Issues CRM Technology Must Address

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In customer relationship management, everyone is used to the notion that marketing should be driven by the needs and wants of customer segments - even down to individual customers.

Marketing communications tools have evolved to accommodate this customer-centric approach, from lettershop techniques that allow you to effortlessly create hundreds of thousands of different letter versions, to e-mail delivery software that brings personalization to a new level, to on-demand analytic modeling that tells you exactly how to upsell each customer calling into your service center.

What has been sorely lagging is database technology. Marketing databases may have become faster and less expensive, but campaign management tools still require technical ability to facilitate, and applications are still based on the way the computer works most efficiently - not the way consumers behave or the way marketers want to access the data.

As CRM continues to grow and steal share from general advertising, CRM database solutions must evolve. Because increasingly it is the marketing manager, not the information systems manager, who is the key decision-maker choosing technical solutions in support of customer initiatives, technical providers that do not adjust will go under.

The demands of these CRM marketers are based on their responsibility to manage customer segments in an integrated manner - gain insight through research and analysis, develop communications across all channels, then measure and evaluate response. They are not looking for tools simply to manage customer relationships, to facilitate more efficiently; they are looking to optimize these relationships. It is not simply a matter of gaining an acceptable return on investment but of ensuring the best possible short-term ROI while developing a long-term relationship and gaining critical learning for strategic planning.

Here is what they look for and what savvy CRM technology providers will deliver to them:

Ease of use. Marketers have neither the time nor the money for training. They want intuitive tools that do not require a middle person - a technology person - between them and the tool. This does not mean simplified programming and processing behind the scenes; it means developing an interface that has the logic and flow a CRM marketer uses in everyday work.

Planning tools. Marketers no longer will settle for execution tools only. They want help planning the perfect campaign, especially when it comes to the financials. The ability to run potential ROI scenarios by customer segment is critical.

Built-in intelligence. The best-received new tools will help marketers make better decisions and prevent common errors. This will keep them from overwriting past control groups or flag them when outliers are skewing segment averages.

Media integration. The heart and soul of CRM is that the customer must be managed as a whole, so integrating marketing and analysis from all channels is key. Marketers no longer will accept simplistic, channel-specific analysis that does not factor in the effect of usage/promotion in one channel on all other channels. They want their entire marketing calendar to come into play when planning and measuring campaigns.

Marketing over time. Oddly, most CRM tools are promotionally based as opposed to being designed for managing long-term, relationship-building campaigns. CRM marketers demand tools that let them establish control groups for annual and multiyear communication programs; they want reports that track customer migration over several months or years; and they seek planning tools that help them understand what they should be doing today based on their company's long-term business plans.

Flexible and streamlined functionality. These marketers have no use for prepackaged models and reporting. As CRM experts, they know that the campaigns they design and the way they are measured and reported will be unique to their organizations. Point-and-click audience selection based on variables with the most effect on their business and customized views by audience (CEO, analyst, marketer) are key. Though they want it simple, it must also be easily customized to serve their specific interests. And they do not want anything extraneous to slow them down. Gone are the days they will pay extra for an easy-to-use, built-in analytic model they will never use.

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