By John Ratliff
In today’s fast-paced business environment, successful companies know their customers and quickly respond to their needs. To react to these interactions with clients and prospects must be tracked. This requires the organized collection and distribution of a large quantity of data. A solid contact management program is a tool for gathering, tracking, analyzing, and distributing this data. Such data can be one of the most valuable assets your company will ever have. It is also one of the most underutilized.
What is contact management? It’s a systematic way of managing all interactions between your business and the outside world. It’s performed through a single database that contains detailed information about all past interactions and scheduled future interactions. Used effectively, contact management software provides a record of the past, a picture of the present, and a schedule for the future.
Tracking these interactions can be done any number of ways but here we will deal specifically with software-driven contact management. There are three software packages at the forefront of effective contact management: Goldmine, Act!, and Maximizer. We will not deal with the specifics of each package but they can all perform the functions discussed.
So we know what contact management is, but what constitutes a contact? When someone interacts with your business it is a contact, regardless of who initiated the interaction. It can take the form of an inbound phone call, email, a fax, a letter or even a customer visit. Outbound calls, emails, faxes, and letters are also contacts. As a result of these contacts, your company will have a significant amount of information to keep track of. Contact management software can help you do this.
Implementing a contact management program can change your business, but it must be done carefully. Effective contact management requires a tremendous attention to detail, dedication by all members of your team, and an organized approach. If your company is dedicated to this effort, it’s likely to bring positive results, but a haphazard approach can be damaging.
There are three key areas where a contact management program can bring immediate benefits to your company:
Prospective Customers: New customer leads are critically important. They should be managed and nurtured as a valued asset. A contact management program can help you do just that, enabling you to track leads from start to finish. It also lets you see which opportunities are in the pipeline, where leads are coming from, and how your salespeople are doing in their follow-up work. The ability to get an overview of your sales and marketing efforts can in itself justify implementing a contact management program.
Such details come in the form of contact management reporting. Reports can be run on any pre-determined parameters. For instance, a report can list all new sales leads generated in a given time period that resulted in new customer wins.
To effectively track sales staff effectiveness you can run reports that show outbound calls to potential customers. For instance, a report can show how many calls Joe Salesguy made between February 2nd and 6th to contacts labeled “hot prospect.” You’ll be able to determine whether your salespeople are making the proper effort.
Contact management software also offers the ability to see an overview of your sales pipeline. This feature typically requires the most effort and is often underutilized, but it helps companies gain a wider perspective on how to improve their business. Each incoming lead is assigned a potential dollar value and a percentage chance of becoming a customer. As the prospect moves through the sales cycle, probabilities and dollar values can be adjusted, giving an accurate prediction of potential new sales.
If a sale is lost, contact management software tools provide an accurate history of all interactions with the prospect, so the user can determine the reason for losing the sale. Often you can spot trends in missed steps in the sales cycle or long response times that may indicate problems. This provides the ability to determine, and then script, a sales cycle that will be most effective for your organization. The ability to schedule future interactions makes your company better positioned to meet your goals.
One of the largest expenses in some organizations is advertising, yet advertising tracking seems to be a lost art. Contact management software is the ultimate advertising tracking tool. With the ability to run custom reports and set your own parameters, advertising can be tracked in many ways. It allows advertising programs to be as specific or as broad as needs dictate. For instance, companies that advertise in one or two directories may only need to know if a lead was directory generated, or came from word of mouth. Organizations using ten directories may need more details, and the flexibility is built into the software to track those details. Advertising spending can then be evaluated by return on investment.
Managing the sales and marketing process through a contact management program will greatly increase your chances of success. A few extra clients a year that would have otherwise slipped through the cracks is likely to more than cover the cost of the program.
Existing Customers: Using a contact management program to manage interactions with your existing customers may be the most powerful change you can make to your business. It will also yield the most immediate benefit to your bottom line. Think how many customer interactions occur each day in your business. Now think where all those interactions are tracked, if they are tracked at all. An effective contact management program gives you a complete history of every interaction. The software can also prompt proactive customer contacts to get ahead of problems before they start.
Customer service problems can be coded in your contact management system and reports can then be run against those codes. For instance, the software can tell you how many customers called during a given month and complained that an agent misspelled a name. Again, the ability to spot trends in customer service complaints can be an early indicator of service delivery problems that must be addressed. Previously this was done by intuition but now there is hard data to give a true picture.
