Knowing your customers
I am constantly asked to give businesses advice about their Customer Relationship Marketing systems - either because they want to invest in something, or they have already invested and are now unsure of the benefits the salesman highlighted.

If you are in either of these positions, you are not alone. The latter is more problematic, as you have already invested in something and are, in most cases, unable to write such an investment off and buy a new system. The way round both, however is the same. I undertake an audit of the customers and relational issues - identifying customer drivers and motivators; and the channels of communication that the customers will react to and interact with.

When you understand what makes your customers tick, and how you can build a relationship with them, you will be in a position to identify the information you should be collecting from each customer at each level of interaction. You will also, hopefully, identify the communications methods, content and tone of voice that will stimulate them to take action - remember the AIDA model (Attention - Interest - Desire - ACTION).

As far as the systems go, most do exactly the same, and you need to understand how you and whoever uses the system will work with it, their technological understanding, computing capacity, etc. Many systems now also link into finance packages, allowing you to track through to sales completion - is this important to your business, or do you believe it will be?

Many of the mid-high priced systems offer fairly comprehensive (and at times, complex) predictive behaviour modelling. The best way to explain this is to refer to Amazon - have you noticed the 'People who bought this also bought these products' section once you have made your selection? This is using a predictive modelling algorithm and allows Amazon to cross-sell and up-sell to their customers, increasing their revenue. Amazon also uses previous purchases and browsing habits to build tailored, dynamic pages of products, further stimulating the customer interaction. You too could do this.

A few years ago, I helped design and build a bespoke sales configuration and contact database system for a heavy engineering company. Initially resistance came from the sales staff, as these were the people with the CRM in their heads. This was, however, unsatisfactory as other people were involved in the customer relationship - sales support staff, designers, warehousing, finance, etc. By providing them all with access to a system that tracked and logged all customer contacts, they eliminated errors, sped up the sales and build processes, and most importantly - they understood the profitability of each product and component. This system was quite basic really, they did not use online sales or support and were not involved in direct marketing communications with their customers, but they did build more trust and respect amongst their customers as a result of this.

So should you spend millions on a SAP or Siebel system? Maybe the answer is yes. There are cheaper alternatives, but it could be that a properly installed, supported and operated high-end system is exactly what will make you stand out in your marketplace. Normally we see people operating at the other end of the market. These systems are limited in their overall performance, but if you understand the customers and your requirements, you may be able to find something that suits you perfectly without breaking the bank.