E-CRM Can Open New Avenues of Profit

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The evolution of electronic customer relationship management as a necessary e-business process has been quick. The e-CRM/CRM function, sometimes called one-to-one marketing, is now being incorporated into many companies' sales and marketing initiatives.


According to Legg Mason Wood Walker, Baltimore, e-CRM has rapidly emerged as the required platform for all e-retail and Web-based customer support. There are several focus areas within e-CRM software applications, such as sales force automation, marketing database management, call center integration and front-office management. E-CRM involves all of these things, but it is important that sales and marketing decision-makers consider the most efficient e-CRM solutions for their specific business needs. E-CRM solutions should achieve the objectives of customer acquisition, retention and optimization.


AMR Research, Boston, predicted that after 1999, the CRM market will continue to grow from $3.7 billion to more than $16.8 billion by 2003. This trend seems to be on track - in the past year alone, the number of e-CRM software vendors has exploded.


The e-CRM process could be defined as a complete view of all customer relationships that incorporate all customer contact points and interface with all media. Taking that into account, it is evident that e-CRM vendors focus on Internet communications, while their target audience - non-Internet marketers - needs solutions that won't demand a complete overhaul of their business models. Solutions that achieve the aforementioned objectives should integrate customer information tracking, e-commerce platforms and content management.


A customer-tracking component of an e-CRM solution enables you to know your customers without spying on them or obtaining privileged information. Such a tool gathers and categorizes the choices, preferences, buying histories, interests/hobbies and demographics of current and prospective customers. Electronic tracking enables a company's network to maintain records of each visit by every customer to your Web site, as well as build customer profiles.


The tracking information, combined with the information supplied by the user, makes it possible to personalize content to the user. Customer personalization can be carried out via dynamic content on a user's site, barcoded coupons and other special promotions. A broadcaster/narrowcaster engine also can be built into this tool, which provides for targeted e-mail based on the user profile, banner clicks, schedule views, page hits, form submissions or searches. An e-mail engine also generates customized e-mail monitoring reports and analysis.


Because you need to provide information to your customers, an electronic publishing component is also necessary in an e-CRM solution. Such a system should be multifunctional, dynamic and centralized, containing easy-to-use entry forms. An electronic publishing system's primary feature is a content repository with a two-way archive and distribution system, which allows for the publishing of product catalogs for e-commerce purposes. Another feature is a desktop publishing interface, which can produce a hard copy or directory.


There are also three other tools that can make an electronic publishing system more valuable.


First, forms serve a purpose because they provide for surveys and evaluations, creating a means for online market research and polls. Data entered by the user is measurable and demographically reportable, then stored in the user profile.


Second, forums consist of a qualitative, unrestricted communications chat room with message boards, which prompt users to initiate subject-specific topics. This provides a barometer for the forms engine because it creates interactive polling, smart marketing and preference polling with regular updating.


Third, an event scheduler is a key tool because it delivers detailed event listings and reminders through the e-mail system. Content is delivered only to the appropriate users, and revenue is generated through new e-mail-based advertising and promotions.


The final piece of an e-CRM puzzle is e-commerce. Efficient e-commerce systems can enable accurate, secure and convenient sales with capabilities such as multiple currencies, multiple identification numbers for identical products, gift certificates and one-click checkout. The e-commerce system should generate regular reports with demographically segmented information on frequency of use, dollar volume and transaction amounts of each user.


Several crucial components should be contained in an e-commerce system. The first is a money-tracking tool. This consists of a regularly maintained central database accessed enterprisewide, which enables you to request changes and modifications, report errors, send and receive sales quotes and manage all aspects of the billing process.


An ad delivery tool is also important because it can provide real-time, accurate campaign management capabilities that are integrated with the customer tracking and e-mail engines. Ad delivery tools allow users to receive dynamic ad banners based on profile information without the need for third-party ad servers. Targeted and timely promotions for advertisers can therefore be automatically distributed via e-mail.


Lastly, a tool for requests for proposal, bids and auctions can provide services to multiple business models, including business-to-business and business-to-consumer. Hosts can develop an efficient marketplace by distributing market-driven, real-time pricing to users and clients. Such a tool builds loyalty, increases repeat traffic and keeps users longer, thus adding revenue streams.


Overall, e-CRM is a trend with staying power rather than a flash in the pan. It is already making a significant impact on database marketing and direct marketing. By implementing e-CRM systems that track customers, deliver dynamic product information and enable easy online transactions, companies will realize unlimited revenue and branding opportunities.


• Jeffrey DiFrancesco is CEO of Vertical Alliance, Plymouth Meeting, PA.
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