What Should Be on Your Organization's End-of-Year CRM Shopping List?

(Originally published in the November/December 2004 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness.)

By William K. Pollock

The end of each year is typically the time when an organization either runs out of budget for CRM-related projects, or it still has some money left to fund smaller programs, or get some larger programs jump started. Either way, November and December are generally the "use it, or lose it" months budget-wise and, as such, now may be the last best time you have remaining before the end of the year to take advantage of some last-minute business intelligence shopping. At this point in the year, businesses can typically be divided into two main categories:

  1. Those that already have a plan in place to start off 2005 with their feet running at 120 miles per hour - all in the right direction; and
  2. Those that may not yet have either a plan - or a clue - as to what their first actions should be going into the new year.
Many in the former category now find themselves looking for additional market, customer, or competitive information to provide a last-minute "sanity check", or to expand their knowledge base to include as much tactical information as possible to ensure that they will be making all the right moves, at the right times, and in the right markets as the new year begins. However, those in the latter category may, instead, find themselves about to enter the new year with little focus, little direction, and no plan for keeping pace with their customers' demands. In either case, more business intelligence is needed - and there is certainly enough time between now and the end of the year to collect the necessary information, process it, and use it to kick off the new year with as many "tools in your belt" as possible to improve your chances for growth. The following are some ways to maximize the impact of your year-end business intelligence activities under a number of alternative business scenarios:
  1. If your organization has recently launched (or plans to launch) new products, services, or support offerings, the present timeframe is perfect for "testing" the market for these new offerings, by:

    • Conducting a new product/service feasibility study among existing and/or prospective customers to identify and quantify the specific "matches" between the new offerings' attributes, and prospective customers' expectations, needs, demands, and preferences. At this time of the year, a limited scope, highly targeted prospective customer survey can easily be conducted to identify the key attributes that customers want from the new products and services; the "matches" (and gaps) between their wants and your product/service offerings; and the best ways in which to communicate the principal "matches" to them (i.e., getting the right word out, to the right segments, through the most effective marketing and promotional media, etc.).

    • Preparing an internal/external services "spec sheet" to inform and educate both your internal employees (i.e., sales, marketing, services, product managers, etc.) and your external market base (i.e., customers, prospects, industry analysts, media groups, etc.) as to what specifically your new offerings are; what their principal attributes, value, and benefits are; and why they will need to purchase/acquire them from you as soon as possible. Your sales force cannot sell your new products and services unless they first know what they are, who to sell them to, and what to include among their principal selling points.

    • Preparing a focused marketing and promotional campaign to ensure that the proper "message" is articulated and communicated to the targeted market base. Most organizations already have their own internal or outsourced marketing and PR resources; however, these resources are often deficient in their ability to articulate the true essence of your new product offerings beyond merely the new features, brand names, and model numbers. Now is the time to get your "messages" effectively articulated, so that once your new products and services are ready to "hit the street", your "message" has already reached the market.

    • Conducting an internal operations assessment for delivering the new product/service offerings to identify whether your existing service operations need to be merely "tweaked", or totally reengineered, in order to meet the demands of a changing services delivery model. If you're planning to change your product and services portfolio, you will most certainly also need to change your service delivery model.

    • Conducting a competitive intelligence overview and assessment of who your new competitors will be; how your old competitors are likely to act or react; and how your own organization will need to change to prepare itself for an entirely new set of competitors. Competitive vendor intelligence and profiling can easily be performed at this time - or any time - of the year, and can be effectively used to prepare for the launch of the new product/service lines in the new year without delay.

  2. If your organization has experienced (or anticipates experiencing) declines in sales, revenues, or market share, now is a critical time to gain a better understanding of the underlying reasons for these declines, attainable by:

    • Conducting a customer needs and requirements assessment/customer satisfaction survey designed to identify the specific reasons for why customers "buy" - and don't "buy" - the company's products and services; what their plans are for acquiring/purchasing the company's products and services in the future; what their prospective price points will be; and where you will need to focus next year in order to improve your service delivery performance, and increase the corresponding levels of customer satisfaction and retention.

    • Conducting a market awareness, image, and reputation study in order to see exactly where you stand in the competitive marketplace. The general "rule of thumb" is that if your sales, revenues, or market share have begun to decline among your existing customer base, and the market as-a-whole is already pretty well aware of your organization, its products and services - then, you may be experiencing the beginning of a long (or, rather, quick), hard decline. However, if a large percentage of the marketplace does not yet know who you are, what you do, and what you offer - then, you may actually be in a better situation, where all you really need to do to reverse the decline is re-direct your sales, marketing and promotional "messages" to these here-to-fore "unaware" market prospects.

  3. If your organization is like any other services organization, there are still some market research and consulting tools you can utilize to provide you with both strategic and tactical direction before the end of the year, including:

    • Conducting an operations assessment and business process evaluation/reengineering program to identify where your current operations may reflect inefficiencies or redundancies, and where you will need to focus next year on making specific, prioritized operational improvements.

    • Conducting a vertical market segment/competitive vendor analysis and profiling study to identify, analyze, and prioritize the most attractive vertical market segments/sub-segments for future business development, and profile the most relevant vendors that you will be competing with in your "new" market space.

    • Conducting a channel partner needs & requirements/satisfaction survey (e.g., among dealers, distributors, resellers, VARs, etc.) to determine their respective sales, marketing, and technical support needs & requirements from your organization, as well as to identify what more they may require to assist them in selling or supporting your company's products, services and solutions in the field.

    • Conducting custom research studies in areas such as market/survey research that would result in the company's increased ability to identify, understand, assess, and prioritize its most attractive market targets/prospects, and "arm" its salespeople with as much "pre-qualified" lead information as possible, before they make their 2005 sales calls.

    • Writing a "white paper" and/or having an article published (in Sbusiness) to get your "message" out to your targeted markets, as focused as possible, and through the most effective media.

Granted, some of these activities may take longer than just a month or two to design, execute, and complete. However, nearly all can be effectively kicked-off in a relatively short period of time - and many can be completed, with a final report on your desk before New Years Eve! That is, if you start quickly!

Every business manager could conceivably benefit from the ability to pick off some "low hanging fruit" before the end of the year. In order to accomplish this, however, some choices have to be made quickly. If your organization still has some budget dollars left in the current year, some of these options may appear quite attractive. But, even if there are no dollars left for this year, now is still the best time to get your plans - and resources - firmed up for an immediate jump start as soon as possible after January 1st.

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.

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