How can my company learn more about customer preferences and use this information to really grow our business?

Many people are familiar with the popular line, “If your build it they will come,” from the movie Field of Dreams, but when it comes to customer knowledge, I prefer to say “If you build it carefully and consistently, they will come in droves.”

Case in point: running shoe maker New Balance used to publish four catalogues. Today the company produces more than 30, tailored based on preferences it discovered based on interactions with customers and prospects. New Balance is using both advanced customer relationship management (CRM) systems and printing technology to deliver relevant, personalized communication and build enduring trust with its customers.

Building customer knowledge

The first step in your quest to communicate with your customers and prospects in a more meaningful and timely manner is to collect important information that tells you exactly who they are. Most businesses have a hard enough time keeping accurate records of the spelling of people’s names, titles and addresses, so how can you collect more detailed information and keep it current? The answer to this question is threefold: discipline, teamwork and technology.

Successful companies have instilled discipline in their processes for measuring and monitoring the accuracy of customer information. Having the entire organization participate is the next challenge, and teamwork is critical. All customer-facing employees must be trained to perform this function consistently. The final element includes technology to automate the best practices that are the core of your customer strategy.

The availability of CRM systems and advanced Web site technology are allowing businesses of all sizes to put together more sophisticated customer management strategies. The automation of many of the challenges of the past is making the task of collecting and managing names, titles and addresses very straightforward. However, in order to differentiate your company and create a competitive advantage, you must go the extra mile by collecting pertinent profile information to increase your knowledge of your customers and prospects. This means details about birthdays, professional designations, values, goals, business challenges and even personality types.

People buy from people and companies that they like. The closer you get to your customer and prospects the stronger the trust and the higher the perceived value of the relationship.

Opportunities to build customer knowledge

Your ability to collect critical profiling information is imperative and exists during every form of interaction with a customer or prospect. You must also motivate customers and prospects to provide contact details. The most common way is by also offering information, in the form of your product brochures, whitepapers or cool giveaways. You may even go as far as to ask a series of short questions to gauge their degree of interest in your product or service. This information is automatically captured in the CRM system. Workflow then automatically creates a lead record and assigns a company representative to follow up based on the preferences that the customer or prospect has indicated.

Your customer-facing employees also need motivation to continue to collect and enter accurate update information gleaned during verbal interactions with customers and prospects. Many companies reward this consistent behavior with recognition and financial compensation. These employees must understand what information needs to be collected, how the company will use the information and how this ultimately impacts customer satisfaction. The same goes for those who design and create marketing campaigns that interact with customers and prospects. Make use of every touch point with both customers and prospects ñ each one is an opportunity to collect a little more pertinent information.

Relevant communications

Now that your organization is a disciplined, motivated team capable of consistently gathering and maintaining customer knowledge, how do you use this to drive company growth?

The answer is through personalization of your communications. The types of communication that are most positively received are timely and relevant ones. Regardless of your company’s style of communication, building strong long-term profitable relationships with customers and prospects comes when you know their communication preferences.

The use of advanced technologies to bring your customer strategy to life is paramount. Communicating with personalized and timely messages has proven to deliver a higher perceived relevance of communication with customers and prospects. This, combined with advanced personalization technology, is enabling many SMBs to achieve larger market acceptance.

Peter Callaghan is chief sales officer (CSO) at Vancouver-basedMaximizer Software Inc.

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