When we talk about marketing today, we tend to talk about trends, metrics, and statistics. But while these things are all very important, they can’t – and never can – replace the essential ‘human’ element.

Technology has had a profound (and mostly positive) impact on marketing. If there’s a good argument to the contrary, I am yet to hear it. We’re processing more information at a faster rate, and with a degree of accuracy that makes the marketers of yesteryear look like threepenny fortune tellers. CRM (customer relationship management) systems in particular have done much to support marketing efforts by helping to mitigate the burden of labour-intensive busywork such as data entry, reporting, and tracking customer communications.

But while this software is invaluable, it’s also imperfect. Users should never have to adapt to meet a CRM’s requirements; a CRM should always meet theirs. As a marketing professional, you deal with a range of contacts every day – clients, journalists, suppliers, and other key stakeholders. The technology you use should enable you to productively manage and nurture these relationships: if it doesn’t, it’s failing.

Unfortunately, CRM systems don’t always help marketers forge stronger bonds – and it’s not always easy to identify exactly where these systems are falling short.

Analysis paralysis

In an age of “big” data, it’s important to remember the golden rule: quality over quantity. The fact that CRMs can now accumulate vast quantities of data in real-time certainly represents a technological advance, but data isn’t going to forge stronger bonds with clients, journalists, and stakeholders by itself. The important thing is being able to turn this information into analysis – and that analysis into action.

For example, even with the most up-to-date figures, simply knowing how many of your contacts prefer IM to text messages isn’t very useful. These statistics comprise real people with complex sets of likes and dislikes. User-centric CRMs will break these preferences down on the individual level. If a specific contact is more responsive to phone calls than email correspondence – and only before 7pm – the software will let you know, and recommend that you take this into account before dialling.

Making it personal

Frequently, these CRMs will be technically impressive, but divorced from your existing IT architecture. Many don’t offer functions as simple as email integration. To effectively communicate with contacts, it’s necessary to have full visibility into the relationship – but if you don’t know when and how you’ve been interacting with them, you’ll be at an immediate loss. Great marketers make their relationships professional and personal – whether they’re talking to journalists, suppliers, or clients.

Nobody can reasonably be expected to remember every detail of every conversation, so there are clear benefits to using email tracking software to monitor each one in real-time.

When you have greater visibility into your history with a key contact, you can treat each interaction as a learning opportunity. A client’s last communication with support or finance can suggest much about how you might approach him or her next time: maybe the client will be receptive to upselling opportunities, but even if not, you’ll have a better idea of how to deal with that person in future – if he or she responds better to a certain approach, you’ll know.

That awkward moment

Some CRM systems seem designed to prove that it is, in fact, possible to have too much of a good thing. Dashboard after dashboard; data in overwhelming quantities, filtered into categories and trends that have no relevance to what you’re trying to accomplish; windows that stay open and prove obstinate every time you attempt to switch between them.

When you’re trying to manage a key contact, this can be a serious problem. As an isolated incident, the momentary awkwardness of finding and retrieving the information you need in advance of liaising with a stakeholder may not seem like an apocalyptic issue. The cumulative effect, however, can be widespread inefficiency. This makes multitasking an impossibility, which makes it harder to divide your attentions between several different contacts. Worse still, each one will expect your undivided attention.

If you seem distracted or uninformed, your relationships will suffer; when you need to find something out urgently, a moment of hesitancy – or a failure to navigate the system – can be interpreted as incompetence.

CRM software should be designed with the user experience firmly in mind. The interface should be clean and intuitive; the data should be clearly organised and easily searchable, and it should be simple to manage multiple relationships at the same time. Finally, it needs to integrate with the systems you already use. If you’re changing the way you work to accommodate tech, then you need different tech.

The CRM is at its most useful when it’s informative, intelligent, and serves as a valuable resource. For marketers, software should always facilitate relationships rather than obstruct them. When it becomes a distraction – in fact, when it draws attention to itself at all – it becomes a problem. No developer creates software that’s painful to use on purpose, but, in the pursuit of technical perfection, it’s easy to lose sight of things like functionality, ease of use, and personality. Marketing’s a human-centric business, and marketing CRMs should always reflect that.


By Peter Linas, International MD, Bullhorn

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