contact with your prospects and customers. Set your auto-responder series to deliver your messages over an extended interval. There are several e-books and articles dedicated to this topic; however, if you want the first, most informative and still the king of auto-responder help, get “AutoResponder Magic”. This e-book once sold for about $17, but you should be able to find it free many places on the ‘Net. It has a plethora of information regarding auto-responders, as well as many examples you can build from.

Ettione Stuckey has a passion for ecommerce and Internet Marketing. He is an accomplished webmaster, who runs several ecommerce websites. He understands the science and application of ecommerce technology and concepts. Benefit from his efforts at http://www.prowebware.com/

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Features of Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a popular term used in the field of customer service, which helps an organization in the management of customers through a well defined, reliable system of processes and procedures. CRM holds a wide range of features to help the individuals or organizations to manage the interactions with its customers who form the backbone of any business. The various functionalities of CRM make it easy in carrying out a number of tasks such as customization, and integration of the software. It also helps in maintaining your solution efficiently and affordably. Customer Relationship Management software is developed to meet every need that may come across during different business processes. All the CRM features are developed for the proper and organized management of the business, starting from lead generation till closing of the deal which comprises of efficient customer service, marketing and sales.

Some of the main CRM features include Activity Management, Opportunity Management, Sales Forecasting, Lead Management, Account, Product and Contact Management, Analytics, Time Management, Reports, Sales Process Guides and Dashboards. These CRM and Sales force Automation features are available in a consolidated package or as separate modules which will be provided as chosen by the user. The customer interaction feature enables the organization in offering a top class customer service by integrating customer data, activities and applications from disparate sources.

The features available in different CRM software vary with CRM vendor as they may be developed to meet the specific requirement or facilities. You are free to customize the available features of the CRM to meet your specific business needs. There are also unique connecting features in CRM which enables the concerned individuals from anywhere in the world to retrieve the data from the database. The communication tool build within the CRM helps in maintaining the customers and developing a more meaningful interaction between the organization and clients. This is more often found in the web-based technologies where communication with the customers is integrated through direct chat, e-mail and other voice based applications.

The installation of CRM helps to deliver superior customer service and increased sales success, along with agile business decisions. Profitable businesses depend on the ability to measure current business activity, forecast future revenues, identify customer trends, and evaluate sales and service performance. These features help you in a much smarter and faster decisions making, which increase the sales success and ensure customer satisfaction.

It not only deals with customer services but also in developing an interaction with the employees within an organization and salesperson in different regions. It does the entire task involved with lead management such as assigning, routing and successful fulfillment of leads. Subscribing or procuring a CRM application will help in the proper management of the business and avoid the leads from falling into cracks. Moreover it helps in improved decision making and customer service, thereby enhanced profitability.

Although the CRM features vary with vendors, you can opt for the most appropriate feature to suit the business needs of your organization. These CRM features help in the enhancement of productivity of any business.

This article has been published by Esalestrack (USA), the providers of On-demand CRM, Sales Force Automation and Mobile Solutions . To get more information on CRM go to CRM Article.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Customer Relationship Management - A Brief Look At What It Is

Small business/large business management and success is largely dependent upon customer acquisition, customer relationship enhancements, and customer retention, otherwise known as Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.

CRM is a combination of enterprise strategies, business processes and information technologies that are used to learn about customers’ needs and behaviors in order to develop stronger relationships with them.

In the not-too-far past, CRM mainly consisted of a roll-a-deck index file and a telephone and answer machine. An enhanced CRM system would have included an Excel spreadsheet.

Today the Net offers businesses many software applications that simplifies and speeds up the 3 cornered processes of customer acquisition, relationship enhancements and retention. CRM software systems streamline CRM at each phase.

CRM systems generally consist of a contact manager program, snail mail and/or email marketing campaigns, a sales tracking program, and a voice mail system or a multi-media contact center.

On the downside, CRM systems are only as good as the information it contains. The old programmer’s motto “garbage in, garbage out” applies to CRM data quality.

One of the most common reasons cited for high failure rate of CRM systems is poor data quality, but this is easily avoided.

Make rules for creating new profiles. Double check data entries so that duplicates are avoided, email addresses are correct and that the data is inputted completely and correctly and isn’t out of date. Re-establish customer contact if their info isn’t correct or complete or is out of date….the extra contact can’t hurt and will make them feel special.

All aspects of CRM are now available on the Net. Some big name packaged CRM systems are ACT!, Goldmine, and Epiphany. You can do a Google search for more packaged CRM systems.

