Sales & Marketing: Customer Relationship Management The days of flipping through a Rolodex are gone.
November 2nd, 2007

By Frank Heenan

November-December 2007

Everyone knows that keeping customers happy is a key to success, but have you ever thought about what good customer management truly entails?

For today’s tile distributors, strong customer management demands you do more than simply satisfy your customers’ needs and conduct service with a smile. Take, for example, the case of partnering with a housing developer. You must not only satisfy his tile needs, but those of his customers as well.

Coupling an integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution with your enterprise software solution can take your customer service capabilities well beyond a simple list of names, phone numbers, and addresses by including customer-specific buying history, current and previous deliveries, billing, and product lines, to name a few.

Broad Customer Base, Specialized Contacts

As the growth of a housing development broadens your list of customer locations, the developer’s centralized structure considerably narrows your list of contacts. Contacting a customer is not as simple as calling the homeowner where you wish to make a sale or collect on an invoice.

Centralization has established the need to manage multiple contacts—many of whom coordinate ordering procedures at more than one location. Effective customer management means knowing who is who at every level—from the site manager, to the head designer, to the appropriate purchasing or billing contact in the developer’s business office—and under which circumstances each should be contacted.

CRM technology offers proactive and detailed customer management capabilities that clearly distinguish between contacts in an intuitive interface that directly integrates with your enterprise software solution and reduces the time it takes to access and manage the necessary data.

The Sales Formula

With the diverse product groups a housing project requires, your sales team must understand and readily differentiate between the basic tile choices offered by the developer and the high-end options his customers may choose. Since these product groups contain many specialized items that may not be suitable for a project, a general, basic sales history will not provide enough detailed information to know how much and which type of tile is required for the kitchen of Model 1 versus Model 2.

CRM offers a more intuitive form of sales history—one that serves not only as a repository of sales information, but as a tool your sales team can utilize to expedite the sales process. With the ability to understand the history and needs of a particular project, your sales team can analyze factors such as amount and color preferences to quickly fill repeat orders, while tracking proposals, quotes, invoices, and making proactive sales decisions that steer dollars to your bottom line.

Chain of Command

Of course, understanding and designating product preferences is only part of reaching your customers in an efficient and service-oriented manner. Once you have the proper project and items identified, you need to know whom within the developer’s business to contact to set the purchasing process into motion. Given that many developers work on several projects at one time, you may be filling and shipping an order to one project, but your purchasing contact may be located in a central office far removed from the actual job site.

By storing a list of designated purchasing contacts, your CRM solution serves as the engine that powers your sales force. With the strength of centralized information driving their activities, your sales force can contact a purchasing agent, quickly retrieve the required items, and finalize the sale—all in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

This structure also influences your accounts receivable processes, which often require that you manage a list of contacts equally as stratified as those used by your sales team. When an order is placed, your AR personnel need access to the proper contacts, so they can work toward bringing money into your business in less time. Your CRM solution will streamline your AR processes by presenting information in an integrated, easy to navigate interface that organizes billing contacts and streamlines data collection, entry, and access.

The Power to Progress

With CRM, you have the power to meet the challenges posed by industry changes, and the flexibility to accommodate change. Many CRM solutions utilize the power of a Windows interface, which provides added familiarity and ease of use for your employees and dramatically cuts the time and costs required to train new ones.

By coordinating, integrating, and streamlining the quoting, order, expediting, AR and all customer activities, your CRM solution will provide you with the power and flexibility you need to understand and manage your customer base, so you can focus on increasing efficiency and boosting your bottom line.

Frank Heenan, director of product management and marketing for Activant Solutions Inc., is a well-known technology expert for tile supply distributors. A leading technology provider for the distribution industry, Activant develops technology solutions and services that help wholesale distributors improve customer service and maximize the return on their technology investment. For more information about Activant, please visit or call 1-800-776-7438, press 1.

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