What makes the perfect market research project? In truth, there may be no such being. But there are some steps you can take to make your research more efficient, and it starts at the very beginning.

From planning to analysis & reporting, every stage must be meticulously planned and tailored to the task at hand. Researchers are no strangers to the concept that every project is unique – requiring plans, budgets, and programs that are fitted to the objectives (not vice versa).

One of the most significant, but overlooked, aspects of market research is the management approach that should be adopted. Agile methods are described by many practitioners (we’ve even outlined our recommended best practices for creating keen insight). But agile practices are not a one size fits all approach.

A better way of comparing projects is by taking benefit of lean principles – finding ways to eliminate waste & focus only on the most important aspects of the study that will generate ROI. Return on research investment should always be the top priority for researchers, with all else following suit.

CRM - Customer Relationship Management

As a small business, you can't really call one of the large CRM system suppliers and ask them to put CRM in place in your company. Their products are geared to large, corporate clients who think they need to know everything about their customers and run huge databases to keep track of them. You don't need that. All you need is to keep track of the following for each customer:

  • what have they bought;
  • when did they make their purchases;
  • how much were they charged;
  • how much and when did they pay; and,
  • possibly, how are they using your products.

The above information, which you can easily store in a simple database or even in a word processor or spreadsheet, will allow you to manage your relationships with your customers as far as delivering your products or services are concerned.

It will let you check what the customer has in case there are warranty claims or if service is required; it will let you make sure your pricing is consistent; it will let you give customers with a good payment record credit or preferred pricing; and it will let you send your customers information on your products around the time they are likely to need new ones. If you do all that, you will be ahead of 95% of other companies, large or small.

What you don't need to collect, contrary to what the CRM companies will tell you, are the names of the spouse and children, their ages, their birthdays, anniversary, income bracket, kind of neighbourhood, recent holidays, favourite drink and the name of the dog.

While the theory is that customers will respond favourably to salesmen who know these things, my own experience is that just as many customers want their suppliers to stick to supplying and find anything else intrusive.

Not only that, but the customers who react negatively to intrusive information gathering tend to be the more desirable ones. Send them "Season's Greetings" at the end of the year but don't send their kids birthday cards or they won't talk with you anymore.

All over the Internet we are being asked to fill out forms with personal information. When we buy something we are asked for our phone number and/or postal code. When we order something we get questionnaires asking how we liked it.

And a good part of this data collection is justified in the name of CRM. Yet, where is this CRM.

As a consumer, you have yet to experience a successful execution.You would love to be e-mailed an attractive offer for exactly the car you want, just as you get ready to do the rounds of the dealers. Why doesn't someone send you a new package of envelopes just as you run out or fax paper or ink cartridges. You'd be willing to give them all kinds of personal information to help them do that. Instead, You get mountains of mass mailings for stuff I don't want.

As a result, if your small business can manage the relationships with your customers at the low level which You have described at the beginning, you will have a significant advantage. Few companies seem to be able to manage even that much. It's customer convenience with a minimum of intrusiveness. It will help you keep the customers you have and encourage them to refer you to knew ones.

Build an International Business:Tips for Creating a Successful International E-Commerce Website

When planning an international e-commerce website, make the sales process as simple as possible for the customer and this includes avoiding any potential confusion.
The Internet presents the perfect opportunity for small business all over the world to meet and do business in a true international market place. In addition to building the perfect e-commerce website and planning the business, there are a few key tips that will help establish a good business and build a solid customer service reputation.

Make It Simple for the Customer

Remove any potential barriers that might stop the customer from making a purchase. This means making the buying process as simple as possible and to ensure that there is no room for confusion.

Some simple ways of avoiding any potential pitfalls include:

Use good close up photographs of products. This will help to avoid any confusion and this lets the customer know precisely what they are buying. Photograph products clearly in a good light, showing details of labels, measurements or other features that might be important to an international customer.

