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Finger-pointing and the CRM blues

Industry veteran Lee Finck says that while this software category is taking some deserved lumps, don't forget to weigh the indifference of senior management if you want to explain failed companywide implementations.

    In an earlier Perspectives piece, Jeff Maling asserts that a proliferation of customer interaction channels (e-mail, Web and wireless) is causing customer relationship management implementations to fail. He further points out that the answer lies somewhere between information technology and marketing.

    Maling is right, but targeting only IT and marketing in a CRM implementation is like trying to make an old car run by fixing the antenna. There's a bit more work to do in other parts of the organization.

    CRM is a bigger deal than IT and marketing, and if you're going to "explode the myth," it's best to look at the bigger picture.

    Let's get one thing straight: While CRM as a category is taking some deserved lumps right now, a successful implementation can accomplish all the goals it claims. But there are two huge challenges beyond the purview of IT and marketing.

    First, CRM vendors and their reselling partners vastly underplay the Herculean investment in time and money necessary for success. Second, and more importantly, the deploying customer doesn't realize early enough that a complete CRM implementation affects virtually every critical corporate business process.

    After all, CRM aims to make a company's interactions with customers and business processes more cohesive across disciplines and departments.

    Further, CRM vendors are running into a phenomenon they should have anticipated. If several departments have both non-integrated data stores and non-integrated processes, a CRM application will not achieve its goals without a thorough understanding--or potentially massive breakage--of business processes.

    Let's get one thing straight: While CRM as a category is taking some deserved lumps right now, a successful implementation can accomplish all the goals it claims.
    Of course, this may be exactly what the doctor ordered, but customers need a clearer picture going into the engagement.

    Having gone through Siebel Systems implementations in a rapidly growing company as well as a post-merger implementation, I have intimate knowledge of the mistakes one can make at street level. Ultimately, the point is that a CRM customer must take ultimate responsibility for a successful deployment.

    The impetus for the project needs to come from executive management or the odds of success go down quickly. Why? Nothing drives customer compliance or cross-departmental cohesiveness better than real-time direction and feedback from a senior executive.

    And, to state what should be obvious, metrics mapping to customer satisfaction and revenue should be agreed upon in the planning stages.

    I know of no better demonstration of "garbage in, garbage out" than in the period just after a CRM launch. All the hard work and money spent pre-launch is utterly useless if individual data entry is sporadic or inaccurate.

    Tangible rewards--or even punitive rules--for customer compliance need to be carefully set in place early on. Pay particular attention to your salespeople. If the software doesn't marry tightly to their sales process, their contempt will show when management runs bogus reports.

    Appoint one CRM project owner with complete accountability and responsibility. A leaderless cross-discipline CRM deployment team will waste months and potentially millions of dollars on stalemates.

    Examples?

    The sales and marketing delegates will forever argue about how leads are managed and distributed. The Big Five consultant will design a pan-galactic-phased-strategy that ensures a multiyear billing engagement. And IT? Well, they'll just want to control as much of it as possible.

    I know of no better demonstration of "garbage in, garbage out" than in the period just after a CRM launch.
    Such conflicts will eventually be resolved through escalations to a tie-breaking executive. However, CRM is a big enough deal for a full-time executive project leader who bets their bonus on milestones and completion of the project.

    The makeup of such a leader is easily defined: They make quick, logical and merciless decisions in the best interest of the company and its customers, and they manage budgets with an iron fist.

    In our spendthrift IT environment, CRM sales may decrease as a category. I think this is already starting to happen in light of recent scrutiny, but the damage is not permanent. CRM vendors will need to step up their efforts to ensure success in each engagement.

    But most importantly, companies that sign up for a complete CRM installation need to take more responsibility for the project's success. So unless executive management has taken the lead, and the project is aggressively and centrally managed on a tight timeline, be prepared to shovel your CRM money into the proverbial fireplace.

    The effort moves far beyond IT and marketing working in concert.