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What’s the one thing all editors want? Besides pictures of Paris Hilton? Easy — something creative and original.

To an editor that’s one thing: “Dave, do something creativeandoriginal on how to be creativeandoriginal with CRM. 1,000 words. Before lunch.”

“Right,” swiveling around in my cubicle, “just finished one here, ‘How Nostradamus and Aleister Crowley’s Management Advice Can Help Avoid The Top Ten Mistakes Made Implementing CRM On The Balearic Islands During The Vernal Equinox Under the 1744 Codification of the Rules of Cricket Translated in Hungarian With Navajo Commentary.”

“Aw, I saw that on Google last week. Sheesh — tell you what, cut the title to ‘Top Ten Mistakes Made Implementing CRM’ and run with it, I’m late for my tee time.”

Finding a creative or original angle for a CRM article is like finding a creative or original photo of Paris Hilton. Originality’s overrated anyway, different does not mean better — tell me, has there been a worthwhile original idea in rock’n’roll since Chuck Berry? I rest my case.

So much for originality. But creative — that’s different. Anybody can do that. You can be creative with CRM. You need to be creative with CRM. You cannot be original with CRM, but you must be creative.

Look, forget originality. As one CRM wit noted the basic concepts behind CRM are “centuries old” themselves — and over 2,000 years ago one of the wisest men who ever lived noticed there was nothing new under the sun. You’re going to find something new?

Unless you’re irredeemably clueless you already pretty much know the basic principles of CRM or can find them in about 5.2 seconds in the rushing torrent of “Ten Top,” “Seven Best” and “Five Most” articles to be found online. Read a few at random, they all cover the same ground. Originality isn’t the long suit of such articles.

Then do what they say creatively. “But we’ve tried that, and it didn’t fly here. We want original thinking.” There you go. That’s why correctly-done CRM is as rare as scientifically credible evidence for anthropogenic global warming.

I’ll underline the point to break this obsession with “originality,” — let’s look at an article printed by TMC eight years ago, “A Roofer’s Guide To CRM,” by Matthew Vartabedian. Eight years ago — a dog’s life in CRM. Two dogs’ lives. Nothing original about it at all, by now. But how relevant is it, and how creative do you have to be to take Vartabedian’s advice and do it right?

“If you boil CRM down to its essence, you’re really just talking about customer retention (making more money at less cost to your company). And once you start talking about retention, you peel back the lid of a whole new can of worms — customer satisfaction and loyalty,” Vartabedian wrote. He could have written it last week.

Vartabedian cites Don Peppers and Martha Rogers’ finding — over eight years ago, mind you — that “it is not enough to achieve satisfaction ratings that are merely good (satisfactory satisfaction?). Only stellar performance seems to have any measurable benefit in terms of customer loyalty at all.”

Does that still hold true? Yep. Is it an original idea, that “good enough” isn’t good enough? Nope, that one’s held true from Noah’s Ark, where Noah insisted over Japeth’s protestations that they had to lay in food for, oh, a month and change, whereas Japeth argued that two weeks’ worth was certainly “good enough,” to yesterday, when Team New Zealand learned the hard way that a “good enough” spinnaker isn’t good enough.

Completely unoriginal idea. As is Vartabedian’s observation that “if the goal is to retain customers, strategies for so doing must be clearly mapped, responsibilities detailed and assigned, and quantifiable metrics put in place to ensure those lofty goals are in fact being achieved with very real results — i.e., money in the bank.”


Still the operative principle behind CRM today. What? That’s what you want to do with your CRM project? How… unoriginal of you.

Peppers and Rogers, before the turn of the century, back when everyone was hiring “Y2K consultants,” laid out four strategies for improving customer retention, Vartabedian said. Not a one of them would have been unknown to a shopkeeper in 16th century London:

Customer recognition. Treating your most valuable customers in a special way without appearing to favor a given customer over other “less valuable” ones. This involves assessments of revenue generated to date and potential lifetime value, which savvy retailer have made for hundreds of years.

Loyalty purchasing. Considered the weakest of those suggested — “Act now and we’ll give you four weeks free…” since it’s so easily matched by the competition. And what’s the difference between this and reducing the price to attract new customers?

Product quality and customer satisfaction. “Wow, they had this knowledge in 1999? (Whistle of admiration). I just bought a $2,950 study published two months ago telling me that product quality and customer satisfaction were important.”

Customization and collaboration. “If you can convince a customer to spend some time or energy teaching your firm how to cater better to his or her individual tastes, then you can keep this customer loyal for a longer period, out of the customer’s own self-interest,” Peppers and Rogers wrote. Any argument there? Didn’t think so.

Let’s be crystal clear — we do not need originality when it comes to the principles behind CRM. If somebody’s trying to sell you “Original CRM Principles!” keep your wallet in your pocket.

We do, every one of us, need originality when it comes to implementing CRM principles. That sort of originality is called “creativity.”

Great businesses don’t do original things, they achieve unoriginal goals in creative ways. American Airlines wanted to get people to feel loyal to the airline and give it preference when booking flights. Completely unoriginal goal, every airline in the sky had that goal — Braniff, Eastern, Piedmont, Pan Am, all of ‘em. American got creative and came up with the idea of offering “miles” to passengers. Again, unoriginal — nothing but Green Stamps in the air. But creative, very creative.

The principles behind CRM are most unoriginal. The best things in life are … I’ll leave the list to your imagination … this is a family publication. They are not free, as is sometimes mistakenly believed, but you won’t be the first to discover them.

But the essence of creativity with CRM is doing what’s right in a way that works for your situation, in your time and space, with your company and your customers. And beware of anyone trying to sell you “One Size Fits All CRM Practices!” on that score as well.

People are right when they say there’s an art and a science to CRM. The problem is they usually get mixed up which is which. The principles, the dull, unoriginal, tried and true principles, that’s the science. Learn that. Then — how you do that when faced with a live customer — that’s the art. That’s where the creativity comes in.

Don’t be original with customers. Be creative.

The author may be reached at david @firstcoffee.biz.

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