Set out clearly the terms and conditions of sale: This might include the policy labelling packages for customs. Some less than scrupulous customers may also ask that the value of the goods is incorrectly declared on the customs slip. Specifying that this is firmly against the company's policy will help to stop this question being asked.

Clearly state if there are any countries that goods will not be shipped to. Some companies prefer not to ship goods to countries where there is a strong likelihood of the goods going missing or getting damaged en route.

Give customers an idea of delivery times. While it is important to let a customer know that this is for guidance only, it helps to set the customer's expectation for when the order will be received. Most delivery and courier companies are able to give an estimate of how long parcels will take to reach even the most remote countries.

Have a customer service policy. Specifying how long it will take to respond to customer questions, bearing in mind difference in time zones, will help manage a customer's expectations. Many customers will find it useful if the company makes it clear which time zone is being referred to. Most people will naturally assume, unless told otherwise, that a time zone is their own, and therefore may find it frustrating if they cannot get hold of a company, not realizing that it is out of business hours.

Consider having a free phone number for international calls. If this isn't feasible then encourage customers to use low cost Internet call services such as Skype. Other low cost customer service options include online 'chat' facilities that operate in a similar way to online messenger systems. These allow customers to 'chat' with customer service or technical staff at little or no cost.

Selling a product or service into an international market isn't difficult and can be very rewarding. Keeping it simple for the customer can help to build a strong international business.

Learning from CRM Successes:Important Guidelines Learned from Successful CRM Implementations

In CRM, there is no one size fits all. Each industry sector has a unique approach to managing customer interactions. CRM needs to match corporate strategies.

CRM applications provide functionality to enhance customer interactions. A company known for its high level of customer service might use this characteristic as a starting point for implementing a CRM application. Another company may be very good at targeting profitable customers. Each organization should seek a niche on which to develop its CRM strategy.

Customer Data

A common problem many organizations share is integrating customer information. When information is disparate and fragmented, it is difficult to know who the customers are, and the nature of their associations or relationships. This also makes it difficult to capitalize on opportunities to increase customer service, loyalty and profitability. For example, knowing that other family members are also customers provides an opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell products or services, or knowing that a customer uses several sources of interaction with a supplier can also provide opportunities to enhance the relationship.

The creation and execution of a successful CRM strategy depends on close examination and rationalization of the relationship between an organization’s vision and business strategy.

Building toward a CRM solution and evaluating the use of customer data requires analysis and alignment of the following core capabilities:

  • Customer value management
  • Prospecting
  • Selling
  • Collection and use of customer intelligence
  • Customer development (up-selling and cross-selling)
  • Customer service and retention
  • Protection of customer privacy

Successful CRM implementations result from the capability of the organization and its employees to integrate human resources, business processes and technology, to create differentiation and excellence in service to customers, and to perform all of these functions better than its competitors.

From Product Focus to Customer Centricity

In the e-commerce business world, a customer can switch to a competitor’s product with a click or two on a web page. Customer-centricity in the new business economy -- already the best means to build lasting customer relationships in traditional ways of doing business – becomes absolutely imperative.

Typically, businesses are launched because of a unique product or service, and the focus is on building that product or developing that service and informing the marketplace of its availability and desirability. When another company begins producing and marketing a similar product, the original company's product focus loses its competitive edge.

Building good products is often easier than building good customer relationships. In the long term, the organization with the best customer relationship strategy will win out.

Becoming customer-centric, i.e., shifting from marketing products to building lasting customer relationships, is an evolutionary process. It cannot be done overnight, and usually requires a major change in corporate culture. A fundamental feature of a fully customer-centric organization is the capability to successfully manage customer knowledge.

Product-focused organizations use sales data primarily to report against financial targets. On the other hand, a customer-centric organization stores, analyzes and uses sales, billing, service, support and other data, in an on-going relationship with customers, to:

  • Forge personal relationships
  • Increase staff awareness of customer importance
  • Improve the product development process
  • Deliver value-added service better than competitors.

