Winning the CRM Race

“Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them.”

Mitch Lieberman, managing partner at DRI and an all-around bright thinker, first said this around 2009. He wasn’t trying to smash anyone’s illusions about the value of CRM. He was trying to reset business’ thinking back to reality about the nature of relationships between buyers and sellers.

Mitch has said this a lot over the last few years. It may not seem to sink in, because relationships are constantly being redefined as ideas like customer experience management push to the fore. It may be important to delight customers, but customers don’t look to be delighted when they engage an electronics component provider, or a vendor for solutions they resell, or a retailer while they’re buying camping equipment. They have a need, and satisfying that need is the reason they’re participating in the relationship.

So, in order to get the opportunity to build a relationship (and, perhaps, “delight” the customer over time), the first thing to understand is what the customer’s needs really are. That sounds simple at first — but, as the relationship extends over time, those needs may change. Unless the seller pays attention, the buyer’s needs may change sufficiently that the seller’s attempts to maintain the relationship fail.

Let’s look at three environments where this manifests itself.

B2C: Spell It Out

First, in a B2C context, the relationship benefit to customers is that they get things they want that enhance their lives. Efforts to make that first connection are somewhat broad, but they can be narrowed down with further interactions. What’s in those further interactions for customers? They may have trouble understanding how interacting with buyers add to their experience unless you find ways to make that clear.

For instance, in the case of camping equipment, as customers become more experienced campers, the gear they need may expand. Engaging them with content about places to camp and the experiences of other customers may provide an incentive to keep interacting with the brand, and for some customers, participation in this content may feed an emerging need to be seen as a knowledgeable outdoors enthusiast. The relationship is created and maintained because it satisfies customer needs.

B2B: Stay on Target

In a B2B relationship, customer need evolution is even more stark, and relationships should be easier to maintain. The buyers’ drivers are often stated up front — price, timely delivery, payment terms, etc. The relationship is created when the seller can satisfy these basic needs.

Over time, needs will evolve, but in the B2C scenario it is easier to anticipate these changes if your business has been tracking trends among customers. The evolution of needs from customer to customer in a B2B setting follows a less erratic path than B2C customers; when your livelihood is at stake, you tend to have a longer attention span.

Also, in B2B environments, there are usually fewer customers to keep track of, which allows salespeople to have a direct relationship with buyers. If salespeople are savvy and can understand how customers’ needs are evolving, they can adjust their approaches to where customers are heading and not where they’ve been.

Partners: Add Value

In an indirect channel environment, everything gets exponentially more complex. Vendors trying to satisfy needs for reseller partners often think that equates with dollars. The most basic needs for resellers are good products offered to them at a price that allows them to make a profit.

However, once partners are successful in selling a vendor’s product, their needs change. They want to be better at adding value to that product, so training becomes a priority. They want to work with the vendor on co-marketing. Ultimately, they want to be seen as valued partners and gain access to people within the vendor company for consultation on products and programs — a real relationship, in many ways.

That relationship serves the business needs of resellers for expertise and access. There’s a business need for the vendor, too — when resellers gain access and expertise, it increases loyalty.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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