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Set up a customer relationship management system

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There are a number of practical issues to consider when introducing a marketing database as part of your customer relationship management (CRM) system. You will need to:

· estimate the likely scale of the system

· strike a balance between your requirements and your available budget

· consider integration with other business systems

Depending on your practical needs, you can choose between various ways of setting up a computer-based marketing database. The least expensive option is to create a simple system yourself for recording customer contacts using tools that you already have. For example, you could collect existing data – such as invoices, other sales records for existing customers, and customer contact lists – and put it all into a single spread sheet. You can then regularly update your customer contact records.

You’ll need to make sure that you comply with privacy and data protection rules about sales and marketing databases that hold personal information.

Using a software supplier

If you want to do more with your customer sales and marketing data, you could buy a basic software package, which could fit in with your current computer systems. This kind of software package allows you to create an office-wide database that all your staff can use for sales, marketing and service activities.

Alternatively, you could buy a dedicated CRM package designed for smaller businesses. Software providers like Oracle, SAP, Peoplesoft, Microsoft, Onyx and Pivotal offer applications that integrate with existing accounts and transaction processing packages. However, dedicated CRM packages generally require servers, staff training, and customisation for your requirements, so setting them up can be more complicated than installing simpler software packages.

 

You could commission bespoke software. Consultants and software specialists can customise or design a software solution and integrate it with your existing software and your website. This can be expensive and may be more appropriate for larger and more complex businesses.

Compiling your customer data

You can use information already held about your customers – whether on manual or computerised systems – to build a database. It is a good idea at this point to check the accuracy of this data, before compiling your database.

Your accounts system may contain information such as:

· invoices

· letters

· existing customer lists

Consider what kind of information would be useful. This might be:

· contact information, eg company name, address, email and web address, telephone numbers, and names and job titles of relevant personnel

· their purchase history – what they have bought, when, and from which salesperson – so you can identify what they are most likely to buy and plan your sales and marketing efforts

· their service history and any complaints

· their account history, to assess whether they pay on time, and how profitable they have been – some customers may place a lot of business but may not actually be very profitable

In total, this information should give you an idea of who your best and worst customers are, and what they buy from you.

You might include areas such as the response to previous promotions. Your purpose is to establish the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of responses or sales.

The next stage is to decide an appropriate structure for your data.

If you are selling to business markets, you could compile information about:

· what they do – industry sector, public or private sector, turnover, number of employees and location

· their buying behaviour – how they place orders, their size and frequency

· names of contacts within a company

If you are selling to consumers, you could compile information about:

· your customers’ buying behaviour, including product usage and brand loyalty

· their age, gender, occupation and approximate income

When compiling information, check that you have complied fully with legal requirements, particularly those of the Data Protection Act 1998.



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