The Disciplined Art of E-CRM

For the last part of the previous decade, e-marketers had the wind at their backs. The longevity of traditional ways of reaching customers were being called into question, and e-marketing was on the vanguard of change.

Now new winds of change are ripping right through us. The creative destruction of the new economy, which promises innovation in every upheaval, is challenging electronic marketers with a new discipline: electronic customer relationship management (e-CRM).

Electronic management of customer relationships is, as the clichi goes, in its infancy. But it is clear to many forward-thinking e-marketing professionals: The use of highly sophisticated software to integrate, calibrate, measure, and optimize marketing efforts is revolutionizing the industry.

I’ve been amazed at some of the e-CRM packages I have seen demonstrated recently. With point-and-click ease, this software allows us to create scenarios in which different web customers get different mixes of service, promotion, communication, and value. The software can also integrate call-center activity, direct mail efforts, and other points of contact.

But as amazing as they may seem now, the tools are still relatively rudimentary. I think of the current e-CRM packages as early Casio piano synthesizers that I played with as a child. They had a few sounds and rhythms, and a keyboard that covered only a couple of octaves.

Soon, however, these e-CRM packages will be like the synthesizers of today, employing thousands of tools that can be used in almost infinite combination — a true instrument. E-marketers should begin to understand how to use these tools of increasing subtlety and complexity.

One of the biggest misconceptions about e-CRM is that it is a science, when, in fact, it is an art. There is no automated, preprogrammed way of dealing with customers. E-CRM needs to be driven by the instincts, experience, and skill that have always been at the heart of good marketing.

E-CRM demands answers to questions that only a good marketer can provide. Which customers should get certain promotions? How soon and how often should customers be recontacted? How can the behaviors of certain types of customers be modified? Which products should be merchandised together? These decisions will always be made by smart marketers, aided, but not replaced, by computers.

E-CRM is an art, but a disciplined one. Discipline is imperative when each decision has far-reaching, sometimes irrevocable, consequences. For example, many e-tailers have learned that treating different types of customers differently — one of the core tenets of e-CRM — can cause a backlash. In the world of systematic, scaled communication and response, sound judgment is very important.

E-CRM is also disciplined because it can make marketing more quantifiable. Marketers are under increasing pressure to quantify their efforts, and e-CRM helps them meet the challenge. Concepts like lifetime value of the customer, which are central to advanced direct marketing, are increasingly becoming a part of e-marketing planning.

More and more, the survival of those who provide services to e-marketers will depend on the ability to integrate with e-CRM solutions, which can be a difficult technical challenge. But as e-CRM develops into holistic, bundled packages, partnerships will be crucial.

The new economy is defined by waves of change, each causing upheaval but leaving opportunity in its wake. There are always those who can rise to the challenge and those who are left behind. That makes learning about e-CRM now a smart move for every e-marketing professional.

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