Practical CRM
Practical CRM

Marketing Automation: CRM's New Fuel

Before anyone gets any chuckles about how long it has been since my last confession... uh, I meant my last post...  it should be noted that the demand for CRM is completely off the charts and we are enjoying our best years ever.

Some people speculate that it's chic to be into your customers or be wrapped all around social media but in reality executives are understanding that need to maximize their labor assets and differentiate.  And, when people get around all of the rah, rah and "Big Brother" aspects of CRM, when done correctly, it actually makes a difference.

Now that I have two seconds to stop in between customer visits and strategizing on how my internal team gets better I thought it a great time to make a commitment to getting  back to my blogging activity. And what better to talk about than marketing automation.

For those not aware there has been an evolution going on for some time to make a more meaningful bridge between electronic marketing and CRM that is having a much bigger impact than anything I have seen in the past 15 years.

The challenge has always been a kind of chicken and the egg approach to the tradeoffs between marketing and sales and disconnects that always occur.  Enter the world of "MA", or marketing automation, and the new realities that this opportunity brings.

In order to really understand the dynamics off marketing automation one really needs to revert all the way back to the way sales and sales engagements have evolved.  Back in the day the vendors controlled everything from the sales process to the flow of information.

Today’s world of sales is much, much different and there is a level of control that has been given up to the customer in the age of the Internet.  There is more information readily available for consumption and sales teams are trying to figure out where they fit into the customers’ buying process. 

As stated in one of the keynotes at a conference I attended today the new world of selling is all about understanding and connecting all of the interactions and putting that in the context of your history and all of your relevant data...

This, my friends, is what many of us having been looking for since getting into the CRM business.  We finally have a path to fuel the CRM system and power the right investments into the marketing that will put the right customers at the other end of the sales funnel.

Beware the "Shiny New Toy Syndrome" in CRM

One of the most interesting circumstances that we see in the CRM industry is the level of flexibility in our customer’s project teams and the fluidity of the user constituency in changing objectives and priorities for their CRM projects.  There are many causes of this phenomenon and we will discuss a few of them here.  More importantly, I will highlight the newest CRM "toys" and give my opinion on those most relevant to the business climate today.

Before we get into which toys and why it's probably just as important for consulting and internal project teams to understand why technology is evolving so quickly in this industry.  There is no doubt that capital investment from software publishers and SaaS players, coupled with an explosion of accessibility methods and devices, has been the driver here.  Add in the fact that there is now a blend between the personal and business aspects of the social space and now you have essentially the perfect storm for CRM innovation.

As many people know I prefer not to get into product specifics as I have to during countless boardroom sessions but I think it's fair to mention that its not just the CRM providers that are making strides but the ancillary offerings that are also pacing the innovation.  With robust market places and constant messaging more and more companies have gone away from concentrating on core business drivers and are focusing on how to "adapt" the newest app or gadget to CRM because they bought in that somehow it equates to competitive advantage.

Lets dive into five hot capabilities in CRM and give you the skinny on how and where they fit.

Social "Anything" - Just look at almost anything related to CRM and you will see the word social attached to it.  This concept is certainly harder for a B2B environment to pull off and the closer you are to dealing with individuals and consumers this has actual value to you.  For those in recruiting, consumer goods, fund raising, and retail you have a winner.  If you are in another industry and having a hard time visualizing how it applies  maybe cool your jets and wait to see a practical application in your industry.

Reputation Management - This capability is also evolving from the "social" sphere and is also labeled social media monitoring.  This function can (but does not necessarily) relate to both B2C and B2B but the practical application is probably more in areas where there is heavy investment in brand and where products or services are highly transactional.  So if you have a product in grocery stores or retail then it applies but if you are a regional general contractor or technology reseller not so much.

Collaboration - So far we have seen two sides of the coin on this one.  There is definite value depending on the situation.  If you have a complex, distributed or team selling approach then connecting with team members and sharing intelligence or making split second decisions has value.  If you run field sales and service operations there can also be a nice tie in for people to communicate at the central point of concern and resolve customer issues or strategize on managing relationships. If, however, your shop is all about talking and analysis through paralysis some managers have complained that collaboration is just another productivity killer so you have to set rules and boundaries.

Portals - Watch more discussion about portals as one of the catch phrases that will continue to evolve in 2013. The general idea of portals, ecosystems and communities is that there are centralized places for people to work with each other and produce synergies around a common set of objectives.  The drawback is that if you can't readily layout a structure and are "pushing" to define a solution you may not be the best candidate.

Mobile - Now here is the real value add in terms of new capabilities that really matter.  We have finally come to the point where information should be available anywhere and anytime so that users can consume at a time and place that makes a difference in their ability to produce either revenue or results.  We live in a society where everything happens in Internet speed. If we cant transact the same way that our users or customers expect then they are at risk of finding someone who can.    The only caution is that users should temper expectations of pushing full functionality of any desktop system into a mobile experience.  The key driver here is the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

So, as you head into the Holiday Season and start to eat your body weight in goodies and look at lots of shiny new toys, dont forget that there is a difference between marketing hype and practical application of technology in your business.  If you dont know how something will fit that a vendor is pushing really hard then just wait until you have a solid business case for deploying new capabilities.

The Perception of CRM is Finally Shifting

It only took about a decade but after enough CRM evangelists beating the drum for a long enough period of time I believe that the concept of CRM is finally starting to hold mind share with executives and other strategic thinkers inside of most organizations.  For years and years many have struggled to figure out what CRM means and now more and more people are assessing the value of CRM as it applies to their organizations.

Right after Y2K many of us that sat in the board room across from many sales, service or operations people.  In those meetings we espoused the virtues of CRM only to watch a fair number of those projects go down in flames.  How did it happen?  Was it the product? Was it the approach?  Was it the mentality of the user community?  Was it the lack of common database standards?  Was it inability to integrate successfully with ERP of back end systems?  If you said "all of the above" you are partially correct.

Assuming that you agree that all of the preceding factors could have a significant impact in the success of a project there was also plenty of blame to go around on the implementation side of the table.  There were many people that took and ERP approach and designated systems as reporting engines and forced them from the top down.  There were just as many project managers that took a "big project" approach and bit off way more than they could chew.  It didn't matter what the technology or its capabilities the size of the projects sunk many deployments.

So what has changed over the past 10 years?  Just about everything has shifted and one of the most important shifts has come through the sheer availability and affordability of CRM for just about every type of organization.  With availability the came out as the cloud solutions flooded the market came more and more every day users that have had exposure to some type of CRM. The tools have also gotten better but we will get to that shortly.  As people have had experience with CRM the conversations in the board room have shifted from "Will it work?" to "How do I make it work?"

The number of people with significant CRM project experience has also grown considerably and with that knowledge and best practices have emerged.  For those of us that started in the world of packaged software the argument used to be whether the best choice was on premise or the cloud.  Now most of us have evolved past that argument and now we look at that decision as simply a deployment option.  The good news with the evolution of cloud computing is that users now have a simple expectation that CRM is available when and where they need it.  

If you talk to any of the industry analysts they will tell you that everyone is talking about mobile and tablets and having the data and the tools at your fingertips that enable good decision making or empower customer facing employees.  What this tells me at the very least is that many of our industries sales people are no longer selling the concept of CRM but selling the concept of why their capabilities and delivery methods are better than someone else's.  This also tells me that decision makers sitting in the chair now get the fact that CRM is imperative and done correctly can be a significant competitive weapon.  

Now we start to look at what will matter for the next 10 years...  

There is no doubt that the tools that are in use now are significantly better than where we were a decade ago.  I mentioned this earlier in this post but the winners in CRM technology will be the companies that understand the commitment to innovation and providing new and meaningful ways to give front line personnel the ability to interact with their customers and their peers to provide high levels of service or real time information to buyers.  The sheer pace at which CRM tools are evolving at this point is almost mind boggling.  That is fantastic news because we don't have too many industries where we are the clear leader.

I think that the evolution of CRM is going to be an exciting journey and I am convinced that those of us that continue to learn and grow with this market will see many exciting success stories now that we don't have to try and convince stakeholders that CRM is a necessity and not an optional undertaking.

Feedback is the Fuel for Growth

It's funny that ten years ago we were trying to explain the concepts of Customer Relationship Management and just trying to get buy in for putting these types of applications into many organizations.  There were certainly skeptics and many unwilling players in countless Sales and Service organizations.  There are still a number of hold outs but for the most part we now have fairly deep penetration of CRM applications as an every day business tool.

When it comes to adoption and thinking out of the box we are not quite there.  I see too many organizations using these tools in a very manual way that actually drives adoption in the opposite direction and makes their day to day job functions more complex.  It is apparent when you see this type of firm because many of the CRM functions are done in a "Lego" or building block type of implementation.  Essentially, the company will take the step by step marketing > lead > opportunity flow and put just as many manual steps in their technology that they had in their pre-crm environments.

The reality is that many of today's tools can be much more interactive with what many of us use to consider "dead" data.  As an example we can utilize the e-marketing weapons in many of the CRM products today to not just communicate marketing messaging but also to query current customers and prospects with surveys and requests that can drive significant value to your firm.  

Proactive firms today understand that leveraging information is the key to success.  Happy customers or willing prospects will happily share information that relates to getting better service or solving their business problems. The customer landscape never stops changing and the ability to source feedback at a relatively low cost will enable your teams to reach their goals faster and enable you to be relevant and responsive.

I have been telling many executives for years that your CRM implementation is always in a phase and will never be completed.  Until the day that you sell the business or shut the doors this will be true.  If you deploy methods for automating data acquisition and feedback then you  will also understand what you need to track and how to make your CRM database come alive.  If you can do this adoption will be an afterthought and "feedback" will be the fuel to grow your business.

Does Your CRM Stand the Test of Time?

Before anyone goes crazy and starts sending out a search party I wanted to let you all know that I am still here and still ever involved in the world of CRM.  It is not that I have not had a desire to post or even the will to get the word out about new challenges and obstacles in the world of CRM adoption.  The problem is limited resources and high customer demand.  Unfortunately customers come first and it takes five times as long to grab a new customer as it does to keep one you already have happy.

Now that you have me focused and back to writing about the daily life of a CRM practitioner I thought I would start my newest post with a more modest topic.. "Return on Investment".  This isn't some theoretical discussion but a real world discussion of value and how to achieve it and what it can do for your firm if done correctly.  The idea for this article came from a conversation with a customer I have not had much interaction with for the past four years.  I helped them find and develop a solution over five years ago and we transitioned them from an older technology when they found us and asked for our assistance.

One of the key elements that I could not have brought to the table was that this customer came armed with three things that are necessary for success:

DESIRE - My first sales mentor out of college used to tell me that he could give me every tool in the world but there was nothing he could do if I did not have the "will and desire" to succeed no matter the circumstance.  I find that in many projects that have gone sideways or end up somewhat less than they could be that the project team (client and vendor) don't have a 'tough love' mentality to do the project correctly.

KNOWLEDGE - My grandfather (rest his sou) was a minister and often said that if you don't know where you are going that you will end up someplace else.  This is the essence of the CRM in that many customers have a general understanding about CRM and what it can do but most do not have a deep understanding of the critical path that CRM can play in the operations of their business.

MONEY - As my father and a few others in life have told me... "if it was easy everyone would be doing it".  The same goes for funding your projects and the resources that you dedicate to either the infrastructure or the consulting teams that help you make the most of the solution you choose to deploy.

Now let me get back to the story around this customer and how they have been able to succeed based on how they approached the project initially and how they want to move forward to their next phases of using CRM to improve their operations.

When this firm came looking for a vendor they did not approach us looking for a specific piece of technology.  In fact, they wanted experience and they wanted someone that provided multiple solutions that could take a more consultative approach to their project.  We met that requirement and began to discuss their needs.  Wow!  What a blessing.  This customer had literal understanding of the pieces and parts of their operations, technology and the gaps in their capabilities already documented and prepared to discuss.

It's not that we could not have gone through the process of analysis to get to the same point but it was the mentality of the customer to want to know what their major pain points were and how they were connected to the different parts of the organization.  So we proceeded next into crafting the solution...

As we started the discussions around how we could help address various technical or strategic objectives this customer was able to understand what the technology could support and whether or not certain enhancements or modifications would actually add value to their business.  This is unbelievably important because we ultimately started down the certain path to do certain things based on the configuration of their other systems but they decided to either change their systems to do some things a better way or even cease some of the changes they thought they wanted when it became apparent to them the value was not there.

The final aspect of this customer's project was their approach to funding initially and ongoing.  When we started the thought was that this venture might take several hundred hours and we ultimately billed a few thousand hours.  Through the entire process the focus of the team was to get the project done correctly and to make sure that critical elements made sense for all consumers of the technology.

As I had the conversation on Friday (several years removed from implementation) it was nice to hear phrases like "The best decision we ever made." and "We absolutely love the system."  Ironically, the call was not a discussion to opine or discuss how successful the program had become something else.  The reason for the call was because the customer had come to an understanding that even though the solution was very successful they now wanted to move to the next phases of evolving their CRM.  Kudos to them!

Stay tuned as I come back again and tell you what the big "aha moments" are in the next phase of this CRM success story.  I am just so happy to have validation that when people and processes come together with technology that a good CRM system does stand the test of time.

Is Your CRM A Promise Keeper?

So it has been a while since I had a chance to put down some thoughts and I decided to go back to some grass roots basics around the concepts of why the cultural side of customer relationship management is so important.  More and more these days I get involved in conversations in the board room with teams of people that are caught up in the "hype" of CRM and I get concerned because the motivation to embrace customers and leverage technology to empower employees and optimize the customer experience.

There are endless numbers of consulting firms or software publishers that are willing to simply go through the motions and help companies deploy CRM without major discussions around what a firm is trying to accomplish and the way they go about acquiring, servicing and satisfying customers.  Unfortunately I get involved in many of these train wrecks when I get asked to come back in after the fact and deliver the bad news that a CRM technology is only one third of the equation.  The rest lies in the people you employ and the processes that you follow on a daily basis.

If you assess why people want to do business with any of us it is our ability to do what we say on any number of different levels.  One of the more poignant points regarding the explosion of CRM is that fact that more and more companies are delivering services along with products or just services as our country expands its role as a service economy.   So what does this mean within the context of CRM?  Simply put, your CRM foundation should become the place that you measure how you keep your promises to customers.

The process starts within the marketing teams.  At the time that you begin the process of acquiring  leads and prospects you start to make representations about your offerings.  In a sense you are starting the process of making promises to people you don't even know or have never met.  As people respond they begin to engage with your company through email, phone and personal interactions.  As they see how you interact with them they begin to make assessments about the promises and representations you have already made.

When a lead is assigned to a team member and they begin to interact with a prospective client there are more and more promises being made.  You are building a relationship and little things like when you agree to follow up or what you say you will send and when you will send it are part of the customer experience.  And, there will be a positive or negative effect in the mind of the customer in the way that we go through our business day interacting with those who pay our paychecks.  

As we craft our solutions there are more representations made and all of those interactions need to be recorded so that other team members or employees that become engaged with the customer later on will understand their expectations and concerns.  If you believe that this is essential in the way you need your firm to operate then you can leverage a CRM foundation to record all of these promises and then measure your different internal teams on how well they do at executing what you told the customer you were going to do for them.

When you finalize a transaction with a customer they begin to understand in great detail how well you do what you claimed you would do when you were making claims during the sales process.  More importantly, there is a difference between what you contractually said you would do and what is the right thing to do in many situations.  People on the customer service side or in your project teams have to deal with gaps in expectations and the customer will let them know what is wrong and they expect you to bridge those gaps.

The method on how you handle service and execute your projects will be measured in several ways.  Customers will inquire or make claims and more importantly, they will let you know how you are doing by their willingness to continue to expand the volume of business you get from them or look for other alternatives.   This is where customer service and marketing to your installed base using a CRM will give you the ability to measure your effectiveness in doing what you promised in the first place.

At the end of the day we all want to have faith in those who we rely on to do things for us.  If you intend to run the type of company that keeps its promises then I hope you revisit the systems that you have and assess them from that perspective and not just as a technology solution to manage lists, track your sales people, or store your documents.

Anatomy of a CRM Selection Cycle

Since the beginning of the year I have been going through a fair number of selection cycles with companies looking to either improve, redo or redesign their customer facing systems.  Some of these have been your typical sales focused initiatives and others have been much more complex or integrated to multiple back end systems.   As I have sat through these meetings in the board room on more than one occasion I have had people express frustration with the process of selecting and deploying a CRM.  As I have finally had a chance to get  a small breather I thought this would be a great time to give my analysis of the challenges in selecting a CRM platform and reaching a successful outcome.

The initial challenge in the process of working through a CRM selection is the lack of definition in the technologies that call themselves CRM and the level of knowledge of those researching the project both in terms of their own needs and the fragmented segmentation within this industry.  A simple example is the difference between a contact management system and a CRM system. When you look at multiple offerings from one publisher and they both look very similar in their layout it is hard to understand that a contact manager is based on the foundation of people and most CRM platforms are developed around the concept of an organization.

The problem gets worse when you are dealing with multiple vendors that may only support one offering and their goal is for everything to fit within the technology they support.  The company looking to find a solution then needs to try and understand what is and what is not a solid fit for their end goals (assuming they have even vetted their internal needs).  In many cases we are being asked to show and explain how a solution will fit without a discovery session to try and help a customer understand themselves.  

When you go through the process and you don't get to do a complete analysis it is like being an architect and designing only one floor of a three story house without seeing the other blue prints or talking to the people that will live on the other floors of the house.  It is not the best analogy in the world but managing any customer process for acquisition or retention doesn't happen in a vacuum.  This is frustrating for many customers because they come into the process thinking they are trying to address a few issues withing their sales or service teams.

