So what is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), what does it stand for and why does it matter? First I’d like to debunk the myth that CRM is just about technology – it’s not it’s a philosophy. Of course technology such as a CRM system can support the strategy but as this popular definition states: “Customer Relationship Management is the establishment, development, maintenance and optimisation of long-term mutually valuable relationships between people (visitors) and organisations.”
To expand the market and enable increased engagement, it’s important to develop a deeper understanding of the complex relationships visitors have with heritage organisations and the starting point is to think about the people you really want to engage with and how you want to build a relationship with them. That means setting out to understand your visitors, audiences, participants by seeking to really engage in a two-way exchange with them so that you can satisfy their needs. Too often the relationship can be one-way with organisations pushing out their ‘offering’ in the way they imagine visitors want.
Not to dismiss technology as part of CRM, it does course it can help and support organisations and does refer to both a type of software to help you manage contacts and craft targeted marketing messages. But the technology you use is there to help you develop audiences not just for selling or for becoming more efficient (that’s a bonus!). Ultimately building a relationship with visitors is what is going to create loyalty and retention.
Heritage organisations of every shape, size and capacity can and should be thinking about CRM at some level. What might be different for small vs large is the level and the type of technology that you might need to apply to your CRM strategy – it could just be a single well-organised spreadsheet that everyone has access to, right through to a fully-fledged CRM/ticketing system that handles fundraising, marketing/CRM, ticketing, retail, diary management etc.
Think of CRM as a continuous activity that is about the way heritage organisations work, think and behave where visitors/advocates/stakeholders are always top of mind.
There are 5 things that must be top of mind in adopting a CRM approach:
- CRM isn’t CRM unless it affects the customer/visitor experience
- CRM is a strategy not a project (that will end)
- CRM should improve return on investment
- Technology or a ‘database’ system is the means to help track engagement and sales but not the sole focus
- Having a 360 degree view of your visitor/customer/donor is key
What that means is recognizing all the facets of your organization from the building, to the ‘experiences’, exhibition, events to the many different types of visitor and stakeholders such as day visitors, Members, Press, VIPs. All visitors are not the same and developing deeper and more engaged relationships means getting to know more about them – who they are, where they are from, do they come a lot, what do they do when they are with you – so that you can take people on a journey, your journey and provide the best customer experience as you do that.
The other side is to make sure that your Customer focused approach is not a tactic (managed by front of house) or a marketing function focused on the communications but the core driver for your business strategy. That will only happen if the organisation leadership team, owns CRM and sets about clearly defining what they mean by their CRM strategy AND what good CRM looks like, in terms that everyone can understand. Setting organisational CRM objectives and KPIs that are deep rooted in the business plan and where everyone is involved in the process from Directors to Volunteers are definitely a recipe for success.
What might a CRM strategy include?
It might seem complicated but what’s vital is to: knit together the relationship building with the strategy, what you want to achieve and the systems that are going to help you do that. Remember the systems might be database/ticketing/fundraising/retail/email software but equally might just be tills and a spreadsheet.
The first question to ask yourself is how are you going to deliver value to your audiences and what are the actions that will be taken to achieve that?
You’ll have a chance of being on the right track if your strategy affects:
- Data/analytics – collecting meaningful data and being able to use it to help you define campaigns and analyse their success (or not)
- Communications – internal and external – having holistic plan
- Customer experience/Customer Journey planning – developing a customer engagement roadmap that fits with your organisation and what you offer
- Content and Channel strategies – thinking about how you use digital, how you want to use it to enhance all the ways you reach out to and communicate with audiences
- Segmentation – a system for segmenting (grouping) and targeting your audiences
- KPIs and insight planning – flexibility is key here, these won’t, can’t be set in stone.
- Tech deployment and development – having the right technology in place to deliver what your audience needs and in order to generate and maximise income/engagement. That means ‘systems’ that are fit for purpose and that everyone can use
- Business systems and process – clear internal systems and processes so that each team/individual is working to a common purpose, not duplicating effort, doing unnecessary work and understands what is trying to be achieved
The aim across the whole organisation is to strengthen customer relationships, extend coverage, optimising processes, maintaining quality of any data held and think about metrics and measurement.
I already mentioned the importance of creating a shared set of top level CRM Objectives for the organisation. These objectives will be personal to each organisation, however an example of one that should be on the list for every organisation is: to develop a 360° view of ‘audiences’ across the organisation and to have a single repository for data to make it easier and more effective to deal with visitors/contacts
These objectives would ideally be framed around a clear Value Proposition for your organisation. What do I mean by that? Well I know it sounds like a bit of jargon but a value proposition would be a statement that answers the ‘why’ someone should do business with your organisation. It should convince a potential customer or visitor why your service, product, venue will be of more ‘value’ to them than similar offerings from your competition.
What this will do is help to create a shared frame of reference around audience expectations, building organisation knowledge of audience behaviours and needs across all channels, identifying specific areas of opportunity to drive ideas and innovation, distribution of key audience insights in a usable and easy to understand format. The aim being to show your organisation’s evolution towards customer centric thinking.
Gathering data on visitors and their activity is one of the chief ways to gain an understanding of audience engagement and behaviours. Data tells us about our audiences/visitors; who they are and could be; who is not attending – as well as who is – what they are spending/donating and where else they go.
Without it we don’t know who audiences/visitors are and how they interact or engage (or not), and how to keep them informed and interested in what organisations do. Ideally visitor data is best held in one place and not duplicated in other systems, excel sheets, lists or outlook inboxes around the organisation. If that’s not possible then linking systems together so that there is a smooth data exchange is the next best thing.
