The New Wave of Customer Relationship Management

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Author photo: Copper Staff

Copper Staff

Contributors from members of the Copper team

The relationship between company and customer has fundamentally changed. Driven by the move towards subscription models, the world is shifting to deep customer connections and relationships. Every business can benefit from this model if they meet the customer’s needs and product requirements.

On top of that, we're now faced with more choice than ever before. Giants in every industry have been disrupted by hundreds of smaller, specialized startups, and even historically “simple” shopping decisions have been transformed by a staggering wealth of choices:

  • Grocery shopping has given birth to monthly subscription services like AmazonFresh and Blue Apron.
  • Restaurants now cater to both sit-down diners and takeaway customers using Uber Eats and Deliveroo.
  • Cable TV has to beat out competition from dozens of subscription services like Netflix, HBO GO and Amazon Prime.
  • Even ubiquitous, one-stop delivery companies like FedEx find themselves competing with dozens of specialist providers.

In the old transactional model, your relationship with customers was short and simple.

It was a company's job to persuade people to make an initial purchase; after that point, company and customer had little interaction beyond the product experience. That meant that customer relationship management - understanding how your company engages with customers and potential customers - was a deal-focused process, crucial up until the point of sale.

But now, instead of being the default vendor, chances are you're one of dozens of competing businesses. And instead of earning all of your revenue from a single sale, the majority of a customer's lifetime value comes in the months and years after that initial sale.

That means that the modern customer relationship extends far beyond a single point of sale. Now, instead of being a deal-generation tool, or a one-off sale, customer relationship management is the linchpin that holds together months and years of collaboration - from the first website visit through to the tenth monthly renewal.

Moving from Records to Relationships

Our customer relationships are more complex than they've ever been, consisting of hundreds of interactions spanning dozens of online and offline channels. The days of simple, one-off sales are rapidly disappearing, and we've moved into an era where businesses are more like partners than vendors.

To effectively manage these relationships and offer our customers the right help, at the right time, we need to move past old-fashioned CRM systems. Instead of trying to simplify customer relationships to a handful of data points in a spreadsheet, we have to embed ourselves in them. We need to stop viewing CRM systems as data collection tools, built around records of customer data: they need to be relationship-enablers, built seamlessly around the real people and real experiences that make up your business.

CRM in the Age of Transactional Sales

The first wave of CRM systems was perfect for the old world of transactional sales. They took simple customer relationship records, and reduced a view of relationships to handful of data points. They built a system of record for contact information and demographic data, making customer relationships quantifiable.

In this transaction-driven world, closing a deal required little more than a phone number, a company name, a job title and a couple of activities from a seller. By centralizing that information, CRM systems were able to greatly speed-up the sales process, and create more predictability for sales management.

In doing so, CRM software offered companies a competitive advantage, opening the door to revolutionary internal processes like pipeline management, forecast management, and tighter sales management. It worked well for a top-down management style, but did it truly represent your company’s relationships with your customers?

But the world has moved on as CRM systems lagged behind. Most companies had to augment their CRM systems with dozens of integrations to fill the gaps that transactional CRM was never able to solve.

The Next Wave of CRM Systems

Today's Relationship Lifecycle is more complex than ever before, spanning dozens of channels and hundreds - even thousands of interactions: email, conversations, meetings, documents, alerts, customer success, billing, renewals, and the list goes on. The old approach to CRM tries to standardize these journeys but, in doing so, we lose too much resolution.

Many companies have realized that their relationship model - built on multiple touch points and interactions, with various parts of their organization - is not reflected in their CRM system. They’re learning that there’s a better way to run their relationship business to ensure success in the future.

By shaping relationship management systems around simple conversational interactions and data, we're excluding more complex information and foreclosing on the possibility of a longer, more sustained and more meaningful engagement.

It's no longer enough to see the general outline of our customer relationships: we need to see, understand and act on every email, phone call and website visit. Moreover, the business relationships of today are not linear as when CRM was initially designed.

  • Instead of compressing long and complicated customer journeys into a handful of spreadsheet cells, we need a tool that can drill-down into every interaction on a customer-by-customer basis.
  • Instead of a silo of customer information, we need something that fits seamlessly into their journey.
  • It isn't enough to myopically document our relationships: we need tools to actively influence them.

In practice, this means a radical shift in how we use CRM systems. We need to move beyond simple deal management and use technology to amplify our ability to connect with our customers in meaningful ways, driving value at every customer touchpoint.

Instead of managing our relationships up to closing a deal, signing a contract, or even the point of sale, we need to be active and engaged with our customers throughout the whole sales funnel: acquiring new customers, retaining existing customers and continuing to generate revenue throughout the entire relationship.