Once the discovery is complete the it is reasonable for a prospect to want to see how several companies will solve their needs.  This is where many companies have a problem with the process of finding software and vendors to show how they will meet the "anticipated" requirements.  This is because the majority of solutions will address 80% to 90% of what customers need and the rest is either being solved through customization or 3rd party products.  In order to show a proof of concept there may be some limited changes to the software but there needs to be a level of trust in the vendor's credibility.

In an ideal world a customer could supply some of their data and then we could run through their processes and show the complete solution.  This rarely happens but there are some things that customers can do to help with the anxiety of not being able to see a complete solution.  First, be pragmatic, and try to get a reasonable sense that your needs can be met.  Don't take promises about upcoming features or a simple "Yes, we can do that!"  Next, try and see how two vendors would address the same set of needs.  I see so many times company executives trying to go through a process with four or five vendors.  And lastly, talk to someone that has done a recent project with the vendor before you make a decision.

At the end of the day, whether vendors like it or not, there are a number of solutions that you can choose that will probably work for your organization.  The selection process is as much about aligning with the culture of the consulting firm as it is the software they represent.  If either side pushes too hard on the selection parameters or the process then you may end up with more questions than answers.

CRM Won't Make Your Sales People Better!

One of the biggest problems that have existed in the world of CRM projects since the day I started working with these technologies is the concept that Customer Relationship Management will “make” sales people better.  I would argue that in a best case scenario a properly designed system will expose poor hiring choices.  Don’t get me wrong….there is a lot of sales enablement but a CRM system will not change the DNA or the mentality of the person sitting between the chair and the keyboard.

Being stuck in the bowels of internal sales operations for hundreds of companies for the past couple of decades there are usually several “control” issues that will come up and need to be hashed through if a system ever has a shot at getting the proper buy in.  If you are a sales manager then you probably already know that your CRM is only as good as your worst user.  If you are team selling or have multiple departments dependent upon each other inthe system the problem is much worse.

Before we talk about the ways to address some of the every day issues with technology used by business development people I think we should document what I believe to be some truths about most (not all) sales structures and sales personnel:

Numbers, numbers, and numbers – No one ever got pulled into their boss’s office and was told that they had horrible sales numbers but was getting to stay because they were a mast of the CRM system.  At the end of the day production is the scorecard and CRM vendors should keep this in mind during design, implementation,and for ongoing support.

CRM is Infrastructure – More than ever before what CRM provides is the ability to put structure and process around business development.  It also enables the rest of the organization (marketing, research and development, operations) to have a “landing place” for critical data to be sourced as needed in order to land more revenue.

Art or Science – Being the son of someone who sold for 35 years I understand the statement that sales people are “born” and not made.  I have also taken a number of people over the years and turned people that you would not call sales people into very productive business development people.  At this point all I will say is that there are both types that are successful and as a sales manager there is a need to understand what people need to keep them successful.

It’s Business Not Personal – Sales is one of the hardest professions and the people that are successful quickly understand that most sales people are not.There is a lot of ego in sales organizations and there is a fair amount of distrust of management.  No matter what you “intended” for your CRM implementation the word on the street from your sales team is probably a much different perception.

Count on Change – However you sell what you sell today it will be different six months from now, next year and the year after that.  The keys to successful businesses are the way they adapt to the changing landscape in the marketplace.  If you think about this in the way that you design and use your customer facing systems you will create a flexible environment that adapts to the need of the organization over time.

When you go back to the title of this post I hope that you can see why I don’t think a piece of technology can “make” people better.  It won’t take away their laziness, insubordination, bending all of your rules, or make them double or triple their numbers.  There is no piece of technology that provides a burning desire and the will to succeed.

The problem as CRM implementers is that many times someone pulls the trigger on a project thinking that CRM will somehow do some or all of these things.  Bad news…people are people….and until they can invent a machine that other people like to buy from they are the best option we have.  Understand that a system that eliminates tedious reporting and provides relevant data without sourcing other people in your organization will createmore selling time.

And, at the end of the day, if you have good products and services that are pitched by sincere and ethical sales people, you will add more top line and bottom line results.  

Can You Identify Your CRM Champion?

Recently I have been involved with multiple organizations that are having challenges with CRM and some of these companies have already deployed a system and the others think they need to but are having a hard time with the cost/benefit argument.  After looking at the DNA of the challenges facing these two scenarios I decided to write about a topic that I think gets left behind in most companies.  CRM has people and process and technology so tightly woven together it is nearly impossible to either deploy a system initially or maintain one without having some type of logical "chain of command".

When you look across some of America's best firms today you will see that many of them have some key people in their organizations that are either tagged as customer advocates or in some way responsible for the customer experience and the systems that support their sales and service organizations.  The problem for small and medium size firms is that many of these companies run very lean and everyone still has their "day job" that they were hired to perform.  The problem is that a CRM implementation is never complete.  I have said in many speaking engagements that until you close the doors or sell the company the job is never done.  Markets constantly evolve, the way we do business changes, and customers and their expectations are always changing.

So, who is the CRM champion in your organization?  If you just had a long pause or realized that the person you think it is may not be the right fit how do you go about assessing this or how do you go about finding the right person?  I will get to that but first I think we need to profile who most people would identify as the likely candidates and run through the pros and cons

President/CEO - This is the person that sits atop the firm and guides the vision of executing the strategic plan.  This individual knows the expected results but in many cases this person is not intimate enough with the day to day transactions or inter-departmental operations that would lend itself to being the CRM champion.

VP of Sales - Since most initial CRM deployments are done with a focus on Sales Force Automation this person usually has a very good grasp on interactions through customer acquisition.  Unfortunately, CRM is also about a customer life cycle and a strong focus on the sales organization may lend itself to challenges in the marketing and service areas.  Plus, the need to deliver revenue could make the CRM champion a back burner type of role.

VP of Marketing - The importance of accurate and complete customer data starts with the marketing team and I have seen where the nature of the marketing role has led to many "owners" of CRM being in the marketing department.  The challenge is that when the system deals with so many non-marketing transactions that are people related there really needs to be someone involved that has the depth in understanding of the rest of the sales and service process.

VP of Customer Service - In the day to day of a full implementation of CRM the service and inside sales teams tend to push the applications the most and the head of customer service usually has strong knowledge of both the internal interactions as well as the service aspects of the CRM implementation.  One of the common pitfalls, however, is that many times the "ideal" world for service may have severe challenges to the sales or marketing teams.

CFO - More and more of the CRM systems being deployed in recent years are heavily dependent on the ERP system chosen and many of the transactions from CRM are impacted by how the integration works with the ERP system.  The upside is that a financial person can understand what customer information is relevant to sales, service and marketing but there is usually a shallow knowledge of the marketing and customer acquisition process.

VP of Operations - Of all the people we have discussed so far the key person in operations will usually have the greatest depth of knowledge into each of the critical areas that a CRM system is supposed to support.  More importantly, this person usually knows the greatest customer facing and internal challenges.  The problem in the mid market is that many organizations do not have this role positioned as a full time role or the role is heavily intensive on resolving day to day problems in running the business.

Now that we have run through the typical executive roles in most companies you can probably see why some firms have a hard time trying to deploy a system for the first time much less maintain the system after the initial launch.  If a company has chosen to deploy a CRM solution many times the department that is responsible for the first phase of the project inherits ownership after the fact.  I have seen hundreds of systems go out the door and part of the reason that I started this blog was to impart prior experiences in order to make it easer to do business.

When it comes to identifying a CRM champion there is no right or wrong answer but tagging someone internally with that role is very important.  I don't think that it matters so much what department that person reports into (ideally operations) but more important that the person has access to leadership and some type of feedback mechanism to draw from through the people that use the system every day.  I would also argue that if you have 20 or more people using a CRM system that crosses many departments you would likely find that a full time role is probably justified.  A well functioning system can provide significant efficiency gains and make any company much more competitive.

So, if you find yourself in a kind of CRM purgatory with your existing system or are finding it challenging to roll out a new system, you may want to seek out the right CRM champion and go from there.


CRM Connectivity: 5 IT Myths

There was a recent article posted on an industry web site (that I choose not to link) espousing that mobility for CRM users was basically a non-issue because of the pervasive use of web based platforms and the strength of the connectivity network in North America.  The claim was that a road warrior in today's business environment does not have a heavy need for mobile or disconnected CRM because of the high availability provided by todays SaaS and on premise solutions that are web based.  After doing this for over 10 years I decided to take the article to a few of my customers that have these "road warrior" reps and get their feedback on the article.

The discussion that ensued confirmed many of my own suspicions and concerns that I had with an article that was written from an IT point of view and not from a point of view with the people that actually live the day to day life.  This won't be a long post but I felt like I had to get something in print to refute these claims.

1. Value of Mobility - In the IT world a mobile solution is another platform to support and many times it is complicated because it also brings together integration with email and mobile solutions.  There is complexity but the reason that the road warrior says they need access to mobile information is to have access to data dynamically that impacts their customer facing actions.  Some of these road warriors don't have the capacity to have a laptop available at any point in time to access this information.

2. Persistent Connectivity - Our IT brethren claim that users who have web access to solutions can eliminate the need to carry disconnected data.  According to our road warriors bandwidth is not always adequate in many of the places they travel and they certainly cannot assume connectivity wherever they travel.  The reality is that different carriers have better networks in different parts of the country and it is the road warrior's performance that suffers when they don't have access.

3. Inputs and Outputs - One of the biggest challenges that IT faces in providing disconnected data is the need to manage synchronization on a one-to-many basis and the overhead that is needed regardless of the CRM system to give users what they need.  The road warrior is the front line person responsible for driving the top line revenue of the business.  One of the biggest challenges that they say they face is that while in the air or in between meetings it is a great time to do reporting and analysis on their business plan and it' not just about the ability to add notes or schedule meetings.

4. Mobile CRM and CRM Are Different - Many of the solutions that are in the marketplace now are challenging for both internal IT and the software publisher (or SaaS provider).  The road warrior has explained that in their minds the experience of the mobile CRM and their core CRM needs are drastically different.  When the mobile CRM product is a "mini" CRM where the desktop or browser version have been scaled down to the same experience in the mobile interface make it hard to use a mobile product.  They are in fact two different user experiences and should be built that way.

5. Workflow Management - One of the things IT understands is that many of today's CRM systems house significant amounts of data.  The most effective systems deployed today have significant workflow and notifications that require actions for critical business impact.  The road warriors have said that when they have a mobile solution that is the extension of this workflow or is integrated with CRM processes it enables them to be much more effective in providing higher levels of service or faster to new prospects when they contact their company in search of information.

There are many more topics that we could discuss in relation to the road warrior and their CRM needs but I believe the points listed above defend the point that simply having web access or limited disconnected information don't suffice for most of today's road warriors.  And, at the end of the day, it is those road warriors and their performance that will provide the revenue stream that pay your paychecks.  The challenges in mobile CRM are still many and most organizations don't have a solidified strategy or execution on these capabilities but it doesn't mean that you give up or stop trying to get it right.

Where's Your "Easy" Button?

So we are in full swing in 2010 and it is already a great year and only going to get better.  It's not like money is falling from the skies but close (very close).  Customers are active and asking for a lot of advice.  Some are actually asking for too much advice.  How can that be possible?  Well, it goes back to that saying that everything is good in moderation.  I can certainly say that is true of certain things in CRM as well.

Each and every year I probably sit in somewhere from 250-500 "CRM" type of discussions that are with customers and prospects or just internal discussions with team members as we talk about our craft and trying to get better.  The one thing that amazes me is that when I think about the last year I reflected on how few times there were actual discussions related to the customer or their customer experience.  Granted that there is no need for much of that in a Sales Force Automation (SFA) focused implementation but we don't nearly as much of that anymore anyways.  Most companies implementing CRM need and understand the concept of CRM being much more than a sales management tool.

The frustrating part of this blog article is that in most of my seminars and talks I give in New York City and around the country I preach the value of the customer and the fact that how they perceive and work with your firm will ultimately decide the long term fate of your organization.  Yet, for as many times as I have evangelized the topic, I would guess that in less than 5 percent of organizations actively discuss "opportunities" and customer frustrations when they either update a system or deploy a new one.  This simply amazes me.

It is funny because in each of our companies we are always wondering what the other competitors are doing and how receptive the clients are to the approach.  And, since most companies work in a highly competitive environment, chances are that our customers have worked at some level with some of our competitors.  The truth is that many will gladly share what that do and do like about the way you do business and the people that you sell against.  These customers will also give you some treasures of the things that they would value that no vendor provides.

I titled this article based on the popular Staples campaign of the last couple of years because the visual is hard to get past.  I think that whenever you are working on any customer facing system or if your customers are internal departments and you are designing or implementing system you should ask the following questions before a single piece of software is installed, upgraded or configured:

1. If my employees walked in with amnesia today could they run our company just using the systems that are provided for them at their desktop?
2. If I hired my best customer to work for me and asked them for their honest opinion after using my system for a few days after training would it be a short discussion or an all day affair?
3. If your company espouses service as one of its main competitive advantages do you show your CRM to prospects during the sales cycle and explain how it works?
4. If you have lost any quality people in the past two years did you ask them their opinion of the tools that were provided in order to meet their job requirements and what they would change if they stayed?
5. If you have more than one department on the CRM has everyone been given equitable say on what the system does and how it works or is it "owned by one particular team and used by the others?
6. And finally, if you surveyed 100 customers would they say that you are easy to do business with?

Look, no firm is perfect, and I see areas of opportunity for my own organization every day of the week.  When you look back at 2010 and things are on the upswing will you have done everything possible to improve your ability to acquire market share and make a difference in the bottom line or will you continue to run the way you always have.  Those decisions are ultimately what differentiate the good companies from the great ones.

What's the Point?

If ever there were a double edge sword it has to be the world of Customer Relationship Management.  If you lead a sales or service team there have probably been times that you wonder how did I ever get along without CRM and other times when you wonder why you even bothered.  Oh, the highs and lows.  If you have not implemented CRM or have been scared off in the past the horror stories you have heard may be the justification as to why you keep staying away.  I thought about this topic today as I was dealing with an implementation and one of the project managers asked me a question as to whether the company we were implementing was a good candidate for an "implementation".

To answer this question I had to dissect the what was really being asked.  Is CRM beneficial to this customer? Does it always have to be complex?  Is the system too much to handle for this operation?  In reality it is a little bit of everything.  The customer only really has a background in putting in their accounting system with various modules appropriate to their type of operation.  If modules are appropriate they acquire and implement them and if not it is a non issue.  When you deploy CRM the system comes complete with sales, marketing, and service tightly integrated together.

Because of the way CRM works it is challenging to take a plug and play approach to any implementation.  If you have not implemented one of these systems before it is important to understand that you may not necessarily roll out the application to all parts of your operation but you do need to take the time to consider those other pieces during the setup and configuration of the system.  In much the same way you may setup a chart of accounts as the foundation of an accounting system the CRM foundation of your customer footprint and the account structure are very important for how the system will eventually work for everyone who will use the system some day.

The best approach to ending up with a successful launch of the CRM platform is to be focused on the operational goals you are trying to achieve.  It is best to sort these out before engaging with an IT consultant or a software vendor so that you do not get caught up in everything that CRM can do for you.  I couldn't tell you number of times we get engaged in these discussions regarding systems and people get caught up in features and functions they don't need or that may be a second or third phase of the project at best.

It is important to understand the long term vision of where you can go with CRM, whether or not you envision different integration points with different systems, and the type of workflow you would like to eventually deploy.  It is also very important  take stock in your top two or three priorities and then focus on those elements in the initial phase of your deployment and setup of your CRM structure.

So, what's the point?  The point is that if you have a map and plan you will be able to execute.  As someone much smarter than me told me once, "If you don't know where you are going you will probably end up somewhere else.  And the worst part is that you never get a second chance with the users of any system.  Life is hard enough for front line sales and service people and when you spend time on non-value added capabilities people are likely to resist adoption and make the process of change much harder than it has to be.

CRM is not simple but it can be straight forward. If you are uncertain on your approach find someone with the experience to help you get this done and do it right.

Substance or Style...It's Like the Chicken or the Egg for CRM

For the past four or five years I have been dealing with more and more scenarios where there are internal struggles between the various approaches to CRM and the best approach to take when it comes to making a customer successful.  When I say internal struggles people ask me if I am talking about the consulting approach or the customer's approach to the implementation...and the answer is...YES!  This applies to both CRM implementation methodology and the customer approach.  

In exploring this topic I really want to dive into three areas around CRM that I think exacerbate the preexisting challenges with deploying this type of technology.  The first point of contention is structure of the implementation and whether or not to include analysis.  If you can get around that hurdle then you must deal with a likely organizational shift regarding the foundation of CRM.  And, if you get past all of that, you then need to deal with creating a systemic feedback cycle that will keep your implementation relevant and critical.

Believe it or not there are still many companies operating in the small-medium enterprise (SME) marketplace without a structured and valid CRM implementation.  My first question as a management consultant would be, "How is this even possible?"  Unfortunately I get to see how in dozens of companies every year so this is more of a rhetorical question for me.  Therefore, when these companies make a formal move to CRM through advice internal enlightenment, the transition is going to be a struggle.  

The reason that the transition is going to be a challenge is that you are dealing with changing behavior in adults, applying formal structure where there previously was none, and doing all of this around the people responsible for a company's revenue and/or customer retention.  Enter the business analyst or technology consultant with lots of questions to question long time processes or question business practices.  Hopefully you are starting to see where the competing forces at play here.

