Thursday, 29 September 2011

CRM Insights - Interview with MASTER Marketer - Prof. Merlin Stone

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is one of the hot topics in marketing today.


We are therefore delighted to post this interview with one of the most advanced practitioners and pioneers in this important area - Professor Merlin Stone.

Merlin is Head of Research at The Customer Framework. He is a leading expert in customer management, including strategies and tactics for customer recruitment, retention, and development and has been a leading contributor to the development of the customer management assessment methodologies for which The Customer Framework is best known. His work focuses on improving customer experience, satisfaction, loyalty and trust, and also the customer research, data analysis, systems decisions and supplier selection and management needed to support improved management of customers. He is also well known for his work on thought leadership and public relations – improving clients’ communications to the media and customers, including explaining complex propositions and conducting media interviews. This includes conference speaking (especially for client events) and thought leadership research, which focuses on clients’ customers and prospects, the issues they face, how they handle them, and where they need help. He is an active researcher on many aspects of customer management.

He advises a number of smaller companies in marketing services and related areas. These include Clear Cell, MarketPoint and Aerice.

He is author or co-author of many articles and thirty books on customer management, many of them with Neil Woodcock, Chairman of the Customer Framework The UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing listed him in 2003 as one of the world’s top 50 marketing thinkers, he was nominated as one of the 20 most influential people in the direct marketing industry in a Precision Marketing readership poll in 2003, while NOP World nominated him in 2004 as one of 100 most influential individuals for their input and influence on the development and growth of e-commerce and the internet in the UK over the previous 10 years. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and an Honorary Life Fellow of the UK’s Institute of Direct Marketing. He is also on the editorial advisory boards of several academic journals

He has a first class honours degree and doctorate in economics from Sussex University, UK. In parallel to his business career, he has also pursued a full academic career, holding senior posts at various universities. He is now a visiting professor at De Montfort, Oxford Brookes and Portsmouth Universities and teaches economics for the Open University.

Question 1: You are perhaps best known for your innovation and developments in the field of Relationship Marketing. What attracted you to this field, and how would you define it?

I was invited into it, when a client (Mike Wallbridge), who had been at Xerox with me and had moved to BT to manage their below the line communications, asked me to help. He met me while I was training the marketing department of Xerox’s UK operation, and said I talked sense, which was very kind of him. I did know a lot about the marketing of computers (and industrial products in general – I’d worked in the engineering industry), and applied it to learning about the use of computers in marketing. It fitted well with my academic training – my doctorate was on product innovation, and the work I did at university on the diffusion of innovations has always been useful to me, even today. Much of my work since then has been with big users of CRM e.g. financial services, telcos, media, retailing and high tech.

The definition is still the same as it was – with the balance more even between suppliers and customers – so today it would be more about helping suppliers and customers to manage each other to mutual benefit. Of course, we’ve used lots of different ways of expressing the same idea.

Question 2: Why is it so important and what is different about it?

It’s at the core of marketing – perhaps a different angle on it - so it doesn’t need justifying. It’s special because it blends the classic marketing mix disciplines with a range of other areas - IT, customer service, quality, social media etc.

Question 3: What are the differences and similarities between ‘Relationship Marketing’ and ‘Customer Relationship Management’ (CRM)?

They represent different stages of historical evolution. RM was a grown-up version of direct marketing, with much more emphasis on databases. CRM focuses on all aspects of how the mutual relationship is managed, across all functions and throughout the relationship.

Question 4: How do these approaches fit in with traditional approaches to the Marketing Planning process and to Marketing Tactics, such as the ‘Marketing Mix’?

I think they fit very well, but there are still some classic marketers, brought up in traditions such as brand management and market research, and perhaps some sales managers, who don’t value the CRM approach as much as they ought, but the advent of social media is starting to change their minds, even in business to business markets, where customers talk to each other all the time, and are often ahead of their suppliers in learning how to use the latter’s products and services.

Question 5: How will the emergent area of ‘Digital Marketing’ affect things and how can these technique be used to build better, enduring Customer Relationships?

It has revolutionised much of what we do, so it is impossible to consult or teach in this area without strong experience of using the digital approach. There are of course fad elements around, and we’re wary of those, but in most markets, with most customers, their migration to the use of digital communications has meant that we’ve had to use the same channels as them – at a minimum, although the most advanced companies are leading customers rather than following them. At The Customer Framework, we’ve revised all our toolsets to include the latest digital marketing ideas, and are heavily engaged in social media-based CRM work with some of the world’s leading consumer brands. 

This doesn’t mean that all our work has a big digital element, as there is plenty to do in the classic CRM area as well.

Further information:

It covers all our work in the above areas, so please explore the full content.

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