1. Customer Acquisition

Today’s customers expect more from their vendors than ever before. These customers want connections with brands and products or services, and these services must deliver unexpected delight and value through the lifecycle.

Every customer has a wealth of industry and competitive knowledge at their fingertips today: customer reviews and testimonials, free trials, demos and educational resources. Just getting to that first milestone - an initial sale - requires you to navigate the dozens of channels each customer has at their disposal and create a consistent, reassuring presence throughout.

Your CRM system should form the hub of this customer acquisition process, pulling together each of these threads of influence into a central interface. In particular, your CRM tool should:

  • Be easy to use for anyone in the organization
  • Centralize the dozens of communication resources that influence the customer journey.
  • Automate data enrichment for always up-to-date customer profiles.
  • Seamlessly automate time-consuming manual processes.

Armed with these features, the complex customer acquisition process becomes less of a barrier to sale and more of an opportunity to continually provide value to prospects. So the next time you use your CRM, it might be worth asking yourself: “Does this system actually represent how we view our customers?”

Productivity and Sales Together at Last

Collecting contact information and demographic data is a crucial part of relationship building, but asking an endless series of questions about someone's qualifications, their company size and their role is a hangover from the old, transactional way of thinking.

Worse still, manual data entry is time-consuming and error-prone, and takes you away from actually using that information to improve the customer experience. Today, there's a better way.

By combining a tool like Copper with G Suite, you can automatically collect crucial lead data, freeing up salespeople's precious time to dig deeper into each customer's needs, while giving the company a true holistic view of all of its touchpoints/interactions.

Organize Your Conversations and Documents Around Your Relationships

When you add an email address or phone number into your CRM, Copper will fill in the gaps, revealing core demographic data for each prospect:

  • Name
  • Contact details
  • Company information
  • Social media profiles

Instead of asking “How big is your company?”, your salespeople can skip manual data entry and start building meaningful relationships, asking questions like “What are the major touchpoints you are trying to capture in your sales cycle?

Visualize the Customer Journey

During the sales process, today’s skeptical consumers might engage with dozens of blog posts, sales decks and email exchanges. Each of these resources plays a role in shaping your customer relationship, but in most companies that information is scattered throughout web analytics tools, mailing platforms and cloud storage. Moreover, people who are not the opportunity or account owners can rarely make sense of it.

In the course of a single conversation with a sales rep, a customer might access emails through Gmail, schedule calls with Google Calendar, read a PDF case study in Drive and add sales notes to a quote made in Google Sheets. Each of these interactions happens in a different application, and it's a real pain to keep track of where and when each of those interactions happened.

But by centralizing all of these resources in your CRM, you can paint a vivid picture of the journey each customer has taken to reach you. That journey provides the context required to make smarter sales and marketing decisions: you can identify the messages that resonated with each customer, find gaps in their knowledge, and find a way to personalize each and every interaction.

Insights and Intelligence That Help You Send the Right Message, at the Right Time

The difference between a helpful sales follow-up and an unwanted junk email is timing. Crucially though, every customer will work different hours. They'll have a different way of engaging with their emails and a different preference for receiving phone calls.

Sending the right message at the right time is too complex and time-consuming to handle without automation. Thankfully, CRM systems can analyze previous customer interactions to automatically reach out in a way that matches their preferences. Simple logic statements - if a prospect requests a consultation, then automatically send call details - ensure that no one falls through the cracks.

2. Customer Retention

Relationship models have been heavily influenced by brand loyalty and subscription models, as well as the end-to-end customer experience/lifecycle. Customers won't stick with a company through thick-and-thin; rolling month-to-month agreements mean that there are no barriers to simply ditching a company when it's stopped living up to your expectations.

In short, a “good” customer experience is no longer good enough. From a customer's first onboarding experience, through to their day-to-day use of your product, your company has to be proactive throughout the customer relationship - renewing their trust every step of the way.

Your CRM system can either help or hinder that goal for your marketers, sellers, and service professionals. While transactional CRMs promote siloed, sales-only access to customer data, dependent on what people enter into your system, a modern CRM should:

  • Drive smarter collaboration, encouraging your whole company to proactively communicate with customers
  • Help sales teams identify and connect with right-fit customers as soon as they enter the pipeline

The earlier you can identify - and reach out to - good-fit prospects, the easier customer retention becomes.