Principally, the consultant has relevant experience and can make a positive impact on the customer.  The challenge is that the customer is already dealing with significant internal challenges and conflict while trying to do the right thing to improve their business.  I know it sounds like an impossible situation but it is one that I literally see every week.  And the possible resolutions are somewhat straight forward but take some agreement on both sides.

I have long been a proponent of doing a core implementation in these cases to put in place a foundation for a customer in order for them to get their foot in the door with CRM and deal with the more challenging people and cultural challenges that may have a larger impact on whether the deployment will be a success or failure.  I am not saying that every CRM platform can be deployed in this manner because there does need to be some effort up front in the selection process to make sure that the core solution is scalable to the long term goals.  But you need a clean break from the decision and the long term vision when starting a basic implementation.

The challenge to the consultant is two fold. First, the consultant has to be strong and disciplined in staying to the basics and not actually consulting.  This will come in later phases.  The other challenge is that the customer also must buy into a a phased approach and that the CRM implementation is perpetual.  That's right!  A CRM implementation is never completed and always in a transition to the next phase because customers and markets are ever changing.

This is where things get tricky.  If you get beyond the first set of challenges then you usually have a power struggle on your hands.  It's not really a power struggle in a literal sense but it is a power struggle in terms of the mindset of a company.  All of us that have worked in this industry for some time know that technology is only about one third of the formula for success.  So what is this "power struggle" all about?

When you deploy CRM there is a unique opportunity to make this implementation your operational heartbeat and let all other systems flow information in and out of this system so that it becomes the blue print for operational success. Many audiences that I have spoken to understand that in the age of "service" it is "just-in-time information" that will empower employees and create relevant value to your business.  If all of this sounds great then here is the challenge that you will face.

Somewhere in the organization there is a manufacturing system, project management system, ERP system, some system that houses the financial and transactional information.  It is these systems that many SME customers see as the "Holy Grail" within their organizations.  The problem is that these systems do not have any "context" to the transactions and the customers.  Sure, some have limited CRM and/or the ability to add or record notes or attach documents.

If you are truly going to elevate your company to the next level there will need to be a centralized capture of not only the transactions but also the conversations, follow up, and operational handoffs with both customer and prospect.  This means that the CRM database will be the central system and not a "front office" module.  I always get a chuckle that many times people in the "back office" talk about CRM like business development and customer service are optional items.

Unless there is a dynamic shift in the importance of the CRM database the customer's ability to continually improve operations and customer facing execution will be challenging for both the customer and the CRM consultant.  I think this is where many people on my side of the table have a problem implementing a core solution without extensive analysis and modifications that elevate the investment and the importance of CRM.

As a life long baseball fan I have always loved the movie Field of Dreams with that classic line, "If you build it they will come."  And that is the faith that I have in implementing some systems with core functionality and the understanding and agreement with the customer that the system will, over time, become the operational framework.  When the customer starts to see value quickly they will want to continue to optimize and modify the core foundation....if the feedback cycle was established before the first piece of software was ever installed.

The feedback cycle, vetting of proposed enhancements, and the validation of prior enhancements and workflows is where a CRM consultant will make their money over time.  I have continued to see stronger relationships and more profitable customers using this approach over the past few years...even in tough times.  In fact, some customers have spent more during the downturn because they actually had the time to work on more complicated changes to the execution in their operations and workflows.

Now I wonder what you think is your best approach the next time you deploy a system as a customer or a consultant.  Will you go big and complex and throw everything in but the kitchen sink or will you start small and build over time.  Drop me a line and let me know.

You Can Lead a Sales Person to Water...

...But you can't make them "drink".  As in, drink the CRM Kool-Aid.

And why not?  I have some time on my hands so let's go through why not and the anatomy of a sales producer's livelihood and a day in the life of your better than average producer.  Hmmm,  shouldn't that be a day in the life of your average sales producer?  Not in sales, we call those people unemployed or on their way to unemployed.  So anyway...back to the analysis of a sales person's week and how they get through it.

Monday morning comes and the first thing that a real producer is engaged in usually involves customers and moving their deals down the pipeline.  At some point during the weekend our producer put together a game plan on how to attack the week and make the most out of it   The thought process of a "work week" is any day that you wake up and you manage to squeeze in a work/life balance along the way.

By mid-day on Monday the previous weeks reports on activities and deals have already been submitted to management and even more time on the weekend was spent to pulling the information together to keep from draining precious selling time.  A call from a manager just to confirm the validity of the information and to review deals is the only thing that steals from selling time at the begin of each week.

When Tuesday arrives the selling week is in full swing and meetings are scheduled most of the day.  Part of the day is reserved for meeting with internal team members on reviewing existing customer projects because there is no visibility into the project management system.  Without getting these updates and helping resolve some of some of the customers' issues the profitability and compensation plan could take a hit.

On Wednesday on the way to a meeting things start to go sideways.  A couple of unexpected requests come in and then a string of phone calls ensue back and forth between customer and one of the project teams.  Before you know it several hours of prospecting are gone and at the end of the day nothing is resolved. 

As Thursday starts up things calm down and the previous day's emergencies  don't impact setting up appointments and developing some proposals.  The day is going smoothly until two of the most recent proposals begin circulating back and forth between the producer, his manager and project managers.  When everything is settled another day is gone.

Finally, the end of the week is filled with setting a few more meetings and negotiating a few contract points with several prospects.  As Friday winds down the cycle gets ready to begin anew.

So, why would I go through this narrative and how does it relate to CRM?  I went through this because it is a typical situation that I see time and time again.  The people that have to use and make the most out of these systems don't care about technology and don't care about using a CRM.  What they do care about is anything that can make their world more efficient and free up more selling time.

If you are buying, implementing or selling CRM systems you need to take the end user into consideration.  CRM success will be measured by what the system actually does to make a difference in day to day life of the people that use the system.  In the scenario above CRM could make a significant difference to this producer's production, happiness, and effectiveness.

CRM can be used to generate reporting automatically so that activity and call reports don't need to be generated.  Project teams can use systems that are extensions of CRM and sales and deployment teams can utilize the document storage features of a CRM to stay on the same page.  If you add in mobile access to CRM data and providing more access to internal data sources the real power of CRM comes alive.

If our mythical producer had a well designed solution he would be a proponent of CRM because it would create more opportunities to sell and easier ways to work through internal team members on customer issues.  He would also see more time on weekends with friends and family instead of generating time consuming reports and have a better work life balance and better attitude and morale while performing his selling functions.

The problem with this entire scenario is that many sales people have been made to use these systems in the past with little or no input into what they need or how the system will make a difference in how they reach their goals.

So, the next time you find yourself having problems with adoption or hear people complaining about a system, then look at how the system came about and who was given an opportunity to provide input or feedback.

Here We Go Again...What's Going to be Different?

Now the holidays are gone and we have come to the close of another business cycle.  It is particularly interesting that there are many new planning sessions going on and people are recounting what has gone right and what has gone wrong and some will even come up with a list of things they will do differently.  The reality is that most people might make a few small adjustments but for the most part next year‘s efforts and results will be within a stone’s throw of this year.

What I just wrote can either be potentially sobering or uplifting or neither.  So why did I write it?  Truthfully, it needed to be said.  And why did it need to be said?  Hopefully, because someone will read this blog and understand that the way to exponential change is not through incremental thinking.  If you want next year to be significantly different then spend the next two weeks  ripping through every process you have and question everything that you do and question everyone else on their processes and ask them why they do things a certain way.

The best part of working in the world of CRM and the worst part of working in the world of CRM is the lack of rules and the stringent structure in other business applications. If you approach CRM with the knowledge that everything is up for change then you might have a fighting chance to make this year a game changer.  How in the world would you do that?  Rather than ranting about process, process, process and change management and twenty other buzz words I will simply start my blog this year with a simple survey that you take as a self assessment to find out whether you will land within a rock's throw of last year's numbers or if you will, in fact, look back at 2010 and say, "Why in the hell didn't we do this sooner?"

Here goes:

1.  When was the last time you had a group of your customers sit down in a room together with the "gloves off" to give you a real picture of how they see your organization and just sit and listen to their opinion of the customer experience?

2.  Better yet, when was the last time you invited in a group of customers that fired you in the last couple of years to do the same thing?

3. Have you ever taken the approach to manage the different customer "buying processes" rather than trying to figure out the magic pill to the optimal "sales process"?

4.  If you locked your top 10 producers in a room and told them that they were only going to be comped if their revenue split between new accounts and existing accounts was 50/50 this year how would they react?

5. Have you actually taken an inventory of how people actually spend their week and then worked backwards through what it would take to remove all of the non-value added activities to worry about only getting them in front of customers and prospects?

6. Did you ever evaluate your bottom 10 percent of your installed base customers and consider firing them based on the lack of profitability to your firm?

7. Do you know exactly how your marketing efforts track back to sales and are you willing to cut certain marketing efforts and put money into others midstream rather than just sinking money into these efforts until their conclusion?

8. Can you identify the deals in your pipeline when they turn against you and decide whether or not you need to bail out or do something drastic to try and change the outcome?

9. Are your producers spending way too much time being overpaid lead qualifiers or do they have a list of target accounts that match the profile of your most profitable customers?

10.  The best for last.  Will you simply read this blog and go back to your same old routines and reach the same results or will you do something drastically different this year to reach your goals?


Is Implementing a CRM Project Really That Different

After years and years of working in this industry one of the things that clients tell me is that the method in which consulting firms approach implementing a CRM system has a great deal to do with whether or not that particular firm is considered to be a standalone CRM shop or if they implement CRM as one of a few different types of technology.   I have worked for both types of firms, software publisher as well as reseller, and been on the other side as part of the project team for an implementation.  In my humble opinion these firms absolutely take different approaches in trying to reach the same goals of taking a customer live.

I don't want to be too simplistic but after a decade of doing this I am of the firm belief that implementing CRM is a completely different animal than putting in an accounting system or deploying a warehouse management system.  The challenge then becomes whether or not the consulting organization can deliver projects in a different way or if it makes management of the process and the people too difficult.  The answer depends.

Ironically, I think this entire discussion comes down to people and not technology.  If the consultants and project managers are focused on solely executing CRM and they management projects according to those standards I think the outcome can be as good or better than a consulting firm that only does CRM.  If, however, the consultants are jumping back and forth and implement CRM as one of three or four types of projects they work on I think your results will be much different.

I am not sure whether or not there is a great analogy to use here but I am going to use two to try and get my point across.  Consider a CRM consultant more like a scientist working on a hypothesis.  That person starts out with the assumption that they are trying to prove something (hypothesis) and they use process of elimination to figure out the best way (because there are unlimited ways to execute various deliverables in CRM).  The ERP consultant is much more like an Architect.  That person must understand and know all of the requirements in order to build an acceptable solution that meets specification within the limitations of that particular ERP package.

As you can see if I am a person charged with implementing both of these types of technology it is very hard to take learned processes on how to approach a project and apply a different approach to another.  Also take into account many consultants that "double-dip" have done one type of project for much longer and that is what you will find as far as where they lean in their tendencies.  Next time you start into a project you should find out a little more about the people who will be working on it and how long they have been doing CRM.

Maybe CRM Is Not For Everyone

So after not posting anything since around Labor Day I decided to come back with a splash.  I know that in order to have a following that you need to have consistency and you have to be relevant doing this.  I also know that when the time calls for it the priorities in business call for doing the right thing and not necessarily doing what comes more comfortable.  

In the past year or so I have attempted to go deep into a number of different areas the have relevance in the world of implementing CRM and now I would like to play a more of a hit and run type of game and post some of the items I run into on a day to basis that are more spontaneous topics that I think are relevant in the world of CRM without some of the depth.  If I like the pace and receive good feedback on this new format I may stick to it for the long term.  But, I still reserve the right to go on a rant if I feel like it once in a while.

Now that we have that out of the way I would like to discuss a couple of new elements of CRM that I am kicking around.  The first one I call CRM IQ.  I will get into that a little more but it is basically the level of understanding of the client of the methodology around CRM and its fit into the operational cycle of a business.  The second element that I think I should talk about is the CRM Temperature.  This temperature deals with a companies willingness to embrace CRM, culture and management aspects, and apply executive sponsorship.

First, I want to talk IQ.  As I go into more and more board rooms I am finding that many organizations currently have done some type of CRM initiative and some of them have done two or three.  They are trying to address CRM issues with new technology but many of them do not have a real understanding of the underlying value to the customer of deploying CRM (whether or not the "customer" is an internal user or the actual customer).  Lacking this understanding will likely produce the same results with any new technology because the issues are systemic to the people that have to manage and use the system on a daily basis.

So how do we address issues with CRM IQ?  I don't know that you can unless the customer has a relatively high CRM Temperature.  By this I mean that in order to get people to change behavior then you have to change the way they think.  The only way to change thought is to educate.  If the executives of an organization realize they need to do things differently or expand their myopic view of what the CRM tools benefits are then you may have an opportunity for success.

If you come across a company that expresses the desire to implement CRM but is very rigid in how they want to interact with your consultancy you may be headed for a very unhappy customer where the results were predetermined by their attitudes or unwillingness to learn about CRM and change their processes or culture.  When the CRM Temperature is very low then it is very hard to get the critical buy in from a customer as to the approach, the implementation methodology, and their willingness to take advice regarding best practices when rolling out a project.

I think five years from now CRM may be more of a standard for many organizations with much more understanding of the value within a given business model but for now I suggest that you try to  establish a method for establishing the CRM IQ and CRM Temperature whenever you engage in discovery for a new project.  If you know what you are getting into before you start you are much more likely to be able to predict the chance at project success.

One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to CRM!

So it has been a while since I managed a post.  I know, I know, it's the cardinal sin in the world of blogging.  After two pretty major family emergencies and a whirlwind tour through Scottsdale, Boston and Toronto I figured the world could live with a few less pieces of data littering the information superhighway.  For those of you who appreciate the ramblings of a CRM idealist I appreciate your patience and hope you continue to frequent my postings.  Enough banter and time to discuss the issue of the day...users and the CRM interface they dialoge with.

For some reason there are a number of software publishers that have chosen to design products that have a somewhat inflexible capability of designing the various interfaces within a single CRM structure to coincide with the user experience necessary to meet the goals of individual groups within the CRM structure based on the role they execute for the organization.  Thankfully, some of these publishers have at least enabled some decent workflow and business process tools to help different departments tighten their systems operationally.

One of the recent conversations I had this week had to do with a selection process that is happening where both of the software publishers are well known.  One particular application is about half the age of the other but many of the capabilities and development tools are rather similar.  So one of the driving questions among the team selecting the application centers around the interface that various groups will use in their day to day roles.  I certainly understand their concern.  And this raises anothe key point.  If the level of concern is great enough there you may have a good reason to go with more reliance on your user opinions of the CRM alternatives you are considering.

The first and most important thing to remember in the world of CRM is that there are many various alternatives out there that seem somewhat similar in their deliverables.  The reality is that if we were having this selection process around the time of the .com bubble a vast number of these technologies didn't exist.  Does that matter?  Depends.  I would argue that when you look at what you are trying to accomplish think about whether or not a CRM publisher would have faced those same challenges ten years ago.  It is likely that the answer is yes.

What do you get in entertaining one of the more seasoned technologies in the space?  Experience.  The experience of the user community and the publisher that has taken feedback over a ten to twenty year period to make the user experience easy and meaningful.   If many of your tasks and teams operate in a very homogeneous fashion then having a common interface may not make much of a difference.  The problem for most of us is that the roles between marketing, sales, service and support are very different in their day to day needs.

At the end of the day there is no one perfect application for most of us and that is the reason that development tools and the right internal team or implementation partner to optimize any technology to a meaningful business system.  That being said there is no reason to take a particular publisher just based on their name if the interface or the architecture isn't very close to where you need to be.  Here is a quick check list for you to consider if you are in the process of selecting a system and want to make sure the interface works the way you need it to.

1.  System Interface Options - Does the solution you are looking at provide a unique view for each team that will use the system that can be further modified to meet the specification for each user group?

2.  User Interface Options - Does each user also have the ability to change the interface for their particular tastes in the way that they see the information without relying on reports or dashboards?

3.  Point Solution or Business System - How many different teams will be using the system and how different are their roles in the organization?

4.  Natural Fit - How close does the interface match the natural job description of your teams and how much development will be needed to reach the optimal solution?

5.  3rd Party Buffet - What percentage of the solution will be served by 3rd party or ISV solutions in order to reach your desired result?

These are some of the more logical questions to ask to help you feel better about whatever direction you decide in a solution.  If you already have a solution and feel like you are challenged in your current implementation it might not be a bad idea to take the same inventory to justify looking at other options for confirming your original selection.

Should You "Fix" Your CRM or Start From Scratch?

Today I am spending the day today giving a keynote speech to an ERP user group conference called Evolutions 2009.  I love talking to people that are passionate about their business and many of the people at this conference have been running their systems for many years.  Ironically, only a few of them have any kind of customer database that they are very happy with.  As it so happens they are not vastly different than the general population of mid-market customers. The question now becomes, "what do I do if I already have a customer database and I feel like I need to do CRM?"

More and more companies are being faced with similar challenges now that most firms have made some type of attempt at rolling out a CRM initiative or customer database.  Gone are the days where customers are implementing from scratch so there is an entire level of discussion on how to deal with any existing systems and how to move forward with any new initiative.  We need to assume in most instances that there will be some "system of record" and then assess the solution based on its operational value today and not the time or investment made in deploying the solution initially.

