Getting Started With CRM, Part 2

Our customer relationship management columnist discusses two more principles vital to setting up a system that gets the most from your customer data while keeping your organization on track.
In yesterday's column, I discussed the first of three principles common to launching a successful CRM initiative. In this second installment, I'll discuss the two remaining principles.

Step Two: Pick the Right Technology

Select the possibilities that best meet your desired investment return, risk appetite, technical architecture (with an eye toward ease of implementation), and organizational readiness, as well as management talent, passion, and commitment.

Of the three steps, this is perhaps the most politically difficult for an organization. While it's relatively easy to generate ideas (in step one), it's much more difficult to decide which offer the greatest benefit (expected financial return, relative to ease of implementation).

This step requires making tough decisions and trade-offs, for there are many constraints and conflicts to be resolved: channel conflicts, training and staff resource issues, financial performance goals, and budget allocations. As such, this exercise can perhaps most efficiently be accomplished through an executive workshop, facilitated by a third party (outside consultant) or a mutually trusted and respected advisor (perhaps a current or former board member).

Also, on the point of "management talent, passion, and commitment": This sounds drippy, but in fact it is perhaps the most critical deciding factor to a successful implementation. If your management team doesn't love CRM and isn't good at it, all the software and consulting services in the world won't make it work for you.

At the end of this step, you should have a very clean vision of what strategies and tactics will enable you to achieve a competitive advantage in your customer-facing systems and processes, and what their financial return will be if properly implemented and executed.

Step Three: Design and Manage an Implementation Strategy

While step two is politically the most tricky, step three is functionally the most difficult.

By implementation strategy I mean just that: you need a vision, goals, and critical performance indicators. There are two basic strategies:

  • The "go-big-and-fast" strategy, designed to reap the greatest potential economic benefit (often advocated by suppliers of enterprise CRM frameworks).

  • The "go-small-and-slow" approach (the safer, and, in most cases, better way to go).

The go-big-and-fast strategy requires organizational readiness, architectural compatibility, and business process flexibility that few businesses -- much less mid-sized or large organizations -- have. But some do. Generally the go-big-and-fast strategy works best in small organizations, or larger ones with a very strong, centralized command structure, where typically there's a CEO who serves as the single, authoritative leader and calls all the shots.

In organizations with a more collaborative or decentralized command structure, the chances of success are much lower and require special measures. These include organizational, process design, and technical architectural assessments and studies.

In helping the organization evaluate the impact of the CRM implementation, these analyses help prepare the organization and build consensus among the key constituents within the groups affected by the change, including sales, marketing, customer service, finance, technology, operations, and legal.

The go-slow-and-small approach takes its cue for lessons learned in previous enterprise technology implementation disasters. Remember ERP (enterprise relationship planning)?

This approach begins with the belief that you can't possibly know and anticipate all the technical, organizational, process, and cultural problems inherent in any major change in doing business. So it's best to pilot and test first, learn along the way, and pilot and test again -- until you get it right.

Lastly, in terms of managing the implementation, the best advice I have is to use proven management methodologies (such as project plans, timelines, and schedule of deliverables). Also, ensure that program managers have the right resources and talent to do the job. Some organizations are creating a new position, such as chief customer officer, to fulfill this role. Given the sad state of most CRM implementations, that seems like a pretty good idea.

If you'd like to respond to some of these points, or want to share information in regard to getting started on a CRM initiative, please contact me.

Arthur O'Connor is a national columnist for eCRMGuide.com, an internet.com site, and this year serves as the chairperson of the Institute for International Researchs CRM Conference. He has more than 20 years of management experience in customer management, strategy, and new business development.






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