How businesses can build strong connections with customers

Nearly 67% of businesses know more about customers than last year, according to a new study by Insightly.


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The pandemic showed businesses it was possible to make a large-scale technical shift, as many employees were sent home to work remotely. Organizations also gained more insight into their customers, and a new study from Insightly and Zogby Analytics revealed that 66.6% of 500 business decision makers polled said they know more about their customers in 2021 than they did in all of 2020. Another significant finding of the study is that businesses rank customer relationship management as the most important tech initiative of 2021, with data management and reporting falling closely behind. 

The new revelation may stem from the additional finding that nearly 60% of businesses are spending more on marketing in 2021 compared to 2020—only 22% are spending less and 20% noted no change—which the Insightly study said is “a sign that companies recognize the importance of being proactive with their customers by reconnecting with them throughout more touch points in the customer journey.”

In an effort to help more businesses establish those strong connections with customers, Insightly is offering its top three tips for 2021:

  1. Combine and conquer: A company should ensure that departments function in a fully integrated way, with all departments such as sales, marketing and customer service providing transparency with each other, “breaking down walls within your own organization,” the study said. This integration of all parts of “the customer journey is critical now more than ever,” for a cohesive customer experience.  
  2. Avoid email overload: Digital fatigue, Insightly said, is real. “On the heels of 2020,” it said, (and make sure this is addressed when communicating with customers) chuck the annoying mass mailers and instead, focus on personalizing correspondence so it is meaningful. Receiving something clearly impersonal is easy to lose in the shuffle of daily digital downloads. Insightly advised, “With that, acknowledge the state of the world and think through the challenges that particular customer is facing right now in order to offer helpful insights and connections that matter and will sustain beyond the pandemic.”
  3. People first: An organization’s sales department must not focus on simply closing the deal. Insightly reported, “In 2021, customers want genuine connections and those cannot be established with a signature or built overnight.” Sales this year will be strongest for businesses that start with a “humanized” approach. “Be helpful and offer support,” it said, “Consider delivering ‘free advice’ via useful, original or curated content. Show customers and prospects that you are aware of their unique challenges and are investing in their success.”

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“Seeing an increase in marketing spend this year was somewhat surprising,” said Insightly CEO Anthony Smith. “It might be a sign of confidence that businesses have in consumer spending and the economic comeback in general.” Because so many American businesses claimed to know more about their customers than in previous years, it becomes clearer “to understand why businesses are comfortable spending more on marketing this year.’ 

Using “digital tools that enabled them to stay engaged with customers during COVID-19 shutdowns, some businesses gained more insights into customer needs, preferences and buying behavior in 2020, than ever before. All this data creates opportunities for marketers to design and carry out better customer engagement campaigns, make data-driven decisions and measure marketing return of investment, which helps to plan marketing budgets. 

“We hope that decision-makers can use these insights as they plan their own business initiatives and investments for 2021 and beyond,” Smith said. “There are major trends emerging, including a focus on customer relationship management systems, sales and marketing alignment, and customer data management–all of which are key to digital transformation for any business that wants to compete in the new consumer age.” 

Of the 500 U.S. businesses polled, CRM was considered the most important business technology initiative (141), followed by data management and reporting (129), sales and marketing integration (103), mobile business management tools (53), marketing automation (51), and 24 of the businesses replied with “other.”

For the consumer, Smith advised, “Pay attention to what type of data you’re asked to share and why, or how it is going to be used. We live in the digital age; almost everything we do leaves a digital trail of data. Highly customized, timely and seamless service comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is personal data. There are increasingly more consumer data protection mechanisms put in place and businesses are required to comply.”

Fifty-seven percent of respondents were C-suite, owners and directors, 36% were managers and 7% were “others.” Companies surveyed were in the 20th percentile in all four regions: east, south, central/great lakes and the west; 48% had $11 million to $500 million in annual revenue, 41% had $5 million to 10 million, and 11% had $500 million or more. Most companies (42.5%) featured up to 99 employees, 23.4% had 100 to 499 and 33.8% had 500 or more staff.

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