Customers, Relationships and Management

August 1, 2011

I am sure you’ve heard of Salesforce and other software services that fall into the category of CRM, or customer relationship management. They have been around for some time now, and are a tool used by many sales organizations. They are great when properly implemented and used; they help sellers and managers to more easily manage their activities and communicate with their clients. But great customer service cannot be baked into a piece of software.

The long term success or failure of any business is highly dependent on the product or service they provide, but equally as important, on how completely they meet their customers’ needs. While radio has traditionally done a decent job in this area, I believe we are in danger of losing our edge. As the environment changes around us, our customers’ needs are changing more rapidly than we know. While many other selling organizations have adapted and adopted new approaches to their client’s demands, radio continues to adhere to the tried and true: face calls, client socializing and distributing ratings results most favorable to our station.

Let’s take a closer look at radio’s two customer classes: listeners and advertisers. Let’s examine our relationship with each group.

When it comes to listeners, radio invests heavily in ratings research which tells us how many, and breaks our audiences into broad demographics. We program to affect the people meter, and we spend a great amount of time after the fact, trying to make sense of our quantitative performance. We all know ratings do not tell the whole story, so many stations invest in additional proprietary perceptual research, asking questions like “who plays the most music?” and “who plays the best music for you?” We have a handle on how demographic groups think of us, but they are still broad-brush estimates.
On the advertiser side, we train salespeople to fight for the face-to-face meeting and run them through the questions that we devise for our CNA, or customer needs analysis. We periodically demand that all of our sellers requalify their clients’ needs. Too often, the answers are simply “make the cost per point and give me value added”. Then at many stations, salespeople wait for the avails. Our client relationships at times are far more social than business in tone, and the most frequent contact is with the media buyer or media director.
We cannot kid ourselves; these are the hallmarks of a vendor relationship, not a marketing partnership. We need to break the cycle by moving deeper into the advertiser organization, seeking deeper and more strategic information about the marketing problems they are trying to solve. We know from experience that when we present creative solutions for the right challenges, budgets are found, pricing changes in our favor, and the odds of success are greater.
To know where we are headed, we need to look at the transformation of advertising and marketing. Marketing began with the megaphone effect to mass markets, evolved into targeted markets, and now is transforming itself into personalized, individualized marketing. This is clear from the enormous amount of data being compiled, sorted and utilized by companies as they move more aggressively into digitally-based marketing. Want to know exactly who read or saw your message? It can be done today. Want to serve a specific message to a specific customer based on their purchase history? Not a problem; it can be done in milliseconds online.
Now is the time for radio managers and employees to make the transition to a much more personalized, data-driven future.
We have a wonderful foundation with our listener customers; many of us have for years been collecting databases that began with e-mail and have now expanded to include online and social media profiles of our listeners. This gives us an excellent base from which to build and enhance our listener relationship. I predict that we will see the emergence of online community managers, or online promotion managers, whose primary job will be to supplement the online conversation, presence and customer service for the radio station. The digital response loop provided by online assets will allow us to be in constant, personal communication with our most loyal listeners.
It is more difficult to incorporate a one-to-one approach to our on-air programming, which still must balance the competing tastes and needs of the larger audience. We need to focus on the integration of the personal online customer relationship with the local community of broadcast listeners to extend and expand our brands.
The challenge from our advertiser customers is more daunting. In order to survive and prosper, radio will have to move from a “selling” model of revenue generation to a marketing-based model. We will find new, local customers not by selling more spots, but by creating marketing solutions that are custom designed to address the prospect’s need. Putting it simply, we have to sell new services to new people. We are going to have to expand our capabilities to include online analytics, real time campaign management, and integrated, custom solutions that bring to bear not just our broadcast assets, but our interactive toolbox as well.
Presenting and explaining a multiplatform solution requires us to retool our selling skills; managing an expanded advertiser base will require formal adoption of a CRM or customer relationship management program. We need to adopt new technology to better serve more customers more often and in a more satisfying way.
We have to learn how to leverage our long-standing relationship with our listeners to the benefit of both advertisers and listeners. We have to learn to get the message out to large groups of potential customers, then deliver smaller groups of motivated and qualified prospects. A recent Accenture report says that “… revenue growth in this multi-platform world is dependent on delivering personalized, consumer-driven content to individual consumers via the right platform.”
Radio can become the bridge between the unruly and worldwide digital world, and the localized and focused needs of our listeners and advertisers. We need to refocus our energy on each component of “CRM” – our customers, our relationships and our management.