Master Proactive Communication

Every person within your company is a potential relationship-maker, capable of influencing the experiences of your customers:

  • Sales teams manage the entire sales process and present the human-face of your company.
  • Marketing teams shape the on-site experience, share knowledge with prospects through educational resources and influence the public perception of your company.
  • Product teams focus on FTUE (First Time User Experience), designing behavioral triggers to help users and companies maximize the value of their product line
  • Customer success teams manage the ongoing relationship, encouraging product adoption and continued engagement.

Customer relationships are no longer the reserve of sales teams, so CRMs should be built out as collaborative platforms, making it easy for everyone involved in the customer relationship to reach out at the right time: whether that's a salesperson congratulating their customer on closing a deal or a marketer sharing a relevant blog post. This is the new world of Relationship Selling.

But when as few as 13% of companies are actually happy with their CRM systems, that's easier said than done. This stems from the fact that, historically, CRM systems were big, complex and clunky. They sat outside of the tools that teams used in the day-to-day, disrupting workflows instead of complementing them.

Today, CRM software should integrate seamlessly into the tools and processes teams already use. Instead of forcing us to jump between fragmented pieces of software, we want to be able to view sales decks, arrange follow-ups and even call our customers direct from our CRM.

After all, tools like the G Suite already form the backbone of most company's processes, offering document management, reporting and communication in a single place. Instead of competing with that process, CRM should complement it, adding an extra layer of granular, customer data: telling us when our emails were opened, which website pages a customer just read and identifying opportunities for us to reach out and personally engage with customers.

Double-Down on Right-Fit Customers

Most companies struggle to separate out good-fit prospects from bad-fit ones - only discovering a problem when their monthly revenue is down and their churn rate is sky-high. Clearly, that's bad for your business, but it's worse for the customers who bought into a product that wasn't right for them.

Thankfully, your CRM system provides a first line of defense against customer/business mismatch. Instead of chasing after every possible lead, customer and pipeline views allow you to quickly pinpoint the best customers for growth.

That includes:

  • Creating new views of engaged relationships
  • Proactively managing multiple pipeline types
  • Moving deals through the pipeline at a pace that suits each relationship
  • Digging into the types of relationships that generate consistent revenue and the types of leads that churn

3. Revenue Generation

Long-term customer relationships aren't just nice-to-haves - they're the revenue drivers behind the world's fastest-growing businesses.

This growth, and the growth of many other relationship-based companies, is a direct result of its customer relationships. By investing time and energy into nurturing long-term relationships, New Relic was able to expand its revenue in two powerful ways:

  • Up-selling and cross-selling: Encouraging existing customers to switch to higher-priced plans and products or adopt complementary add-on products, benefiting from more features and functionality in the process.
  • Customer referrals: Harnessing the power of great relationship experiences to drive growth through word-of-mouth referrals.

In the churn-happy subscription world, it's no longer enough to rely on customer acquisition as your sole growth driver. Instead, your CRM should help you unlock these additional revenue sources and provide the key to rapid, sustainable growth.

Deliver More Value Through Up-Sells and Cross-Sells

How your customers respond to an up-selling suggestion will be determined entirely by timing. Pitch the idea when an active, engaged customer is nearing the limit of their current plan - say they've sent 99 of their 100 monthly emails - and you're helping that customer prevent a disruption to their service; pitch the same idea after they've opened a support ticket and churn is a likelier outcome.

The first step to growing your customer accounts is understanding them. That extends beyond simple win/loss deal ratios and MRR calculations, to finding the customer stories that underpin your growth. Instead of sending out a one-size-fits-all up-selling pitch to all of your customers, you can discover exactly where they are in the pipeline: engaging customers when it's in their best interests, not just yours.

Encourage Customer Referrals

People talk about their experiences, both good and bad. The more remarkable experiences you can generate, the more growth you'll drive through word-of-mouth referrals. Ultimately, our CRM system should empower us to create more of those remarkable experiences, making it quick and easy to identify the common factors that contribute to our best relationships:

  • Which marketing programs are generating long-term customers?
  • Which sales motions and sellers generate the most valuable relationships?
  • Which channels are the best for generating long-term relationships?
  • Which emails, sales decks and blog posts contribute to those relationships?

These insights make it possible to build out a repeatable process for better customer relationships. Instead of guessing at the types of experiences our customers value, we can use real-world data to uncover the actual interactions that contributed to happier, healthier relationships - and turn customer referrals into a predictable revenue stream in the process.

The New CRM

At some point, the tools we used to manage customer relationships started to gain prevalence over the actual creation of relationships that used to help businesses grow. We got caught up in tools, and data, and workflows — and forgot about the people behind the screen.

The next generation of CRM systems will be designed, first and foremost, to help customers — moving beyond spreadsheets and one-off sales, to provide the tools and insight you need to manage long and profitable customer relationships.

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