For the past four or five years I have been dealing with more and more scenarios where there are internal struggles between the various approaches to CRM and the best approach to take when it comes to making a customer successful. When I say internal struggles people ask me if I am talking about the consulting approach or the customer’s approach to the implementation…and the answer is…YES! This applies to both CRM implementation methodology and the customer approach.
In exploring this topic I really want to dive into three areas around CRM that I think exacerbate the preexisting challenges with deploying this type of technology. The first point of contention is structure of the implementation and whether or not to include analysis. If you can get around that hurdle then you must deal with a likely organizational shift regarding the foundation of CRM. And, if you get past all of that, you then need to deal with creating a systemic feedback cycle that will keep your implementation relevant and critical.
Believe it or not there are still many companies operating in the small-medium enterprise (SME) marketplace without a structured and valid CRM implementation. My first question as a management consultant would be, “How is this even possible?” Unfortunately I get to see how in dozens of companies every year so this is more of a rhetorical question for me. Therefore, when these companies make a formal move to CRM through advice internal enlightenment, the transition is going to be a struggle.
The reason that the transition is going to be a challenge is that you are dealing with changing behavior in adults, applying formal structure where there previously was none, and doing all of this around the people responsible for a company’s revenue and/or customer retention. Enter the business analyst or technology consultant with lots of questions to question long time processes or question business practices. Hopefully you are starting to see where the competing forces at play here.
Principally, the consultant has relevant experience and can make a positive impact on the customer. The challenge is that the customer is already dealing with significant internal challenges and conflict while trying to do the right thing to improve their business. I know it sounds like an impossible situation but it is one that I literally see every week. And the possible resolutions are somewhat straight forward but take some agreement on both sides.
I have long been a proponent of doing a core implementation in these cases to put in place a foundation for a customer in order for them to get their foot in the door with CRM and deal with the more challenging people and cultural challenges that may have a larger impact on whether the deployment will be a success or failure. I am not saying that every CRM platform can be deployed in this manner because there does need to be some effort up front in the selection process to make sure that the core solution is scalable to the long term goals. But you need a clean break from the decision and the long term vision when starting a basic implementation.
The challenge to the consultant is two fold. First, the consultant has to be strong and disciplined in staying to the basics and not actually consulting. This will come in later phases. The other challenge is that the customer also must buy into a a phased approach and that the CRM implementation is perpetual. That’s right! A CRM implementation is never completed and always in a transition to the next phase because customers and markets are ever changing.
This is where things get tricky. If you get beyond the first set of challenges then you usually have a power struggle on your hands. It’s not really a power struggle in a literal sense but it is a power struggle in terms of the mindset of a company. All of us that have worked in this industry for some time know that technology is only about one third of the formula for success. So what is this “power struggle” all about?
When you deploy CRM there is a unique opportunity to make this implementation your operational heartbeat and let all other systems flow information in and out of this system so that it becomes the blue print for operational success. Many audiences that I have spoken to understand that in the age of “service” it is “just-in-time information” that will empower employees and create relevant value to your business. If all of this sounds great then here is the challenge that you will face.
Somewhere in the organization there is a manufacturing system, project management system, ERP system, some system that houses the financial and transactional information. It is these systems that many SME customers see as the “Holy Grail” within their organizations. The problem is that these systems do not have any “context” to the transactions and the customers. Sure, some have limited CRM and/or the ability to add or record notes or attach documents.
If you are truly going to elevate your company to the next level there will need to be a centralized capture of not only the transactions but also the conversations, follow up, and operational handoffs with both customer and prospect. This means that the CRM database will be the central system and not a “front office” module. I always get a chuckle that many times people in the “back office” talk about CRM like business development and customer service are optional items.
Unless there is a dynamic shift in the importance of the CRM database the customer’s ability to continually improve operations and customer facing execution will be challenging for both the customer and the CRM consultant. I think this is where many people on my side of the table have a problem implementing a core solution without extensive analysis and modifications that elevate the investment and the importance of CRM.
As a life long baseball fan I have always loved the movie Field of Dreams with that classic line, “If you build it they will come.” And that is the faith that I have in implementing some systems with core functionality and the understanding and agreement with the customer that the system will, over time, become the operational framework. When the customer starts to see value quickly they will want to continue to optimize and modify the core foundation….if the feedback cycle was established before the first piece of software was ever installed.
The feedback cycle, vetting of proposed enhancements, and the validation of prior enhancements and workflows is where a CRM consultant will make their money over time. I have continued to see stronger relationships and more profitable customers using this approach over the past few years…even in tough times. In fact, some customers have spent more during the downturn because they actually had the time to work on more complicated changes to the execution in their operations and workflows.
Now I wonder what you think is your best approach the next time you deploy a system as a customer or a consultant. Will you go big and complex and throw everything in but the kitchen sink or will you start small and build over time. Drop me a line and let me know.