History also tells us that it is usually not all or nothing when it comes to making decisions on the both the database and the data.  I guess what I am saying is that the decision to start from scratch or ehance/modify/re-implement will really be dictated by what the existing capabilities are and how they align with your needs going forward.  Too many people confuse the data in a database with the actual value of the system that houses it.

One of the most confusing elements of a project is dealing with the various data sources and tying the data into any new initiative. Understanding the technologies that exist today the ability to deal with data is nowhere near the bear that we used to deal with in the past.  The better news is that if the database design or the data being tracked needs to be significantly changed then you can clean data as you move it into your new environment.  It is OK that you weren't perfect on your first attempt and people always appreciate getting the opportunity to attack CRM after they have knowledge of what it actually is and the value to an organization.

Are CRM Opportunities An Assembly Line or A Construction Project?

Every now and then I need to refer back to the reason that I started this blog and go back into questioning the practical aspects of how certain elements of various technologies work and then relate that back to the real world and how people should approach the usage of these tools in the real world.  The first place I decided to take a look was in the area of Opportunities.

Managing deals and working sales opportunities has been a part of CRM basics since the beginning of time.  Well, maybe not the very beginning (like when my dad was selling), but close to it.  And, I constantly see the way teams are utliizing the opportunities and managing rather poorly the positive outcomes they are looking for in these opportunities.   In fact, the more and more that I look at Opportunities of most CRM products I don't get a warm and fuzzy on the structure of  Sales Force Automation (SFA) of most products in the marketplace.

So what's the big deal?  The big deal is that the concept of an Opportunity/Project/Job in most organizations is that the elements of the deal are very dynamic and the structure of Opportunities in most software packages is very rigid.  I will give you an example (without naming a product):

Company ABC is put into my CRM system.  I qualify them and then promote them to be an Account with a Contact and then create an Opportunity on the Account.  I have five steps in my sales process (Qualify, Scope, Demonstrate, Propose, Close).  As I complete each on of the technical steps in this five step process I will promote the Opportunity one level and change the appropriate percentage to close for "reaching" that level.  All reports, forecasts, and demand planning is being monitored off of these Opportunities and the products/services represented in each of the stages.

I know this is a simplified look at Opportunities but think about the way Opportunity develops in reality and then analyze if your deals and the systems that you use to track them.  If you know your market well and your forecasting is somewhat suspect the system may be the problem.  In more recent times I have started to diverge in my opinion of rigid structures of Opportunity management.  Most of my customers who have shifted the way they structure their systems to handle the variance in the way their deals go down are seeing much better results.

The question asked in the title of this article relates to the fact that the world of sales and business development is part art and part science.  We would all love to have a world of automation and predictability in making business happen but if it were that easy sales people wouldn't be among the most highly paid people in the world.  It's not about just working hard but often times more important to work smart.  Using the concept of a construction project to manage an Opportunity is much more realistic.

If you are contracted to build something you have a plan and a blue print and resources to make it happen (starting to sound familiar?).  When you start a project life gets in the way and things rarely play out according to the plan.  The weather impacts delivery (competitors), raw materials don't always show up on time (gaps in your solution), and getting the job completed and still making money often mens negotiating (price).  So, if you have a system that handles the variances of your Opportunities and the workflow to keep things on track you will find that success will be more predictable and repetitive.

When It All Comes Together

So it has been two weeks since I last posted.  It's O.K.  I actually had a real vacation (during which I was sick as a dog) but the get away was good nonetheless.  Jumping back into the rat race in the middle of New York City I decided to lighten it up a bit.  The economy is challenging, competition is fierce, and making a buck seems harder and harder.  So why am I so chipper?  It is because in these challenging times I am actually seeing a fair number of customers thrive rather than just survive.

I spend lots of time in the board room discussing the impact of CRM with prospective customers but I also get to spend time visiting existing customers to discuss everything about CRM after the fact.  I get to see things post implementation and some of the immediate impact.  And then there are some of the companies that are five and six years removed from their first deployment of CRM.  When you see some of these installations and how some firms have really embraced the concepts of Customer Relationship Management it give me a sense of making a difference.  But who cares about how I feel.  The users, managers and executives of these companies feel great and they show off what they have done with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

In recent discussions with one firm the COO told me about how they had posted record profits three years in a row and how they have been on a hiring binge during this year when many are making tough decisions.  Wanting to know the origins of the results I suggested that the market must be really "rocking" in his industry.  He said that that there had been an uptick in his line of financial services but said that the solution that they put in back in 2007 was killing his competitors.  I asked for an explanation.  He said that timing and response and not necessarily price were the keys to winning in his game.

When prodded to explain how the system did anything to help in those areas he said that the combination of two things related to the system made all of the difference.  First, he mentioned that the system itself with the workflow engine and the notifications and business rules made it very easily operationally to run a deal through the cycle.  More importantly, he added, is that the changes made in the first two years at the suggestions of employees helped to accelerate many processes and cut the time to process a transaction in half from two years ago.

I was curious to see how long the process used to take in the pre "CRM" days.  He said, "I can't even remember back that far but I know it was brutal.  Everything we do today is completely electronic and every handoff is handled in the system.  In the old days we could take a call and they might have two teams of people working on the same deal. It might take a few days to even get the right documents out to people and then there was a huge file that made its way from department to department.  When someone would call in for a status everyone would run around looking for a file like it was a scavenger hunt.  The entire process of pricing and funding a deal was normally ten days to two weeks."

Talk about an eye opener.  When we went through the discovery process several years earlier they mentioned various pains and desires but we didnt' get into the particulars of the impact of exactly how long these tasks took to complete.  The customer was surrendering to technology out of despearation but with no real ROI expectations. I really started to smile when he told me how long the end to end process takes today.  He said that if they get documents back same day they can price and move to closing the following day and fund on day three.

As we wrapped up our conversation my customer explained that his competitors live in the "old world" and still live in the world of working deals from start to finish in two weeks.  He explained, "They just can't compete and when people are dealing with money they don't want to wait a long time.  So now the brokers in the industry bring their clients to us first and our competitors only if their clients force them to shop around.  Life is good when you get to see the deals before everyone else.  As more people find out we continue to grow."

Talk about a happy customer.  He deployed a system and his employees embraced the technology and made it a part of their culture to look for constant change and improvement.  I love hearing stories like this in the midst of tough times because that is when the strongest companies thrive.  It is a beautiful thing when it all comes together.

Would You Be First in the Water?

Over the past couple of years I have been interviewed by Web CPA (Source Media) regarding the topic of CRM in the accounting industry.  And surprisingly, over the past couple of years not a great amount has changed in an industry that has been very resistant to adopt CRM.  The question that arises in my head is that definition of insanity and doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I wanted to get into a bit deeper discussion because there are some significant circumstances we can analyze about any industry that is in this same quandry (like manufacturing).

For as long as I have been writing or giving speeches about CRM I always talk about how difficult it is to really be successful with a project when the approach is all about technology.  Technology is but one tool and it is people and process that make the technology seem to come alive.  When this magic happens employees know the value of their system becuase it makes them better at their given job description. The challenge here is the inherent ability or inability to get peope to accept change to adhere to a process for the good of all.  Therefore, unless you change the way people think then you will not be able to change their behaviors.

So let's jump into the structure of the accounting industry and sluggish adoption of CRM into this industry.  By the way, your firm may be as resistant to change but this example is one that I dealt with most recently.  Most CPA firms are setup in a heirarchy of partners and associates doing much of the day to day work in an attempt to "earn their stripes" and achieve partnership.  The business development is handled by the more seasoned partners and the work is handed out to the associates who are concentrated in billable time and completing the various projects.

For most accounting firms the partners work on client acquisition and build their clientele over a long period of time.  Historically, these clients have also stayed for 10 to 20 years and that is the frame of reference that most partners have in their frame of reference for their perceptions of building and maintaining a firm.  Fast forward to today's reality and change is in the air.  Clients have become more and more willing to change accounting firms and partners have had a hard time changing their behavior to meet the existing challenges.

So, how does CRM come into the mix?  First, form many of these firms, rather than try and introduce a concept of formal business development teams, it really hasn't been an option.  In order to grow many accounting firms have chosen to either be swallowed up by a larger firm and other firms have been the acquirer in order to meet growth objectives.  Those firms that have chosen to introduce the concept of CRM they have done so with limited understanding of what mainstream customer relationship management is all about.

The firms that have chosen to take the leap into CRM have been doing so with technology partners focused on technology packages centric to the accounting industry.   The challenge is that the concept of many of these technology firms also have a very myopic view of what CRM is as well.  The end result has been many firms that perceive themselves to be involved with CRM when they have done little more than enhance their abiliy to do improved mass communications or centralize documents related to certain accounts.

The most interesting circumstance in this particular industry is that when you analyze their critical needs many of these firms would be best served by implementing more of best of breed technologies from technologies companies that specialize in the CRM space.  These firms have the need to deal with customer service types of issues, market to their prospects and client base, and also to have formal processes around developing new business.  These are the pillars of CRM as we know it today.

Why then, are so many firms unwilling to jump into the mainstream?  No one can say exactly but I would suggest that the group decision making that handles new initiatives for many firms is centered in their own frame of reference.  When introduced to a new concept that may be the most beneficial partners of these firms tend to fall back to what is known in their industry rather than what may be the best solution.

If you find yourself in this type of situation I suggest that you take the time to evaluate what may be best for your firm not just the most convenient or well known alternative.

Is CRM ROI Really Within Your Grasp?

I know it is not the most enticing title for this article but I figured it would be good enough to grab the audience that I wanted to reach.  The topic for today is return on investment as it relates to Customer Relationship Management and why that has historically been a challenge in this particular industry.  I have seen attempt after attempt at trying to quantify everything from clicks to order processing time and some of those elements can be locked down.  What cannot be locked down are some of the most important elements of your success, profitability, and viability in the marketplace.

One of the most challenging areas of any CRM initiative is that specific components that are goals of the project relate to Customer Experience, best practices in operations, and the creation of measurable areas that were previously undocumented or not tied to any particular type of technology.  The divergence from areas like ERP or Document Management are that many of those projects have such concrete capabilities and outputs that there are tangible and hard costs that are tracked.  In fact, when many of these systems are implemented there is a change taking place to replace an outdated or older system with many of the same functional capabilities (albeit with new bells and whistles).

Many of prospects that come to our firm to replace an ERP system come armed with very specific capabilties and these customers have highly evolved requirements.  When this is the case there are specific capabilities with specific transactions that are documented and the savings to the firm are obvious and measuarable.  For instance, if a company has a "sales" arm and a "manufacturing" arm a new ERP system might handle all of the "due to" and "due from" transactions.  If there are a couple of people that do these transactions full time that are no longer needed then the savings are highly visible.

When consolidating data into easy to find locations and eliminating filing cabinets full of paper the savings by implementing a document management system the return is pretty easy to calculate.  There is the savings on paper and toner.  Space is saved from eliminating filing cabinets and the time it takes for people to retrieve information can be easily documented.

So why then, is CRM ROI so hard to track down?  I think the answer depends on two critical elements relating to what you are trying to accomplish and whether the goal for the project is transactional or relational?  Yep, I said it, relational.  You know, as it the "R" in CRM?

The point here is really all about the the "Customer Experience" that everyone is touting and not so much about the technical ability to say that sales, marketing and service all operate out of one particular database.  I would like to use exaggeration to make my point through a couple of hypothetical situations.

In hypothecial situation number one the sales team is working their pipeline and constantly looking to get more deals in the pipeline so the marketing team is proactively sending more and more email campaigns to try and increase lead flow.  The sales people are also responsible for some existing customer account management and light service tasks.  As the marketing team executes to get more leads into the pipeline the number and then the percentage of deals drops sharply and there is a spike in the number of service requests.

Analyzing what happened and then losing a key customer the president of the company calls the customer to try and get them back and receives the following feedback, "Since the beginning of the year we have seen more and more requests from you about more products and services.  Honestly, we began to have problems getting a hold of your representative to help us wiht the core products we already buy.  And then, we just decided to move to someone else that wasn't trying to be everything to everone."

Putting the Practical CRM spin on this I think that this company hit a situation where they approached CRM from a very mechanical way and not in a way that makes a difference in creating a truly exceptional customer experience.  Instead the customer began to perceive the company as more interested in themselves rather than their customers.  From an ROI perspecitive the company could certainly track more leads, track customer resolution time and measure the number of deals closed to reach an ROI argument.

In hypothetical situation number two the company also has moved onto a CRM system and did so with the goal of improving the effectiveness of its team to deal with the customer at all levels.   Trust me, you won't be putting that one in a CRM calculator.  But let's look at the net effect on what happened in their business when their teams worked together.

First, the sales teams were able to provide feedback on the quality of leads for marketing to put more money into some programs and discontinue others.  When the service team completed dealing with any issue a survey was sent out to find out how the customer felt and to also find out what other products and services they were interested in.  And finally, the sales team was able to get involved in the right type of selling opportunities rather than just working a higher volume.   The company stayed focused and listened to their customers and revenues grew across the board.

So, in one situation a company was able to drive lots of activity and measure lots of things, and another company utilized tools to better at execution of their corporate mission.  One drove revenue and growth while the other began to see many unanticipated challenges.  And, the kicker???  The first situation was the easier to measure from an ROI perspective.

If you want to get right down to it.  None of us are delivering the level of service and execute the way that we think we are.  If we choose to go down the path to improving these areas the statistics tell us that doing the right thing will matter on the bottom line.  So what if you can't always measure it.  

Be Careful What You Wish For...

After you get past the shock of me posting only 3 days after my last post I am hoping that some of you will take a long hard look at one of the other impacts of reaching out into this frontier of CRM 2.0 and social networking.  I have tagged this in many different categories becuase it is hard to figure out where this topic applies.  Without keeping you in suspense any further this posting has to do with two incidents that occured in the past two weeks.  At first they seem very disconnected but then I figured out this morning what was annoying me about them this morning.

The events we are talking about happen to be related to email, marketing, and the messaging that hits the people you are trying to reach.  In partcular, with the title of this email and the fervor around CRM 2.0, it is this concept that we are going to not only trust the messaging going out but also have to live with the consequences...good or bad!

Around a week or so ago I received a message from an organization that was addressed to me by first name (not a big deal but it did get my attention).  Apparently this person (whose email address was a had been trying to reach me but been unable to do so.  I felt badly.  Had I not returned a message? Had I neglected to call someone back?  I checked my missed calls on the phone system and nothing from that company or their area code and no messages?

I assumed I had done nothing wrong and decided not to respond to the email because the information didn't seem relevant to me...we will come back to this one later.

Then, in the middle of last week another message from a different company.  This one was easier to understand because I am a customer of this health care provider.  But, the message was an open invitation to a very nice and expensive steak house here in the city.  Now this is health care coverage I could get used to.  I even called the steak house and asked if I needed to respond and they said, "No, there is room reserved, just show up!".  Wow, I don't know what they are selling but I will certainly take them up on the pitch while I enjoy a free steak.

One day later I get a second email which explained that this invitation was erroneously sent to all contacts in the database and to disregard the invitation.  Not a big deal since I was surprised that I would be mysteriously invited to a $100 dinner for no reason from a very large health care provider.  But, it did get me thinking about the impact of what the impact would be when all of my CRM users have the capacity to send the same type of blunder to my customers.

Now, back to the first situation.  After disregarding the prior email I went on my merry way and didn't think twice about it until this morning.  I received yet another request for a meeting from this company this morning and this person who still does not have their own email address at this company mentioned more attempts to try and reach me.  And yep, you guessed it, I went back through last weeks calls to find nothing from this company and no messages.

As I read throught he second email I began to laugh out loud at the content of the second email (although I am sure it was not intended that way).  If I may, here are a couple of the key points that struck me to be funny.  First, this person said that in just the past week they had "dozens of conversations with executives".  Really??? Dozens???  Since they couldn't pick up the phone to call me once I thought that was incredible (or at least incredibly funny).  Next, the company made claims of being able to produce incredible results for many household names. I thought this was funny because we aren't exactly a household name and would immediately shy away from solutions that are targeted for larger organizations (it's a price thing that I am sure many of you can understand).

I couldn't help myself and responded to the company with a terse email stating that they should evaluate their messaging, methods, and target list.  I also wished them well and said that I hoped the rep would be able to make a living with the way that they market themselves.  And finally, I told them that if they were able to connect with "dozens" of executives on a weekly basis they should be in telemarketing and not the line of business they currently promote.

So how does all of this tie back to Socal Media and CRM 2.0?  Well, quite frankly, it is the concept that whether you are marketing directly or enabling front line people to represent your company, there is an inherent danger in exposing your reputation and your company to careless and/or misguided messages to the prospects and clients that you work with.  More importantly, with many of these people you will not get a second chance at making a first impression (especially if the message is poor or misguided).

When people use technology and tools as part of their craft there is an overall responsiblity to understand who you are trying to reach, whether or not they fit your target, and to make sure that the person receiving these messages will be positively impacted by your efforts.  In one instance the company has what I believe to be poor marketing knowledge and in the other an unintended error may have impacted their customer base negatively.  While I was not surprised that the invitation was sent in error there may have been other executives at much larger customers that have a sour taste in their mouth from this incident.

There is no zero sum game in the world of sales and marketing.  Everything you do will ultimately have a positive or negative effect on your prospects and clients.  At a minimum there should be a vetting process with others in your organization before team members engage in various initiatives.  There is no doubt that in both these cases that if other people had been involved the results could have been much better.

In the world of CRM 2.0 people are spending way too much time worrying about connecting to people.  Maybe they should take just as much time worrying about the messages that they send to those same people.  To the best of my knowledge no one has created a method for how to use CRM to connect with people that no longer want anything to do with you.

