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Trendspotting: Getting The Most From CRM

Define your goals for implementing a CRM system, then choose an integration partner as carefully as you selected a CRM package, follow best-practices tips, and keep a clear eye on meeting measurable goals, Rebecca Wettemann says.

Remember the good old days of CRM? Multimillion dollar budgets were the norm, managing a project guaranteed you at least a couple of years of full employment, and you could send everyone off for a few weeks of training in the hopes that they would "get it." Unfortunately, that was a recipe for disaster -- but that doesn't mean CRM technology doesn't deliver ROI. Over the past 12 months, Nucleus Research has found more and more companies that are taking the plunge have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors and are getting positive returns from customer-relationship-management projects. Instead of treating CRM like a test-tube experiment or a magic elixir, they know that CRM is like farming -– it takes a lot more than a few seeds and a shiny tractor to harvest results.

What Are You Planting?
Deciding you need to improve CRM, or that "it's all about the customer," isn't enough. Companies that are successful with technology are finding solutions to problems, not deploying acronyms. Before you even start talking to vendors, you need to identify what you want to accomplish -- in plain English. This first step isn't about building a 500-page requirements document, it's nailing down the nuts and bolts of what you want to accomplish, whether the goals are related to sales, marketing, customer service, or a combination of all three.

Here's a tip: If you can't explain to your mother what you want to do with CRM, you need to do some more thinking! It's fine to have lofty goals, but your project will be more manageable and measurable if you have tactical goals in mind as well. Some successful companies we've studied had these kinds of objectives in mind:

  • Better visibility into the sales pipeline so managers can make decisions
  • Better understanding of how marketing efforts deliver leads
  • More-productive sales staff
  • Reducing IT and manual data-entry costs

Once you've defined your CRM goals in clear business terms, you can look for a solution with appropriate functionality and usability and plan a deployment with measurable goals. You'll also want to look at where you plan to plant this project. Do you need to prepare a political landscape before you get started? Have previous attempts worn out the soil? Is starting in one small plot a better strategy than uprooting the entire organization? It's great to know what you want all the fields to look like, but you may find you get better results with a few rows you can hoe and expand over time.

Look out for all hat and no cattle. Given the level of customization, configuration, integration, and training most enterprise CRM projects require, the partner you select to manage your implementation can have as much impact on your ROI as the solution you select. Just being certified with your solution vendor isn't enough -- make sure your implementation partner has experience implementing the same version of the solution you plan to deploy, and that you feel comfortable with your team (and the relationship between your vendor and partner) before you start.

You also should make sure you and your partner agree on how responsibilities will be shared. Will you have full-time IT and business staff on the team, or will you be more hands-off? For some services firms, the catchphrase "we want to use our people" means you're trying to get a bargain-basement deployment -- others are more used to shared responsibilities. Talking through such key issues as your involvement, budget, time lines, project leadership, and key decision points will set a framework for a clear dialogue and reduce the likelihood for confusion or conflict if challenges arise.

If it works, don't plow it under. Many companies have multiple databases and applications that support CRM efforts today. Given the developments in integration technology as well as the development efforts of CRM vendors such as Siebel Systems around service-oriented architectures, the "single-customer view" is a much more attainable goal than before, without a complete overhaul. Whether you're deploying today or are in maintenance mode, look to integration opportunities to leverage more value from CRM with a relatively small investment. In many cases, the savings in multiple data-entry costs and correction time alone can be enough to justify the investment.

Reap what you've sown. An analytics investment can help you leverage more value out of your customer data by increasing visibility, enabling managers to identify key targets or high-margin opportunities, and giving you the insight you need to be more competitive. Taking advantage of the "canned" reports available in more CRM solutions is a good first step; looking to more advanced analytics focused on CRM and customer data can help you drive value and leverage intelligence into action.

Training isn't enough. The amount of time invested in CRM training ranges from none for some on-demand solutions to more than 40 hours (one week) of training time per user -- but training alone won't ensure adoption, and shouldn't be an afterthought of an implementation. Including business users in the testing and interface-customization process, keeping management visible on the project, and seeding and culturing a group of power users are all low-cost strategies for increasing the likelihood (particularly where salespeople are concerned) that they'll actually use it.

All of these best practices may seem like common sense, but they can be easy to overlook or underestimate in a changing political environment. Thoughtful planning and preparation for a CRM project will help you weather the storms or droughts you may encounter along the road.

Rebecca Wettemann is VP of research at Nucleus Research, a global tech consulting and advisory firm. Its analysts blend financial analysis and case-based investigations with technology expertise to deliver return-on-investment data. She can be reached at Rebecca@NucleusResearch.com.


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