If you are looking for free CRM software, try Open Office, a free replacement for MS-Office with some enhancements. Or go to FreeCRM.com

Packaged CRM systems or free systems might meet the needs of a small business, but large businesses generally require a custom-built, integrated CRM system.

What will using CRM do for your business? Besides streamlining all the functions of running a business and saving tons of time, basically, it will make your customers feel special by understanding their needs and fulfilling those needs in a personal manner, which will keep them coming back for more.

Your alternative? Don’t use CRM and lose 50% of your customers every 5 years. Can you afford to do that?

Cynthia Macy has been a self-employed entrepreneur/consultant for 26 years and has found the software CRM systems to be time-saving and labor-saving and money-enhancing.

To learn more about CRM, please visit: http://www.featureblog.com/blogs/customerrelationshipmanagementsite/

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Use Forums To Improve Customer Relationship Management

Forums are great for learning, sharing of ideas, and generally masterminding with peers, but give some thought to the impact they can have on your lead generation efforts, as well as on your customer relationship management activities.

Joining an active forum can significantly accelerate your rate of learning – whether you are a newbie or an experienced practitioner.

For newbies - even if you merely ‘lurk’ in the shadows and don’t post on your forums - you will learn a lot by reading questions by others, and the helpful replies by experienced forum members.

The benefit for the experienced members can be thought of as a web version of masterminding - ideas can be shared and validated, and various techniques can be discussed with peers – often on different continents and in different time zones – something not nearly as feasible in the physical world.

Apart from the information sharing and networking that forums offer, they have the potential to both positively and negatively impact your marketing efforts, levels of customer satisfaction, and the overall sentiments towards your customer relationship management.

The remainder of this article will give you some ideas as to how you can use forums in a positive way to improve your marketing initiatives. A follow-up article (Forum Perils for Customer Relationship Management) will cover how to avoid the negative impact forums can have on your business.

Forums can positively impact your marketing strategy and initiatives in the following way:

* Conduct Market Research / Investigate Market Reputation

Search engines make it so easy to research what is being said about both your products, as well as those of your competitors.

Simply type in the name of the product of service you want to research, followed by ‘comments’, ‘review’, ‘scam’, or any other relevant term. Within seconds you will have a list of website reviews, blog postings, and forum comments.

Ignore the first two (many are by affiliates just punting the product hoping to earn a fee) – the ones to read are the forum conversations, where you will invariably get some pretty honest feedback – good or bad – about the product.

If you get some glowing comments in public/membership forums for your products, contact the individuals to see if you can post these as testimonials. Negative comments should also be reacted to – once again, contact the individuals and see if you can rectify the situation. Often a ‘fixed’ bad experience can convert a vocal detractor into a fan – most people can tolerate a mistake, what makes them irate is when you ignore them, or pretend that no problem or grievance exists.

* Customer Relationship Management – use for Satisfaction Tracking

If your business markets a product to quite a large user base, it makes marketing sense to set up a product-specific forum, and actively promote the forum to your customer base.

Once active, the postings by your customers will give you a good indication of the overall sentiment towards your product, as well as your service levels. Prospects can also use the forums as a gauge of product popularity and level of active support.

Your forum will also provide you with a communication channel to your customer base. You can use it to conduct quick polls – essentially a free customer relationship management alternative to paid-for satisfaction audits by market research firms.

* New Product Ideas / Launches

Whether your website has a forum or not, it is worthwhile to join a couple of the more active forums related to your market. By monitoring questions, complaints, and cries for help, you can possibly identify the need for new products or services. A forum can also be a no-cost way to launch a pilot for a new product or service. You can get some early sign-ups/purchases without a major investment in marketing, and at the same time use the opportunity to get some quick testimonials.

* Positioning As An Expert / Attracting Traffic

Beyond merely identifying needs, you can use these forum questions as an opportunity to position yourself as a helpful expert. To do this, you need to monitor the most active threads (gets the most readership), and where you have the expertise, provide quality responses to posed questions. This will help grow your reputation over time.

If you ensure that your signature includes your website address – preferably with a short tagline indicating your USP – this can prove to be a very useful method for lead generation, and importantly, one that delivers qualified prospects.

If you notice frequently repeated newbie questions, consider setting up a FAQ section on your site, and then direct the enquirer to the page, rather than providing a comprehensive answer in the forum.

* Finding JV partners

Monitoring active forums has another positive marketing spin off - it will help you identify potential JV partners. In the same way you are being assessed as to your expert know-how, you can use the postings by your peers to identify those with whom it would make sense to explore setting up joint ventures. This could get you access to mailing lists that you currently do not have, and in so doing, significantly broaden your marketing reach.