Do You Need a CRM Reality Check?

Working in the area of sales and sales operations for the past 20 years has been both enjoyable and frustrating.  It is amazing how far apart expectations and reality can be in any organization.  Taking technology out of it there are historically many disconnects in the world of Marketing, Sales, Operations and Finance.  So why bring this up now?  Well, why not...

I decided to write this posting because there is so much conversation going on right now about CRM 2.0 and Web 2.0 that it is hard to get a word in regarding all of the other issues that have been traditional barriers to successful CRM initiatives.  Throwing that fuel on an already raging fire just seems like we are asking for trouble.  Don't get me wrong.  Five years ago it was hard getting anyone to talk about CRM (much less the versions of it).

The thing that keeps rubbing me the wrong way with all of these social media and other extensions of CRM into the market place is that much of this discussion is assuming that all the rest of CRM and its operational capabilities are already being met.  I am as big of a tech junkie as you can find.  When the new gadget comes out I am camped out the night before with the rest of the geeks.  I blog and belong to many of the social networking venues.

I guess that is why I am having such a hard time making the connection.  It reminds me of my kid asking me how to make a wheelie (hope I spelled that right) before he can even ride without training wheels.  There is no doubt that these new CRM 2.0 "wheelies" will sell an awful lot of that people are bored with dashboards and sales funnels.

So here is my checklist of the top value added initiatives that you need to have a handle on before you worry about walking around your shop and find sales reps staring at Facebook entries while logged into CRM:

1.  Solidify Marketing - Make sure that all of your marketing initiaitives are well defined within CRM and that you have optimized the current technologies to be able to see when people are opening the messages you send them or when they are hitting your web site.  If you also are able to track the effectiveness of campaigns you can put more money into some efforts and discontinue others mid stream.

2.  Lock down Proposals & Quotes - Show me a sales team and I will show you people frustrated with generating quotes and orders, using multiple systems, and cutting and pasting proposals together every time they have a real deal.  In most organizations this equates to a day or two a month. If you automated quote and proposal generation with professional looking documents how would your sales team use an extra day or two a month?

3.  Connect Systems Like Leggos - So now your team has orders or customer inquiries and people are running around like crazy double entering information or spending lots of time explaining things to order entry or customer service personnel.  Really???  Haven't we gotten past the concept that data entered once should never have to be entered again! If you give people information or integrated systems then you are just given them the opportunity to succeed.

4.  Why Recipes Work - Did you ever bite into a brownie the first time your mom let your little sister make them?  If you managed to keep it down then you are brave.  The point is that recipes, like workflow, enable us to do things the same way over and over again wiht predictable results.

5.  Be the Night Guard - Assuming you are entering and tracking valuable information then you should be able to treat that data like gold.  The night guard at a Bank walks around and is looking for specific things that look right or look wrong every time he passes through.  If you don't have Key Performance Indicators monitoring and notifying you so that you can manage proactively then how valuable is that data people take so much time to enter?

OK, so I think I have gone far enough for now.   If you can email me and tell me that you have all of these things in line with your CRM then CRM 2.0 until the cows come home.  Hopefully I am not just a rambling idiot but addressing internal operations and sales operational excellence should be a priority before you worry about how you are connecting to everyone outside your company walls.

Understanding Your CRM Software Publisher

Going through the process of deciding that you need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) package is a difficult enough process and when going out to the market to research the alternatives there are certainly plenty of software publishers and their representatives on the other side willing to tell you why their packages are superior and how they will satisfy solving your business concerns.

In the traditional process either someone convinces a business owner or manager that they need a solution or they somehow come to that conclusion on their own.  The company then tasks someone with doing the research around alternatives and many of them go to web and start to poke and prod around various web sites and start to put together a list of people to talk to.  At the end of this cycle a number of people are asked to show how their solutions will meet an organizations objectives for putting in a new system.  The one missing element in the process is an understanding of how these various solutions evolved to their current state.

Some people would argue that understanding the history of a particular application stack is an exercise in futility because any given project is about what exists today and how that capability matches up with current needs.  If you use the economic principle that in a free market economy all information is perfect I would agree with that argument.  We live, however, in market that is imperfect and during the process of selecting a system the people providing a solution demonstration often show us exactly what they want us to see and stay away from places that may cause us difficulties in reaching the optimal solution.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that doing trials or pilot programs to learn everything possible about a particular technology will solve the problem.  There is a happy middle ground that I think can provide you a comfort level when selecting a system.  If you simply ask each vendor to give you a historical context of how the technology was created and how it evolved then you can at least get a baseline to understand where you might have greater concerns or want more information in a particular capability or the publisher's commitment to certain functionality.  This will make you feel comfortable around the future commitment of R&D dollars and how likely you will be successful moving forward.

Here are a number of the areas that I would be concerned about when researching a new technology:

Underlying Technology - When you look at any new system it is valuable to take stock of which technology foundation that technology was originally built upon and where it is today.  An example is a CRM system built as an in house client/server system and then "enabled" for the web but not rebuilt or built natively for today's web capabilities.  There are a number of challenges and customization issues that may arise from this type of offering.

Development Timeline - The first concern here is to understand when a particular system was created and how long it has been proven in the marketplace.  Along with this understanding of how something has been around is the need to understand that publisher's pace at which they come out with new revisions and the technology road map moving forward.  A perfect example is some of the newer systems that have come about in the era.  Many of these technologies are still playing catch up on features and functions that are valuable to a sales or service team (especially in high transactional environments) and when you pay for a system the price paid should reflect an apples to apples comparison of what you are paying for.  If you couple in the timing on new releases for a vendor to catch up there could be a serious impact on ROI.

Target Audience - When any new application is developed there is a specific target audience or ideal customer for that software publisher.  The impact of knowing the original target helps in understanding how the technology has evolved to its current state.  The most common example that I can think of are the lower end technologies that are focused on primarily contact management or sales force automation and then add some account management or marketing functionalities to try and satisfy customer demand.  Many of these technologies have a lower price point but their existing capabilties for marketing and service may be superficial at best.

Delivery Options - This particular concern is one that has evolved more as the world of Software as a Service (SaaS) options have flooded the market over the past few years.  Many prospective customers need to know if those underlying technologies utlize one large shared instance of the technology or if they are basically renting their own instance of a database out in the cloud.  The impact here is that there are inherently more options to modify and customize an application so that it can meet a particular company's objectives.

Frankenstein Effect - One of the biggest challenges in understanding the history of some applications is to also know how/if some of the capabilities were originally developed by the publisher or if they have "bolted" on products that were build in their tool set and then subsequently purchased and made to be part of the application.  The most obvious challenges are that sometimes the functionality was not part of the original design and creates either performance or customization challenges

While there are other areas to try and understand like integration or mobile capabilities I think you get the gist of this posting.  When you have a baseline of understanding of the technology and the context of how it has evolved this will enable better decision making when making a final selection.  As the saying goes...those who don't know history are bound to repeat it.  And, in the world of technology, nothing could be closer to the truth.

The Biggest "Deal Breakers" in Achieving CRM Adoption

Every year at this time I head off to a week long conference to spend time with a room full of colleagues that evangelize CRM in their respective markets.  I love attending this event because it gives me the opportunity to talk to people that are in the same mind set and a great sounding board when it comes to discussing the issues of the day.  There is no better venue to test my perceptions of issues and challenges in the CRM space and to get validation from my peers.  The side benefit is that my peers and I get a better understanding from the software manufacturer's regarding their perceptions as well.

When I started writing this blog the intent was always to give a real world approach and to give advice in a practical way.  Being here for a week I tried to take a high level view to get my thoughts together and communicate what I learned.  If you would have asked me what I thought I would be writing about I would have come up with a completely different response. 

The biggest bombshell that I found is the disconnect between the rush to CRM 2.0 and how little that has to do with what the man on the street and what they need to succeed.  CRM adoption still continues to be the big gotcha that all technology consulting firms like the one I work for.  Many of my colleagues in the industry feel the same way.  So I decided to air some of our grievances related to how CRM technology breaks with CRM culture.

The good news is that the core challenges with CRM adoption are not the same issues we faced 5 or 10 years ago.  The bad news is that there continues to be more and more barriers to realizing user adoption because more variables continue to be introduced into the market place.  Here are my top 5 deal breakers as I see them.

1.  Works the Way I Do - There is a lot of marketing and spin from a number of publishers about CRM working the way people do.  Well, here is a tip then.  Regardless of how much we claim to have internet access around the clock the reality is that we don't.  If we really want people to use CRM then give them ALL of CRM on my desktop/laptop regardless of my connectivity.  I don't want paired down functionality or to have to make choices about which customers I can cache and carry.

2.  Works Like Everything Else I Use - No offense to any developers out there but if you think that having 5 to 10 screens pop up in a 30 to 60 minute session of using a CRM application is "acceptable" you are out of your mind.  There is no technology in use today in corporate America that pleasures the user with pop up after pop up.  It does not happen in Word or Excel and it does not happen when I buy something from  Enough said, I think you get the frustration of CRM users.

3. Mobile is Mobile - Here we go back to the same concepts that relate to how people work.  Don't shrink an application into a browser and then call it a mobile CRM application.  The point of being mobile and using CRM is so that I can work (yes, even sometimes we don't always have 5 bars of signal strength) in a plane, train, or automobile no matter what connectivity happens to be.  Internet accessible mobile is not mobile CRM.

4. As Reliable as the Toilet - The overwhelming frustration of people using technology as part of making a living is that there can be no question about the stability and reliability of the application.  Think about it.  What if your toilet worked successfully most of the time.  How ugly would that get?  People that wake up and get introduced to a piece of technology need to know that it will work with all the common tools most likely to be on any given desktop in big or small companies.  Outlook is the best example I can think of.

5.  Don't Penalize the User - Once people are introduced to CRM they should be given less and less manual duties in the technology over time.  It is amazing that as people put in more and better information they are almost always penalized by being hit with more and more duties as it relates to CRM.  No one woke up today and said "I hope my entire day is taken up with meaningless data entry that has nothing to do with my job function."  If we don't grasp the use of process automation and workflow soon our users will just flat out revolt or go find somewhere else to work.

Off to the airport now but I hope that people that design and publish technology take some of these things to heart.  It was a good week with lots of learning and lots of laughs.

CRM 2.0: Are You Ready for the Next Generation?

It was bound to happen...and then finally it did!  I was sitting in a meeting and then a prospective customer starting asking me about CRM 2.0.  After a decade submersed in the world of CRM I kind of chuckled to myself that an organization that had not even begun to grasp the real impact of a CRM initiative that this person was already down a path that most of the colleagues that I trust in the industry have not even fully agreed upon.  If you want to get some insight on the discussion you may want to visit the CRM 2.0 Wiki.

I have pretty much stayed out of the fray up to now because every time I get involved in this discussion it seems like I am trying to figure out how to fly to the Sun using a Mountain Dew powered rocket ship.  If that last reference meant nothing to you then you completely get my point.  It really does not mean anything to me either. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't care about CRM 2.0 or Social CRM or my coined phrase, "2nd Generation CRM".  It is such a big topic that I don't really know how to encapsulate the discussion into silos that will provide my clients a relevant and actionable method of resolving what it should mean to them.

So, rather than talking in circles, I guess this will be my initial jaunt into this discussion on what I know and what I don't know about CRM 2.0.  I do have a head start because I also started to discuss this concept in a blog article from earlier this year Integrating CRM to Social Networking Not a Reality Just Yet.  That particular blog posting had to do with a panel that I was a part of at the Small Business Summit 2009.  There were so many questions related to how to engage Social Media into business development efforts and it was clear to me that this concept is going to start heating up sooner rather than later.

First, let me start my comments by explaining that in the past 10 years I have seen so many inefficient internal sales and service operations that I think I will show some bias with regards to what I think the immediate opportunity is for CRM 2.0 for most organizations.  Time after time I continue to get engaged in projects with management teams that are trying to consider CRM as a functional step primarily in the context of sales and service teams and not inclusive of the interoperability of those teams within the organization as a whole.

There is a paradox here that I want to make sure I don't confuse. I do believe that initial CRM initiatives should be focused on a few critical deliverable elements and expanded over time.  However, there should be a blue print on the master plan for organizational operational excellence before diving into the CRM project itself.  How does this relate to the concept of CRM 2.0?  I guess the initial challenge that I have with most CRM 2.0 discussions is that the focus is external and most organizations haven't conquered their internal challenges yet.

I believe that CRM 2.0 is the essence of merging how customers live and work and bridging those tools into a common customer experience that our internal teams see and understand in order to be able to sell more products and keep those customers for life.  I discuss the customer experience in many of my seminars and I try to impress on my audience that people want to have the same experience no matter how they engage with our organization.  Knowing as much about your customer and messaging to them in a meaningful way is a key part of executing this vision.

The one thing that I don't know how to encapsulate into the CRM 2.0 discussion is how we take the day to day tools and transactions in our corporate environments and mold them into this panacea where we are at one with our customer.  Moreover, the one thing that I don't see involved in this Social CRM discussion is what I currently think is the real opportunity in the next generation of CRM. 

I guess a better way to explain this is that I think we need certain building blocks (of which many of the elements of CRM 1.0 are just flat out essential).  I do see the path to CRM 2.0 but I think that you need to get the foundation set and then concentrate on my vision of CRM 2.0.  The next generation of CRM for my customers that have gotten the foundation in place is all about workflow and business automation combined with the right level of business analytics and key performance indicators. 

At the end of the day if these initiatives I just explained as my concept of CRM 2.0 are not incorporated into the existing definition I think that trying to make the next steps of the evolving customer experience will not provide us with what we would all expect this next wave of CRM to be all about.

Who's Driving the Opportunity?

I am not sure exactly how to start this posting but I had to write something after having the same type of discussion 3 or 4 times over the past couple of weeks.  The issues I had been discussing with several senior sales people and sales leadership at a few accounts centered around the concept of an Opportunity and a Lead.  After jumping up and down over the "technical" definition of a Lead versus an Opportunity I decided to take out something from my old bag of tricks.

Many years ago I was working for a consulting firm and the firm had evolved primarily from the roots of an accounting technology organization.  As such, the company had developed a formal methodology when deploying its internal CRM system.  When marketing started to work with the sales organization there was all kinds of chaos trying to develop who was responsible for what and where the ultimate ownership of the opportunity fell.  Since the company had evolved into a company selling everything from e-commerce to human resource solutions in addition to accounting and CRM the question of ownership had stalled several times because no one could agree.

Since our CRM practice was consulting on our client engagements and helping customers with many of these same issues we were asked to help give some guidance that would help us deploy a system that would work when selling to small companies or very large complex clients.  What we came up with and the process that we worked through I found to be very helpful for anyone who reads this blog and has run into this issue in the past.

First, lets discuss the concept of a Lead.  If you ask most marketing people they would tell you that a Lead is a nothing more than a name on a list.  If you ask a sales person they would probably tell you that a Lead is something that is qualified that came from something that probably started on a list.  There is truth in both answers but we need to talk about when things change and the impact to the users within an organization.

The marketing team will decide to move forward on a target list of some kind and this is done in a one-to-many format.  It really won't matter whether it is an existing client or a prospect but when there is a response the inquiry is still unqualified and in the Lead category.  Once people start to get involved that is where the concept of ownership will come into play.  There are two types of people interaction to concern yourself with.  One type of interaction is the qualification process and the other will be the activities that will proceed to work a qualified deal through the Opportunity process.

Our CEO at the time had a great spin on this and the focal point that you should have when it relates to ownership of the Opportunity.  Once a deal is qualified the "owner" of the deal should be your internal advocate that will coordinate all resources and spearhead activity with the client/prospect to bring the deal to a conclusion.  He called it being "CEO of the Deal".  That person will do whatever it takes in order to reach a conclusion and work diligently to make things happen.

Since many organizations work on teams or have multiple sales people selling different products and services within the same account this is where the confusion comes into play.  I constantly hear about the owner of a Lead or Opportunity being the owner of the account and this may or may not be the case.  The owner of an Account should only be the owner of an Opportunity if they have the authorization, skills and resources to bring a deal to closure.

How the deals finally reach a conclusion is a totally different story.  Opportunities are like goals. They need to be attainable, measurable, and have some expectation of time period.  IF you run Opportunities open ended or you don't have specified sales processes then it is likely that you are trying to manage Leads mixed in with Opportunities and susceptible to lots of inefficiency and frustration.

How Much Actual Value is There in CRM Dashboards?

Ten years ago when you walked in a room with a projector the size of some small refrigerators and sat down to show a CRM package all everyone wanted to know was “Do you have a sales funnel?”  Throw it up on the screen and your CRM package was half way sold.  Now we have come full circle and when we sit down with prospects the projector barely comes into focus before the “D Word” comes out.  I am not saying that dashboards are bad, but them in context of the bigger picture.

If you start to break down the concept of Dashboards and their purpose then you must also define what a dashboard is versus other components of Business Intelligence.  In simple terms Business Intelligence or “Smart Data” is any subset of information provided in a way that accelerates decision making or management of a business.

The traditional methods of Business Intelligence for CRM purposes can be broken down into a few simple buckets.  This first category is what I call Informational (like a gauge in your car).  The better format is using Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s are have intelligence already built in). And the final category is what I would call Status Indicators (more like the lights that come on in your car when something is wrong).

Like the sales funnel from days gone by the Informational dashboards are cool to look at and they do provide some demographic information like your lead/close breakdown or the different categories for your customer service tickets.  The problem is that most of them don’t give you an action to take or a place to go from there without running additional reports to see the devil in the details.

