CRM Means Relationships: Do Your Processes Allow Marketing to Sustain Them?

By Chris Bucholtz

Customers don’t buy from companies, generally – they buy from people. That goes especially for return customers; if they interact with the same salesperson, and a relationship grows, the potential for recurring sales and up-selling increases exponentially.

This doesn’t have to stop with your sales efforts – it’s something you can carry into your marketing efforts as well.

Here’s an example of that. When I’m not writing about CRM or building model airplanes, I’m a musician of dubious talent. Back in April, after years of playing with a pathetic little audition amplifier for years, I decided to take the plunge and get a real bass amplifier. I dragooned my friend John Moreman (whose instrumental project Flotation Device is very much worth checking out) and went to Guitar Center in Emeryville.

He helped me pick out a mighty Ampeg amp with a 15-inch speaker – loud enough to shake the photos on the wall of my office into a state of crookedness. This amp is great – so great, in fact, that my favorite band, Yo La Tengo, borrowed it for the Bay Area swing of their road trip earlier this year.

But enough about the amp. Let’s talk about what Guitar Center does to capitalize on relationships. Buying a big piece of gear isn’t as simple as walking in and out. There are service agreement, additional gear (cords, etc.) and other stuff that requires a personal touch. The guy who helped me out, Jeremy, did a great job accommodating me and getting me through the sales process and I was soon out the door with all the stuff I needed to become a much louder, if not much talented, bass player.

Naturally, collecting an email address was part of the sales process, and as you might expect, I began to get marketing emails from Guitar Center every week or so. But here’s the brilliant part: they don’t come from Guitar Center. They come from Jeremy, and Jeremy’s email address.

The body of the content is generated by the marketing team – offering sales, classes, recording studio space and other methods of extracting money from wannabe-rock gods like myself. But the introductory body – often, four or five lines – is from Jeremy. In other words, someone I have a buyer-seller relationship with, and thus someone I’m more likely to buy from.

This is pretty smart on a couple of levels. First, it capitalizes on the idea that we buy from people, not from companies, and puts the person we know from the vendor out in front. Secondly, it breaks down the walls internally at Guitar Center between marketing and the people who deal with the customers on a daily basis. CRM is something that needs to be practiced by everyone in the business – not just the people using the CRM technology. Third, is demonstrates organizational trust in the employees; I hope that Jeremy and his colleagues realize the opportunity they’re being given to cultivate customers, and they see the task of being part of marketing efforts as something that’s both a responsibility and a fun chance to strengthen customer relationships. Most organizations do not trust the front-line employees to be an integral part of a marketing program – that’s not the case here.

The lesson to draw from this: don’t sever your customer relationship process when you hand responsibilities off from department to department within your organizations. Try to sustain those relationships; if that means breaking down organizational silos… then good! It’s what you should be doing. Remember: it’s about the customer first and your internal processes second; those processes should serve the relationship, not force you to build a new relationship from department to department.