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CRM & the Event Industry – Tips from the Trenches

There was a question in the “Trade Show Executive” LinkedIn group posted a few weeks ago that is the inspiration for this post. The question was this:

What are the most effective CRM (customer relationship management) systems out there to drive exhibit sales growth?

While the question gave me pause, when I reworded it I discovered the inspiration:

How can I effectively apply CRM to drive exhibit sales growth and what is the best tool to help achieve that growth?

Full Disclosure: I have spent my career planning, developing and managing CRM for companies across multiple industries. Currently I manage CRM for Freeman. I have implemented salesforce.com, Oracle’s on-demand CRM, Siebel, NetSuite and RightNow….as well as setup Goldmine and ACT! for several small firms. This post is not intended to sell a solution. In fact you’ll see that the technology is only the final of many steps.

Too often, CRM is defined as a technology solution. While there are a number of technologies that can be employed to aid in the strategy and tactics of CRM, the practice of deepening and broadening relationships with customers is about much more than technology. Put more succinctly Paul Greenberg best defines CRM this way:

“CRM is a philosophy & a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes & social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

Paul goes on to provide a “tweetable” version of the definition this way

“The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

Thanks Paul.

Now that we’ve set that framework let’s get back to the question as it relates to the event industry.

How can I effectively apply CRM to drive exhibit sales growth and what is the best tool to help achieve that growth?

Given the above definition, driving exhibit sales growth is tied directly to engaging people in meaningful conversations. Those conversations, those relationship building activities between people build trust through genuine listening and responding to the discovered needs. Remember, this is a process…not simply a 2 minute scanning transaction in a booth. It begins well before your appearance at the show and extends well beyond the time borders of the event.

If the key to CRM success is listening and responding appropriately then the CRM system we choose should allow us multiple ways to capture those conversations:

  • Operational CRM
    • Who the customer is (basic info – who, what, when)
    • What their interests are
    • How they’re tied to your organization
    • What they’ve bought
    • What they might buy based on history
    • Their customer service history
    • How they’ve rated us
    • When have they needed the products/services we provide
  • Social CRM
    • How they are tied to other customers
    • Where do they go to be heard (blogs, micro-blogs, other online social communities)
    • To whom are they connected (who’s in their 150)

Other questions to ask:

  • What is your sales process (or said a better way – what process do you follow to start & nurture collaborative conversations?)
  • Who is involved in your CRM initiative? Sales? Marketing? Customer Service? Operations? I’d argue all should be included but that’s an upcoming post
  • What are your pulse points? What metrics/measures tell you that your current process and strategy is working (or not working)

After answering these (and more) questions it’s time to ask, “what technology solution can help us best manage this?” You wanted to ask the question at the beginning…many do and when they focus first/only on the technology it normally ends in a technology change after months/years of underproductive headbanging sessions.

Decide on your CRM system the same way(s) you’d answer the question “what car meets my current needs?” Most of us don’t just plop down our bankroll and jump behind the wheel of an impromptu purchase. There’s thought about our current situation (family size, income, debt, environmental impact, how long we need (or want) to drive the car) the reliability of the car in question, and many other questions that depend on your who you are.

Picking a CRM system also depends on who you are and your current situation as well as your needs (covered in the questions above). When considering these systems the most important thing you can do is build a list 2 columns

  • Needs
  • Wants

Now that you have that list, get in touch with CRM vendors and talk about your needs and wants. Each vendor has it’s sweet spot as well as it’s holes. I’ve tried to outline the sweet spots below:

  • Salesforce.com – customizable, robust platform. Scales from smallest to enterprise organizations.
  • Microsoft Dynamics – late to the CRM game but gaining ground. Tight integration with Office.
  • NetSuite – very tight ERP integration
  • RightNow – Strong for call centers
  • Goldmine – one of the first CRM tools to connect to the web. Works well for small to medium sized businesses.
  • ACT – Great for small businesses interested in simple contact/customer management

There are many others and there’s no magic answer. Choosing the right technology never is. The difference between the right choice and wrong choice is always traced back to planning. Spend the time asking questions, defining needs vs. wants and understanding current and future processes and then go seeking for solutions that meet those needs (and hopefully some wants).

“Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Technology is important in our business. CRM offers several technology solutions. Don’t get hung up on the technology, instead focus on CRM and let the right technology fall into place.

    Categories: CRM, Events, Uncategorized

    CRM and the Customer – Sharing Ideas

    It’s sad to say but I think we’re already taking transparency and collaborative idea sharing for granted. We love platforms like MyStarbucksIdeas, IdeaStorm, Crocs Ideas and other collaborative corners where we can, as consumer/customer and company, share thoughts, challenge the norm and make products better for all involved. I know I’ve logged a few ideas for Starbucks and Dell as well as for Salesforce.com on their Ideas site. I also know that my ideas are actively being vetted not only by product managers, but by other community members. Together we’ll make the products and services for those companies better.

    The thought of such collaboration intrigued me. I thought about how such a platform could be used for my business in the Tradeshow industry. Granted, the tradeshow/exhibition business is one of the last vestiges of 20th century communication (read: faxes, paper, phone, paper, maybe e-mail and of course paper), but certainly such a platform could bring together our product/service managers, salespeople, marketing teams and executives with customers.

    The next few posts will outline our experience selling the idea to our leadership and lessons learned along the way.

    Since all good stories (not including this post in that realm) end with a tease I’ll leave you with the most important questions to be asked when considering a roll-out of a collaborative idea sharing platform:

    “Do we want to know what our customers have to say?”

    While I’ve yet to run into a company/group who answered negatively to this question, many should have spent more time pondering the question before launching into a new project.

    Next up: What does it mean to listen and how do we show we are listening?

    Collaborating with Sales – Documenting the Saga

    Welcome to the Collaborative. This blog, which has morphed over time from a place to track the happenings of high tech collaboration to musings about collaborative communities in every day life to a quiet corner of the interwebs while I spent some time thinking about voids.

    There’s something missing in collaborative communities online. Something that the blogosphere has passed over (at least as far as my browser can tell). While there are many resources about how to solve specific technology problems (complete with working examples) there are few if any places where CRM related change management and change acceleration are discussed in detail.

    I’ve talked to a few readers and have heard what this space should not be: a place to simply pontificate about why change is important. Of COURSE it’s important. Those companies that change well thrive. Those that don’t or can’t, well they end up on the beach just as the tsunami of change rushes over them like a brick wall of energy and they are left to ask, “how did we miss this?”

    So armed with what this conversation community won’t be, I’m taking a stab at what it should be: A place to share my experiences with change and how the Technical Strategy coupled together with cultural strategy creates effectiveness every time. Real examples, WIP, successes, mistakes, customer marvels and malcontents. All cards face up on the table.

    Below is an introduction to such a conversation. I invite you to soak it in and join the journey with me. I’m not sure where this will end or how we’ll get there. Along the way we’ll debate, laugh call each other names and through the process, learn.

    I look forward to the journey. Both the journey of bringing more and better change management to organizations of all sizes and for the opportunity to collaborative with you to make this a place to share and to effect change in all that we do.

    Change and the Organization – A Match Made in Hell 2.0
    Note: names (both individuals and companies) are removed to protect all involved. What matters is not WHO specifically but who generally and why specifically.

    Picture a sales organization for a multi-billion dollar company. Exceptional industry knowledge, best of breed technologies to serve the customer, brand recognition to kill for.  Picture that same sales organization having revenue, cost center and incentive figures in giant silos separated by time and space. Picture a sales organization who’s idea of new business is growing current business next year by 5 points.

    Layer into that picture a culture void of goal setting for sales people. Of course there’s goal setting for the business. Budgets must be completed yearly…but nothing to track a sales person’s performance.

    Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of the ocean a major techtonic shift occurs. Questions like, “shouldn’t we incent our sales people to sell?” arise from the murky depths and catch, because of changing leadership a current. The wave slowly grows in size, speed and force. Those caught up in it as it rolls quietly and quickly along ask similar questions. Those safely on shore start to hear reports of large, fast swells and want to protect themselves. They want to move inland and surround themselves with all the reasons that they need not change.

    This then is the story of a company. A real living breathing company who is right now in the middle of this coming tsunami. My job is that of surfing instructor. I won’t stop the wave (I’ll encourage it) but I’m all about getting you on a board and hanging ten together. This space will chronicle that journey, as well as, provide a place for us to collaborate on thoughts, suggestions and lessons along the way.

