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Personalizing With Purpose

Most e-commerce sites still struggle to leverage the growing wealth of customer data to which they have access. This failure to integrate customer relationship management (CRM) activities with online visitor behavior is wasting a significant opportunity to transform CRM into Customer Relationship Marketing.

During the last economic downturn, the Web was the only sales channel that grew, while brick-and-mortar businesses contracted significantly. The Web is now such a powerful, commanding route to market that in some pre-Internet sectors, more than 90% of business is now done online. Moreover, this year Cyber Monday sales alone hit $1.98 billion.

One of the best examples of this growth in e-commerce is the airline industry, which was once dominated by call center activity. Today, JetBlue now handles more than 80 percent of its reservation transactions online. Yet, while Internet businesses have made great progress in catching up with more traditional sales outlets in terms of the breadth and sophistication of their product offerings and how they are presented online, they have failed to integrate their CRM activities, which limits their impact as they try to personalize promotional offers.

Following the Leaders

Amazon.com certainly set the gold standard for best practices in personalization—with its unparalleled ability to recognize and deftly exploit consumers' online browsing and buying habits. But, it also has the advantage that its route to market was 100% Web-based. Certainly, many ecommerce shops attempt to mimic Amazon's highly successful interactions with returning customers ("You were interested in XYZ, so you may enjoy ABC," etc.) -- but most companies are not going far enough, allowing customers to slip through the cracks. For instance, an insurance business may not realize that the person making a call center inquiry about auto insurance was just browsing life insurance offers on the Web the day before calling.

Going for Cross Channel Optimization

However, the website is just one of several channels—and consumers don’t think in channels, they think in brands. So, as hard as some have worked to blend their operations and business data across their brick-and-mortar, call center and Web operations, many gaps still exist.

Disjointed marketing and sales practices are leading to frustrated and disgruntled customers when they are forced to rehash the same details whenever they switch between channels. This scenario is one that causes many customers to abandon their inquiries and take their business elsewhere.

Consider financial services as an example. A bank, which might use its CRM system and propensity modeling to address gaps in a customer's portfolio of products, may suggest a new account upgrade, an improved insurance policy, or a more favorable home equity line through the customer's local branch or a direct mail offer. But what if that same bank knew that a customer had visited its mortgage calculator facility when last visiting its website? This would present an ideal opportunity to make a timely, customized offer. Even more compelling would be to have the offer serve as the primary landing page content presented the next time the customer goes online to transfer money or pay a bill.

The ability to adapt online content for customers and prospects based on their known preferences is a powerful way to build and strengthen relationships, particularly if dovetailed with offline activities.

The Path to CRM Nirvana

he potential impact of personalized marketing over the Web is undisputedly enormous. E-business owners have about seven seconds to capture the attention of an online visitor and engage their interest. If this opportunity is lost, the customer will move to a competitor. And if that competitive experience provides more relevant, personalized content and a pertinent offer, the customer may never come back -- despite previous loyalty to the brand.

Imagine if it were possible provide real-time targeting your visitors while they were still browsing your site, therefore able to influence their final purchase— no hoping for the next visit, no lost opportunities. Instead, you seize the moment, right when it matters. Imagine the possibilities and the revenue potential it could bring.

It is imperative that companies integrate customer data across all channels. Understanding what customers have been doing across channels can make every interaction an extension of what they may have begun elsewhere -- creating a more personal, relevant and rewarding experience for both the customer and the business.

While the majority of organizations appreciate the value of personalization (Forrester Research notes that organizations have wanted to personalize their Web marketing for the past 15 years), only a small minority have actually followed through.

The building blocks exist to get e-businesses started -- organizations can model what customers do as they navigate a site's Web pages, and they can segment this data so it can be used for tailored promotions both on the Web, during a current or future session, or across other channels. Nirvana is a fully integrated CRM solution that feeds into specific online offers.

By waiting to see what the competition does first, companies risk losing the advantage -- and customers. Use the personalization capabilities available today to move swiftly, offer a killer deal, and potentially gain a lifelong customer.

Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating buzz for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the...

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