To salespeople, vendors, and other people trying to sell products and services, “CRM” still stands for “Customer Relationship Management,” and refers to strategies and tactics (and their accompanying technologies) designed to manage and analyze customer interactions, and turn those interactions into data about the “lifecycle” of the customer. The goal is to sell the customer more products and services.

To those of us in the business of helping political and administrative teams, “CRM” stands for “Constituent Relationship Management,” and means something quite different from a vendor managing relations with customers.

To understand the philosophy behind this, we need to break down the distinction further: iConstituent seeks to improve the experiences and institutions that serve stakeholders—those who are affected by the decisions of both companies and public officials. Stakeholders are different from shareholders (investors in companies who stand to make money when the company does well). Stakeholders are also different from customers. Customers benefit from conversion of a company’s economic growth into either improved products or lower prices. But economic growth doesn’t always benefit stakeholders.

What does potentially benefit stakeholders? When leaders–civic, business, or political–respond to the needs of their constituents in ways that improve the quality of institutions and everyday life.

Talking about elected officials this way is sometimes off-putting because people think electeds are always running for re-election, an observation that isn’t completely untrue. But iConstituent’s services aren’t just for singular politicians running for office either, or for officeholders already elected. School boards like the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, and natural resource boards like the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, are also clients of iConstituent. They benefit from our system because they receive constant inflows of engagement from constituents, and the better they manage that information, the more impact they are able to have for their stakeholders. It’s not enough to create a service that makes that management more efficient. We also want to make it more conscientious.

We want this stakeholder focus to emerge organically–we don’t want evaluators of our systems to think we’re just parachuting in to work generically with any leader-constituent interactions. So we felt good when one reviewer noted that we have “collaborative casework interface,” which takes the model of collaborative interface one step further, allowing different sources to collaborate with one another on all of the important elements of client casework, from diagnosis to recommendations to implementation. That creates checks and balances among a diverse group of collaborators, making it a bit more likely that such diversity will cohere with a wider array of constituents and voters–real stakeholders.

In our newly redesigned CRM, we started from the ground up – even the visual interface puts the stakeholder consituent front and center. New analytics tools enable clients to quickly surface critical issues as they emerge. For state and local governments, our CRM easily integrates with other analytics options as well as 311 non-emergency response systems.

It all adds up to systems we hope are genuinely focused on facilitating better public accountability, not just making life more convenient for the client—although there’s nothing inherently wrong with that either, since those who are willing to serve in such difficult public roles are also stakeholders.

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