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April 27, 2007


Out to Pasture

Back in the good old days, I had the pleasure of starting off my career at IBM. They still made typewriters at that point. I had to walk 20 miles up hill both ways through raging blizzards to get to work, but that is another story. Back then the use of enterprise software applications was also first getting off the ground.

PROFS was the name of IBM’s version of Office. It had everything in 1981 that we expect today, but few people on the planet got to use it except for IBM employees. It was deployed across the company with great expectations of improving productivity and efficiency. Mail was sent between offices instantly. Calendars were shared electronically. It even included instant messaging across a network that would eventually become absorbed into the world wide web. (Al Gore was no where to be seen.)

There was only one problem. This software that was rolled out especially to help enable expensive managers to become more productive was only assisting their secretaries to become more productive. The managers would ask the secretaries to print out their e-mail and sort it for them. They would read it like their regular mail, waiting in a pile on their desk when they arrived in the morning. They would write notes on each page for the secretary to send a reply. This is not what the execs had in mind when they invested in the development and roll out of this leading edge killer app.

What happened next is something I talk about to this day, although it seems a bit surreal to me now. The company attempted to get rid of the role of secretary. Naturally the smarter mangers quickly learned from HR that there was a job title called Administrative Assistant. The migration of individuals between jobs was unprecedented and has never been repeated in such volumes since.

A quarter of a century later I ran into this again with a new client. This company had an interesting home grown contact management system, and another home grown system for order management, more or less. The deal makers in the field would visit a client then send everything back to their administrative assistant (where did that job title come from?) to enter into the different systems. It is kind of like CRM. It is kind of like automation. Let’s call it Admination.

These are good people. Don’t get me wrong. And they have hearts of gold and now plan to switch over to an honest CRM package. Recently we got into a conversation about who we might target as the super users. You will never guess who. 1981 flashed before my eyes.

Actually, this is not as extreme as I might be making it sound. I bet 90% of my clients have a significant percentage of the senior leadership who does not log into their CRM system. When they need a report it is produced by the sales ops specialist (some titles have changed). I’m not sure this is what was expected in the ROI studies prior to the software investment. At least they read their e-mail on their Blackberries today.

April 20, 2007

Balancing Act

The March issue of CRM Magazine has a number of interesting articles, each with a top ten list. Unlike what we have come to expect from Letterman, they are provided in ascending order, but the content is still good, ranging from SFA through CRM Program Management. On the latter list, the top item is, “Put the User First”. There was a time when I would have enthusiastically accepted this recommendation with great applause. After all I have spent a good portion of my career as a self-proclaimed expert on change management, constantly extolling the virtues of user buy-in as a key critical success factor.

Now, before I make anyone upset with me, please understand that I still very firmly believe that a focus on the user to ensure acceptance is really, really important. However, I am no longer certain that it is correct to claim that good CRM requires for us to put the user first. Seeing that in print makes me cringe at the thought of the incoming hate mail.

Well, what about management needs from CRM? What about timely and accurate forecasting? Isn’t that important? I’m not fooling around here. This is really important stuff. How could the average user be more important?

This is resolvable.

Surfer's Balance

It’s all about balance. Ultimately, I believe it is important that the needs of the user are balanced with the needs of management. Getting out of balance usually causes problems. When forecasting is all that matters, sale reps have a means of finding ways to not do forecasting sufficiently. Having declared this so emphatically, I’ll also disclose that there are times when being out of balance briefly is needed as well. For example, when the first phase of an SFA project is all about getting the forecasting module up quickly due to problems with inventory shortages, it is totally fine to let the second phase be all about the folks out in the field. Ultimately it is essential to get to balance.

There are a number of key balance dimensions in addition to the management / user relationship. Getting things balanced between headquarters and the field is good. Having a reasonable balance between a focus on business processes and a focus on technology is also good. Striking a balance between a customer orientation and an internal orientation is really good, too.

More on those later - go get balanced.

