Automating CRM - Choosing Software Isn't Easy (974 words)
It's been called everything from "customer-centric marketing" to "integrated marketing" to good old-fashioned "database marketing." Add the complicated dimension of automation via software systems, and it's no wonder marketers have a hard time agreeing on what customer relationship management (CRM) really is—and how best to incorporate it into their business models.
Put simply, says Deborah Lowman, COO of Nykamp Consulting Group, CRM is: "Optimizing value delivered to customers ... to maximize the value received from customers." How can such a warm-and-fuzzy approach—a relationship—be automated by an unfeeling software program?
Easy, says Melinda Nykamp, president and CEO of the same company. Well, maybe not easy, but at least interesting: "In the last few years, and even in the last few weeks, the systems that support all aspects of CRM reflect extreme innovation and change. It is a very exciting, continually evolving time to be addressing these systems," she says.
Yet, shopping around for the best fit for your company's needs can get confusing. Different companies make different promises, all with the same stated goal of increasing profits through better customer understanding. In a perfect world, says Nykamp, a one-stop shop would replace all the niche players currently dominating the market. "The ultimate application would obviously be one single application that could simply be installed and maintained for this variety of needs," she says. Yet Nykamp says most existing systems fall into one of the following categories:
• Customer Database: A central, consolidated collection of customer data is a database. It may also be called a data warehouse, data mart or data store.
• Decision Support: Most CRM-related reporting and analysis is multi-dimensional in nature, often requiring access to granular-level customer detail.
Users are typically looking at several key dimensions, with questions such as: How many customers purchased a specific product (or from a product category) last year, but not this year? Which products are most frequently purchased by new customers? Are these products also most frequently purchased by our best customers?