A Pledge for CRM Success - Page 2

Dec 6, 2001

Arthur O'Connor

A common result is the famous "user adoption" problem; people simply don't use the system, or use only a small sub-set of features (for example, using a full-featured CRM system as a ridiculously expensive contact-management system). Another bad result is that different business users customize the package so much that the company winds up with the worst of both worlds: an expensive, upfront investment for a fully-supported commercial package with all the higher long-term maintenance, integration, upgrade and support costs of a custom application.

What's the better way? Use a performance matrix to measure expected return, relative to investment required. Those initiatives in the quadrant representing the highest return for the lower investment and risk win.

For expected return, use solid, quantitative performance goals -and no, I don't just mean return on investment (ROI), which is often a lousy short-term performance metric - to serve as the criteria for expected economic benefit, relative to the estimated cost and/or ease of integration and implementation.

In this scheme, commitment and accountability to making specific, measurable performance improvements in business processes (lower servicing costs, reduced inbound customer call waiting, higher hit rates and/or conversion ratios, higher average revenue per target account, etc.) establishes the criteria to which projects are judged, and not corporate rank, ego or who shouts the loudest at the senior staff meeting.

For investment required, use realistic, well-founded estimates on not just software licensing fees but also the expected costs of integrating and implementing the package, including change management, training and communications expenses.

Promise #3: Take responsibility for the culture of your organization, for doing the necessary preparatory work, for making the developing creative solutions and making touch decisions in designing and deploying your CRM system. Senior management must ensure that it has the right people, in the right roles, with the right skill sets and right incentives, in order to be successful.

"I promise to place the burden of formulating a CRM strategy and creating a customer-centric culture upon myself and our senior management team. We, as a team, take full responsibility for the behaviors of our employees, based on the formal incentive structure and examples we set. We recognize that leadership cannot be delegated to an outside consulting firm. It will be up to us to design our approach, make the technical, business and political trade-offs, and work together to fully leverage our assets and resources to deliver superior value to our customers."

This is the toughest pledge to take. If you -the senior executive involved- are not the chief sponsor and architect of the solution, then the project is probably doomed to fail. Consultants (such as myself) can provide great advice, competitive perspective, knowledge of best practices and comparative analysis of solutions, but we can't successfully implement the solution without your input, buy-in, involvement and ownership.

You need to recognize that this is your CRM system, for your organization, that you need to design and run it as part of your business tactics and strategies. It's not some new thing dreamed up by the people at the corporate office, or, worst yet, the IT department to make things run smoothly and efficiently. You need to understand that, with CRM, automation is a result, not a cause.

Sadly, many organizations have undertaken CRM without doing their homework. The embark on a CRM implementation without first having a clear idea of:

  • Their customers' behaviors, needs and interests and how to attract and retain them
  • Their business processes and how to improve them
  • Their systems and applications and how to integrate them
  • Their technical infrastructure and how it fits into a overarching strategy and architecture
  • Their human resource/talent mix and what they need to change in order to succeed

The last point is particularly telling. Many organizations adhere to the definition of corporate insanity: using the same people, operating in the same roles, with the same skills, behaviors, loyalties and incentives - and expecting completely different results!

Arthur O'Connor is a leading expert on customer relationship management (CRM) and customer-facing IT systems and strategies. He's currently the national columnist for and this year serves as the chairperson of the Institute for International Research's CRM Conference. He has over 20 years leadership and management experience in the area of customer management, strategy and new business development, including 15 years as a senior corporate officer of two NYSE-listed inter national corporations, and over five years experience as an independent management consultant and Big 5 firm practice manager selling and managing large-scale IT engagements.

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