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‘Synchronized deployment’ key to CRM success

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What causes CRM projects to fail? Process-change barriers, not technology miscues. In a recent survey of executives from more than 100 large U.S. companies, respondents most often cited program adoption as their most difficult phase in a CRM project—far outpacing any concerns about their applications.

Companies must stop viewing CRM as a technology project and start blending strategy, people and process in their efforts. Forrester Research calls this approach "synchronized deployment" and identifies it with four disciplines: blueprinting, process engineering, digitization and user engagement.

The first of these disciplines is blueprinting, or linking strategy and process. Without a clear set of objectives, CRM efforts can wander aimlessly. That’s why so many failed projects point to trouble during this initial definition phase. Companies need to start with well-defined and measurable success metrics, such as cutting service costs by 10%. With these targets as guideposts, companies must design new business processes that take into consideration industry best practices, internal operating constraints and the capabilities of existing applications.

The second element of synchronized deployment is process engineering, which entails linking process and people. A company must use the blueprint to identify the specific changes to the responsibilities and ongoing performance metrics of everyone involved in marketing. But firms can’t expect to get this right on the first shot; major process adjustments require a commitment to change management and continuous fine-tuning.

Next is digitization, or linking process and technology. When a profitable customer orders a product that goes out of stock, should the Oracle order management system re-allocate inventory from another customer? And can the system handle this process? The answers to these types of process questions must drive application configuration and integration efforts.

The final discipline of synchronized deployment is user engagement, linking people and technology. Firms obsess about "go-live" dates as if these application milestones represent the finish line. As a result, companies often fail to drive adoption of new applications. But even an on-time Siebel SFA application doesn’t provide value if the sales force doesn’t use it. Companies must make applications easier to use by focusing on post-implementation training, communications and support. A good place to start: usability. One-quarter of firms with unsuccessful CRM projects complain about poor application usability.

Defining a good consultant

Companies must select consultants that can support synchronized deployment. While these capabilities describe what good CRM consultants deliver, it is also important to gauge how they deliver these services.

Good CRM consultants are results-oriented. They stay focused on delivering business value to their clients. How? By developing and tracking return-on-investment models, completing projects on budget and maintaining a robust quality-management program.

Good consultants are responsive to clients. CRM engagements require consultants to work closely with client teams, thinking through the intricacies of changing sales, service and marketing processes. That’s why firms must select systems integrators that remain responsive to their needs. Finally, to keep a complex CRM project on track, systems integrators must provide program management— managing scope, tracking milestones and resolving problems.

Choosing a consultant

We examined the current offering, strategy and market presence of 11 CRM consultants. Based on that analysis, we suggest that companies:

  • Look beyond application go-live dates. Clients often don’t want to pay for consultant teams to remain on staff after applications go live. But without the consultants in place, internal teams often disband, and the focus dissipates. So don’t turn off the consulting project until you get what you really want: not an application, but the metrics defined in your initial business case.
  • Pick a consultant that matches your needs. While consulting firm Accenture stood apart from other consultants in our analysis, clients gave the firm very low grades for its high costs. IBM Business Consulting Services also reached the top category by offering superior engagement management practices and making smart investments in CRM capabilities. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young scored top marks for client responsiveness. And BearingPoint joined the top group by providing the most effective linkage between process and technology.
  • Cut costs offshore. Although Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Infosys Technologies didn’t show up in the Leaders group, these Indian firms received very high satisfaction ratings from clients and led the pack in keeping costs down. But the Indian firms aren’t the only offshore option. The eight non-Indian consulting firms we examined expect their offshore work to expand by more than three-fold—growing to 18% of their total CRM billings in 2004.

Bruce Temkin is a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He can be reached at btemkin@forrester.com.

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