How to do e-CRM

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Grit through the pain, invest a lot of money and staff, and don't consider the return on investment for a long time

Customer relationship management is moving online.

But for e-CRM to be successful, there must be a seamless tie-in of customer relationship strategy, technological ability, managerial willingness, time and money, says Stephen Pratt, global co-leader of Deloitte Consulting's CRM practice.

Getting there can mean a series of 100-day steps for 18 months and costs of $10,000 per salesperson and $20,000 per customer service rep to implement, Pratt says.

But experts caution not to consider CRM only in terms of return on investment. Jim Sterne, president of Target Marketing, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Internet marketing consultancy, recommends that businesses recognize: "It will cost a lot, be painful and we'll have to hire more people. But we are in a war to keep our current clients. Our competitors are arming themselves, so we shouldn't keep our head in the sand."

Pratt says the next step is to enable services that will push this ball forward. An example would be routing customer care calls to different call centers or call center sections. The routing would not be based strictly on how large the account is now, but would allow for seasonal variability in order size or predicted growth.

CRM technology itself is no automatic fix."Don't get caught up in `gizmo paralysis'--getting all caught up in CRM software's features and functionalities," Pratt advises.

He says that even if the right technology is in place, the processes to use it have to go through many layers of approval, which could slow the flow of information. A better strategy would be to focus on the business result you want to achieve and how you want to get there, then choose the enabling technology and redesign the process together.

From a technology standpoint, Pratt says, a key measure of successful CRM is setting up software "suites" that can manage all your channels, integrating your Web channel with your call center, with your field sales, with field service and with outside channel partners.

Channel partners "should be linked into your customer relationship management system through HTML extensions in their CRM suite," Pratt says. These partners should be able to get instant access to your production schedules and product catalogs, he says.

Randy Harris, a managing partner in Global Peak Performance, a Philadelphia-based business strategy consultancy, says that in the b-to-b space, the companies that get CRM right have figured out how to take advantage of the Internet, which enables global communication.

For example, Cisco Systems built a supply chain manufacturing infrastructure that can respond to demands for one-to-one, uniquely manufactured products. The manufacturing process is now a matter of determining which suppliers are required to build individual products, and managing the flow.


But that's only a start. Harris and others say CRM should really be about customer acquisition and retention. It starts by realizing that more emphasis should be put on integrating a value chain solution than on quantifying customer relationships based on sales results.

Harris says that means focusing on real solutions, rather than simply giving the customer an opportunity to vent its frustrations, then coming back with a sales pitch for products that will fix the problems. Instead, he says, create "a customer-controlled and initiated self-education process followed by a visit from a rep stating, 'As I've analyzed your needs and overseen your research, you're trying to.'"

The final steps, he says, should include the human approach.

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