By Jeffrey L. Adams, President & CEO, Redland Brick Inc.
At the end of the day, we all have to deal with customers. Every business has to sell their product or service to a customer. The types of customers and the situations are endless. When it comes to the construction trade, we also have an endless array of customers and partners. Are we selling to the end user, trade contractor, general contractor, construction management firm, or an architect? The answer is all of the above and then some.
One method used to classify the type of selling is to lump the sales into a business to consumer (B2C) or business to business (B2B) category. There are countless articles and programs that tout being geared to B2C or B2B and extolling the differences and why one is appropriate versus the other in your environment. This is appropriate for describing the type of business you are in, that is selling to other businesses versus consumers, but there is so much more to the actual sale. There is no line between the art of selling to a consumer and selling to a business. In either case, you will typically be dealing with people and selling always comes down to understanding what problem the customer needs to be solved, what motivates the customer to purchase, and what the customer (person) values. A good salesperson will identify these quickly and determine the odds that the service or product they have will result in a sale. The salesperson then either goes to work on making the sale or moves along to a better sales opportunity.
A landed customer becomes part of the customer mix for any business. All customers have different problems, motivations, and values. Successful companies don’t just look for, land, and retain any customer; they are always looking for the most profitable customers and attempting to improve their customer mix. Throughout the process of identifying, developing, selling, and servicing a customer, a relationship is formed. This relationship might only last for one sale or it might last for many sales. This occurs whether it is a B2B or B2C environment.
When using the word “relationship” with respect to customers, we often have very different ideas about what it means. For many, the word relationship extends beyond business to a more personal connection. While that’s true, when we are discussing business it is important to remember that the foundation of the relationship is the business relationship and if we don’t get that right, the personal side of the relationship often won’t support the ongoing business relationship. There are also relationships that extend beyond our customers to other parties involved in dealing with our customers such as those mentioned earlier. While we might be selling to a contractor, the purchase decision is made by the architect or a construction management firm. Relationship management extends to everyone involved.
As the art of managing the customer and the relationship has evolved a term has been coined called “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM).
At its core, a good CRM system will help a business to identify, attract, and retain the best set of customers. Notice that we haven’t talked about CRM packages, but just the concept of a good CRM system. Software isn’t necessary to have a good CRM system, but today it certainly makes it much easier.
A good CRM system will help a business to identify, attract, and retain the best set of customers
So if the CRM system is about identifying, attracting, and retaining the best set of customers, what are some of the things that an effective CRM needs to do? Here is a general list:
• Gather and organize potential leads
• Identify all potential customer targets
• Track campaigns, interactions, and information learned about the lead, including their responses, needs, wants, and potential
• Manage the information and contacts related to all opportunities in an organized and easy way
• Generate communication and quotations
• Business information and contact information
• Orders, Invoices, Shipments
• Complaints and service history
• Project and task management with automated and manual reminder management
Having a place to easily store and retrieve this information is critical, but the most important part of being effective is to actually use the system.
Successful CRM starts with full support of the senior management or ownership. Support isn’t a statement to the organization that you have a CRM system and it has your full support. Support is obvious when the senior management is actively using the CRM system to identify opportunities, forecast business, and evaluate the performance of sales, customer service, and customers.
Employees need to be trained and immediately put to work and held accountable for using the CRM system. If the company hasn’t been exposed or required to handle the customer relationship as an integrated unit, the initial reaction may be confusion and perceiving the CRM as a burden. However, with solid management support and time, employees begin to see the value of CRM and the CRM system itself becomes more effective.
Construction projects and business involve interaction with a multitude of parties. Using CRM, companies can effectively and easily link architects, contractors, material suppliers, and inspection agencies together while continuing to maintain the information related to each party. A history of whom, when, and where you’ve dealt with these firms and the people at those firms brings a level of understanding and professionalism to deal with customer and the information needed to identify the best method for securing good business.
What does an effective CRM look like?
When you no longer have paper files on your customers, partners, leads, and business and you can go to one place to understand the historical activity, current activity, and projected activity for a customer along with the history of interactions including visits, quotes, and outcomes. When you can quickly access all of the plans, documents, and communication related to particular opportunities and be as knowledgeable as those that are intimately involved with a five-minute review of the history. When you can quickly add or change information related to the customers, the contacts at the customer, or manage the business opportunity from your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. Also when you can make decisions about deals and customers from the information; when you can say you are doing these things, then you’ll recognize the power of an effective CRM system.
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