Knowing each customer as a real person is a strength of the best small town businesses. New tools allow you to keep that kind of small town connection even as your business grows or moves online.
|How well does the College Street Pub
know these customers?
You probably keep an email address list of customers, right? Do you feel like you are using it effectively? For most of us, the answer is no.
How well do you do at recognizing and connecting with new customers, or new prospects who email you? If you’re ready to improve, here are examples and tools to get you going.
Examples and uses
You want people to feel like more than just an email address. You want to get to know them, their likes and dislikes. CRM or Customer Relationship Management tools can help you learn more about individual customers even when you only connect online.
Focus attention on the right people. Most of these services give you an idea of who is more influential among your contacts. Why do you care? Because it allows you to invest your limited time and attention carefully. Clearly, this is not an excuse to treat anyone poorly. It is a tool to help you make decisions. There has been a lot of online talk lately about Klout scores, influence, and measures of relative importance. I want you to treat all people well, but I recognize that some people are worth bending over backward for.
Growth means we need tools like this. As you come in contact with more and more people, you are less able to keep all those details in your head all the time. What we all need is a personal aide like a politician has who whispers names and details to us at just the right time. Who is just married, and who is now at a new company? If you can’t afford the personal staff to follow you around, you can use some online equivalents in social CRM.
For Gmail: Rapportive
If you use Gmail, install the Rapportive plug in. It’s a free add-on for web browsers like Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, but not Internet Explorer. Then every time you open an email, your sidebar shows the sender’s picture, companies, and other networks where you’ll find them. Those links to other networks are live. That means you can click on the link for Facebook, and go straight to their Facebook page. Or their Flickr page for photos. You get the idea.
I use Rapportive, and I really like getting these details about people I’m communicating with. It helps me remember faces that go with names, and reminds me of details about people.
For Outlook: Xobni
Xobni provides similar functions for Outlook users. All your contacts show up in the Xobni sidebar with pictures and links to their other networks. Some special features for Outlook include a better search function, threaded email conversations, and quick access to old attachments. There is a free version, and a “plus” paid version.
I’m not an Outlook user, so I haven’t tried Xobni.
For anyone: Flowtown
If you have a list of just email addresses with no additional data, take your list straight to Flowtown. Upload your email addresses, and you’ll get back a whole slug of data about these people. Use this data to better target your email messages. It will also alert you when influential people join your list so you can give them more personal attention. One big strength of Flowtown is the ability to share data with other email providers, like MailChimp. So you can use Flowtown data to figure out which of your MailChimp newsletter subscribers are close to your next in person event, for example. It’s not free. There are monthly plans, or a pay as you go plan.
I haven’t tried Flowtown personally, but I really like the idea.
UPDATE: Flowtown no longer offers this function, but I believe Qwerly and Fliptop do.
For anyone: Gist
Gist is one place to keep all your social contact information. It will pull together your contacts from your email address book and your social networks. Within Gist, you can explore more information on any of your contacts, see their other social presences, and monitor their updates. Gist will also send you email summaries of your contacts’ activities. (Handy for keeping tabs, without spending every waking moment to do it.) Gist is free, at least for now. They are reserving the right to begin charging for the service in the future.
I’ve just started using Gist. So far, I like it. Feels like some pretty in depth information is available here.
For anyone: BatchBook
Integration is what makes BatchBook so cool. Integrate your contacts from different places. Pull in their social network profiles and blog feeds. Bring together different team members with shared data. Log all different kinds of communication with customers in one place. Integrate your BatchBook contacts with other small business related services like Freshbooks and MailChimp. Perfect for larger small businesses. It is not free. Pricing is based partially on the number of users.
I know and like Pam and Michelle at BatchBlue Software, makers of BatchBook. I haven’t tried their social CRM myself, but hear online raves about it all the time.
It’s all about people
This is never about mass-adding contacts, or sending email that no one asked for. It is always about learning more about people; about connecting. And it’s something that big businesses simply have a hard time doing. Michael Brito explains the challenge big brands face in Looking beyond Social CRM.
Conclusion: You have the advantage over the big companies. Remember your small town roots. Be friendly, be personal, and build relationships one person at a time.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.