Smart marketers pride themselves on understanding their customers. The smartest use customer relationship management (CRM) software. Here’s why.

Research shows that while 76% of marketers claim they know what their customers want, only 34% have ever asked them. This perception gap, a phrase coined by Brian Solis and his team at Pivot, is the gap between what customers want and what executives think they want, and is a pretty fascinating topic.

Making assumptions about your customers can be costly. On the flip side, understanding what your customers need and want can enable even the smallest of businesses to leapfrog their competition.

Can you answer these questions?

  • What are the top three problems that keep your customers up at night?
  • What are the top three products or services you offer that can help your customers solve their greatest problems?
  • When is the last time your customer purchased one of those same three services from you?
  • How long did the sales cycle take in selling the product or service to your customer?
  • How many touches did the sale require from a sales or customer service representative?
  • What opportunities exist for you to shorten the length of the sales cycle?
  • What upsell opportunities exist? What upsell opportunities were lost?
  • How satisfied was the customer with the buying process?
  • Does the customer plan to buy from you again? If yes, when? If no, why not?
  • What other contacts exist in the customer’s organization for you to build a relationship?
  • What other near- or long-term future sales opportunities exist within the client department or organization?
  • Do all of the teams within your organization have access to the data they need to collaborate, nurture leads, and ensure the best possible experience for your customer?

Unfortunately, many small and midsize businesses may have this information in their heads, but are not tracking it anywhere. It often lives in the minds of salespeople, product marketing managers, CEOs, and even customer service/support reps.

The power of a customer relationship management (CRM) platform can make or break your business. It’s often the simplest insights that can improve collaboration, decrease sales cycles, and increase revenue.

We all know it’s much easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. So why is it that so many marketers skip the most important aspect of sales: ongoing customer relationship management?

What business are you leaving on the table from not doing your homework about your customer on a continuous basis? What relationships do you have that are not being nurtured properly because of a lack of collaboration and data to identify needs and next steps?

Knowing your customer requires more than just understanding their social media behaviors, buying patterns, or simply reading industry reports. Too often marketers get hung up on doing the upfront market research before a product or business launch. They lose sight of the importance of continuous customer understanding and keeping the relationship thriving.

All businesses have countless opportunities to collect customer data throughout the customer lifecycle. The secret to success lies in using that data to better serve your customers, to retain them, and to sell them more products or services.

Customer relationship management platforms enable business leaders and their sales and marketing teams to stay on top of individual customer buying patterns. The patterns can illustrate trends that may be impacting their sales, delivery, and service success.

What may seem like an unimportant customer data point can prove valuable over time, particularly when coupled with additional data sources.

Many organizations invest in complicated or complex CRM systems, only to find they don’t have the resources in-house to manage them. Instead, the focus should be on right-sizing your system, processes, and management.

Here are 8 tips to take your customer relationship management to the next level this year:

  1. Do your research on the best CRM for your business. Identify your most important tactical and strategic needs, then evaluate what customer relationship management platforms make the most sense for your business. One size definitely does not fit all.
  2. Know what success looks like. What are your goals in choosing a a customer relationship management platform? What metrics will help guide your transformation to the new customer relationships you desire?
  3. Get real with your available resources to acquire, prepare, implement, and maintain your new CRM software. Ask the hard questions and make certain you know what you are getting into regarding all costs and time considerations. Will you need to outsource and get extra help for research, implementation, or strategic guidance? Would it be better to outsource the day-to-day management? Do you have the internal resources necessary to maintain the software, or do you want to hire the internal resources?
  4. Ask for testimonials. Even if the CRM provider has readily available testimonials from your niche and industry on  its website, ask for additional customer references. Then call those references and ask them questions about processes, implementation, what they like, what challenges they experienced, and what they might do differently.
  5. Ask your peers. Never underestimate the power of your peers. Ask your peers what customer relationship management platforms they use, and why they like them. Read online reviews and search for forums and groups devoted to discussing technology of this nature. The more work you do up front, the more you’ll know and the happier you’ll be with whatever it is you choose.
  6. Plan for the transfer from your existing CRM application. What are the necessary steps, costs, and time frames associated with the transfer to the new system?
  7. Develop a detailed plan for execution. Set solid goals, timelines, milestones, and responsibilities. Make sure you encourage collaboration across the organization, including different departments and teams.
  8. Measure your progress so you can continually optimize. After implementation, measure the results of the program. Are you using customer relationship management to its fullest potential? Are critical teams and employees using the CRM software and filling it with valuable customer data as they should be? Have you set up the proper integration, enabling the best implementation? How and what are you continuously learning about your customer so that you can enhance the customer relationships?

Nurturing customer relationships is not a one-time event. Customer relationship management should be a foundation of success for any size business. It is a journey, not a destination. As marketers and business leaders, we should always be learning about our customers with a goal that they will fall more in love with our brand, products, services, and people as a result. The more we know them, the better we can serve them.

Here’s an infographic developed by Solis and Pivot based on their perception-gap research if you’d like a deeper dive:

The Perception Gap

From Visually.

This article has been brought to you in part by SAP Digital CRMVisit the SAP Store to find out how SAP Digital CRM can help you supercharge your marketing and sell more, and register for the free 30-day trial.

Blog originally published on SAP Digital.