CRM and Small Business

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CRM (Customer Relationships Management) appears to mean different things to different people. I haven’t seen two definitions that really agree. The giant companies have many goals when they speak of CRM. One that annoys me, that continues to crop up, is the notion of immediate software response to customer requests.

Sounds great. But when you read the fine print, it also means less one-to-one company to customer interaction. This is not a direction in which a small business wants to move.

In the end, what these million dollar CRM systems do or do not do, matters little to small businesses. The price tag is too high for most.

Is “Personalization” The Useful Part?

The better approach may be to look at some aspects of CRM to see what can be done with software on our website to provide our visitors and customers with a more pleasant and enjoyable experience. It may help to exit the CRM derby, stroll down a related path, and think of only part of it: personalization.

Neat things flow forth from this orientation. For example, maybe invite visitors to check on things new since their last visit. Or on specials for the day, specifically tailored to this visitor in some way. Or when a customer clicks a form to reorder, fill the entry fields with data provided earlier. A great time saver for the customer, something they will appreciate. Simple, effective things such as these can be abstracted from CRM models at modest cost.

Large Scale Models

Large firms with bucks to burn can make personalization central to a new kind of website. At a minimum, each page can address the visitor by name. At the extreme, the entire site can be presented according to previous information collected about this visitor. For example, if the visitor has kids, and a appropriate new product is available, it can be offered. And not offered to another visitor without children.

Building a website on the fly is a bit heavy for a small business. The coding challenge alone is heavy. The price tag for software is high.

Still, a small business can implement simple ideas as suggested above. And more will spring from these.

For Starters

As a fellow into site performance and promotion, I’m always leery of anything that may annoy a visitor. Hits are so hard to get, there’s just no point in inviting anybody to leave. So I’m very concerned about any technology that risks turning visitors away.

I used a Pentium II PC for almost two years. Beginning about a year back, some sites would not allow me to visit because I didn’t have the latest and greatest. Maybe the giants can get away with this, but a small business can not afford to lose even one visitor.

In most cases, the reason I could not visit was that my browsers could not handle the trick JavaScript in place. I’ve a new system now, just 4 months old. A couple of days back I ran into a site that told me my software is out of date.

I have the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape running. That is, the latest what work. (I couldn’t get IE 5.5 to stop locking up my new system. And I don’t know of anyone who has Netscape 6.1 running yet; I couldn’t make it work.)

To exclude any visitor because of the way a site is put together or the technology used, makes no sense to me at all. A small business can not afford this risk.

Let’s Keep It Super Simple

Your site must seek to embrace all visitors, regardless of their software or hardware. So what is needed to make such systems work is a very simple recognition procedure. It might go like this.

When a visitor arrives, put up a page in straight HTML, without any bells and whistles that would break even older browsers. (My wife still uses Win 3.1 on a 486, and won’t even talk of upgrading.)

Once the page is loaded, try running a brief JavaScript to check for a cookie. If the script fails, fall back and display only HTML pages. If the script runs, but does not find a cookie, ask the visitor if they would like a personalized visit about the site. If no, forget it. If yes, get the information, save it, and use it. And finally, given a read of a cookie, personalize as possible.

Will Bontrager <WillMaster.Com>, a top flight programmer, sees no problem in accomplishing the above. Further, he has a plan for holding costs down. Use a standard database with all possible fields, all of which will not be needed by a given site. By holding to a standard format, the great expense of a customized database installation is avoided. While Will did not put a price on it, a few hundred dollars might be ample.

With the database in place, JavaScript can handle a vast array of personalization functions. If you don’t want to get into writing this kind of code, libraries and code generators will provide you with workable code that can be cut and pasted into your pages. And, of course, there are people like Will, who will produce precisely what you need.

It’s Past Time To Be Thinking

I ignored early announcements of CRM because there did not seem to be much of value to a small business. Which is the area in which I and my clients work.

I see now, though, that there are some things that can be done in a simple, straightforward way. So long as we do not reject any visitor for lack of the latest tools, we can make the visit to our site more personal and more enjoyable for many.

Bob McElwain, author of “Your Path To Success.” How to build ANY business you want, just the way you want it, with only pocket money.
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CRM and Small Business
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