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The right CRM strategy (software), implemented and used correctly, can supercharge your sales and marketing teams, and delight your prospects and existing customers. If you’re not seeing the results and ROI you had hoped to, the new year might be time to revisit CRM best practices to maximize your investment. CRM Strategist Sally Ciarlo identifies some ways to get the most out of your CRM strategy in the new year.

As we await the start of 2021, I like most individuals am eager for 2020 to end and look forward to a fresh start in 2021. However, as a CRM strategist, as challenging as 2020 was for many businesses and brands, I’m not ready to close the book on the incredible innovation and transformation I witnessed.

Businesses, small to large, recognized what most CRM marketers have been, and continue to preach—there is value in a direct relationship with customers and it is ‘all the in data’. Furthermore, email marketing (often said to be ‘dead’) took center stage as a preferred customer communication during the pandemic.

These shifts in consumer behavior and attitudes about various marketing channels make it important to revisit key pillars of your CRM strategy ensuring they incorporate the changes experienced in 2020.  While I know most brands take inventory of their learning as they begin designing new plans, 2020 gives us an ‘extra lens’ to look through given the pandemic changed many facets of the consumer experience as well as how teams work together.

As you begin to design and implement your 2021 CRM strategy review these CRM ‘fundamentals’ considering the changes experienced in 2020.  Remember: building a relationship with your customers is similar to developing any relationship; to last, it's best done over time and built on a mutual value.

Customer Acquisition Strategy

Gather Emails

Acquiring customers is the heart of CRM Strategy. Most often this means acquiring their emails or mobile numbers. Email, a trusted CRM communication tactic, had a resurgence in 2020 and once again proved its worth. You remember all those COVID-19 emails and brands that suddenly started appearing in your inbox. It was a pivot for some brands, but those that had invested in capturing consumers’ email opt-in and nurtured this ‘Customer Relationship’ were better positioned than brands who had no direct relationship when all businesses were impacted by Covid-19.

And the future looks bright for email. According to eMarketer, Email users are projected to grow to 277.7 Million, 81% of the US population by 2024.  The potential for brands to build relationships via email is strong, and the pandemic illustrated how important this direct, easily-measurable channel can be in marketing strategies for everyone from restaurants to DTC brands to colleges and universities.

Consumer Opt-In

With email’s projected growth, it’s proven effectiveness to drive sales, and its resurgence during the pandemic, my hope is brands will begin to capture email permission and incorporate email into their customer communication plan. There are other channels that are important such as mobile and app push notifications if available.  Email seems to be the most universal and a good first channel for brands.

Asking consumers ‘to sign up’ or ‘opt-in’ is based upon a value exchange.  Consumers have said they want to receive emails if the content is relevant and meaningful.  Knowing Covid-19 changed most brands’ consumer experience, review your Brands’ value exchange for customers.   Has it changed? Revisit the customer moments where you ask for permission; what are you offering them? This could be the promise of a discount, or content relevant to them and their lifestyle (and obviously, related to your brand) — but whatever the offer, make sure the value is apparent to your consumers.

Also, consider that, according to Salesforce, 51% of consumers say they trust a company more because of its response to this year’s crisis.  Trust extends beyond how Brands use consumer data it encompasses their entire experience. This includes how you communicate with your consumers after they've opted-in, which I'll discuss later in this article.

Email as a Unique Identifier

As marketers begin to address the pending cookie deprecation, industry leaders have discussed email as a possible option for targeting their prospects and customers.  This thinking is based upon the fact that consumer permission was ed for brands to use their email. Brands can use these email addresses as unique identifiers, or a ‘match key’ to match their prospects/customers with targeted social media campaigns or paid search. It’s worth noting too, that CRM platforms such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud support these kinds of campaigns via Ad Studio, giving marketers visibility into campaign performance without the risk of infringing on data privacy.

One caveat with using email as a unique identifier is the time required to gather a large volume of permissions. As we wait to see what lies in the future of a cookie-less future, brands should continue to collect emails and build value-based relationships with their prospects and customers.  One day it might be the best way you can target them with your digital campaigns.  

It is all about the Data

When you first meet someone, you can’t learn everything about that person—the same is true for brands and their customers. Smarter segmentation is based on things you learn about your prospects and customers over time. Implementing a progressive data strategy, over multiple customer touches, allows brands to begin to know their customers and build smarter customer journeys build upon data.    Besides developing smarter targeting through segmentation, data drives personalization and relevancy. eMarketer noted that 59.4% of consumers say product recommendations would drive purchase—so building a robust data strategy built to learn more about customers over time (in a non-creepy way!) is critical to driving not only revenue but a better customer experience.

And again: recalling the importance of the value exchange, transparency of use is important. A recent article from Salesforce noted that 86% of consumers want to know how their data is being used, so when your customers opt-in, be forthcoming about what you'll be emailing them, and what you'll be doing with their data.  

Test, Test, and Test Again

Testing plays an important role in CRM strategy. It allows and supports optimization and continued learning.  With the pandemic heralding transformed customer experiences in 2020, the need for testing is paramount as we continue to navigate this ‘new’ customer experience.  Everything about the journey may have changed –  eCommerce, fulfillment, curbside, mobile ordering, etc. Therefore our averages/benchmarks also changed – opens rate, the best time to communicate, best day to email, mobile vs. desktop usage, and more.

Commit to a test and learn the environment in 2021, and remember that your 2020 averages may not be normal. Continue time tests as consumers possible transition back to offices.  The same is true for the day of the week. If your CRM platform offers AI to support identifying the best time, best day, incorporate it into testing. Let your platform do the heavy lifting for you, but be clear on what you want to measure, and why.  

Leverage your CRM Platform to create a 360 holistic communication plan

2020 validated the  basis of  a CRM strategy, but the time is ripe to explore how your platform can optimize  customer journeys across all channels. Most CRM technology solutions incorporate journey mapping and t extending the journey to other channels such as paid media, social, and paid search.  Revisit what is possible with your tool – collaborate with your Technology team members, or other departments tangentially related to your own and ask them:  

  • What other tools are in our martech stack?
  • How are they being used?
  • What do they measure (if anything)?
  • What kind of data do they collect?
  • Have there been any upgrades to these tools that allow for better integration?

And don’t be shy about reaching out to your Account Rep for your current CRM platform! They’re there to help you make the most of your investment and often can share best-practices from other organizations, and are up to date on the newest features. Developing a holistic view of your customers is not a pipe-dream, and your CRM platform is an important piece of the puzzle in bringing this goal to life.  

Optimize Your Process

2020 not only changed the customer experience, but it also altered the way marketing teams work.  As most companies offered Work from Home and are extending this into 2021, teams adapted to virtual collaboration.  Zoom, Slack, Teams, etc. while used before became an integral part of your team’s day. Consider the impact these changes have on your campaign management, your interaction with your agencies, and indeed, with your own team. Revisit CRM training, especially anything specific to your implementation or the way your teams collaborate. Does one team use the CRM platform slightly differently than another team? And if so, does this lead to any deprecation of data? Or is one way faster than another? Are teams looking at the same set of data when making decisions? Kick-off 2021 making sure no stone goes unturned. Even if you’re not “in the weeds” on a day to day basis, it’s important that the day to day use of the CRM platform is consistent with the strategy and the objectives that the tool seeks to execute.

This may seem like a lot, but a CRM platform is only as effective as the strategy informing the way you use it. With the shifting tide of consumer behavior and expectations, tied with the changing landscape of data privacy laws, it’s critical that brands revisit their CRM strategies in 2021.

Cheers to a successful new year, and feel free to contact me with any questions about your CRM strategy or needs for the upcoming year.