Key Performance Indicators are far and away the best alternative because the data has been pre-screened for exactly the indicators that you are looking for so that additional reports are not necessary.  The challenge is knowing your business well enough to know what situations in the database would raise a positive or negative flag that need attention.  For instance, if you have a KPI for Activities weekly per Sales Representative it doesn’t tell you  the root cause for the issue…just that the issue needs attention.

The Status dashboards are probably the most worthless of all.  Using these types of dashboards assumes that all of your processes are outlined and you get to see where things are “stuck” in an assembly line.  If you have complicated processes then these types of dashboards have even less relevance.  If you have seven different sales processes then looking at one funnel that shows the Stage of Opportunities you have a lot of work to do to get to some valuable data on a given process.

So what is my point in telling you all of this?  Well, in all of these scenarios there is a need for the user of the dashboard to have a fair amount of internal savvy regarding the data and what to do in order to find something actionable that is meaningful to him or her in their daily role.  I tend to lean towards a different approach when dealing with data.

If you know how you want to run the business and the conditions in your database that require an actionable event then your answer is probably not in the world of dashboards but in the world of workflow and automation.  This is a bigger discussion for another blog article so I won’t delve into it here.

At the end of the day we all have more data that we will ever be able to go through and we will all be better served through notifications and alerts tied together with meaningful reports before we go buying a CRM application based on who has the prettiest dashboards.

How Do You Use CRM to Revive Old Customers?

There is a funny phenomenon that happens when the going gets tough or the economy slows down.  Marketing teams get into high gear or seem to shut down when it comes to attacking their marketplace.  There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.  As I have talked to many of my customers about their thoughts in this area they seem to concur.  One of the biggest surprises that I have found is that many of these teams have universally chosen to attack new customer acquisition.

Thinking about this approach it is a natural tendency to go after attracting more leads and new customers.   The cost to land new customers, however, continues to climb higher and higher when there are fewer dollars flowing in the economy.  This is why I think those teams that really want to exceed their wildest expectations for this year need to take a different approach.

Lost customers or dormant customers are the quickest and fastest way to prime the proverbial revenue pump in a down economy.  There are lots of reasons why.  Let’s take a look at  why this approach may make the most sense for you and your teams.

1.       If you have had a CRM program for customer database for some time you probably have more intelligence about the likes/dislikes of lost customers or those that have been dormant for some time.

2.       If you lost a customer there are usually opportunities for you to take advantage of your competitor’s weaknesses or challenges they may be facing in times like this.

3.       Inside many organizations there are high turnover rates and the people that chose to sever a relationship or move in a direction may have already moved on and there is little or no history with the people who control the purse strings for that customer today.

4.       Access to the right people and the likelihood of reaching lost customers is usually a bigger bang for the buck as far as messaging from marketing initiatives and therefore likely to generate better opportunities.

5.       If you assess the opportunities and feedback from old customers you may also find new opportunities with intelligence about their needs that may be more effective in creating even more campaigns to revive lost revenue.

There is definite value in working smart over working hard in times like these and the best advice may be to look before you leap.

Is “Everyone” Really Moving to Hosted CRM?

It is shocking to me how often I walk into a room and I hear sales executives talking about hosted CRM like it is the only option.  While it is easy as someone who offers Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM to just present that option and go with the flow I rarely take that route for several reasons.

There is a HUGE difference between the reason enterprise size organizations and the mid-market organizations I usually deal with decide on whether or not to deploy a on premise or hosted CRM.  In the larger organizations SaaS is usually an Information Technology strategy.  Conversely, most of the solutions I am involved with usually disclose that SaaS as an option is either a pricing decision or because of lack of knowledge of the other options.

To confirm my findings I decided to fill out a request form on a well known SaaS sight to see what the sales “Pitch” would be once someone called me to promote their solution.  The call came in just a few hours after I filled out the form from a call center and decided to play along.  I learned some interesting things through my conversation.

The sales person claimed that moving my sales team onto his product would provide a return on my investment in as little as a few days if not weeks.  He said that most of his customers were able to setup and import their information in a few days to a week and that my team would be “productive” in no time at all.

I thought it was funny that I had not even explained my needs and my payback would be almost instantly.  I told him that I wanted to do some analysis around my sales operations and then make some decisions around how to deploy a CRM product to get his response.  He told me that while some “big” companies spend a lot of time doing analysis the majority of his customers did not engage in hiring a consultant.  He did offer his company’s professional services if we needed help importing or setting up the program.

Needless to say there are certainly situations where this might be the case but in the last 10 years I have found few companies that can simply setup and go with little or no guidance.  Since he brought up the issue of his customers I asked how long he had been giving CRM advice.  He avoided the question for a while but then said he had been with the firm for a few months and never worked with CRM before this job.  I told him that I would be more comfortable if I could talk to a few of these references who had their payback in just a few weeks.

Once again there was some hesitation and he said that all I could read more about his company and made reference to a few articles on line that I could read about his company and their solution.  I told him that I would ask around and do some more reading and get back to him in a couple of weeks.  To my surprise he called the very next day with his manager and proceeded to try and convince me to get several people on a trial and that if we were happy with the setup we could do a contract by the end of the month.  I mentioned that I did some research and talked to a couple of the other household names in CRM and they were willing to come to my office and meet with me to discuss my needs and demonstrate how the software would meet my needs.

At this point his manager offered to setup a demonstration and said we could talk through my issues at the same time they showed me the software.  I asked about having someone come to see me and he said that for the number of users there was no way we could see someone in person and then have a customized demonstration to show a proof of concept.

Things went on for a while and told them that my management made me go in another direction to get the calls to stop.

I am not sure if anyone else has had a similar experience but as a long time CRM evangelist I have a problem with the method to the process for selling CRM in this manner.  It’s hard to even begin to go through the iterations of the how and the why selection of CRM isn’t just a couple of calls and a demonstration.

The most important thing that people should know is that if you look at the market share for CRM the hosted applications have not even penetrated 10% of the market.  That is hardly a hard shift in the deployment option for most companies.  This may very well be the option that you choose but understand several things before you make the leap:

1.        By deploying CRM what is it that you are trying to address?

2.       If you look at the cost of hosted vs. on premise can you justify the long term costs over a 5 year horizon?

3.       Do you need to integrate other on premise systems and what would it cost?

4.       Will the users of the system be able to use the system in their typical daily life or do they work disconnected most of the time?

5.       Are you really looking to deploy something quickly without looking at or changing your existing processes to better run and manager your business?

6.       How important is having a local presence for counsel and advice or are you going to succeed without much guidance?

Remember that fulfilling your mission includes making your user’s lives and productivity better than they were before you deployed CRM.  You also don’t get a second bite at the apple when deploying this type of technology.

Integrating CRM to Social Networking Not a Reality Just Yet

After years of being on the front lines in the world of CRM technology and the implementations of countless systems there are two things that I have become accustomed to in the board room.  First, people are always looking for the latest set of tools and technologies that will give them competitive advantage.  And, many of those organizations have learned over the years that new CRM initiatives need to be vetted much more closely and scope defined prior to implementation.

In the first days of CRM many of us on the consulting side sat across the table with teams of customers that had a "CRM" desire but no practical experience or set of metrics and goals with either brand new implementations or new phases on an existing system.  The goals back then were to try and get efficiency in sales and service operations and to get close to the customer.

Fast forward to the current state of CRM and these technologies are no longer new and internal teams are much more seasoned on the benefit and use of CRM inside of their organizations.  In fact, many of these technologies are now the first part of a truly integrated end to end solution.  That being said, the analysts and project managers that are responsible for these technologies also clearly understand the value proposition before they push for a new initiative.

We are now on the precipice of what I am calling the second generation of CRM for many organizations.  The real buzzword in the board room right now has to do with "workflow" and business process.  In the face of smaller staffs and fewer transactions coming in the door companies are looking to do more with less.  They are also concentrating on better execution with the systems they currently have.  We are not seeing great investment in new or unproven technologies at this point.

When you think about social networking and the integration to CRM you merely need to go back to some of the basic tenets of CRM foundations and you immediately see the challenge presented in trying connect individual contacts to corporate initiatives.  If you are in a company that is doing mass marketing and selling to consumers there is clear value.  Until many organizations have their own social networking footprint and "communities" among industries the social networking connection on a B2B project would be very suspect.

I won't go so far as to say that there is no immediate benefit of social networking to a selling or service organization because having good and valid contact information is always vital...especially if it is organic and passively attained.  The core value is social networking is inherent in the term itself.  Much like meeting software that permits presentations of groups of people without traveling to see each other physically, social networking brings together people with common threads.

As I was speaking at a technology business summit on a panel two weeks ago the issue became glaringly apparent to me.  The traditional world of networking is for people to be able to leverage relationships to create more business for each other.  Social networking is just one more way of connecting the business environment with people that are among their target profile.

Now the issue becomes a core issue that CRM has faced for years.  How do you mix the activity of people and technology effectively in order to influence your organization's performance?  I still don't think many teams have solved the issue from an internal operational perspective and it would be presumptive to think, for me at least, that social networking will make a significant footprint into CRM in year of turbulence ahead.

Triangulate Your Sales Team

After my last posting I definitely received some positive feedback that there are in fact many people ready to get out and make the most of this year. I talked to a few sales managers and one sales VP and they surprisingly had a set of questions that concentrated on the same issue...optimizing performance.

The first manager I spoke to said that he currently is somewhat happy with the setup of his CRM solution but he has a sneaky suspicion that there is something else that he can do to get better results out of his team.  He called to ask my opinion so we ran through some questions to try and get to the heart of his suspicions.


Although I don't typically like to get into sports analogies or metaphors sometimes they are just too hard to ignore.  I liken a sales team to an athlete playing an individual or team sport.  If it's an individual sport (sole account manager on an account) I want to know about the skills of that person, their preparation, and how they execute on the field. If it is a team sport (team selling) I want to know two more things. I want to know the playbook (strategy or plan) and I want to know how execution is evaluated.


The next thing I want to look at is the profile of a successful sales person in a particular field and how that person achieves their goals on a consistent basis. Again, if this is a team, I want to know how a team reaches their consistency on a team basis.  When you profile what your best performers or teams have as common traits then you also have to look to see how to best bridge the gap in the rest of your sales team.


The last thing to look at is the CRM system and how it is implemented.  If there isn't one that is a big problem.  Assuming most sales teams have one then you need to look at not just the structure but also an evaluation of how people use the system and profile their daily activities to see if there is a better way to provide access or information in a way that can help their performance.  The last thing I like to evaluate is whether or not there is a productivity plan in place to help work as a guide to help sales people hit their numbers.

So what in the world is "triangulation"?  It is the combination of assessing the team, their training plan, and the tools they use to get the job done.  As much as I would like to think a good CRM system will make the difference I don't think it's possible to optimize performance without looking at how you balance the three key elements of sales performance.

When I ran through these same questions with the other sales manager and the vice president of my other customers several issues came to the surface as they did when I analyzed the first person I met with.  In all three cases the teams had an adequate system but their sales people spent significant time in the field.  By offering the suggestion to extend the CRM capabilities through a mobile platform their people would have easier access to information and make better use of their time to create and log more activities.  Activity equals the opportunity for good things to happen.

The next suggestion I offered is to implement a weekly plan in the CRM system and reporting to be able both create a management tool for measuring those activities and also to lay out a set of expectations for sales people on the level of activities it will take to reach their goals.  In a simple pyramid leads are the bottom level and that creates the opportunity for a level activities which lead to certain number of opportunities (sales cycles).  Therefore, if you have an adequate number of sales cycles a percentage of those will become proposals and ultimately a number of those close and become revenue.

The last bit of advice I gave my customers related to the approach to training.  One of the things that I reminded them of is the need for consistent and planned training activities.  Whether it is product training, competitive analysis, or sales training, sales people respond well to consistent and planned training activities. If times are slower this year it is especially better to help your teams from this perspective so that they will be better empowered to perform and increase their win ratios.

I know there is no perfect science here but if you take an inventory of your sales teams now there is still plenty of time to reach your goals for the year.  If you do the same thing this year that you did last year count on the same or very possibly worse results.

Corporate Darwinism Rules in 2009!

Happy New Year!!!  Is there anyone saying that sincerely in the face of what many are anticipating this year.  The answer is Yes! Absolutely! No doubt! So are these people eternally optimistic, crazy, or otherwise deranged?  Some of them are perhaps a bit unstable but there is also a large contingency of people jumping in with both feet and are ready to hit the ground running.

Why in the world would I choose to throw this topic into a blog about CRM?  Well, my main constituency are sales people. Whether naturally graced with the skill of selling or groomed and mentored like many of the best sales people I have known, the true sales person is embracing this year like any other. And those who are supported with the right tools they will actually pummel their competition.

If you want a real reality show then just do a ride along with a person charged with bringing in a quota this year.  Sure, business may slow and in some industries negative growth will be the norm.  So there is business out there and it is just a matter of who will bring it home for their firms.

Whether or not you have the best CRM system in the world there are some things that we must embrace in order to succeed in less than certain times.


I will be the first person in the world to tell you that the world "Sales" has a negative connotation.  Everyone likes to buy but no one likes to be sold is the adage that is prevalent in the business world.  That is not to say that there is nothing wrong with be an evangelist with your customers.  If everyone on your team that comes in contact with customers understands this it is amazing to see what a real "team" can produce rather than putting production on the shoulders of just individuals.


So I have a blog... Woohoo!  I am on social networking sites...Woohoo!  I have a fantastic CRM system...well, you get the point.  If you are charged with bringing in numbers then you have to have a ditch digging mentality regarding the effort that it takes to get the job done.  No matter the technology that you use it is important that you have a plan and stick to it.  If you use social networking it is a means to an end.  Blogging, social networks, and CRM tools are intended to connect you to the right people so that you can practice your craft.  

I want to end this post with a couple of passages from my deceased grandfather.  As I entered the business world after I graduated from college he said two things. "Tell me who you hang around with and I will tell you who you are." And, "If you don't know where you are going you will probably end up somewhere else."  Loosely translated I took this to mean that my associations and there attitudes will either have a net positive or net negative effect on me and my efforts.  And, if I don't wake up with a plan every day then that day is essentially lost.

Good luck to all this year and I hope that you reach your goals and dreams and exceed every expectation that you had for yourself this year.

Don't Get Too Crazy

One of the funniest things I have noticed since my last posting is that my meetings are getting more and more dynamic as I meet with more and more teams that are trying to optimize their organizations and get creative with technology when they don't have the people or the resources to meet some of their objectives.  Don't get me wrong... I don't think there is anything wrong with being proactive but I do think that there is also value in being practical (thus the name of this blog).  Let's talk about do's and don't s with your CRM platform.


Whether you are starting from your first implementation or just enhancing an existing system it is important to understand the context in which you are making changes to your organization and/or your systems.  It is not uncommon to walk into a situation where teams are looking to make a new set of changes where they are completely ignoring some of the higher priority requests of the users.  If you have set expectations in your original project that you are going to do certain things in the "next release" you have essentially made a contract with your users.  If you break their trust to jump the line with new priorities the backlash may be ugly.  if you are making new priorities and get buy in first you may be just fine.


In the same context with considering your starting point it is important to understand that any change has a consequence.  It is not a perfect science but when asking people to collect more information or adding more complexity to business rules in your system be sure to stay on top of the feedback from your user population to see if the effect is both positive on productivity and profitability.  If you see that the impact of changes are not optimal or if new changes replace prior processes don't be afraid to redo or rollback other changes.


I am also seeing more and more discussions involving the introduction of new teams or expansion of systems to include more operational elements.  The value of CRM for many of my emerging market or SMB customers is that the technology becomes the operational heartbeat of an organization.  When adding any team or expanding a system to be more inclusive the feedback process and operational committees that work on the overall solution must be inclusive so that you don't diminish the overall effectiveness of the system by mandating to certain teams and catering to others.


The world of CRM is constantly evolving and many of my current customers are now what I would call "2nd Generation CRM" customers.  These customers have captured the essence of their systems in a way that is optimizing their operations.  So what could be next?  That is fairly easy...workflow is next.  If you find that there now the CRM infrastructure is great but you have users spending too much time digging through data or screens to get to higher priority items then you may want to put your attention on workflow.  My next article will dive into more detail but if you have no workflow capabilities in your current CRM system it may be time to look around.

On a final note we are heading into the holidays and don't forget to tell people how much you appreciate them and take the time to capture the essence of the season.

CRM as a "Game Changer"

Ok, ok, so it's been quite a while since my last post.  No one ever said blogging was going to be easy.  After getting back into the swing of things here I decided to put my first post after the summer about a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I spend a lot of time talking about the different ways to do CRM and do it right.  Today I am going to talk about more of the "Why?" and "What's in it for me?" regarding CRM.

Believe it or not the last three weeks have been the busiest in years (surprising since I have been swamped since coming to New York).  The discussions in the board room have been increasingly swinging one of two ways.  Some executives are are talking survival and others are sensing weakness in their competitors.  Either way if you have the right approach to CRM it can and should be a game changer for your business.


So what's one of the first things to go when times get tough... marketing.  Endless management meetings and countless discussions abound regarding how to make the numbers.  At the end of the day it's usually marketing first on the chopping block.  Not to say that's out of the question but many companies don't spend the time reaching out to their existing customer base where there are significant sources of revenue.

CRM comes into play in a significant way when trying to make the most out of existing customers in several respects.  If you are profiling your customers needs and staying in tune with them they are more likely to trust your messaging to them in difficult times. And, with the right CRM solution, you can also see immediate returns from moving marketing responses into your sales teams hands as soon as possible.


