Generally speaking, every company that has had even a modicum of success has some type of customer relationship management (CRM) strategy in place. In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive business climate, having a system is one thing; having one that helps put your business ahead of everyone is something else.
While many equate CRM to computer programs, technically speaking it is not a piece of software as CRM actually predates machines. It is also not an implementation or an event; CRM is a process embodied from the highest levels of an organization and pervasive throughout.
Though there is no standard definition for CRM, a widely held one defines it as a business strategy aimed at understanding, anticipating and responding to the needs of an enterprise’s current and potential customers.
“It is a business strategy as well as a daily operational process that aligns sales teams with sales prospects and customers for higher conversion rates and customer satisfaction,” said Steven Wang, president of Floor Covering Soft.
From a technology perspective, CRM implies the integrated use of customer information combined with operational, analytical and support tools that empower staff and provide a superior delivery mechanism to clients. It is on this level where the right software is a necessary enabler to achieve most of a company’s CRM visions and objectives.
“Certainly before CRM software existed, businesses were doing customer relationship management with manual paper-based filing systems,” noted Tim Magnuson, president of Kashmoo. “But well-designed software takes much of the time and trouble out of it, and adds capabilities that would be difficult or impossible using manual methods.”
Wang added, “CRM systems help flooring business owners effectively manage their sales team by improving the productivity of individual reps with a measurable conversion rate, communication logs and schedules. With the sharing of information…it empowers teamwork.”
Like the definition itself, there are generic, off-the-shelf CRM software products retailers can purchase. But suppliers of industry-specific software point out these broad-based products will not meet their full needs due to the many unique aspects of how flooring is manufactured, marketed and, ultimately, sold.
“When someone says CRM it can mean many different things,” said Chad Ogden, CEO of QFloors. “The floor covering industry has specific needs that don’t necessarily match other industries’ CRM needs. The path that a potential lead travels in the flooring industry can differ depending on the type on customer we are looking at: retail, commercial, new construction or multi-family. Hence, our industry has specific needs that may not be covered by generic CRM products.”
For example, on the commercial side, flooring projects can take up to two years—even more—going from the initial planning stage to the actual installation. As such, tracking and assigning leads across the lifecycle of a project becomes a challenge that most other industries do not have to deal with. Throw in the fact a company is usually working and bidding on more than one potential job and the need to have a professional system in place becomes essential.
“The value of managing the relationship between the flooring dealer and potential and existing customers is something that is frequently underestimated,” said Terry Wheat, president of RFMS. “An effective software program should not simply be a record book; rather, it should be a method of organizing, managing and streamlining every single aspect of prospecting for and obtaining new customers. The data capture should start at the first point of contact—the ‘advertisement’—record a retail store visit, maintain purchase history and last, ensure future customer satisfaction.”
In today’s world, consumers, specifiers and any purchaser of flooring for that matter is much more educated than ever before. Thanks to the Internet, buyers can research products like never before and, in some cases, come away more educated than the person or place they eventually make the purchase. Added to this is the economic hard times that have not only befallen most; the recession has changed how people shop, what they buy and even how products are made.
Anticipating needs, trends
As Cathy Welsh, operations manager for CDMS, noted, on the residential side alone, consumers know competing pricing on a product of interest and details such as care and warranties. “In order to beat your competitor for the sale and get continued support from the client, you have to provide outstanding customer support, before, during and after the sale.”
Knowing this, she added, “You need to anticipate any issues that a customer may have with the product, installation or care. You can also anticipate what type of product a consumer may purchase by watching trends in the industry, in your town and even your individual store.”
This is why experts say CRM software specifically designed not just for the industry but the type(s) of market you serve is essential. “CRM empowers users to manage a high volume of ongoing interest and contacts from clients and prospects, to stay in tune and time with the prospective business opportunity,” said Don Kilbourne, Pacific Solutions’ vice president of sales.
“The primary components that any flooring dealer can employ instantly are recall alerts, integrated email, meetings scheduled within an email and contact database, and a structure that captures the clients evolving interest and comments that indicate their wants and needs.”
Kashmoo’s Magnuson agreed with both Welsh and Kilburne, adding, “A good CRM strategy would include an analytical reporting capability to enable the business to ‘slice and dice’ the historical data to gain insights and make decisions.”
Because of this, he said CRM is not just a module that can be “slapped onto existing software. The entire system must be designed from the ground up to support what we call an ‘integrated top-down’ view. By this we mean a user should be able to perform any action and get to any information that he needs from anywhere throughout the software system with the least number of actions. A complete CRM system will include not only prospect and customer information management and marketing management, but fully integrated notes, email, web links, maps, work orders and analytical reporting, among other things.”
In the end, Kilbourne said a solid CRM software system helps a business become more professional by being more efficient when it comes to providing quality customer service. “And that efficiency translates into higher profit.”
So, just what do some of the industry main software suppliers offer in the realm of CRM? See the next issue of FCNews for a summary of not just their offerings but what makes each program unique.