How well do you know your customers? How often do they buy? What motivates them to make multiple purchases? How can you ensure long-term loyalty? How can you attract and retain new customers?

And, most importantly, how can you cost effectively align your marketing campaign to ensure that you are sending the most relevant message to each customer segment at the time they are most likely to buy?

The number-one asset of a company is its customers, and a close second is the information about those customers gained through operational customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Leading marketers have taken advantage of the powerful benefits of sales force automation, call center software and other CRM systems to identify customer demographics, track purchases, monitor shopping habits and identify product preferences. As a result, they have been able to maximize the interaction between company and customers, increase sales and build a loyal customer base.

Managing this wealth of valuable customer information as a strategic asset, however, is what makes the difference between simply tracking customer behavior and capitalizing on that information to understand and optimize the financial value of each customer.

Predicting customer product preferences and purchasing habits—and crafting the most relevant marketing messages around this information—requires a carefully orchestrated mix of intuition and an analytical framework that supports fact-based decision making.

Without an analytical structure in place, even the savviest marketer will have difficulty manually analyzing all of the complex information they may be gathering on customers. And, while still a powerful resource, an operational CRM system alone will struggle to provide the deeper customer understanding required to add value to every interaction with each customer.

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Colin Shearer is vice-president of customer analytics at SPSS Inc. (, a global provider of predictive analytics.