The Three Most Valuable Lessons Learned, Part 3

Based on prevailing practices in Corporate America, one would think the key to effective management in an unstable and unpredictable global economy is for executives to pound fists on tables, scream at subordinates, and issue terse, threatening memos about increased sales and lower costs.

Successful, leading-edge companies know that a successful strategy means an ability to identify and capitalize on subtle changes and spikes in demand.

Even in the current economic climate, people and businesses still want things — lots of things. They are willing and able to buy these things from people who offer the right solution at the right price in the right way.

In the first two parts of this three-part series, we looked at the first and second Most Valuable Lessons Learned from customer relationship management (CRM) implementations to date. In this final installment, we’ll discuss the third Most Valuable Lesson Learned:

Most Valuable Lesson Learned No. 3

Developing and acting on customer knowledge is the key to creating value.

CRM isn’t just about managing customer relationships (or, for the purists and dyslexics among us, customer-managed relationships). It’s about developing and executing a competitive strategy based on an arbitrage of what people are willing to buy and what can be delivered to them by leveraging competitive strengths and core competencies — with a reasonable profit for the business somewhere along the line.

This means constantly examining the interests, moods, and needs of customers and realigning internal resources and business partner networks to capitalize on this knowledge. It means using insights into customer behavior and psychology to make better investments, develop better products and services, guide business strategy, mobilize and manage resources, optimize channels, and maximize revenue and profitability.

In a broad sense, CRM is about business intelligence. Ask any business person what she wants in terms of capabilities, and she will say something like, “I want to know who wants (or will want) what and how best (most profitability) to provide it to them.”

At the end of the day, what businesses want employees to see on their computer monitors are not email, word processing, or spreadsheet applications (which are what we look at now). They want some sort of digital dashboard that indicates what market demand might arise next and where and how to mobilize resources to capture and satisfy that demand. Demand-tracking and matching utilities might analyze multimillion customer segments or only one individual.

In this sense, CRM is about changing corporate structure (fixed and inherently resistant to change) to mirror the markets they serve (fluid and dynamic).

This concept is threatening to some. Sales professionals often resent an attempt to replace the “art,” “chance,” and “excitement” of selling with a focus on learning customer behavior and acquiring customer knowledge. But salespeople have everything to gain when their organizations develop a disciplined approach to identifying and qualifying opportunities, assessing relative strengths and weaknesses, and doing what it takes to succeed.

That’s it for the Three Most Valuable Lesson Learned. I hope you found them as useful as I found them long, tedious, and painful to acquire!

Got an opinion on this stuff? Willing to share it? If so, please write me at Arthur.oconnor@reuters.com.

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