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CRM: The 'holy grail' or a process fail?

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Synchronizing marketing, sales and customer service functions via a single automated database tool seems like a simple, common-sense idea. It flows perfectly on the white board and promises a unified and personalized interface with clients and prospects. The result: internal transparency to account activity, measurement of effectiveness at every point in the sales, a marketing and service continuum, and increased sales and customer retention—business nirvana with an extra helping of internal kumbaya. Almost. The biggest disconnect comes at the point of customer contact—the sales team. Salespeople are paid to sell, yet according to CSO Insights, they typically spend only 41% of their working hours engaged in direct selling activities. Maintaining customer relationship management systems adds yet another layer of administrative responsibility to their plate. Self-preservation often dictates that the salesperson prioritize workloads according to the end game of driving business. As a result, navigating and documenting across multiple screens of CRM tools generally doesn't represent a high priority. Sales management shares the blame here. Although they desire the forecasting, reporting and account documentation delivered by CRM, they are also under pressure to produce sales. Top-producing salespeople get a free pass from updating the CRM system as long as they are driving sales volume. This begins a domino effect that undermines the most critical link in the CRM chain. The second point of failure generally comes with the customization process. CRM databases offer huge potential to provide customer insight, new-business intelligence and operational improvements to customer service, operations and marketing. With that potential come wish lists. The stakeholders involved in a CRM implementation generally all have very valid business needs and wants. Marketing wants the benefits of improved segmentation based on prospect and customer profiling at the contact level, allowing for highly targeted messaging. Customer service needs activity-based information for customer life-cycle management. Operations needs better visibility into product or service demand. Sales management wants information to allow it to overcome sales barriers. To achieve many of these objectives, organizations need to connect their enterprise resource planning systems and other applications to feed the CRM system. Shipping status, production schedules, accounting information and other information streams need to be integrated to populate a comprehensive customer profile. The customization process can quickly devolve into granular over-engineering, increasing the cost of implementation and delaying CRM system rollout. Finally, organizations need to address how to populate a CRM system. Anyone who's ever managed a database can attest to the challenges of aggregating data. Incomplete and inaccurate data from any point in the system can quickly become problematic. This all prompts the question of whether to bother with CRM at all. Your greatest opportunity for success is internal acceptance. In this case, your top prospect is your sales team. This isn't the time for a sales pitch to them, but rather a consultative sale. Ask the members of your team about their pain points, and really listen. Chances are good that the problem of too little time is at the top of their list. Is forecasting and reporting taking too long? Are calls ineffective? Is it taking too long to close business? Use these needs to mold your CRM system around your team's processes and its sales cycle. Involve key users in the development or refining of the system. Most important, keep the database simple. To maintain buy-in, remember to keep the conversation going, communicate wins and tweak as needed. By getting to the heart of your internal customers' needs, it is possible to reach the promised land. This is good news to marketers, sales teams and organizations as we move toward a more intelligent state of customer engagement. Craig Conard is president of marketing company Sudden Impact Marketing (www.simarketing.net). He can be reached at craig@simarketing.net
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