    Now it’s time for your feedback. Please find the poll below and let me know what you think. Hate it? Cool…we’ll scrap it and move on. Love it, we’ll find ways to get you and your change management successes and nightmares chronicled. Not convinced…tell me what we’re missing. My goal is simple: to share an experience that we can all study, learn from and add value to the collective pool of knowledge.

    I look forward to the journey.

    Categories: CRM Tags: , , ,

    The Anatomy of Collaboration

    Right people, right culture, right customer experience

    Right people, right culture, right customer experience

    My entire career has been leading and participating in teams. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most of our lives are teams.

    • Families
    • Friends
    • Sports/Activities
    • Work
    • Religious/volunteer endeavors
    . . . we live (and die) by teams.
    So why do so many organizations/departments collaborate so poorly? If so much of life is team oriented why do we let politics, personal achievement, insecurities take priority over team?
    Our world continues to change and evolve. Since the 1800s we’ve moved from fields to factories and from those factories to corporate towers. A study of each of those evolutions reveals that while team was important, it wasn’t incubated.
    • “Do your work, do it well and go home.”
    • “Do your work well and you get a prize, do it poorly and you get fired.”
    • “Keep your head down. We’ll do the thinking for you.”
    Each of the above come from management playbooks from the past. Trust for the individual was sapped from the workforce and collaboration was abhorred. And, even though ignored, collaboration bled through every process within every organization. (Think Model T assembly line, think the invention of the silicon chip and computers, think about the internet). Teams will find a way, even amidst leadership against their creation.
    So if management of years gone by was command and control, carrot and stick, success despite fear, what is the new model? What is working today? Jeff Jarvis discusses what’s working today in his book “What Would Google Do”. Today’s companies treat employees and customers much in the same way: as contributors to their vision. A 3 legged stool (business, customer, employee) that is constantly changing and growing based on mutual feedback and a passion for the vision. No where in there did I mention respect (I abhor that word only slightly less than “empowerment”). I did mention vision, contributors, equality between company, customer and employee. These are the keys to building platforms (another Jarvis obvervation about the new economy companies).
    Maybe the most telling quote from the book is what Jarvis referrs to as “Jarvis’ First Law“. It goes:
    “Give the people control and we will use it; don’t and you will lose us.”
    I think this applies as much to the employee/employer relationship as it does to customer/company. Trust us and give us a vision and get the hell out of our way. Give us access to the customer. Give the customer access to us. TOGETHER we’ll do amazing things.
    One plus one has never equaled more.

    Collaborative CRM – We ALL Owe it to the Customer

    “It’s MY customer. It’s MY call.”

    That was uttered recently in a meeting. The meeting was to discuss business process (a subject near and dear to my heart) and more specifically to view our sales business process through the eyes of the customer. I’ve led many such meetings in my career and was pleased that my current employer was ready to embark on this cause. Little did I know how deeply engrained our silos…our fiefdoms were.
    The issue arose from a seemingly insignificant exercise. Each team (representatives from each division) was to answer the following questions:
    • What are the critical things you need to know about your customer to make decisions on next steps?
    • Why are these pieces of information critical?
    • How do these critial items enable you to best care for the customer
    The idea was to then list these critical components to show how similar our needs were across all divisions. Like any sales organization, this one things that it (each division) is completely different than the others. And, after performing this exercise they found that, like any sales organization, they’re more alike than they are different. That realization created tension. For years (75+) this company treated it’s division as businesses built on the idea of how different, how unique they were. Now they were realizing how intertwined their services were.
    We left that meeting with quality work completed (my vantage point) and a lot of uneasy feelings among team leaders. I felt like there’d been chinks strategically placed in the armour of space and time…that we were evolving. Time would be the next ingredient needed to continue this process.
    The next thing that occurred was a customer meeting. One of our division sales people met with a customer and discovered in that meeting that another division had been talking to the customer. How dare they! It’s MY customer. I was in the meeting with the customer and a couple of things happened that disturbed me:
    • The salesperson immediately stopped listening
    • The customer found himself apologizing for contacting the other division

    This customer needed the services provided by our other division. It was an upsell that the first division would get credit for yet all this guy could think about was how his colleague dare talk to HIS customer. In the car after the meeting we debriefed. When my sales colleage mentioned how angry he was about his cross division colleague talking to his customer I reminded him “it’s not YOUR customer. It’s OUR customer.”

