Six Steps to Long-Term CRM Value

By Anthone Withers

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After wrestling with first–generation CRM solutions that were difficult to use, customize and integrate, businesses have learned the importance of flexibility and are developing CRM solutions that fit the way they do business. This helps them improve customer loyalty which ultimately drives profitability across the whole organization.

Flexibility in design along with best-practices in planning and a staged deployment ensures continual innovation and measurable returns. To build a stronger foundation for success, businesses should start by making technology investments that provide platforms for long-term innovation and also support the near-term business strategy and performance objectives.

Below are six practical steps you should consider to establish long-term CRM value:

Know What Your Organization Needs and When

Not all CRM solutions can support the business processes of every organization, so it is important to know how your organization wants to manage its customer relationships. Then find the solution that fits your business and meets your unique requirements.

Know how your organization works from top to bottom and what you want to achieve with a CRM solution. Take this holistic view of your business and determine the role your customers play within it. Then define the business problem and the desired benefits within this context. Create scenarios showing how the organization runs now and how it will run once the solution is implemented.

Once you can clearly articulate the big picture, break the project down into smaller steps with clear benefits at each stage and measure those benefits as you grow; you will begin to reap the benefits or your new CRM solution. Make sure to identify all of the points at which the solution will integrate with other front- and back-end systems, as well as with those suppliers and partners.

Secure Executive Support

A CRM strategy needs to be adopted, promoted and executed across the entire organization, and executive support is critical. Select an executive sponsor who is eager to lead the charge. This leader must be able to make the hard decisions that will be necessary along the way, unite the various teams and departments that will be affected, and ensure everyone clearly understands and cooperates.

It is also recommended that a company leading a successful CRM strategy form a governance team that includes both the business owners and the technical implementation team. This team would be tasked with working together to closely monitor project deliverables, remove all roadblocks and offer adequate support to everyone who is impacted.

Invest in a Robust CRM Solution

A robust CRM solution spans the entire enterprise and includes operational, analytical and collaborative aspects. Top-performing organizations address each of these three areas when looking to invest in CRM solutions:

Operational CRM builds rich information about every aspect of the customer, starting at a broad business level and, when appropriate, incorporating personal details, such as the contact’s birthday or special preferences. Operational CRM provides a “360-degree view” of the customer and includes the data necessary to make informed decisions that produce quantifiable results.

Analytical CRM includes data mining, which uncovers insights, trends and patterns about marketing, sales and service needs, and habits of customers. This information is invaluable in creating targeted campaigns, properly prioritizing sales leads, recognizing and acting on cross-selling opportunities, and optimizing sales and service processes.

Collaborative CRM connects the right information about the right customer at the right time for individuals and work teams across departments, divisions and the globe. Collaborative CRM offers the ability to reach out to customers and members of your organization through various touch points.

As businesses and individuals continue to adopt mobile technology that keeps them connected while away from the office, this is increasingly important. Essentially, collaborative CRM connects the final touch points between your customers and their experiences with your business.

Organizations, which previously focused only on operational or analytical aspects of CRM, discovered that their user experience was too cumbersome and failed to capture and organize the information in such a way that users could find what they needed, make better business decisions and drive results. In short, these partial solutions returned limited value to the organization over the long term.

Choose a CRM Solution That is Easy to Use

Analysts agree that user acceptance is the single most important success factor for a CRM application, so this should be top of mind when considering solutions.

A CRM solution should work in a way that is familiar to the users and is seen as a help not a hindrance to their jobs. Businesses have been conditioned to think that they must change the way they work or do business to fit the application. Many are left believing that customization is out of their reach or will actually jeopardize their returns.

However, times and technology have changed. Today, growing organizations should expect a CRM solution that fits their unique needs, that grows with their business and that is not only affordable, but delivers a quick return-on-investment (ROI).

One of the key aspects of a successful CRM Solution is the user interface; it must be intuitive. A self-explanatory and easy-to-use interface with familiar terminology is critical, and yet it is often overlooked. If your organization deploys an application to your sales, marketing and service professionals, and those users cannot quickly understand the application; they will give up on it or only use it minimally. And if they don’t use it, your organization will miss thousands of opportunities to improve business execution and knowledge building at critical customer touch points.

Choose a CRM Solution That is Easy to Integrate

Your CRM solution should work with the other critical systems your business uses. Consider the front- and back-end technologies that you presently have, as well as systems you plan to implement in the future. In addition, take into account the various departments or lines of business you will include long term as you seek to broadly expand the benefits of your solution.

It is not just about where your business is today but where it wants to be in the next few weeks, months and even, years. Your organization changes, your company challenges change, your customers’ needs change and your business priorities change. And you need a CRM system that will change with you and continue to enhance the way you do business rather than tie your hands and restrict your ability to grow. Your CRM solution should continue to provide you with the insight, metrics and dashboards you need to get you where you want to go—no matter which direction you turn to capture additional business opportunities.

Build the Right Team

All the best intentions and efforts in the world will not lead to CRM success unless there is a highly-skilled and experienced team involved. A CRM initiative can be complex, and your business needs a team that has in-depth CRM expertise and business knowledge as well as the creativity, focus, commitment and drive to meet the expectations of the project.

Anthone Withers, Avanade global CRM solutions director, is responsible for driving the CRM strategy, as well as developing vertical solutions and the creation of reusable assets. He has more than 10 years of experience in solutions marketing, strategy and product management. Before joining Avanade, Withers was at NCR Teradata as marketing director for Australia/New Zealand.