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CRM projects need custom fit

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Heard the word on the street? Seventy-five percent of CRM projects fail within their first year, resulting in lost productivity and wasted corporate investments in software, services and time. The irony of this statistic is that most projects fail because the cornerstone of CRM—relationships—is overlooked. Today’s economic climate only intensifies the need for proven solutions that improve the relationship between employees and customers.

For CRM to be effective, solutions must be designed and customized to fit with the unique business processes of each organization. Matching the sales, marketing and customer care solutions to business processes that are already in place will help ensure that the solutions are used most effectively.

Here are seven "golden rules" that CRM projects should follow to guarantee successful delivery. These rules have been developed through conversations with companies that have successfully developed, deployed and maintained CRM solutions for four or more years.

1. CRM is about relationships. CRM is ultimately about relationships and not about technology solutions. Improved data integrity, management level reporting and even employee productivity, while important, are secondary benefits of a well-thought-out CRM process. Focusing on improving relationships enables organizations to develop more prospects into repeat customers, thereby increasing revenues, return on investment, and productivity.

2. Management involvement is critical. Upper managers set the overall strategic direction for CRM—including budget and delivery parameters—and ensure that the culture of customer service is incorporated into the organization from the top down. Equally critical is management’s empowerment of employees to develop positive customer relationships and the corresponding systems that support and enhance those relationships.

3. Know your business. No one builds without a blueprint, but many organizations deploy CRM without understanding the business processes in place in their organization. Discovering critical customer interactions late in the project can result in expensive redesigns and time delays, and, at worst, could invalidate the selected CRM solution. Understanding departmental interactions and identifying bottlenecks will help employees better manage customer relationships.

4. Know your users. Many companies select a CRM product based on features rather than the benefits to internal users. As important as defining business processes is knowing what features are required by your CRM users—everything from integration with e-mail and calendaring applications to offline capabilities and reporting.

5. Select a CRM product you can support. There is no sense in purchasing a CRM solution if the internal IT staff can’t support it. Select a product that leverages the organization’s existing technology platform. This will reduce overall maintenance, software and hardware costs. Reducing the learning curve and acceptance barriers from the IT staff will strengthen the overall success of the project.

6. Small successes add up. There are many benefits to deploying a series of small projects rather than large ones. In most business environments, change is difficult. It takes time for employees to adjust to new business processes and a new set of applications. Smaller deployments enable employees and customers to adjust to new business processes and tools. Smaller deployments can also reduce overall project risk and complexity, resulting in an ongoing pattern of success that motivates employees to make the most of the tools.

7. Commit to ongoing evaluation. As with most things in life, a CRM solution will only be successful if the organization is committed to long-term evaluation and maintenance. Develop a CRM steering committee that incorporates key users from across the organization and is responsible for evaluating ongoing business requirements, customer requirements and productivity enhancements. Ongoing evaluation ensures that "relationship development" becomes a core value of the organization and empowers users to adjust the business and their tools to the changing needs of customers.

Richard Smith is VP-delivery for Green Beacon Solutions, a mid-market CRM consulting firm in Watertown, Mass. He can be reached at rsmith@greenbeacon.com.

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