    I wonder what kind of service this customer would have received had we all put him at the center of our world. How much money was left on the table because we couldn’t get our collective act together. Does the customer feel like he’s working with a team focused on providing him an experience? (I asked and the answer is no…no doubt he’s now shopping us).

    Are we focused on what belongs to us or on stewardship of our customer’s success.

    Here’s to the latter. We aren’t given customer relationships for life. They are earned daily and we must be good stewards of that relationship with each interaction.

    Here’s to becoming what our customer values.

    Categories: CRM Tags: , , ,

    CRM Rethought (Art 2.0)

    The other day I experienced what CRM is all about. An extrodinary exchange with someone who gets what customer relationship management is all about. It was the kind of exchange that changed my afternoon. The experience was “Art 2.0”.

    I had overshot the lunch hour and needed to get something quick before an afternoon meeting. I wandered down the street to a local burger joint (we’ll call it Whataburger). My expectations were low.
    • I  need food
    • I need food quickly
    • I need food that resembles a burger

    The last part about needing a burger is debatable but it was a part of my expectation so go with it.

    After walking in the door I was greeting by an older gentlemen behind the counter. It wasn’t a grumble but an emphatic “Good afternoon sir! Welcome to Whataburger.” After nearly snapping to attention (this is not the norm at a Whataburger for those of you outside the south/southwest) I stumbled to get out, “good afternoon”.

    Art continued, “Tell me about the best burger you’ve ever had.” I must say I was a bit puzzled. Remember I’m looking for a burger…quick. That’s all I need. Yet I found myself answering Art’s question and together we concocked what I consider to be the best burger ever. As I spoke he did a few things. He listened, he wrote and he contributed. I knew he was listening because he responded. He asked questions and offered his own suggestions. He scribbled intently on his notepad and asked my name. By this point I’d lost all track of time (my meeting was starting in mere minutes) but Art and I were engaged in a collaborative moment. How can you leave your partner when you’re dreaming up THE BEST BURGER EVER!

    After completing this exercise I remember saying to Art, “OK now I’m going to have to go home and make this burger Art.” (I failed to mention that early on in the conversation Art introduced himself and we shook hands). Art responded, “well I can’t promise the best burger ever but I can promise a fresh one. Now, the next time you come in, I’ll have everything on your list too.” I smiled. How could I not believe him?

    My order was cooked and delivered to my table (by Art). He sat down briefly and explained that he’d taken the liberty of changing out the standard Whataburger bun with a better bun. As Art said, “our buns aren’t any good and a bad bun ruins a good burger.” Wow. I happen to agree with Art. My friends and I have often commented that in the world of fast food burgers Whataburger’s tagline should be, “best burgers, crappy buns.” Now Art had taken that off the table.

    I was so taken back by this I asked Art if I could ask him a few questions. Of course he offered the time. Seems as if Art spent a career in sales. When he retired he wanted to stay busy in the community so he came to work at the Whataburger where he stopped every morning for coffee. He said he couldn’t bring customers like me back to the days of the Texaco station where car hops came running when the airhose dinged but he could bring that level of service to us as an example. When I asked about the notepad he showed me. Pages of customers names and descriptions, notes on ANYTHING they’d said. And, their description of a perfect hamburger.

    “What do you do with the notes Art?” (I had to know). “I head to the local market and pick up the ingredients. Next time you’re here we’ll make it for you.” I shook Art’s hand and headed to my car with countless questions in my head. Walking out I heard Art say, “Hey there Brad? Are we gonna do another blue cheese special?”

    All of this at a burger chain? Talk about breaking the rules. No doubt Art’s odd approach cuts into bottom line sales per customer. But, I’d be willing to bet that it’s brining more customers back more often. Why?

    Simple. Art 2.0

    Thanks for reinventing yourself Art and for showing us what building customer relationships is about.

    Categories: CRM Tags: