Preparing for trouble with CRM

It goes without saying that Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) is one of the most prevalent and important initiatives undertaken by corporations both large and small. Yet, industry experts claim that nearly five out of every ten CRM initiatives fail. What's the difference between those that succeed and those that fail? What does it take to successfully implement CRM?

My observations from successful CRM initiatives suggest that success can be, in part attributed to the ability to strategically manage the various aspects of CRM within the context of your organizations broader business direction. Based on our experiences, we suggest organizations consider the following points when developing and deploying a CRM initiative:

  • Create a strategic CRM vision. Buying the latest and greatest CRM software application or developing the slickest e-commerce site will not solve your CRM challenges. While technology certainly plays a major role in supporting the success of CRM, CRM is really a strategic initiative. It's a way of doing business, not just a way of managing information. As such, a CRM initiative will be most successful if an organization has a clear vision for how it wants to deliver value to its customers.

A strong CRM vision is critical because it helps ensure that the decisions made in selecting technology will be made on the basis of the goals of the company and not be driven-or limited-by the functionality or capability that a particular software application may provide. Remember that technology should support the vision of CRM, not drive it.

  • Avoid the cookie-cutter technology approach to CRM. Every business has a unique way in which it deals with its customers, and while there are many technological CRM solutions that designed for your particular industry, virtually all will need customization to address your specific organizational needs to build loyalty with your customers. The goal with CRM is to differentiate your business from your competitors. If everyone uses the same technology or software application without customization, there's no significant competitive differentiation and you've gained little from your investment. Make sure the application purchased meets the needs of the organization.
  • Manage the number of cooks in the kitchen. The complexities of CRM may require working with multiple vendors on various aspects of the initiative. Often the efforts of the vendors are uncoordinated and result in "finger-pointing," which inevitably occurs when something goes wrong. For example, depending on the organization's needs, there may be a systems integrator; a contact management or sales force automation software application vendor, a campaign management software vendor, and maybe an analytical software vendor. Each of these vendors will have specific needs, such as specific data structures, data and system processes, data needs-for implementation, but how can an organization ensure that these needs are aligned to effectively and efficiently enable the CRM initiative?

Best practices suggest that the way to ensure success with multiple vendors is to:

  • Identify and hire a prime contractor as the lead project manager. One of the vendors should be charged with the primary responsibility for ensuring that all of the applications work together properly. In some cases, the prime contractor could be a consultant; in others it could be a systems integrator. However, it's often best to hire an independent, neutral party to serve as the prime contractor or project manager to manage and coordinate the overall project.
  • Develop an integrated project plan. A project plan, which incorporates the critical tasks and milestones of all vendors, is a necessity. In many cases, there are significant dependencies between vendors that may go un-checked if not combined with the overall plan.
  • Engage all vendors in the system design and implementation process. This should help prevent one or more vendors moving in a direction which may be optimal for their product or service, but which may render another vendor's product or service inoperable as planned.
  • Engage all vendors in ongoing communication. All vendors involved in the project should receive weekly project status reports, as well as participate in weekly team meets. This will help avoid miss-communication as the project progresses.
  • Bind the vendors contractually. A good way to minimize these disputes is to bind the vendors contractually and enforce mutual warranties of performance for each vendor involved. In other words, each vendor would warrant that its work or applications will operate free of defect with the products and services of the other vendors on the project.

There are many challenges and issues to address when managing a CRM initiative. Addressing the factors here alone may not ensure success. However, if you keep these at the forefront of your initiative, you will have the ammunition you need to overcome many major contributors to CRM failure.

David Harkins is a business strategist, speaker, and teacher.

He is the founder and executive consultant at David Harkins Company. In his spare time, he writes hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.

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