If you are adding an online component to your offline business, or starting to investigate an online business opportunity, consider how you can incorporate the points listed above. For those suggestions that have a nice fit with your market, make a decision to take action and include them in your marketing activities. By actively and consistently applying these forum tactics you will find that both your lead generation and customer relationship management initiatives will be far more productive.

© 2005 Intellinova (Pty) Ltd. - All Rights Reserved

For the past 20 years, Jeff Walters has been transforming raw business data into profit-producing strategic information in various data intensive sectors- banking, insurance, gambling, medical, government.

He has lead several data-to-information projects: ABC Costing, analytical CRM, datamart /data warehouse development, and Balanced Scorecard.

Jeff can be contacted through: http://www.intellinova.com/, or http://www.systematicdirectmarketing.com/

This article may be reprinted, provided it is published in its entirety, includes the author bio information, and all links remain active.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Forum Perils for Customer Relationship Management

In my previous article (Using Forums To Improve Customer Relationship Management) I covered the learning/information aspect of forums, as well as how you can use forums to positively impact your lead generation efforts and customer relationship management initiatives. Unfortunately, forums can also have a dark side - in that they can seriously impact your other forms of marketing if you choose to ignore or abuse them.

The negative impacts forums can have on your marketing efforts are in part, the flip-side of the positive actions I recommended you take:

* Dissatisfied Customers Voice Their Complaints

Aggrieved customers who are web-savvy can damage your reputation with a few postings stating their dissatisfaction.

If these are isolated incidents, your satisfied customers will often come to your defence, which should offset the negative comments, and may even earn you some unexpected positive publicity.

However, if others also start empathising with them, and provide feedback of similar incidents of poor service or product quality, your market reputation will suffer. There's not much point in merely increasing your sales efforts. You need to improve your product quality, and also improve your customer relationship management and service.

* People Recommend Alternative Products To Yours

Questions are sometimes asked in forums regarding which product or service is best for a particular business need. While customers may not be at odds with you, if your product fails to keep abreast with the competition, your customers will not continue to recommend you. In fact, postings about other products could cause a customer retention nightmare.

* You Display Your Lack of Professionalism

The quality of your postings - regular poor spelling, grammar, lousy sentence structure, and posts in poor taste can significantly downgrade readers' impressions of you. Infrequent typos are not a big issue, but business-promoting posts that show a consistent disregard to quality could give your prospects some clue as to how you approach the rest of your business.

* Your Postings Reveal Flaws In Your Personality

Some forum members seem to forget that snide or intolerant postings can be viewed by a large audience in the forum. These postings can also linger for quite some time as well as get unwanted negative publicity in the forums (members use the posting as an example of how not to behave on the forum).

Your testy or ill-conceived comments can often be seen by non-members. If the forum has been spidered by the search engines. web searchers can also stumble across these postings. If they are carrying out market research or due diligence on you and your products, you can probably kiss those prospects goodbye.

A recent incident where my wife Gill asked me to investigate an emailed 'business opportunity' illustrates the negative impact a couple of forum postings can have.

Gill was reluctant to surrender her contact details to get more information without knowing a little more about what the opportunity was all about, so she asked me to see if I could find out more details. The email address gave away the website, which was a mini-site with a compelling sales letter. I did my standard Google trick of 'website name' + 'scam', and found several forum postings. One posting stated interest in the site/opportunity, and what the poster wanted to know was whether it was legitimate, or merely a scam.

The first response was from the website owner. Rather than providing some reassurances, emphasizing guarantees and refund policies, or even testimonials from satisfied customers, he started berating his prospect for not contacting him directly (rather silly, as the enquiry wanted to get impartial feedback, not another sales pitch).

A forum member tried to smooth things over by stating that all the prospect was doing was due diligence - which was his right. The website owner then started attacking this member. At this point several other forum members - several of whom were actually interested in the advertised opportunity - all posted that they had seen enough to decide to have nothing to do with this irritable individual.

Forums can be a useful addition to your marketing toolkit. You do, however, need to avoid some marketing minefields. Used intelligently, they can help with both lead generation and customer relationship management. Abuse them, or use them carelessly, and they will drive away prospects and customers.

For the past 20 years, Jeff Walters has transformed raw data into profit-producing strategic information in various sectors - banking, insurance, gambling, medical, government. He has lead several data-to-information projects: ABC Costing, analytical CRM, datamart development, and Balanced Scorecard.

Want to convert your raw data into strategic assets? Contact Jeff Walters via: http://www.intellinova.com/, or http://www.systematicdirectmarketing.com/

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