If you are currently using a customer relationship management (CRM) program to manage your contacts, there are numerous easy ways to drive additional utility and sales out of the program.  If you aren’t using a CRM yet, you should find one and adopt it throughout your organization. Look into the best-known programs, find one that best matches your needs, and let the tie-breaking vote be the ability to easily get under the hood and customize it to your specific requirements.

Ideally, a CRM program should be flexible enough to allow field sales professionals to track residential and commercial leads and to help senior management track relationships with strategic customers, potential acquisition targets, prospective hires and key vendors. My experience with CRMs began in 1995 when the prevailing level of technology was so low that, in order to back up my growing CRM, I had to use 13 3.5-inch disks. Since then, CRM technology has greatly improved. Here are some of the better tips I have for those building or improving their own CRM.

Get All the Names

It all starts with a first and last name, obviously, but you’d better also capture the nickname you hear in a voicemail message or used by the receptionist. Asking for Reginald will not work if he goes by Reggie. Also, have a field to capture the pronunciation of the name, such as using rhyming words or those pronounced similarly. There are many father-and-son teams in the building products industry, so make sure you have a field to capture junior, senior, the third and so forth. You should note the assistant’s name, too, since they can be invaluable in getting on the prospect’s calendar.

When you’re calling on heads of companies or prospective hires, it’s a good idea to ask whether their email is confidential. It is best to have two email fields, one for personal and one for business. When in doubt, assume the personal email is more confidential than the work email.  It’s obvious that a CRM should keep track of a person’s current position, but we also like to keep track of the former company as well. If you’ve ever tried to think of a person you want to contact as “the woman that used to work at XYZ company,” you need this field.

Follow the Money

Your CRM should also include a set of fields to capture relevant company financial information, whether it’s for a company you’re seeking to acquire or a competitor. It’s best to note not only the revenue and EBITDA but the time period of the estimate, as well as the source. There is a huge difference between financial data heard in the market vs. data provided directly by the management team.

A CRM should be designed to capture your marketing programs at a glance. Consider listing years in rows and marketing efforts, such as letters, a personal call, sending a brochure, etc., across the columns. In that way, you can have a multi-year, multi-program view of how intensively you’ve pursued a given prospect, all at a glance. Keep track of product categories purchased by customers to help identify cross-selling opportunities.

The Trade-Show Angle

Your CRM should include an area with check boxes to flag dealers and prospects that you know attend certain trade shows and industry meetings. That makes it very easy, in the months running up to that show, to send an email to set a meeting: “I know you usually attend the Remodeling Show, etc., Let’s plan to meet for a few minutes at the show.” It’s a very non-threatening way to maximize the value of your time at the show. We recommend against renting a venue for meetings away from the main show venue, such as a hotel conference room. Doing so will force the attendee to add additional transit or walking time away from the show when they decide whether to meet you. And skip the coffee shop at the venue. You’ll burn 30 minutes in line, which is 6 percent of your day if the show floor is open for eight hours.

The final commandment of CRMs is to keep them updated. Designate someone in your company to capture and process all the emails and newsletters you get announcing promotions, new hires, new addresses, and similar items. Care for your CRM the way you would a gold mine and that is exactly how it will perform for you.

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