There are few mid-market organisations that have not dabbled with some form of CRM implementation over the past few years, especially as the price of software has fallen.
Indeed, many companies actually have unused software licenses hinting at grand CRM plans that have failed to come to fruition. In the vast majority of cases, such implementations have been tactical, driven by departmental managers with a specific objective – from the sales manager looking to improve control over the sales team to the marketing manager needing to transform customer segmentation or the customer services manager hoping to streamline support.
In far too many cases, the deployments have been ill thought out and, critically, gained little staff commitment. Indeed, the number of CRM projects that have been derailed by sales teams resisting the perceived ‘enforcement tool’ is significant.
It is little wonder, therefore, that many organisations have a somewhat tainted perception of CRM’s value. Yet no company today can possibly deny that this technology is also a critical business tool. Organisations need to create a single view of the customer; they need to design far more effective customer-facing processes and achieve far more effective measurement to create a closed loop.
So just how can any company juggle the need for CRM technology with a highly understandable reluctance to even contemplate business-wide deployment?
There is a growing awareness that the tactical deployments of the past have no place in the modern CRM world. Success is dependent upon achieving a truly strategic deployment that reflects key business objectives. Yet it is this very reluctance to embrace CRM wholeheartedly that is jeopardising many strategic implementations. The CRM software decision-making process alone can run to two years as organisations invite suggestions from every part of the business creating wish lists that run into the hundreds.
This is, patently, madness. Delegating CRM requirements to middle managers can only result in further failure: their view is, by default, tactical and departmental. The only way to achieve a strategic implementation of CRM is to define a solution that meets the company’s top five or ten business priorities – not an arm’s length wish list.
And this is tough. Unlike ERP or Finance software, CRM requirements are fluid and open to interpretation, but an organisation knows its key business challenges and objectives. Senior management should be able to pin point the key areas of development that will deliver quantifiable business value and return on investment (ROI). It is only by aligning the CRM deployment with these strategic objectives and assigning values to these objectives that an organisation can truly determine the potential CRM budget and set a realistic ROI timeframe.
Without doubt a strategic implementation will cost more than any tactical solution. The product sets are the same – mid-market products now offer the functionality to support a strategic deployment. But getting a strategic implementation right requires more than good technology. It requires excellent consultancy and facilitation to help an organisation define its key business priorities, to enable process change and, most importantly, work with staff to ensure a smooth transition.
Furthermore, a truly strategic implementation – as opposed to multiple tactical deployments – raises the difficult issue of data quality. Inconsistent data definitions across the business have to be resolved to create that essential single customer view. Without the right tools and techniques to create a clean, consistent customer database, organisations will compromise the strategic deployment from day one.
In what is now a commodity technology market, it is these combined technical and consultancy skills, supported by the right senior management attitude, that are the key to CRM success.
However, organisations will not get a strategic implementation for under £50,000. For that price, all that is on offer is another set of CRM software licences and the chance for sales, or marketing or customer service to address some apparently pressing concern that will, inevitably, make little impact on the bottom line.
It is the additional costs associated with management consultancy, business process consultancy, behavioural change, cultural change and sustained focus on the business priorities that will deliver the strategic implementation. It is this expertise that will keep a project focused, that will stop an organisation sliding back to the temptingly simple tactical approach.
Far too many companies buy in to the concept of the strategic implementation, yet when faced with the challenge of achieving consensus return inexorably to the inevitable wish list. The result is an implementation that meets one hundred requests badly, none of which actually reflect the true corporate priorities, merely the diverse whims of middle management.
It is easy to justify a tactical CRM implementation: lower cost, lower expectation, less disruption - but also, far less value. A strategic investment in CRM demands joined-up thinking, it requires a senior level commitment and some brave decision making to drive the focus and define objectives. It is ambitious.
Organisations have been down the tactical route before; so why repeat the mistakes of the past, albeit with far more functional software? Yes, achieving a strategic implementation is challenging, and more expensive, but with the right approach and prioritisation the benefits of a strategic implementation can transform an organisation’s attitude to CRM, and reap the exceptional prize that this can bring.
John Haigh is head of CRM at CPiO
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