It was many years ago while selling ERP systems that I learned to appreciate the power of technology to help me manage my prospect database. Cutting edge back then was a laptop, Microsoft Windows, MS Word and MS Excel. I used MS Word to craft my proposals and invitations. I used MS Excel to keep tabs of my prospects as they progress from cold to hot leads and everything in between.

Reports were simple because I only had a few leads at any given time. I spent an inordinate amount of time between looking for prospects and nurturing my relationships. Most of those relationships were forged through long hours of sifting through directories, begging for referrals, and sticking by every bit of opportunity that comes my way.

My newfound career in the publishing doesn’t require me to be directly involved in sales but I still have relationships to forge with our company’s customers. My contact database is a respectable 2,300 records of people I’ve met in the last seven years, many of whom have moved about their own respective careers and businesses. So if forging good relationships is important in my job as well as career, how do I keep my tabs of all 2,300 names?

The only technology I use at this time is my Outlook contact database. Is this sufficient? Probably not. It would be good for me to know what each of my 2,300 contact looks like because my memory fades as I age (with grace). It would be nice to greet them on their birthdays – thank you FaceBook! And so on and so on.

A friend suggested I try using customer relationship management (CRM) software. Although I’ve heard of and written a bit about CRM, I’ve never really used one. The sales people in my company have. They tried their hands on a CRM solution from salesforce.com and recently migrated over to Oracle On Demand.

I’ve not been offered nor asked to use the system. I am testing out a couple of free CRM products: FreeCRM, MX-Contact and ZohoCRM. I’ll let you know what my adventures (or misadventures) in finding the right CRM software in a separate story. For now this is about de-linking CRM from customer relationships.

According to Anthony Lye, senior vice president of Oracle CRM, many companies misconstrue having CRM as tantamount to knowing and understanding your customers. He re-iterates an old computing adage: garbage in, garbage out. He warns that many CRM implementations fail because companies implement CRM without understanding the context for which the [CRM] solution is being deployed.

He has a point. Today we are often overwhelmed by the promise of technology and we lose sight of what we want to achieve in the first place. Technology should always be viewed as an enabler of a goal or objective. Process innovation should not be sacrificed in favor of technology.

It’s not a matter of “if you build it, they will come.” Rather, its about listening to your customers whether an opportunity is present or not. My aunt is probably my best role model for developing loyal customers/clients.

I’m not advocating you ignore what technologies like CRM, business intelligence and business analytics can do for you. These are great tools at helping you automate some of the mundane aspects of customer relationship building and nurturing. Rather I am suggesting that we do not let technology, and all the marketing hype that surround it, to overwhelm our sense of what is right and proper. Each of us is endowed with common “business” sense. Use it wisely.

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