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Customer Relationship Marketing on the Web

CRM is active. The Web is passive. How can you combine the two?  Let’s examine the problem.

In CRM, we compile a database of prospects or customers. We append data to the file, and do testing and modeling. We discover who likes what, who responds to what, and who buys what. We develop targeted lists. The results of our efforts are usually profitable because:

  • We save money by not marketing to those we have learned are less likely to respond
  • We make money by making relevant offers to those who need, or want, or can afford our products
  • We build relationships with our best customers, resulting in higher loyalty,  retention, referral, spending rates, and profits.

In the web, most of these things don’t work. On the Internet, we create a great web site with interesting offers and information. We wait for customers to come along, see the offers, and buy our products. We can’t really use our CRM methods here. They don’t seem to work. Or do they?

What we learn from studying the Web, is that the standard rules no longer apply. We cannot buy lists, append data, and create target groups because the lists we create are useless on the web. The one CRM technique that is transferable, however, is the relationship building. We not only can build relationships on the web, we can do a better job of it, and at a lower cost, than we have been doing with old-fashioned CRM. Let’s see how this works. There are really three things that we have to do:

  • Find prospects and customers and attract them to our web site
  • Give them a wonderful experience. Give them some free rewards. Capture information from them that we need to build a relationship with them. Sell them something.
  • Build a database of our visitors and customers. Use that database to support an ongoing relationship that is delightful to the customers and profitable for us.Attracting web visitors

There are dozens of ways of doing this. We should experiment with and utilize all of them at once. Here are some of them:

  • Put your website name on every piece of literature that customers could possibly see: your products, the manuals and brochures, the ads, business cards, your stationery, your messages.
  • Offer something of value if the customer or prospect visits the site. What that thing is, you will have to figure out. It must be something that is valuable to the customer, and very inexpensive for you. Information is the best reward. Give them access to your technical data, to your archives, to your new product specifications, to your future forecasts.

Here is what GreyDirect offers on their web site:

Place banners on other people’s web sites. Banners are one of the cheapest  and most cost efficient ways to advertise web sites.  You pay $5 or more per thousand impressions. An impression is when a viewer clicks on to a website that contains your banner. Banners are much more cost effective than the same money spent in a newspaper, magazine or TV ad.  Why? Because a magazine reader is, by definition, not at her computer while she is reading. She may not even own a computer. When she clicks on a web site that contains your banner, she not only owns a computer, she is using it at the moment, she is on the internet, and can easily click on the banner to jump to your site. By using banner advertising, you let the readers self select themselves into likely prospects.

I have heard people say that banners are dead. Don’t you believe it. People claim that banners are dead because they get a 0.5% response rate.  On the web today, 0.5% is a good response rate. At $5 per thousand impressions, do the math. There is no other medium that gives you not only a comparable cost per order, but also as much information within 24 hours on what every prospect and customer is doing on your web site or with your banner.

  • Link your web site to other web sites. If you have business partners or customers, do a joint linking of web sites.
  • Get your web site listed in all known search engines. You have to do this once a month. Put someone on it, and have her do it regularly. It’s an important way to find new customers.

Giving people a wonderful experience

Once people have come to your web site, how can you sell them products and build a relationship?  Make it very easy for them. Forget the brochureware. Forget telling them how great you are. Put yourself in their shoes, and say, “What would I like to do, or receive once I am on this site?”  It is amazing how few sites have solved this problem. One of the worst is the Microsoft site. If you have a troubleshooting problem with Office 2000, good luck trying to get the answer from Microsoft. My current problem is that quite often I get a message saying, “This program has performed an illegal operation”.  Which law did I violate? UN, US or State?  Whenever I see this message, I lose whatever I was working on. Why do I get this message?  I tried to find out from the Microsoft site.

