Permission Marketing and CRM — A Natural Pair

A lot of marketing efforts can feel like wasted time, especially if you look at some of the numbers published by private studies. Some of these reports suggest that more than half of all email users, for instance, admit to not reading most of their emails, and many more just look at the sender and the title before making the decision to delete. For cold calls, success rates vary between 2 and 5 percent, depending on the industry. In a digital world where customers are more savvy and prone to skepticism at being approached by someone unknown to them, it can be hard to have enthusiasm and confidence that a marketing initiative is going to be successful.

Permission marketing initiatives provide an alternative to the world of impersonal emails and frigid calls that often bear little success. These initiatives can get customers to be more than just passive sales targets–in fact, careful use of permission marketing can turn them into brand evangelists or get them eager for your products. Technology can help support these efforts by broadening their reach and making it easier to implement them on a customer-by-customer basis.

So what is permission marketing, exactly?

Coined by entrepreneur and author Seth Godin, permission marketing hinges on the idea that an enthusiastic, engaged contact is always better than one that has to treat a marketing message as a nuisance. Sales and marketing opportunities do not need to always interrupt the flow of a customer’s life, and in fact come organically from that flow instead with permission marketing. When a customer approaches you asking for your product, you know that you’ve succeeded. But is it even possible?


Customers set the tone for permission marketing, giving the marketer the terms of the agreement in some way. By subscribing to a newsletter, for example, a customer gives permission to be contacted once per week about a broad range of topics relevant to your product or business. But that’s it. The email address used to subscribe for a newsletter is not intended to be used for other marketing pitches, nor is it intended to be sold to a third party. It isn’t supposed to turn directly into a lead. It’s just a newsletter subscription.

A sale is, in itself, a form of permission marketing under this framework. Customers provide the seller with permission to fill a desire or need. If customers enjoy the results, they continue to engage with the product. Under the right circumstances this relationship can become a major part of a customer’s life as well as the business’s. The customer depends on the product for a major business purpose, a highly-valued want, or an essential need, and considers the company selling it to them their first stop in filling that dependency.

In between the different stages of permission marketing are the opportunities to gain greater access to a customer. A rewards program, for instance, is a more advanced type of permission marketing. Customers agree to furnish a company with more personal information than they otherwise would (like their addresses and email addresses) in exchange for benefits like an occasional free meal or trial product. Once initial buy-in is achieved, customers bring their business back time and time again–and they bring their information, as well. This can be used to lure them back with the promise of special deals and other typical marketing messages, with a much higher rate of success.

With permission marketing, the initial deal stays the way it is indefinitely. As a trust builder, it is a slow, deliberate, and honest process. Any changes in this implicit agreement, except very basic ones like “this monthly newsletter is now monthly,” require a new handshake.

Cheaper and More Efficient

Once a business has permission from someone, marketing becomes cheaper. A marketing message that a company knows (with some surety) the target cares about is much more cost-efficient than a cold message. Reaching customers becomes cheaper–there is less need to research and speculate what a market wants, because that market makes it clear that they want to be exposed to new deals or opportunities from the get-go.

Permission marketing can even lead to customers outright requesting more marketing and sales messages. A customer who gets used to a newsletter or a weekly email update as a part of their routine will often come out of the woodwork if it goes missing. Where is my newsletter? Where is that information I enjoy seeing every week? At this level, the business doesn’t have to market to the customer because the customer craves what the business has to offer. Permission marketing strives to make this situation a reality not just for newsletters, for but for anything that a business has to sell.


The slow and deliberate efforts that permission marketing requires don’t seem like they are revenue generators at the outset. At first glance, it might be difficult to see how the interest of certain customers will impact the bottom line. “They’re just newsletter readers,” or “they’re just in it for the reward points,” becomes the refrain.

But starting a permission marketing campaign is about long-term stability. Rather than driving a hasty spike in profits over a quarter, permission marketing is about months or years down the line. It doesn’t necessarily create immediate customers, but it does create stable, reliable ones.

CRM and Permission Marketing

Permission marketing, when it comes down to it, is about building relationships. CRM software is about monitoring, maintaining, and optimizing those relationships. The two make a natural pair, and CRM systems can go a long way in making sure that a business gets the most of the permissions it is afforded without abusing the privilege.

Segmented Emailing

Many of the best CRM programs provide some kind of marketing automation suite that allows users to keep the gears of marketing efforts turning without constant stops with the customer. With permission marketing, this can become more than just an occasional email blast to everyone who has ever interacted with a company before. The CRM system can be used to track which specific features, products, and industry segments potential customers want to receive information about, and can make sure that those people only receive the content they express an interest in.

Guiding Calls

The information people give over as part of permission marketing initiatives shouldn’t be used directly to generate leads or otherwise cause sales activity (initially), but it can be very helpful once those opportunities do arise. A CRM program can track which components of your business the customer has expressed past interest in and help guide any sales calls once they inevitably move off-script. Does a customer subscribe to your newsletter? Does that customer automatically download the company podcast each week? The information customers give can help paint a more complete picture, and once they become leads, that picture can turn into a stronger sale.

Avoiding Interruption

With longer-term customers, CRM software can also help with the process of picking welcome times and channels for marketing messages. Having a detailed profile on each customer can provide information on essentials such as past purchases and budget, but it also helps keep track of smaller details that help with the trust-building of permission marketing. When does the customer prefer to be called? Are there channels of communication that have worked better than others in the past? By including these in your CRM profile on a long-term customer, you can better fulfill the promises that permission marketing efforts tend to make.

Selective Engagement

Another thing a CRM system can help track, and which can inform many of the other approaches described above, is the quantity of preferred engagement. A customer may be interested in a product line, but less interested in receiving emails about every alpha and beta release of the line. A CRM program can indicate, in such a case, that the customer only wants to hear from you when a stable release hits. Just like email segmentation helps control the content customers see, selective engagement options help customers control the frequency of the messages they have to sort through. The messages that reach them, in turn, will have that much more impact.

Monitoring Trends

While not part of permission marketing directly, trend assessment can help you and your business figure out who gives permission for what. Are there broad preferences among your customers for specific channels? Do a large number of your customers choose to subscribe to your company’s RSS feed, or read your weekly newsletter? CRM data can support permission marketing efforts by making it clear which permissions your customers care about and which channels they prefer to be contacted through. Maybe 95% of your customers just don’t want to be contacted by phone, and those resources can go elsewhere.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Permission marketing can’t make up all of your marketing efforts unless you already have substantial numbers of customers and good word of mouth. There will always be a place for traditional marketing activities in the marketing mix. Permission marketing, however, can make customers feel like they have more control over their engagement with your brand and in turn make them more likely to buy.

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