There is also tremendous goodwill to be gained from contacting customers on a proactive, rather than reactive basis. Contact management software allows the opportunity to schedule interactions in the future, serving as a reminder to call customers whenever necessary. You may want to make a proactive contact every three months, or six months, or even two weeks depending on your size. This can all be prescheduled by the contact management software package. There is also a way to capture some details of these interactions, which can then be used to show trends in customer satisfaction.
Such packages also offer the ability to sell new features to existing customers. By using a contact management program to track which customers are using certain features, your sales team can look for selling opportunities in the existing client base. The mail merge features available, both for email and direct mail, provide the ability to keep your client and prospect bases up-to-date on new features in which they may have interest.
Former Customers: Losing a client is always tough on your business, but contact management gives you a systematic way of trying to win back those clients. Often when clients leave they are forgotten, but that does not have to be the case. Using the mail merge features of contact management software, along with the scheduling features, you can create a customer win-back program that is handled automatically by your software.
An automated process can be triggered by changing the client status, in this case from “client” to “former client,” and a whole chain of events is set in motion. For example, assume you want to email former clients a copy of your newsletter once a month and send an offer to return to the service at a discount every six months. This can all be built into an automated process that starts the instant the status is changed, and will continue in the background without any additional interaction until the process is complete.
It is also valuable to do an exit interview when clients leave and track this information in your contact management system. Reports can be run to spot trends in client cancellations and solve any quality control problems. What was formerly done through intuition can now be supported through hard data.
Former client reports can also be used to track lost revenue. This gives the ability to get a better picture of the costs associated with client retention, the value of each client, as well as the client lifecycle. It is valuable information to share with frontline staff to show the potential revenue damage from each client cancellation. This makes a great motivator to increase quality levels.
There can tremendous benefit in implementing a contact management system in your company. By capturing current and prospective client information, your company can be positioned to respond quickly to your marketplace with information on demand. This information will allow you to spot trends to create and improve your service offering. A well-executed contact management system will improve your customer service level, reduce your time to market with new service offerings, and potentially help you reduce labor cost by working smarter instead of harder.
John Ratliff is the owner of Appletree Answering Service in Wilmington, Delaware. John is a member of ASTAA and NAEO and is currently on the board of directors of ATSI. Appletree Answering Service has been serving its marketplace since 1995.
Contract Management Software Vendors
As mentioned in the Contact Management Software article, three popular contact management software packages are Goldmine, Act!, and Maximizer. There are countless other contact management programs as well, but three that are noteworthy are QuickNotes 2003 from FigmentSoft, Eden Sales Manager from Unicom Global, and People from Brewster Software. Details on these programs follows:
Eden Sales Manager from Eden Communications uses runs on the Lotus Domino platform and is a Web-based multi-user product. The software provides control over the complete marketing and sales pipeline and process, including:
- Unlimited contacts with notes and history
- Consolidated account activity and history
- Integrated marketing library
- Sophisticated knowledge base
- Processes to automatically schedule activities
- Creation of letters, faxes, memos, email and other documents on the fly
- Automatic pop-up alarm reminders
- Complete Internet compatibility
- Full user guide
Pricing varies depending on configuration; per user pricing is $750. Eden provides live telephone support on a 24 hours basis. “Eden exceeded my expectations,” said user Matthew Gardner, vice president of Transchannel.
People from Brewster Software is a single-user package for Macintosh computers. It is a full-featured personal information manager (PIM) for Macintosh that offers tools for organizing client, personal and calendar information . People software is $29.95 per copy. Technical support via email is free.
The organizer offers plenty of room for details, using intuitively placed contact management features and Internet integration. Some advanced features include the ability to receive and send email (with attachments), do email merge, build email address lists from received emails, fax, mail, link other application documents to contact cards, and upload contact information to Palm devices. Key features include:
- The ability to organize up to 100,000 contacts
- 15-field profile area
- Sales-oriented daily follow-up lists
- Auto-dial phone
- Search all text areas
“I am especially thrilled. Creating lists using filters and using them to send out mass emails is quite easy,” said user Ursula Soyezof the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation. “I have been looking for a good contact management software for a while now, and yours is definitely the most advanced and intuitive I’ve come across so far.”
[From Connection Magazine – May 2003]