This maxim of Alfred Korzybski came to my mind when someone reacted to my previous blog, “Cupid and Psyche: Marketers must ‘delve deep’ to know their clients”. Here I argued that marketers must delve deep to discover the positive values in a client that motivate his purchase in order to appeal to and satisfy these positive drives. This unique form of relationship marketing (RM) leads to a truly satisfied customer, as opposed to marketing methods that appeal to people’s impulses, which brings out their negative traits and keeps them constantly seeking more.
Upon presenting my arguments, I received an e-mail from someone who claimed that there is a tool that answers marketers’ need to “delve deep” and truly know their customers. He said this tool was Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – in particular, his version of the software.
CRM is a widely used model for managing a company’s interactions with its customers and potential clients. It utilizes technology to track, organize, and automate its sales, marketing, and customer service activities. Its purpose is to utilize prior information about customers and their buying habits to enable the company to synchronise its activities so as to retain existing customers, identify new customers, and reduce operation costs.
Can the CRM method help up us understand our customers enough to truly satisfy them? As an example, take a popular version of a CRM program which I was recently introduced to. This CRM program proposes that when talking to a prospective customer one should ask four questions: What product is the customer interested in? What is his budget? Who is the decision-maker? When does he plan to purchase?
What kind of information do these questions give us? A man walks into a hardware store, looking for an electric saw. He says he’d like to spend no more than $100. The decision-maker seems to be him and he says he wants to purchase today. Using the above questions, we know is that he wants a particular product, feels comfortable spending a particular sum of money, will make the purchase himself and wants to purchase soon. Yet the customer himself – his motivations, his needs, and his values are completely unaddressed.
Answering these questions answers the “What?” “How much?” “Who?” and “When?” questions, but does not even touch the “How?” and “Why?” questions. Yet it is precisely the “How?” and “Why?” questions that teach us who our customer is, what he wants, and how a particular purchase addresses his needs. Does the fact that he wants an electric saw tell us what project he is working on and what it is for? Does his budget tell us what values may be motivating his purchase – whether they be family enjoyment, efficient storage, creative expression, or any number of other things? Not at all.
In the luxury market, customers often do not even have answers to the CRM questions. For instance in diamonds, a woman may not know what she is interested in, may assume she does not have the budget, might defer the decision to someone else, and certainly does not know when she plans to purchase. So what do we gain from using this CRM approach here? Not only do we not learn anything about our customer, we basically disqualify her as one. Because of this, Randy Pearson, the manager of Kahro Diamonds inRaleigh, says, following this kind of CRM method might cause him to lose all his customers. If we had been asking the “How?” and “Why?” questions to begin with, perhaps we could have appealed to what she was looking for on a deeper level and helped her make a truly satisfying purchase.
So we return to the question, does the CRM method help you know your customer enough to truly satisfy him? While the above and other CRM methods sometimes give us an abstract, map-like knowledge of the customer, they do not reveal his deeper needs. Though sometimes we can use such a map to make sales, we cannot use it to truly know our customers. We need to know the territory – who our customers are, why they want a particular product, and how that product addresses their needs and values – in order to truly satisfy them.
As a marketing approach, CRM is shallow – it barely scratches the surface of the customer. RM at least seeks to understand the customer and is therefore effective, though it can be used manipulatively. However, for the most part both are based on the wrong principle – self-interest instead of interest in the customer. We might as well rephrase the questions above: What product can I sell you? What’s the maximum that I can make selling it to you? Who should I speak with to make the sale? When will I make this sale? When CRM is used in conjunction with true knowledge of the customer, it may be very helpful. But used as the only tool for knowing the customer, it easily degenerates into a self-centered marketing tool with the seller’s interests at the center and the customer, a pawn for serving them. By contrast, we seek to know more than the surface of the customer and ask the “How?” and “Why?” questions in order to help us address the wellbeing of the customer and his values and needs.
CRM might be an excellent tool once we know who our customer is and what he wants. But CRM cannot replace real knowledge of the customer. More so, if we rely solely on CRM to know our customers, we may fall into the trap of merely satisfying ourselves. Alone, CRM cannot be an effective marketing tool. Using it, we may realize that not only do we not know the territory of our customers, but the map we are using is actually a map of our own interests. To market effectively and morally, we need a tool that enables us to look deeper.