Here is some shocking news.  Technology can only go so far and its really up to your people resources to carry the load for increasing production.  The problem for many teams is that they don't have the basics in place and spend countless time doing reporting, organizing their efforts, and trying to reach internal team members to source information that should be available to everyone.

CRM is a unique set of tools that, when deployed right, can actually decrease the amount of time that sales people spend in front of a computer.  In the Internet and Mobile age sales people can also be armed with tools on the go to give them access to make more contacts or source better information on the fly.  When a streamlined CRM is in place leads flow faster and more contacts are made.  The law of numbers plays to your benefit because people buy from people they like that are sincere and responsive.


The last topic for this post is one of the most neglected areas when it comes to CRM.  Like it or not how we take care of our customers can play as heavily into our revenue streams as the initial transaction.  One of the key tenants in customer relationship management is the linking of not only marketing with sales but also the customer service teams that keep our customer relationships strong.

When customers are in distress and need of assistance they usually do two things.  First, they reaffirm their faith in your organization when their requests are handled efficiently.  It increases their willingness to buy from you without hesitation and rave to others about your service.  And finally, customers usually share valuable information about the other products or services they are in need of to people other than sales.

So, can CRM be a game changer?  Absolutely!  There is so much opportunity when you deploy the right system that makes all of your people better and increases the bottom line.  In the past 10 years I have seen it happen time and time again.

Should I go with a Vertical CRM or Best of Breed CRM?

So here I am plugging through the summer and things are busier than ever.  As I have mentioned in the past things go in cycles.  Recently, I have been involved in more and more meetings involving conversations relating to the pros and cons of vertical or industry specific CRM solutions and what I would call mainstream, or best of breed CRM technologies.  I wish there was a simple answer regarding which direction companies should go but there are some specific questions you should answer to help guide you through your specific situation.

Divergence - This is a subject that I talk about with clients as it relates to the core business and how much their sales and service activities and operations diverge from main stream CRM technologies.  If the nature of your business is so unique that there is a vertical solution that has captured the essence of that uniqueness then you might be better off with a vertical solution.  What I tend to find in many instances is that operations are not usually divergent enough to warrant a vertical solution.

Business Risk & Investment - When assessing the capital and investment of CRM companies you should look closely at the core business of a vertical CRM solution and whether or not there are competing factors for research and development dollars inside that company that will affect the ongoing improvements that you will need in your CRM solution. While a best of breed application may bring generic improvements many vertical solutions are slow to evolve because the CRM may only be a module of a broader solution.

Usability - One of the best measures of a vertical solution is to follow the workflow of the system while going through a demonstration.  If the solution is lock step with your business model then this may provide a short time to  value and an easier implementation.  Be cautious if the system does not provide key elements of your business because many vertical solutions are inflexible or hard to modify.

Flexibility - Over the years I have migrated many companies from vertical solutions because their business evolved and the company entered new markets or began to provide other horizontal solutions that could not be handled by the limited scope of the vertical CRM technology.  Like it or not many companies change over time for business survival and many best of breed systems can handle multiple business workflows for different lines of business.

Integration - So this one is tricky.  When vertical solutions are deployed many times the key data needed by personnel is housed in other solutions within the firm.  If this is the case the vertical solution should have an open platform capable of integrating other applications seamlessly.  Best of breed CRM platforms are usually designed with tools capable of robust integration because this is often a requirement of the firms that deploy them.

Depth - Another challenge with many vertical solutions versus main stream CRM applications is the depth of functionality. If the solution will handle your needs but is so deep in capability that you don't need a great many of the capabilities then it might be a challenge to deploy and make the system easy to use.  If your user community is encumbered by complex workflow or driven to use multiple screens to achieve simple tasks then you might be in trouble.

Of course there are other key factors when deciding on a CRM solution for your organization like cost, licensing options and deployment options (SaaS, web, offline to name a few). But, take a smart approach to figure out a scorecard of what is most important now and what you might need in the coming years.  The answer on which type of solution will be a best fit can usually be achieved by asking and answering the right questions.

Does Age Matter?

If you are in this business long enough then you will see everything. More and more often I have been sitting in the board room and been surprised by the biggest issue some of my customers and prospective customers are facing. Is it the economy? For many of them not yet. Is is turnover? Well, in less than a robust economy people are much more cautious about switching jobs. Well then, what is it? And the winner is AGE! Yep, not the age of the sales reps and managers but the range of ages among the teams who are tasked with using a CRM system.

So let's step back a few years...if for no other reason than I love telling this story. As the son of a pure sales person I remember the first time my dad came rolling in with a sleek looking IBM laptop. My brother and I were already somewhat geeks about computers but my pops looked absolutely terrified. He put the laptop on the desk in his office. There it sat day after day. Sometimes he would curse about it and I kept thinking "Wow, how could you be mad at something you never turned on?"

Now that I look back at the situation I can empathize with his plight. After literally decades of working at his craft and excelling in his field he was introduced to a new set of tools intended to improve his performance. The problem at hand is that he would certainly be able to continue with the status quo and not be impacted if he never engaged in using those tools. More importantly, the company was changing the way it did business and the option of developing proposals and submitting policy applications (insurance industry) would no longer be handled any other way.

The way it played out was similar to the way I see this issue handled by many companies today. My father and other senior producers struggled with the new procedures and found creative ways to still get their job done. Younger producers adjusted fairly easily and became accustomed to the new procedures using laptops instead of administrative personnel to produce their proposals and contracts. Eventually, the company found a way to leverage their older and younger employees skills or lack thereof.

So now it's time to bring this story full circle and discuss how it pertains to CRM. When you look at your teams of people that need each other and internal systems there are some critical questions to ask when you engage in launching a new set of tools like those provided by a CRM technology:

1. Why are you looking to deploy a new system? Synthesize your needs down two or three operational efficiencies that will improve performance.
2. What are the current skill sets of your users? Analyze the varying degree of ages of your teams and make sure your weakest members will be better off by any new technology deployment.
3. How will you train your troops? Categorize people by capability and not specifically by job role and create training plans that will get everyone to some common minimum level of ability in using the new system.
4. Is there more than one way to meet the minimum expectations? Often times hiring a sales administrator to assist older employees produces much better results.
5. Are you introducing new technologies with the new system? If you are adding things like wireless cards to laptops or CRM on a mobile device you may want to introduce these tools for users initially without the CRM application installed.
6. Where are your people when they need access? This is a big gotcha. Many companies deploy things like web based systems for people that are out on the road most of the time and in order to use the new tools they are extending their work day rather than shortening it.

These are a few of the best ways to evaluate your talent and their tools but the last step is the most important. After you deploy a set of tools be sure to develop a forum for feedback. Despite all of our best intentions it is best to sit down with your teams and hear from them where there is a disconnect or training has been less than optimal.

Remember, the goal of an efficient CRM is to create more customer facing time not to encumber your teams with new systems and processes that make their job more difficult.

Is Your CRM Turning You Into A Commodity?

I just completed the end of another quarter and was running through an analysis of the projects that we successfully acquired and those that went some other direction.  I also thought about the discussions in the board room recently and the reasons people are telling me they "need CRM" or need to change the implementation they already have.

First, let's critique my own efforts...  Nice wins from very strategic customers.  Did those customers buy based on product specifications? No.  Did those customers buy based on a lower price? No.  Did those customers buy because of the promise for lower consulting rates or time to complete the project? No. Well then why in the world did we win?  I will address this at the end of this article.

I am not sure if any of you have ever seen the movie Sliding Doors where you get to see what happens to the same person based on one single event of either boarding/not boarding a train and the results that come out of it.  I am going to attempt to recreate that here with one of the sales processes just completed.

In the first scenario we are going to look at the approach a sales person would take if he looked at this sale driven by an internal CRM sales process assuming a complex technology sale.  Initially, this sales person would need to find the decision makers and establish a budget.  The system would then tell the rep to define the pain points and create documentation and a budget letter explaining the issues and the financial impacts of addressing those issues with a solution (preferably his/hers).

Checking off yet another box when a demonstration has been scheduled the system is telling me the rep that the revenue is projected at 60%.  Continuing on down the yellow brick road leads to a proposal following the demonstration, 80%, almost home.  A few tweaks to the contract and some revisions to the proposal and a little more negotiation and the Opportunity is won (or it may go the other way based on many, many factors).

That in essence is how most CRM technologies are built and being asked to present this type of solution to my customers five years ago was run of the mill and discussed almost every day of the week.  Now let’s walk through the same deal using CRM as a competitive weapon.

The sales person gets the lead and instantly looks up the company which is already in his system.  An Opportunity is established and then the first thing the rep does is to look at all associated contacts and accounts (this includes the prospective companies vendors, competitors and consultants) to see if he or she knows anyone with any more insight into this account.

The sales rep skips past the budget field in the CRM tool and moves on to schedule meetings with two or three people that know something about this account.  The rep is also able to understand what type of projects have been completed for this specific type of company and learn more from his own team members.

After a few meetings and collecting more data the rep asks to meet with senior people to confirm the issues documented to date.  By the time an RFP is created and sent out to various vendors the representative is already in visionary discussions with multiple decision makers in the firm.  Because competitors and strategies for those competitors are tied to the opportunity new intelligence from any other sales team member is readily available.

When presentations and proposals are completed the solution is an afterthought because the “sale” has really become about the people involved in helping the prospective customer reach their goals and not the product stack being proposed.

The CRM system is ultimately updated with all of the same information and if you looked at the same opportunity two years down the road you would not see any difference.  But, in reality, there is a real difference.  In one instance a company is improving performance and execution by using the technology a centralized management tool for all deals and the first company is using CRM in a much more “technical” way according to how the system is configured.

Jumping back to the beginning of the article of why my customers chose me last month…it’s because they want their sales teams to be dynamic and have the flexibility to sell more effectively.  They want a person’s life to be better the day they start using CRM than their lives before CRM.  Lastly, they have systems that leverage people and their knowledge rather than systems that turn their people into data entry experts.

So if you want to know if your CRM is making your people a commodity ask yourself how many deals you won last month because of your process and how many deals you brought it because of your people…that will tell you what type of solution you have implemented.

CRM in Challenging Times

Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed that the temperature in the board room is rising.  By that statement I mean that it seems like more and more people are coming to the table to discuss Customer Relationship Management with a focus on increasing sales and maximizing revenue.  The reality is that some people are starting to experience more and more challenges as companies are scrutinizing spending and profit margins.

When times get tough there is also an opportunity that we don't see very often. Executives are more open to listening to new ideas and people that make their living in sales are also more willing to openly discuss the challenges they face in reaching their goals. I decided to take what I have learned in these discussions and outline how CRM can help an organization excel in a less than stellar economy.

1.  Cash is King - If you take a look at macro economics and think about the concept of a recession it just means that there are fewer dollars in play and every sale is that much more important.  When you think about the concept of CRM and Sales Process it enables us to solidify discipline in our sales activities.  Rather than chasing business outside of your sweet spot each deal you can bring in brings your competitors closer and closer to bankruptcy.  With the right CRM deployment you can optimize your sales teams activities on the business you should be focusing on.

2.  People Buy From People - There have been many, many challenges with CRM over the years.  The number one problem from sales people is the concept of not being able to sell because they have been turned into data entry clerks.  By contrast, the modern concepts in CRM are all about freeing up sales people to practice their craft.  If you think about how much time they spend on meeting and phone calls sourcing information from internal departments then think about how much sales time you could free up for them if you bring them critical information in a centralized location where they can leverage the information to bring in more business.

3.  It's All About Speed - I guess the easiest way to define this is "Selling Darwinism".  Whether or not you are a consultative selling organization its hard to sell anything if you can't get time with prospects to pitch your wares.  With the Internet customers are buying and making decisions at break neck speed.  CRM provides the opportunity to marry sales and marketing so that lead distribution happens in close to real time.  If you are first to get to the prospect you have half the battle won.

4.  It's Not Rocket Science - Think about what it takes for you to acquire a customer.  Then what happens...for many companies not enough.  If your sales team and marketing organization have the right approach CRM can help you leverage existing customers and significantly increase revenues from a significantly lower cost of sale.  When you add in the right approach to Customer Service you can really ramp up lots of idle revenue waiting to happen.

5.  Concentrate On The Pain - If you get involved in a true discussion about how to improve performance on your sales team lots of challenges will come out.  The problem is that if you try to address everything at once you are likely to end up worse off than when you started.  Prioritize on getting the basics down first and then you will see how quickly things get better in a hurry.  Don't write a rigid plan for the ongoing implementation.  Instead meet with your teams in the field and continue to concentrate on the "hot" topics.

I could continue to go on but there is enough meat here to sink your teeth into.  Remember that those who create value in the most trying of times will reap great benefits when times are good.

Crawl, Walk, Run!

OK, so things have been extremely busy but if I am going to take this blog thing seriously I need to be more disciplined.  Now that I have admonished myself for not posting last week I want to jump right into something I have been dealing with on several different projects.

As I write this one project I will refer to is a re-implementation (same software package from scratch), another is a brand new implementation of CRM for the first time and the final project is an expansion of a current implementation.

Let's deal with the concept of a company making the decision to stick with the same software package they already use for CRM but wanting to take a fresh approach to start from scratch.  The problem they run into is history with both the users and the enhancements and data they have captured.

Here is where the crawl, walk, run approach is effective.  First, I counseled them to take a clean the approach that some or all of the data they have collected may have limited value to their fresh look at a CRM deployment.  In order to do this we will walk through analysis without regard to what has already been done.

The most practical way to get this done and keep people working in their production system we will upgrade the core system to the "out of the box" current version of the product.  We will evaluate custom fields for critical data and place the view of that data in a centralized location on the Account level while we do analysis and decide on new customizations.

This approach will accelerate the speed of moving to the new version of the product and also leave behind any pre-conceved notion of what was deployed in the past.  After we "crawl" then we will complete the analysis and deploy the appropriate modificaitons to represent their current business environment and then get feedback from the users on what works well and what needs to be tweaked.  In this case we are "walking" when users are up an running on the new deployment and adjustments have been made.  Finally, we start "running" when we look to automate processes and create operational efficiency through workflow and alerts.

The second project involves the case of an organization that is deploying CRM for the first time.  In this scenario we do analysis of the business and work with the client to prioritize the greatest areas of need.  Then we do a first phase deployment to get users adopting to the first version of the system and start "crawling".  After we see how the business is adjusting to the system we do a second phase of analysis and prioritize the new results for a second layer of enhancements to start "walking".  Lastly, like the first scenario, we then look to apply automation and workflow to optimize operations and beginning "running".

In the final project I want to look at they use CRM in a part of the business but not throughout the organization.  We have one group "walking" and the others are not even "crawling".  First, we need to do analysis and take each group moving onto the CRM deployment in individual silos.  After we cross-reference common needs we adjust existing modificaitons where we can to create synergy and deploy new enhancements for each group specific to their needs and get each team "crawling". 

When we regroup to get each group "walking" we need to do anothe round of analysis to see how having the new groups on CRM will impact the group as a whole.  We will then make necessary adjustments to the system to account for challenges created through having a company wide system as opposed to one individual department utilizing CRM.  Now that we have the entire company "walking" you guessed it...we can automate workflow and alerts to get the solution and its users "running" on all cylinders.

So why write about this topic?  Simple, the practical approach to any CRM project is based on some simple principles.  First, figure out what's important without taking too much stock on what happened in the past.  Next, take a fresh look after all the parts are moving and see what needs adjusting. Then, when all is operational and buy in is complete, figure out how to simplify people's CRM experience by letting technology enhance their ability to execute the company's charter.


What's the Deal With Integration?

I am coming off a week where I spend countless hours in meetings and conversations with a software publisher and various business partners regarding the concept of integration between various CRM and ERP solutions.  I figured it was prudent to do my first blog in a couple of weeks to discuss some thoughts in this area. 

The first thing I think it's most important to understand are some of the fundamentals regarding the concept of integration and the value derived when you get it right.  In the past few years I have done countless implementations of what you would call stand alone systems.  And, before the "ink is dry" on the first phase of many of these projects customers begin to see gains in many areas of sales and service operations.  These gains are quickly limited by increased bottlenecks when dealing with other departments within the company.

I would like to step back a bit and talk about one of the basic concepts that gave CRM a jump start in the business community to start with.  A customer relationship management solution has value over a basic contact management or opportunity tracking system because two other integrations have already been integrated into the core solution.  CRM at its basic level bring together marketing, sales and customer service into a centralized environment.  If we understand this basic value add then we should also understand that it's impossible to leave these operational units compartmentalized away from the rest of a company's operations.

So the question becomes "How do I approach integration and what should the scope be in order to make my organization more efficient?"  The answer is dependent on the type of business you are in and what your highest operational challenges within the firm.  If the priorities are not immediately apparent you can conduct a few exercises to reach your conclusions:

1.  Analyze the flow of information within the firm.
2.  Document any bottlenecks you identify.
3.  Assess the level of impact and how many departments are affected by any bottleneck.
4.  Document the direction of the flow of data creating the bottleneck.
5.  Meet with team members to discuss the analysis and decide on the financial repurcussions of removing each bottle neck.
6.  Approach the area of greatest need and limit the scope of your first round of integration to one bottleneck only.

Here is a real world example from one of my customers.  The company became very efficient in their selling efforts and began to grow quickly as a result of their CRM implementation.  The company came to me and said it was imperative that they integrate to the back office in order free up even more selling time by pushing orders into their ERP system.  Before jumping right in to scope the order integration I asked if we could run through the process above.  They agreed and this is what we found.

