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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I have had my fair share of travels overseas. The most logical, and most times, only way to get to the other side is by air. And whether you travel on business class, first class or economy, you have to contend what with to do for the duration of the flight.

Most people who travel by air will do one of 5 or 6 things: work on their stuff, chat with a flying friend or a friendly neighbor, read, sleep, and watch the inflight TV or listen to music. But what do you do when you have none of those and can’t sleep?

When you travel on budget carriers, there is a good chance that inflight entertainment is non-existent. So what do you do?

On board Cebu Pacific, traveling from Hong Kong to the Philippines, you cannot possibly escape the unorthodox way of entertaining bored travelers. Flight attendants will engaged customers by playing some parlor games. The most common is what locals call “Show me” contest where participants will produce an item or article that the game show host will call out on the airplane’s PA system. Another game is singing a tune. The whole experience will bemuse first time flyers of the airline.

I will probably never expect to experience something similar onboard any of America’s low cost carriers. Americans can be too uptight about propriety to entertain an entire complement of passengers. But a SouthWest Airlines flight attendant did make a very amuzing, if not certainly, very entertaining event out of the ordinary, mundane and often ignore pre-flight announcements that all carriers are mandated by law to perform – whether passengers like it or not. Click here to watch it.

On average it doesn’t take a lot of effort to give customers a measure of comfort, that feeling of satisfaction, the experience that they would bring with them for as long as memory serves them. The added bonus is that word of mouth, coupled with Internet-based social networking platforms like youtube and facebook, have made it relatively inexpensive to create new and future business.

Its not everyone’s cup of tea I am sure. But when you have to cram yourself into a tight seat and get elbowed by your next seat neighbor. A good distraction can be welcome and entertaining. The trick we’ve learned here is to be honest, entertaining and charming.

Hunkering down in tough times

John started his career selling local insurance products. Eventually through perseverance, charm, good business acumen, and the strong support of his wife, he started his own insurance brokerage. At the height of his success, his company was raking in over US$5 million in insurance premiums. For a small company with under 40 employees, John was the epitome of success. You could argue that his strategy to stay focused on a specific market segment and narrow band of products (he only sold products from one principal) paid off.

Today his company is on the brink of failure. What went wrong? As a business, you could surmise that greed and pride were at the roots of the impending demise of his company. He and his wife decided to take a back seat and let the children run the business. The children were inexperienced at managing people much older and more experienced than they. The company elected to diversify its product portfolio approaching several principals and using the company’s track record to secure lucrative deals. Sibling rivalry pulled the company into different directions as employees lost direction, drive, interest and loyalty. John’s dream of building a dynasty is in the brink of oblivion. At this very moment, he is trying piece together plans to resurrect his business. Is he too late?

John’s fate is not an exception. Nor is it the stuff of local soap dramas. Rather it is endemic of business cultures that fail to use initial success to drive growth and innovation. It is also a lesson in separating personal interests from those of the business. Neither is his company a norm. AllBusiness.com, a D&B company lists 10 reasons for failure:

  • Overexpansion
  • Poor capital structure
  • Overspending
  • Lack of reserve funds
  • Bad business location
  • Poor execution and internal controls
  • An inadequate business plan
  • Failure to change with times
  • Ineffective marketing and self-promotion
  • Underestimating the competition

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