It is through good data collection that there will be the quality information needed to make informed decisions. Without data collection, there’s potentially a lot of stumbling around in the dark using less reliable or robust methods to make decisions.
Data should not be seen as a challenge but as an opportunity to move from intuition or anecdote to insight. You want to be at the point where you are able to stay on top of trends, provide answers to problems, and analyse new insights to affect the strategy and business objectives.
Use every tool at your disposal you might not have a fully-fledged CRM/Ticketing system but that doesn’t matter. Data can be collected from many sources from websites, online sales, mobiles and apps, social media, memberships and loyalty schemes to onsite sales, through mailing lists, survey and donations. Depending on the size of the organisation there may only be a few of these sources of data in play and perhaps just one person dealing with all of them rather than lots of departments. That’s okay though because the principals will apply regardless of size or resource – it’s about scaling what you do to fit.
Once the core CRM objectives are defined and agreed these will help the next stage of strategy building by defining audience engagement aspirations and identifying some clear audience journeys focussed on:
- Knowing who your audiences are, building relationships /engagement through carefully crafted communications that get the messaging just right
- Building audience confidence
- Crafting the audience experience – online (website, social media), onsite
- Being on-brand and brand consistent – don’t do anything that jars with your values
Where do you want to go with your audiences, what journey do you want to take them on, what are you trying to solve? You could think of it like a roadmap where you identify what the entry point is, what are the milestones or steps along the way and what the end point or deepest engagement would be.
For example, like the visitor engagement roadmap example below, it might start with social/ or web and might end in membership/patron. The tech is there to make it easier to navigate that journey.
- Entry point: Social media/Web
- Next step: First visit or purchase, direct onsite contact
- Dip in regularly: Email newsletters/Wb/Social to keep up-to-date with what’s going on
- Deepest engagement: Membership, donation, fundraising
Segmentation is a way of enabling you to identify and effectively target groups of individuals with shared needs, so that you can offer the parts of your service that will best meet their needs – and communicate in the way most likely to resonate. If you do have some kind of database system it’s going to be easier to keep track of visitors in order to segment them and communicate with them but that could still be done through something as simple as a spreadsheet.
Segmenting visitors can make targeting what you do to the right people easier and you can do that quite simply by using any data that you are able to collect in order to group together visitors into families, retired couples, exhibition attenders and so on, or if you are ticketing events you will have access to booking behaviour (event type, frequency, party size, spend, planning horizons, geography).
Both of these things will be a starting point for segmenting your audiences/visitors. And grouping audiences in this way will allow you to target and engage with them much, much more effectively and efficiently.
There are other ways of segmenting audiences, which rather than looking at past behaviour is more about seeks to group audiences/visitors based on what drives and motivates them. This way of segmenting by identifying values seeks to target, influence and meet potential and existing visitor needs in a much more deep rooted way. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments and Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum, for example, use this approach and provide tools to apply it to potential and existing audiences.
Making sure everyone in the organisation understands the plan for building engagement and relationships with visitors/stakeholders is vital to a successful CRM strategy and that means breaking down organisation silos wherever they exist. You don’t have to be a large, complex organisation for siloed working to happen, it can happen between the five people who work together in the same office as much as with an organisation that has lots of different departments. It’s very easy to be wrapped up in doing the work you are responsible for without a clear understanding of what the wider goals are or fully appreciating the benefits of shared goals.
That’s where having cross department/role conversations with all staff (paid and volunteers) to define what is meant by CRM strategy, in ways everyone can relate to and define how that fits with your core business objectives.
This collective ownership and coming together in a common set of goals will reap the rewards. It will involve changing the way things are done and who does those things as well as deciding what systems or tech are use and how/who uses them. It will involve dissecting current strategies, business processes and any audience engagement plans (no matter how ad hoc) to discover where you are, and where you want to be. The impact of working in a siloed, disconnected way can have a massive effect on income, efficiency and delivery of customer service.
Embedding CRM is about constantly reviewing, refining and monitoring everything that will have an impact on visitors/audiences. It’s about having a communications plan that is tailored to the type of visitor, member and donor. It’s about getting everyone involved from Board Member to Curator to Volunteer to Front of House staff. It’s about using the knowledge you have gained to help refine the strategies and campaigns to be more effective. Working strategically, even if it is only in a small way, is better than being reactive or worse not knowing how to react at all.
- Have a vision for what you want CRM to achieve – how will it (and the IT system/tech) improve the business so that you can best deliver what you do/offer to your visitors.
- Use CRM to talk to your audiences/visitors – so with the data that you hold on whatever ‘IT system’ you have (list, spreadsheet, CRM/Ticketing system), build a relationship and respond to the visitor/audience needs not yours
- Use your ‘(IT) system’ to record everything you know about individuals to give a 360 degree view of their engagement and help provide the insight. Remember the data you hold won’t answer all your problems – it’s there to support the strategy. And make sure you’re collecting the right data for you.
- If budget allows make sure you get the right CRM system for you and your organisation so that the whole organisation use it to meet their business goals.
- Use the CRM system to help you over communicate – through targeting, segmentation. And remember CRM is about people and giving them the best experience
- Do leverage data in business decision making – use the insights that you glean from your CRM system/IT systems to affect your organisations growth/success/help you make the right decisions
- Understand what online experience you deliver and how that will work with your CRM system. Think about the online and offline journey and how it will link to individual customer records on your CRM system
- CRM should affect the whole organisation – use tech to streamline and automate staff working practices, avoid duplication of effort – save time and therefore money
Helen Dunnett | Director |Helen Dunnett Consulting
Please attribute as: "What is ‘Customer Relationship Management’ (CRM) and how can it benefit my heritage organisation? (2022) by Helen Dunnett supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0