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courtin’ and marryin’: thoughts on customer relationship management strategy

So as I am developing email marketing templates for a client, I thought it would be a good time to drop a post about customer relationship management or CRM. Many big brands pay very close attention to their relationships and are always looking for ways to strengthen them. I have found that many small businesses simply don’t think in those terms.

I ask a prospective client about his/her goals, and they invariably say something along the lines of “increase sales” or “get more customers”, but many small businesses don’t have a clue about how to keep the customers that they have or improve the relationship that they have with them in order to make them more than one shot deals, or, better yet, get valuable referrals from them.

It’s a known fact that it’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to get a new one, a fact that is lost on many small business owners.

The Customer Relationship Life Cycle

Essentially, the Customer Relationship Life Cycle works like this; every customer goes through these stages of engagement with your brand:

  • Awareness
  • Engagement or Exploration
  • Familiarity
  • Commitment
  • Separation

Each of those stages is an event and requires event marketing. This is not to be confused with a Back To School sale or a newspaper ad for Mother’s Day. This is about the events on the Customer Life Cycle.

The basic idea is to keep your customers in the Engagement/Commitment phases as long as possible. It used to be a time where people became loyal to a brand because that brand was what they grew up with or was the only game in town. Not so any more. There is competition from all over the globe to provide the kinds of good and services that you do.

So you have to have a plan. Here are some key concepts to remember:

Acknowledge Engagement

Small businesses need to have a strategy to deliver a message to each customer when they reach a certain engagement milestone on the Customer Life Cycle. What do you tell a person when they make their first purchase? Their tenth? Their fiftieth? Or if they haven’t made a purchase in a very long time? Each of those events is an opportunity to deliver a customized message to that particular customer that a) acknowledges the event, b) thanks/rewards them for the behavior that led to that event and c) creates an incentive to continue said behavior. Keep doing this and that customer will advance onto the next stage of the Customer Life Cycle.

Create Customer Evangelists

So when you have rewarded a customer to the point that they are in the Commitment stage of the Customer Life Cycle, something wonderful happens. They start telling their social network (friend, family, coworkers, Facebook, Twitter) about the wonderful relationship that they have with your brand. Think I’m kidding? Stand in a group of men and tell them that you are looking for a mechanic. You know the response that you’ll get. Each of them will tell you that “their guy” split the atom.

Now you have a “sales force” working for you, bringing you even more business.

Develop a Multi-Channel CRM Strategy

Sit with your creative/marketing people (insert shameless pitch for M19 MEDIA here) and devise a plan to communicate with your customer base on a regular basis. Email is the cheapest way to do so, but don’t forget the other channels, like direct response mail. If you have a storefront, you can use postcards to bring them in. Likewise with lo-so media, like Foursquare. Create incentives for repeated check-ins or purchases. Or, if your base is small enough, call them! Whatever you do, communicate your gratitude and you’ll keep those customers for life.