The Main Event

Salespeople don't understand customers at all -- and other disturbing conclusions from CRM gurus.

The Forum: DCI's Eighth Annual Customer Relationship Management Conference and Exposition, held in New York City late this past summer
The Speakers: Stephen Diorio, IMT Strategies; Josh Gordon, author of Selling 2.0; and Geoffrey Moore, the Chasm Group
The Insights: CRM defined; E-mail turnoffs; customers are from Venus, salespeople are from Mars; determining who your customer really is
The Details:

As technobuzz goes, CRM is the acro-nym of the moment. But maybe you've been wondering what, exactly, customer- relationship management really means? Good CRM aims to achieve sales nirvana -- happy, loyal customers -- by seamlessly knitting together software, business processes, and employees. In practice, CRM covers a whole gamut of customer-related activities, including sales-force automation, online marketing, telemarketing, and customer service on and off the Internet. A group of CRM mavens convened recently in New York City. Here is some of the expertise they shared:

Widespread Ignorance

Josh Gordon, author of Selling 2.0, touched on the disconnections between salespeople and the people to whom they sell. Look at customers who change suppliers: according to Gordon's research, almost 60% of those customers say that they switched because of problems with the product or service. But ask the salespeople who lost that business, and only a fifth blame product or service quality. "Most customers don't really tell you why they're leaving. They just do," said Gordon. Meanwhile, almost 90% of salespeople say that the key to building trust is being a good listener -- but according to most of their customers, they're dead wrong. Instead, buyers say, they trust salespeople who show that they know the product they're selling.

Of course, before you make a sale, it's important to know who your customer is. And strangely enough, says Geoffrey Moore, founder of the consulting firm the Chasm Group, most salespeople simply don't know. To correct that problem, salespeople should step away from their usual practices, Moore advised. (He geared his recommendations toward high-tech salespeople, but his advice applies broadly.) "Sales forces are creatures of habit, and if they know how to call on the CIO, they'll always call on the CIO," he said. But that angle of attack works only part of the time. When selling a brand-new product, Moore advised, target a high-level, line-of-business executive, the kind of person who's always searching for a competitive advantage. "You need to find a visionary," Moore recommended. Once the product has become more widely adopted, focus on department managers and structure your pitch not around opportunities but around problems that need fixing. Set your sights on the IT department only when the product is firmly in the mainstream.

E-Mail Overload

Suspicious and overwhelmed -- that was the picture of the wired consumer drawn by Stephen Diorio, founder of IMT Strategies, a sales-and-marketing consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. Research indicates that experienced Web users are more likely than novices to delete unsolicited E-mail without reading it, Diorio noted. But paradoxically, the old hands buy much more online than newbies do. The key to reaching online buyers is developing trust. "Customers are freaked out about [E-mail] frequency, but the number one thing that they hate is irrelevant content. If you send three things in a row that are irrelevant, you've trashed your brand equity," he said. As for using HTML and rich media in online marketing, "customers don't give a damn," said Diorio. "A well-crafted text E-mail delivered at the right time is going to kick butt over anything with Britney Spears and flaming eyeballs."

Emily Barker is a senior staff writer at Inc.

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