Back to the Future

Back to the Future
by Andrew Szabo

Often I find myself counseling our clients to market with a customer-centric approach versus a product-centric approach. This thinking is supported by the results of a survey of global companies that I recently came across. The Economist Intelligence Unit and Andersen Consulting contend that “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) is becoming central to corporate strategy. While only 18 percent of businesses surveyed are currently organized around customer type, the figure is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2002.

Since the Internet allows the (already unpredictable) customers to exercise even greater freedom of choice, major corporations must therefore craft a clear customer relationship strategy. Businesses are shifting their attention from attracting new customers to retaining profitable ones and fully realizing their profit potential. And, in some cases, they will “choose-to-loose” unprofitable customers.

“Focusing on customer needs seems the most basic, fundamental tenet of business. Yet, major corporations are just now beginning to blend strategic thinking, management resources, front-line support and technology to better understand and serve more sophisticated buyers,” said Dale Renner, global managing partner of Andersen Consulting’s Customer Relationship Management practice. “In the wake of relentless cost-cutting, organizations are developing long-term customer relationships as a path to enhancing profitability … this shift is nothing short of revolutionary.”

Other major findings of the survey include:

  • Companies are becoming more sophisticated at tracking customer profitability. Nearly 50% said that customer profitability would be a critical measure by 2002, up from 26% today.
  • By 2002, 83 percent of companies expect to have customer data warehouses, up from about 40 percent today.
  • More than 60% of businesses believe that “changing customer demographics and needs” and the “pressure to customize” their offerings in light of these changes, now have the most profound influences on their business
    strategies.
  • This new sophisticated approach will be aided by the evolution in interactive technology, specifically the soaring popularity of the Internet. Companies predict their use of the Internet to collect customer data will surge 430% by 2002.

Since not all customers are created equal companies need to build viable relationships to intelligently gather more data and discern the differences among customers. This “customer knowledge” can shape their offerings and marketing propositions based on the relative value these customers bring to the enterprise.

At The Marketing Chef we are particularly excited by the Internet’s capability to build customer knowledge. In my previous life in direct marketing we were able to build databases over a few months using mail, within weeks by telephone, but now with the Internet we can literally help our clients build at the speed of light! In addition, not only is it faster but also it is qualitatively far richer. New levels of customer learning lead to an increased ability to communicate with relevance to a targeted audience that is interested.

So the future lies in developing intelligent relevant relationships …  a premise that dates back to the prehistoric dawn of communication.  Back to the future.

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