Welcome to the Practical CRM blog. I have been working in the field of customer relationship management for nearly 20 years and through the prompting from many of my colleagues and customers I decided to take the lessons learned over the years and give anyone interested in CRM some insights and guidance from thousands of customer interactions in hopes that we all learn something and get better with CRM concepts and approaches. This site is not intended to be product specific but more about the people, process and the application of technology.
Remember the days when you were growing up and you would not even get up (or were not allowed to get up) to answer the telephone? Fast forward to our “modern family” and the fact that we can’t even make it through a meal without someone picking up a device. And now every CRM provider is falling over themselves to show how relevant they are on these devices. Guess what? Not everything should be part of your mobile solution and here are some things to consider when focusing on CRM and mobility.
Intent, Not Content – Seems silly that we have to have these conversations with end users over and over again but every single data point and every function in a CRM system should not be in a mobile client. Quite the contrary, unless the mobile client is the ONLY user interface available to your population (known as a mobile only implementation). So rather than just developing and customizing a mobile platform because you can remember that every new function and form are slowing down your mobile users.
Think Mission Critical – Just because one or two people may be asking to bring functionality to the mobile platform the question should always be asked, “Why do you need this and how should it work?” With mobile, however, there is an even more compelling justification because the single biggest complaint from users in the mobile world revolves around “speed” and “usability”. Understand that generally the feet on the street are usually are most costly resources and they can also affect our company results the most. If you load up the mobile platform making a mini CRM it may have the opposite of the intended effect.
The Mobile “Holy Grail” – There are many different conversations happening around the concept of purpose built applications and CRM is kind of an epicenter for many business ventures. The reason that purpose built applications are so important is that they provide structure and information in a way that actually effects better results from the people using them. Think about it. We are dealing with everything from big data and information overload and the best performing organizations find a way to deliver capabilities and information in very simple ways that make sense and produce results.
Here is list of questions that you may want to ask when looking at your mobile development practices:
- Who are the teams (internal customers) that will use mobile capabilities?
- What are the mission critical apps that each customer will need?
- When new capabilities are requested is there a way to prioritize or emphasize my most critical apps?
- Can presentation of information be contextual my location or customer information?
- As enhancements are done can you document or justify improvements in sales or service operations?
As you can see there is a great opportunity when it comes to any mobile initiative driven by any organization. But hopefully you can also appreciate that running rampant with mobile modifications and constantly rolling out pieces of your CRM client into a mobile platform until you can’t tell them apart. Remember, in many cases providing the right information and capabilities is more important than giving users everything in your CRM database just because you can.
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.
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.
Let’s 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 can’t 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, don’t forget that there is a difference between marketing hype and practical application of technology in your business. If you don’t 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 create more 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.