I was at a business event in Edinburgh last week and met an interesting group of directors. Some of us got around to talking about building relationships with customers, about internal CRMs and how not every CRM system is an adequate replacement for personal interaction. As someone who used to work in marketing and research planning for large FMCG organisations in the pre-CRM ’90s I am surprised at how many customer-facing companies and manufacturers now rely on in-house sytems to tell them what their customer is thinking.
One contact at the meeting said that her organisation’s CRM system is operated by a single department and if she wants to find out information about any of the stakeholders she has to submit a request that may take days to come back. She also said that she is unable to access the ‘customer’ database and that there is very little of the CRM that connects to existing systems – it’s all a bit disparate. Her job is central to being able to contact stakeholders, to improve the volume, value and spread of donations, create personal value for every donor, and maintain a dialogue. The CRM slows this process and demonstrates that not every CRM is fit for purpose.
Another contact said that his CRM is fully integrated across the business and is used to provide valuable feedback about his customers: the value of their accounts, payments, frequency of visits, profiling etc. Using the system he is able to target customers for specific marketing activity and promotions and can monitor their success. He is very happy with the information he is getting from his CRM. Many of the companies I speak to in my day to day job have the same positive feeling about their in-house systems.
My fear is that companies are relying too much on CRM as the all-singing all-dancing cost saving information and planning resource. There may be complacency already setting in with companies, I suspect there is and in terms of their competitiveness it worries me. There is nothing quite like personal interfacing to get a closer view of customers’ realities. Digital marketing, when executed well, can provide a valuable bridge between customers and consumers but understanding the message that is going to deliver positive results requires a greater depth of knowledge that internal data alone just can’t provide.
Good ‘old-fashioned’ research (not really old fashioned as digital, online, mobile research methods share space with traditional techniques) is being side-swiped by internal ‘knowledge’. Independent, impartial and professionally applied and delivered research is losing out to cost-saving internal mechanics which ignore the first rule of market research: risk limitation.
One delightful contact said to me “you lot (i.e the market research industry) are too expensive” – well we are if you intend to spend nothing. Not fully understanding customers and prospects is expensive. Not evaluating the likely success amongst the target audience of a marketing programme is expensive. Not seeing the full picture can cost dearly.