April 13, 2007

The Bridges of CRM County

Would you like to get more from your consulting vendors? Don’t burn their bridges! So, what the heck does that mean? Let me offer a case for illustration.

I have a client where it is literally easier for me to get a meeting with the President of the North American business operations than it is for IT VPs to get on his calendar. And that upsets those hard working IT execs to no end. They have even resorted to attempting to block those meetings unless they are invited.

Gherkin Bridge

Well, let’s look into this a bit. When you hire a consulting firm to assist with initiatives such as CRM they will come in to the organization with a need to understand both business issues and technology solutions. These types of firms span both management and technology consulting expertise. As a result, they tend to develop connections to both sides of the organization, no matter which side brought them in.

Unfortunately, this ability to establish relationships with the business can be threatening to members of the IT staff. But this need not be the case. Good consultants serve as bridges between the business and IT. They bring in objectivity to a situation that can often be riddled with emotion. Many of my executive-level clients have become jaundiced toward the IT function, in some cases with good reason, and in some cases not. Either way, consultants can serve to bridge the chasm and, if permitted, assist with bridge building internally.

When IT execs feel threatened by their consultants the bridges are either prevented, blocked, or are attempted to be torn down. This is tragically counter productive. Most consulting firms are very sensitive to this difficult situation. They recognize they have multiple constituencies to satisfy and will find ways to assist all stakeholders to be successful. The best way to leverage consultants is to allow the bridges to be built and then build upon them further. This will enable IT to be in the best position to work as a partner to help achieve business objectives.

Use your consultants to your best advantage.

April 06, 2007

Which is the best?

Which is the best beer from the following list?
• Corona
• Pilsner Urquell
• Sam Adams
• Guinness
• Molson Ice
• Duvel
The correct answer - any one of them. Or, rather, in consultant speak, “it depends”.

OK, what is going on here?

There are many CRM packages out there and they span quite a wide variety of abilities. Selecting the right package depends on the needs of the business and some packages will have a better fit with a business than others. On the other hand, it is also likely that more than one package will fit a business’ needs and it may be that it comes down to taste or preference in selecting from the short list. Yes, but beer?

Some packages are going to be a better fit, such as those individuals who are better suited to refreshing beers like Corona. Some fit better with toothier beers such as Sam Adams. However, if a strong beer is your best fit, is Duvel the only option? No, we might consider Ommegang or Optimator. Is one of those the best? Not really, but we might prefer one over the others. I certainly prefer having the opportunity to choose.

Now back to CRM packages. I think it is a fairly easy exercise to determine what class of package is required for a client. Get clear on the business direction, and dive in to the requirements needed to achieve that direction. Compare those requirements to software functionality and determining the short list is a piece of cake. But choosing between options on the short list is not such an easy selection. On the surface this sounds wrong because choosing among the finalists should be just as straight forward as checking off the criteria. Either the package has it or it does not.

Slow down, the problem is twofold. First, most software alternatives on the short list are going to be so closely matched that any will do just fine. The second and bigger problem comes in because of the emotional element of package selection. Business stakeholders want the package that they think is the best fit for them, and they don’t want just a rational selection process to determine it for them. It would be like having a computer select your beer for you – you want to taste them first.

What I have learned is that getting your business stakeholders to make the decision is the real key to success. Use their judgment after having the chance to look at and touch the software. My best illustration of this comes from working with scores of companies who want to throw out perfectly fine packages because they don’t believe that they work correctly. A significant portion of software that is abandoned is due to a belief that the package was forced upon them. When the business stakeholders don’t feel ownership, they will find fault more quickly.

The far majority of CRM implementations run into difficulty at some point – most commonly not due to a package that is a poor fit. When the business feels it did not want the software in the first place, it is more likely to give up on the package and choose to start again. Don’t fall into this trap. Let them own the decision from the start. It may take a little extra effort, but having the business choose their package is the best insurance for success.

I’ll have that Anchor Steam now.

Dee Tees