Your Conversational Website As A CRM Tool

It’s a new year and amid all the pundits telling us that this will be the year of the (fill in the blank, depending on who’s doing the forecasting), it seems to me that online marketing may need to get back to basics for a while. No matter what other esoteric e-marketing techniques may be in style, to my mind, marketing in 2012 is still about two things: getting the customer to your website, and getting the customer to make a purchase there.

For those of us interested in customer relationship management—and who isn’t, these days?—CRM is about two things: getting the customer to your website, and getting the customer to make a purchase there.

Yes, you read that right. At the end of the day, the goals are the same: we want to keep our customers happy so that they will continue to purchase from us, and so that they will go out and encourage others to purchase from us. All the rest is fluff.

So maybe it’s a good idea to start the year by looking at your website and determining if it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing: encouraging customers to continue to purchase from it, and encouraging them to spread the word about it.

Let’s start with the basics. Can your website hold an intelligent conversation with your subscribers each time they return to visit it? Can it analyze their behavior individually, and respond with appropriate navigation and follow up emails to best meet their needs—and do it all quickly enough to keep their attention?

Most e-marketing companies are getting very good at optimizing their websites with reporting, analytics, and technology. On the other hand, it’s become extremely clear to me that in most cases, the current level of website-subscriber conversation is not close to optimal. And that’s not all. If there is a conversation at all (and it’s sad to see that in many cases there isn’t any), it typically stops the moment your customers leave your website. This creates a less-than-satisfactory experience both for you and your subscribers each time they come back to your website. Look at it this way: you’d have pretty stilted conversations with your friends if you saw them once a month, with no communication in between, wouldn’t you? Of course, you would: conversation needs to be ongoing in order to be effective.

There are two components to building a conversational website:

  • optimizing navigation and collecting data at key navigation points, and
  • using the data collected to continue the conversation once the person has left the website.

Do you remember playing the game we used to call “21 Questions”? The object is to identify a person or item someone’s thinking about by asking questions, and the person getting the answer after asking the fewest possible questions is the winner. Why not play that game right now with your website? Why not ask others to play it while you sit back and see what answers they come up with?

There are two reasons to do this exercise:

  • it will help you improve the customer experience at your website and making it easier for them to find what they are looking for.
  • It will help you remove noise from the data you collect about your customers so that you can continue your conversation based on information that reveals the true purpose for subscriber’s visit to the website.

Once you have the data in hand, you can take your website examination to the next level: use it to answer the important questions.

  • How well do you currently identify relevant content and offers based on the visitors’ behaviors while on your website?
  • Are the content and offers likely to meet the visitors’ needs and goals?
  • Are you providing content and offers that can be sent via email shortly after the visitor leaves your website?
  • Does your website give content and offers that will both confirm the relevancy of the conversation … and add value to the subscriber experience?

Using your website as a CRM tool is all about developing satisfactory, fulfilling conversations with your subscribers every time they visit your website, conversations that over time generate more sales and higher ROI because you’ve found a better way to provide your subscribers with exactly what they are looking for—and you’re doing it in a format that makes your site an interactive resource and destination they look forward to using over and over again.

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