Here is what I found:

There is no search box here.  So, I clicked on support. Here is what I got:

One nice touch: Microsoft remembers that I am looking for illegal operations. Every time I go back to their site, my query is still there, waiting for me. But when I click GO, do I get some help?  No. I am invited to call a bunch of  tech support numbers all of which involve talking to a live operator and paying money to Microsoft. The only answer to my query about illegal operations is this totally useless screen:

Needless to say, the ScanProt Macro Virus Protection Tool (whatever it is) has nothing to do with MS Word and the problem I have been having.  At conferences, I have asked others if they have got an “illegal procedure” message when using Office 2000. Every hand has gone up.

What is the solution?  It seems pretty simple to me. Put a search box on your home page. Let people enter anything they want into that box. Have the search find the answers to their questions. Add answers every day as you get more and more questions asked. How do you know what questions people might ask?  Spend some time listening to your help desk. Write down all the questions. Then put them on your web site. That is the way to be helpful to your customers, and save yourself a lot of money.

  • Make your web page fun. Make it fresh and interesting. You can have contests, sweepstakes, and quizzes. The Reader’s Digest has a new joke every time you return to their site:

Jokes are not appropriate for your site? Then think up some interesting facts about your industry or product and serve them up one at a time. Use your imagination.

In normal advertising, such random facts or jokes aren’t possible. Ad space costs too much. On the web, it is all almost free, once you have the web site.

Let them come behind the counter

The most exciting part of web customer relationships is letting customers back behind the barrier that says “Employees Only”.  I am sure that you, at one time or another, have been invited back into forbidden “Authorized personnel only” areas of companies or government agencies. A friend who works there lets you come in, for moment, to the Oval Office (when the President isn’t there), or to eat at the White House Mess. It is a wonderful feeling. You can give your customers a similar feeling.

Right now, your customers call you on toll free lines. They talk to a customer service rep who is reading off of a screen. Customers ask questions. Your rep manipulates the keys of her computer and reads the resulting information. It costs you money for the phone call and for the time of the rep. With the web, all this changes. You give your best customers access to the very screen that the rep is reading from. They are able to get information from your archives directly by hitting the same keys that your rep hits. Your customers become “Authorized Personnel”.  Not only that, you are saving the cost of the toll free call and the time of the rep. You are saving $4 or more per phone call, while giving your customers better service!

Federal Express lets you inside their delivery system. Here is what happened to the manuscript of my new book that I sent to McGraw-Hill. Look at how complete it is. Think of the money that such a system saves!

What is the reaction of the customers to such a system?  In many cases, they love it. When Sears Canada put their big book on the web, lots of customers ordered products directly. But something odd happened. Sears discovered that 97% of the people ordering products through the web had the paper catalog in front of them at the time. At the bottom of each catalog page is a Sears toll free number. They didn’t want to use it. They prefer to enter the item numbers themselves.

You can go one step further. You can give every serious customer their own web page. Give them a PIN number which identifies them. The web page says, “Welcome back, Arthur” as it lets them come behind the counter and into your warehouse.

Link the web site to your database

Now that your customers are in, you can link them to your database. The database contains their purchase history, and demographics. The other information you need to know about them has been voluntarily provided by the customers when they logged on to the web site. They gave it to you in exchange for something you gave them, such as access to your internal company archives.

Using Cookies

While you are at it, I would use cookies. As you know, a cookie is a file that your software stores on customer’s computers every time they log on to your site. When they come back, your software looks for the cookie so that you can recognize them instantly and say, “Welcome back Arthur” without even asking for a PIN number. That is what the old corner grocers used to say when you came to their stores. You can say it now in your web site to make customers feel at home.

When my wife, Helena, clicks on to, they greet her at the door with a hearty, “Welcome back, Helena!” What could be nicer than that?

With the link to the database, you can determine the “next best product” for each customer. does that beautifully. Two years ago, I bought a book from Amazon called “Dark Sun” by Richard Rhodes. Last week I got an email from Amazon telling me that Rhodes had just published another book called “Why they kill”.  I bought it immediately. All I had to do was to click on the email, and they sent me the book. They already know my credit card number, so I didn’t need to go through that nuisance. What is this? It is customer relationship marketing on the web.


Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group,click here

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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