Customer Value

Transforming customer knowledge into customer value can create a significant competitive advantage. When high value customers are identified, and their needs anticipated, new value is created for them where it did not exist before. Ultimately, customer-centric organizations build customer loyalty, a customer response characteristic which leads to higher profitability.

There are several determinations of customer value which organizations can use to categorize customers. Tracking revenues, cost and profitability is not the only way to assess customer valueValue potential, a more advanced method of evaluating customer value, is defined as “the willingness of customers to participate in the creation of products and services, to share information and other resources, and to share control over the design and production of products and services.”

 

Applying the CRM Strategy:CRM Focuses on Changing to a Customer-Oriented Modeln

The goal of CRM is to evolve from a marketing-oriented model based on product-centric marketing, to a customer-centric model which focuses on each individual customer.

Dealing with each customer as if they were the only customer is a new way of thinking for many companies with thousands, even millions of customers. Managing customer relationships successfully means learning about the habits and needs of your customers, anticipating future buying patterns and finding new opportunities to add value to the relationship.

Customer Behavior Patterns

For example, in the financial sector, early beneficiaries of successful CRM strategies have been the banks. These organizations are using data warehousing and data mining technologies to learn from the millions of transactions and interactions with their customers, and to anticipate their needs. The patterns of customer behavior and attitude derived from this information enable the banks to effectively segment customers on pre-determined criteria.

Detailed customer data can provide answers to the following questions:

 

  • Which communication channel do they prefer?
  • What would be the risk of leaving the bank to go to the competition?
  • What is the probability the customer will buy a service or product?

This knowledge assists financial institutions with CRM solutions in place to develop marketing programs that respond to each customer segment, support cross-selling and customer retention programs and enables the staff to understand how to maximize the value of each customer’s interaction.
Maximizing Individual Customer Experiences

How does an organization manage each customer relationship individually? From the corporate perspective, there are several fundamental changes in corporate functions which can be made on the way to a complete CRM solution.

Marketing departments need systems that allow employees to track, capture, and analyze the millions of customer activities, both interactions and transactions, over a long period of time. This knowledge enables the organization to create promotions, develop new products and services, and design communication programs that attract, reward and retain customers.

Establish Two-Way Communications

Customer information has become a major strategic asset for corporations, creating requirements for information management and control that are just as important as managing an organization’s finances. An advanced information control capability should integrate two major components of the CRM framework:

Managing customer contacts – an active control process for information exchange with customers
Managing customer knowledge -- controls retention of information and accessibility

Radical changes in the marketplace mean that it is no longer sufficient to conduct periodic surveys to monitor changes in the marketplace. The marketplace changes daily and customer expectations can change significantly and quickly, often instigated by aggressive competition. The continuous and systematic capture, retention, and analysis of customer information, from virtually every point of customer contact, is an essential activity in a successful CRM strategy.

Information Exchange

Important advances in contact management software are being made to support on-going information exchange between a company and its customers, and for seamless integration of multi-channel communications with customers. There are several important sources of customer information available to the CRM project team, including:

  • Transaction systems for detailed customer behavioral data
  • Customer contact channels - call centers, retail outlets and electronic commerce web sites
  • Outbound marketing programs for results of promotional campaigns
  • Secondary data sources -- credit data, and compiled demographic and lifestyle data
  • Market research for insights beyond those revealed by actual customer behavior and dialog

When properly integrated into the CRM framework, these information sources provide a continuing stream of up-dates from customers that enable companies to respond quickly to their evolving needs and priorities.
Predicting and Maximizing Customer Value

A fundamental concept behind a successful CRM strategy is that only through operational excellence and technology leadership can an organization predict and maximize the value of each customer relationship.

There have been many successful, effective CRM projects initiated and implemented over the past 15 years, and there are numerous examples of proven implementation processes and enabling technologies available to serve as models. Examining these successful models and learning from them can dramatically accelerate the transition. A well-conceived planning phase can anticipate and resolve many of the major hurdles that typically impede implementation. By taking advantage of proven methodologies and technologies, companies can realize early and tangible returns on CRM investments.