As it turned out the order entry process was the least of their issues.  Because the company was a services based company without inventory the order entry process was fairly simple.  They needed only to enter a customer into the back office system in preparation for billing of services.  There was usually a first invoice necessary for a retainer but new customers usually took only about 30 minutes to enter into the new system.  The analysis revealed that customer service was suffering and projects were being impacted by the lack of resources available to complete sold projects.

The company was using a point solution to manage their projects and needed to find a way to push their resource scheduling and availability of personnel to the sales team in order to give visibility on lead times needed for new projects.  The company was spending significant dollars outsourcing work in order to meet promises made during the sales cycle.  And, due to the complexities of outsourcing, sales and project managers were spending nearly one day a week meeting to discuss scheduling and work through project challenges.

Instead of simply taking the approach to integrate to the back office (which would have taken about six weeks to complete) we recommended that the firm hire a sales operation admin to take on the task of entering new customers and initial invoices into the ERP system.  We then focused energies on enhancing the CRM system to provide more detailed quoting capabilities for the resources need to complete the projects being sold.  We integrated the quote to convert to a project in the project management system to eliminate duplication of entry. And we created a portal within CRM to show high level resource availability and created a "What If?" analysis tool within CRM to show the impact of deliverable dates when outsourcing was used.

The net effect of integrating the right information between departments created significant value to the firm.  More importantly, the 8 hours of weekly meeting time to discuss project and resource challenges was shortened to a one hour weekly status meeting between sales managers and project managers.  After all was said and done the company freed up 17.5% more selling time and profitability increased on most projects because the need for outsourcing was minimized.

I like telling this story because it shows how assumptions can lead to bad decisions.  Integration affects the entire firm so it's important to take a look at the entire environment when considering bridging internal platforms.

When we finally decided to address the order entry integration we found it cheaper to replace the ERP with a complimentary back office system to the CRM where the publisher's core integration included all of the necessary elements needed by our customer.  Had we gone the other way the customer would have paid for an expensive integration and ended up with more disparate systems and the project management intetration would probably never have happened.

How to eat an elephant...

It's funny but after working at doing the same thing over and over for years at a time sometimes we forget the little things that make all of the difference in the world.  At this point you are probably thinking I have lost it and what does repetitively doing anything have to do with the consumption of pachoderms.  Well, nothing to tell you the truth.

The comment about the elephant has to do with the a joke someone told me as a child.  "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer, "One bite at a time."  I thought of it yesterday as I sat in a meeting with the CEO of a fairly successful medical device manufacturer.  The elephant in this instance is actually a CRM implementation and eating the elephant deals with act of successfully coming through a CRM implementation and finding real value on the other side.

I explained to the executive that I had probably skipped a couple of steps in the discussion of how to approach CRM regardless of the industry or focus for the application.  Some things are just universal.  Here is some of what we discussed:

1.  When most companies deploy a new ERP or Accounting system they usually have experience and some level of pretty descriptive needs.  In a CRM deployment there is a foundation, set of tools, and your imagination.  Even today nearly half of my deployments are not replacing a system but putting one in for the first time.  The lesson here is to take small bites at the beginning.

2.  Since no one is holding a gun to your head on what you must do take a pragmatic approach to lay out a long term vision and then pick two or three immediate challenges to address.  The long term vision helps to make sure that short term decisions will not create heavy costs or dire implications when trying to reach the long term goal in the future.

3.  Figure out the political aspects of your project.  With those first few objectives outline "wins" for the individual that you are hoping to accomplish and "wins" for the organization.  If there is not something for everyone or you don't involve the people that must use the system every day it will be an uphill climb at best.

4.  Keep analyzing your business and creating a priority list based on what is happening in the business.  This is important because the busienss climate continues to change yet so many projects I have seen fall flat because they lose alignment with business objectives.  The project team stays true to their vision from several years ago even though a new vision or new leader may have changed direction for the firm and its goals.

At the end of the day everyone probably realizes that you probably can't eat an entire elephant and certainly not by yourself.  In fact, in the past ten years, I have stepped away from the figurative "table" a few times to catch my breath and so have many of my customers.  All of this is important but artificial timelines and mandates won't get you any closer to having a system that people understand and embrace.

So, to my CEO friend in New York, open wide and take the first bite.  It's an acquired taste but wait till you see where you are a couple of years from now.

If you build it they will come!

Anyone who knows me understands how much I like the sport of baseball and movies about sports.  So what does a "Field of Dreams" reference have to do with CRM?  Funny enough...everything.  If you haven't seen the movie starring Kevin Costner you can consider him your CRM project leader.

His challenge is that he knows the benefit of doing the project in front of him but he cannot quantify the benefits of this project to anyone in his family or those around him.  For the sake of argument lets call these people his internal team members.  Even so he remains steadfast and eventually brings everyone together to reap the benefits of the completed project (I know, it's a baseball field in the middle of nowhere).

This vision came to me last week when I was sitting in the middle of a meeting an executive of one our existing customers.  They have been running CRM for over five years with some success but they have not made the turn with CRM to where it is a competitive weapon.  People rely on it and non one argues its relevance but the user community does not embrace it like they can't live without it.

I asked him why he felt like his team was CRM saavy but not CRM evangelists and his answer was very enlightening.  He said that his team had always talked about a "dream screen" early in the days of CRM and it never came to fruition.  I dug a little deeper and he said the team wanted information from various sources all in one screen.  I dug even deeper and asked what that would do for the front line employee.

He thought about the "dream screen" and what it would do for his company.  After a while finally responded and said they would give faster service, do more transactions, alleviate internal bottlenecks and process more orders.  So, as it turns out, the dream screen was actually a "value" screen that exemplified everything that CRM could do for the operational capabilities within his own firm.

Needless to say as we proceed to the next upgrade of CRM the "fields of dreams" will be on a screen that will take CRM to the next level for my customer and his organization.  The lesson learned is that there is always value in listening to your users and the value can be mutually beneficial...not mutually exclusive.

How much CRM you need?

It has been a few days since my last post but I thought I would start off this week discussing a reoccuring theme that keeps coming back year after year.  The question revolves around the concept of deciding where the line is between CRM and other systems or departments.  Unfortunately, the real answer is that there are no lines.

When I recently attended a software publisher conference in Florida I saw a customer that I first implemented CRM for back in 2003.  The customer asked me if I had time to sit for a cup of coffee.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would never turn down a cup of joe.  So we started talking about the current state of his customer facing systems and how differently they look today than five years ago.

Paraphrasing the beginning of the conversation he began by saying, "Isn't this thing ever going to end?".  My rebuttal, "Yes!  As soon as you sell the company or close your doors."  This phrase was not new to him.  I actually spoke those words to his executive team back in 2003 prior to phase one.

The challenge when you start to look at CRM is that many times it's difficult to understand where you are going long term and almost impossible to keep from limiting yourself if you are myopic enough to concentrate on one team.  The other part of challenge relates to the consultants or implementers of technologies and their particular approach to your solution.

The best analogy that I can think of without going into some Tiger Woods example is to think of fixing up an old house.  So here it goes...

First, you need to assess the environment and decide which enhancements and modifications will add the most value to you.  Next, consider the needs of each department like you would the needs of any particular inhabitant of the house.  After you know what everyone wants decide if some of the desired capabilities or changes will impact the different people in the house.

If you find that some of the requests impact each other do like you would when working with an architect.  Sit in a room and hash it out.  Or, decide to disagree and table the changes until more important parts of the project can be completed.  Either way you should end up with a master plan and a method to your madness.

The funny thing about the feedback I received when discussing this project is the same thing I still tell people in meetings today.  I tell project leaders to be cautious, open minded, and willing to change according to what the market demands.  Customers are funny and they will always provide feedback to tell you how to do more business with them.

At the end of the day you will likely end up with more and more people on your CRM system and any lines between people and departments will slowly fade away.

Who owns the "Customer"?

I decided to start this week with the topic of customer/prospect ownership because I was involved in several meetings this past week where we were dealing with the first deployment of CRM for a company and a consolodation of various databases in another company.  In the case of both organizations they were dealing with one fundamental question, "Who owns the customer?"

It is not a surprise that both companies I was meeting were involved in various types of brokerage activities.  In the case of of company none of their people wanted to enter information into the new system until business was actually transacted and entry was mandatory.  In the case of the other the brokers wanted the ability to share information but very selectively.  In other words, they wanted a system that was a company-wide system limited to the people that each one of them trusts.

Both of these firms have been struggling with these issues for well over a year as they each have several hundred people in business development roles and they operate in cross-over situations and do not have specified territories.  This is a situation that whatever decision made by the company will be 50% right and 50% wrong.  Let me explain.

From the stand point of people that are primary business developers there is a sense of "ownership" and possessiveness regarding their book of contacts.  In other words, what ever contacts they meet are theirs and whatever leads the company sends them are theirs.  Arguments can and have been made that without their personal touch these lists of names have little or no value.

The other point of view comes from the companies that employ these brokers and sales people.  There are two contingents inside any particular sales organization.  One group are the long time employees that built their book of business with the firm they are with.  The remainder of the employee base is usually a set of transitory employees that work at a firm for a few years in search of the best payouts.  Both have their reasons for protecting their territory and the issue must be dealt with head on when implementing CRM or consolidating into a single customer database.

Regardless of when your organization makes the decision it must ultimately make a decision to set policy regarding systems and customer data.  No matter when the decision is made it will be unpopular.  The group of longtime employees will distrust management and suspect lower payouts over time.  They will also fear those transitory employees that they don't have long term relationships with and are suspect of their access to large volumes of customer data.  Lastly, those people that have moved from job to job are inherently fearful of leaving data in a place where it may be difficult or impossible to remove once entered in a centralized system.

The harsh reality for any and all consolidation of customer data involves the setting of expectations.  First, if producers or sales people are W-2 employees it needs to be communicated that the company owns data and all ownership and compensation will be related to the system of record.  Next, it is important to remind people that it is impossible to protect their leads and contacts if the company does not know who they are.  And finally, there must be a level of trust between employee and employer and this must be constantly reinforced until it becomes your culture.

I have seen more money spent on more systems trying to skirt the issue and satisfy fears and distrust from the front line people that bring in the money.  They put in complex security rules and spend more money to revamp them time after time without dealing with the real issue of customer ownership.  If dealt with properly you will still lose some people but the people that remain will be much more able to work within your rules and guidelines.

To SaaS or not to SaaS, is that really the question?

The world of Software as a Service (SaaS) was just a concept as we turned the corner from the debacle and there was lots of theory at that time. I remember a strategic meeting with some executives from IBM that were discussing a time when software would be a utility like electricity, water and the telephone. Fast forward to 2008 and now SaaS is all the rage in the marketplace. More specifically, the world of SaaS is undoubtedly looking to CRM as the poster child in terms of adoption, adaptability, and ultimately market share.

In the past seven years I have seen the evolution of these technologies and the impact on users and organizations. I have seen the implementation methodology evolve and the approach to the SaaS model attempt to adapt to harmonize with mainstream technologies most companies have deployed prior to the evolution of SaaS capabilities.

Recently I had more strategic conversations with executives from one of the major providers of business application software as they move forward with their first major venture into SaaS in the CRM space. They asked me after years in the marketplace and experience with most of the mainstream CRM technologies what my thoughts were regarding the SaaS approach to CRM. I decided to share them here because I believe they are relevant to almost every evaluation of CRM and buying cycles we see today.

The first concern that I expressed about SaaS is the methodology that many firms use when deciding to deploy this solution. Larger firms with business analysts and a firm knowledge base regarding thier operations tend to have the best opportunity for success. Unfortunately, many mid-size and smaller companies lean towards SaaS because of the lack of expertise and the speed of deployment.

In the past few years I have migrated a number of frustrated companies away from SaaS offerings that the feedback was universal. Most companies who have had limited success with deployment put little or no effort into the analysis and operational aspect of CRM. And, many of the companies that deployed SaaS also gave little consideration to their existing internal systems and interoperability.

One of the biggest assumptions with SaaS is the level of base line technology internal to many small and mid-size companies. The on demand approach assumes a certain level of processing power on desktops and significant connectivity. In most of the systems I have deployed as SaaS solutions there were ultimately investments to core internal technologies or connectivity in order to reach acceptable performance capabilities. These investments were contrary to the selection of the SaaS because of the desire to avoid this type of investment.

The second major concern I have seen evolve in the world of SaaS and CRM is the limitation of operational workflow and integration to in house systems. I have heard time and time again that customers quickly realize the value of CRM when deploying SaaS and then find that the operational efficiency is simply not there without providing enough valuable information to the user population. The problem lies in the expectations of the customers. If a solution is void of critical company data and the ability to transact with in house systems there will be gross inefficiency and a significant increase in operational challenges.

The final impact of SaaS that organizations should consider is the effect on the front line user. Decision makers need to understand that any CRM solution will impact heavily on the quality of life for people that rely on this solution to be productive. The positive side of SaaS is the high avialability of the technology wherever people need access. The downside is that most field personnel need access offline and available without direct connectivity. I have had interviews with teams of sales people that relay the need to extend their work day or change the way they operate in the field in order to have the ability to utilize SaaS CRM effectively.

At the end of the day SaaS providers have made great strides and we continue to see improvement in the solutions and the capabilities they offer. We will continue to see more improvements. In relation to CRM SaaS still has a way to go. As integration offerings improve and the extension of robust back end ERP SaaS solutions provide transactional capability and improved Business Intelligence (BI) we will see SaaS more as an every day utility. For now SaaS will have the highest impact as a point solution in the mid-market or as a strategic play for larger firms.

Just who is the "C" in CRM?

In all the years of working on in CRM the most often question not asked during the implementation process is "Who is the customer?" Don't get me wrong, people add more data detail around most of their customer account screens than they usually ever populate...and therein lies the challenge.

The quick answer to the question above is:
a. Any person or organization you interact with that is not on your payroll.
b. All of your employees.

The first answer reveals that there are two different approaches to CRM. One approach is to take a myopic view of simply concentrating on customers and prospects and concentrating on the classic CRM definition of marketing, sales, and customer service. If only it were that simple. Many years ago one of my colleagues on the West Coast educated me on his view that CRM was really more about operational excellence than just managing customers.

As it turns out the "customer" includes customers, prospects, channel partners, vendors, referral sources, influencers, consultants and sub-contractors. When you assess your customers and all of the moving parts it is simply impossible to single out just the people who buy your products or services. Your vendors and their performance has as much to do with sales and customer service as the people who place orders with you. When done right you can track and relate these moving parts in a way that you get a true picture of your customer facing environment and all of the external influences on your customers.

The other "customer" that you need to be concerned with are the employees that work for you. When designing any CRM system it is important to consider who will be using the system and the needs of users according to their role in your organization. Among the considerations to be taken into place are where people need access, what information they need to complete the tasks in their job descriptions, and an analysis of how they interact with other departments.

At the end of the day the your employees ability to serve the different customer constituencies and improving communications and workflow between your internal departments will maximize both profitability and operational performance. The final question to ask at the end of your first phase of implementation is "Are my team members and my customers better off than they were when we started?" If not...go back to the drawing board and figure out where to make changes that will make this answer a true statement.

Setting Expectations

The world of blogging is new to me so here it goes...

I work in the field of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and have for years. I happen to work for a great company where I get to spend nearly every day sitting in the "board room" with senior executives, sit in on project meetings giving our project teams guidance, or spending time with end users understanding the world they live with trying to use various technologies.

Time after time customers and colleagues have said that I should start sharing my thoughts on a broader basis so I came to the conclusion that this was one of the first steps. I also decided to write a book on the subject so the wheels are in motion on that front as well.

After seeing the world of CRM from all sides I continually assess the challenges that companies face in managing the customer experience and the interaction of employees who deal with these customers. Of these challenges one of the most basic is understanding who the customer really is and what they expect from your organization.

As I sat in a meeting today with the leadership of an organization we were walking through the process of deploying CRM for the first time. When we originally started the project I advised the customer on the importance of involving front line personnel in the analysis and design of the system. What was not obviously clear to the users and managers as they went through the process was the effect of their decisions on the overall scope of the project and the impact of adding complexity and automation to their design.

The customer has seen a number of delays and an ever changing go live date due to the decisions that were made some months ago. I revisited this issue with these executives to remind them of some key tenants when setting expectations with the people that will eventually use the system. I decided to include them here because the beginning of a CRM deployment will ultimately have a great deal to do with the success and adoption of any system.

I. After you have selected a system and are preparing for your initial kickoff meetings there should be an internal meeting with the executive sponsors, internal project manager and the users who will be involved in the analysis. In this meeting it should be communicated that they will be asked about their day to day interaction with customers and internal departments. As they communicate what they perceive as "necessities" they should understand that the project has a budget and some decisions will be made after the analysis that may or may not include all of their desired wish list.

2. When you proceed to working with the vendor you should communicate that you want the dialogue to be open and frank between employees and the vendor but that every requirement will be ranked and evaluated on its merit for the initial deployment. It is important that everyone understand that decisions have financial implications and the greater the complexity the greater the cost and the greater the risk of challenges in the adoption of a new system.

3. At your first sit down with the vendor you should also discuss how you want to receive the breakdown on the analysis once completed. Most CRM technologies have a pretty open environment for reaching specific project goals. Ask your implementor to consider a few different ways to achieve specific requirements and present you with a number of alternatives for the the initial deployment.

The bottom line here is that there are many ways to reach your objectives with any CRM project. You should proceed with caution, phase your project and set goals for small and attainable goals for each phase of the project. This will give you the opportunity to recalibrate as you receive feedback from users and maintain your budgets and timelines.