Customer Conversation Management?

Doc just served up a softball with this headline:

Because ‘Customer Relationship Management” is about management more than customers

I’m originally from Chicago, where softball is a religion. Where “softball” is anything but. Where the ball is the size of a grapefruit, hard as granite, and gloves are not allowed (do a search on “mallet finger” some time, if you want the full effect).

I know from softball.

And to that headline I say…absofrigginlutely.

Now, “Customer Relationship Management” is typically thought of along the following three dimensions:

  • Sales Force Automation
  • Marketing Automation
  • Customer Support

And Doc is spot-on. It is the rare occasion that any of those three dimensions is considered from the customer’s point of view.

Focus on just the first point, where “Sales Force Automation” is oftentimes equated with “Customer Relationship Management.” And again, the point is spot-on…SFA is about tracking numbers of leads, it’s about “managing the pipeline,” it’s about pushing a customer through the defined selling process of the vendor. It’s not about the customer at all. It’s about management, and quarter-end roll-ups, and “30% probability of closing.”

We’re at a time where we have the opportunity for a fundamental shift in this thinking, even using the same underlying technologies. And here it is:

Vendors: Stop thinking about moving customers through a “pipeline.” Start thinking about holding up your end of the conversation. Literally.

Yes, the “conversation” term is being overused, and runs the risk of becoming a cliche. (And if anyone has a thought of a better way to distill this concept down, please share it.) But there is the opportunity here for a shift in thinking that doesn’t require any change in the underlying technologies that are in place in order to do this.

How do we do this? Start using these types of systems more, but in a totally different way. Start keeping actual track of the actual conversations that you, as an individual, are involved in. Not from an “I checked off these three steps in the selling process” sort of way, but rather in a “here’s what we were talking about” sort of way.

Danah Boyd has pointed out that there is an increasing amount of research being done in the area of how we, as individuals, can use technology to involve ourselves with persistent conversations. And that’s exactly right.

Christopher Allen (and if he’s not on your blogroll right now, you’re missing a lot) states:

“For instance, my experience with most politicians and many salespeople is that I will be forgotten as soon as I leave the room.”

Bingo. And why does that feeling exist? Because those salespeople and politicians are not really embracing the concept of a relationship. A relationship is a series of linked, persistent conversations.

To be involved, one needs to make a commitment to hold up one’s end.

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